A jazz gig diary: Lockrane, Lucid Dreamers, Yetii (again), Ballamy, Vosloo’s Commotion, Barnes & Newton.

It has been a good month for live music in this household but for reasons insufficiently jazzy to detail here, near (ish) contemporaneous jottings on the blog have been rather lacking. Although most of the people in the various bands were familiar and long admired, four of the line-ups were new or new to me, a quick round-up seems in order to record the wildly varied highs.

First up was the Gareth Lockrane Big Band on a Sunday lunchtime at the Dean Street, Soho Pizza Express. We were sat close enough to the band to turn the pages for pianist Will Barry, or at least hold his drink. A careering groove, blistering tempos and incendiary soloing were never far away with this generation spanning band, bristling with imagination and a combined CV that would wind many times round the block. Lockrane’s writing is never predictable, even when you think you know what’s coming. This is a big band that would stand out in any setting.

The other end of that week provided almost as big a contrast as could be imagined with Lucid Dreamers at St. George’s in Bristol.Vocalist Brigitte Beraha is surely one of the more creative and adventurous spirits on the British scene and with her co-conspirators George Crowley, Alcyona Mick and Tim Giles spent an hour or so on the stage at St. Georges weaving atmospheres, telling stories and conjuring verbal and aural poetry with voice, reeds, piano, percussion and judicious use of electronics. On a Saturday lunchtime, with a curious piece of programming meaning the gig clashed with a walking tour of organs with Kit Downes and Tom Challenger, there was as modest but enthralled audience sitting on the stage with the band for a magical hour with light streaming in the old chapel windows behind them.

Fringe Jazz’s programme this autumn has been uniformly dazzling and incredibly varied, a suitable celebration of a decade for this weekly gig. A new Iain Ballamy quartet served up by Fringe Jazz was our next treat. With Rebecca Nash at the piano, Nick Pini on bass and Jeremy Stacey behind the kit, the new line-up dug into Iain’s big bag of favourite tunes, all with their recognisable elements given a twist, whether the famous riff from Star Eyes becoming an edgy pedal like feature, Paul Motian’s Mandeville complete with quick musings on the distinctiveness of Motian’s drumming form Stacey as a prelude, or the old Ballamy original Strawberries. There was a dynamism and flow about this line-up and we left hoping it will become a regular unit.

Before the next Fringe outing we squeezed in another visit to the Green Bank for the Yetii album launch. The album is a live recording of this gig. It was another sold out night, a band to be checked out and caught live if you can. The album is on bandcamp here, videos a-plenty here .

And the back to Fringe Jazz at Bristol Music Club for Riaan Vosloo’s Commotion. Billed as ‘meets’ South African jazz, the meeting was partly repertoire, but more than that, of heart and spirit. The legacy of the free-wheeling open but deeply grooving music of South African exiles from the 60’s onwards, a dash of Sun-Ra and plenty of Vosloo’s own writing made for a riotous, moving passionate couple of sets. Captured beautifully by Tony Benjamin here, I was swept up away by the fluid movement of the band between scripted, exciting passages, and unbridled, free blowing. Our most recent visit to the Fringe for Alan Barnes and Dave Newton saw a freedom and fluidity with a different kind of music and equally exciting and moving. These two have been playing in duo for over 40 years and claim never to written a set list. Whether swinging hard on an Ellington tune penned in the ’30s or easing into a Bacharach classic, ‘He’s cooking something’ muttered Barnes as Newton’s intro sketched out an atmosphere and harmony, these two were compelling and on scintillating form.

As ever live music has been incredibly varied, moving and uplifting. For anyone wondering what to go and see in the Bristol area at least, Tony Benjamin has done all the hard work of scouting out what’s coming up in December. And there’s always the Bath Jazz Weekend to look forward to, another great start to the new year assembled by Nod Knowles. Details here if you’ve managed to elude the Knowles mailing list.


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