Frome Festival is in full swing. To call it a smorgasboard may be underplaying it. I can’t make the bee-keeping taster on Thursday afternoon and am genuinely gutted it looks like I won’t make the Iain Ballamy/ Huw Warren duo on Sunday 9th (I’m noticing how normal it seems for something so good to be in the festival programme). There’s something else a bit special going on later in the week however, that adds yet another dimension to proceedings: Two nights, six (or is it seven) – count ’em! – acts from the Loop Collective at Frome’s Silk Mill. Formed over a decade ago by some of the most exciting young players on the London scene at the time, the collective has spawned dozens of bands and projects and its members have gone on to establish international reputations. Much of the music defies categorisation, but improvisation, creative exploration, blending of influences and a ‘jazz sensibility’ are probably constant threads.
Dave Smith, a founder member and now resident in Frome has pulled together the two nights. His personal CV has Robert Plant’s current band on it as well as plenty of experimental electronica and the band Outhouse (a version of their music appears on the second night, Friday 14th). Thursday 13th sees a set from Kit Downes and Tom Challenger (harmoniums and sax) a project that originated through improvised duo performances of sax and church organs they call Vyamanikal. Splice (laptops, trumpet sax and Dave on drums) and a solo set from vibes supremo Jim Hart. Friday 14th has Fofoulah vs Outhouse preceded by an outfit call Primitive London (a hip-hop and DJ influenced set) and bass, laptop sax duo Rills and Courses. There’ll be a finale involving remixes of samples from the two nights’ performances. Its sure to be something a bit special then: Unpredictable, mind expanding, absorbing and good fun. Tickets here and here
Footnote: Dave Smith was interviewed by London Jazz News about this happening here
It’s still January, so I can just about get away with thinking about all the jazz related stuff I enjoyed over the last year (can’t I?). I hope I don’t stop noticing and being amazed (and not a little overwhelmed) by how much new music, live music, wildly creative music there is around us. My listening is pretty strongly channeled into jazz related (whatever that is) zones and still its a fabulous all enveloping wave. Here’s what I noticed in my usual idiosyncratic swim through the last 12 months or so.
Pianists. I saw live some longstanding heroes and people who’ve long made me shake my head in wonder. Dave Kikoski was one. When was he last in UK? If it was recently I missed him. In full flight a sight to behold and I didn’t have to leave town to see him. He was smuggled in with Jonathan Kriesberg’s band at the Hen & Chicken (one of several Storrer coups last year). Also in Bristol, also smuggled in with another band (Martin Speake’s this time), Bobo Stenson, the Swedish maestro. An evening at Colston Hall’s Lantern to remember. I finally saw Enrico Pieranunzi, Italian maestro, astonishingly debuting at Ronnnie Scott’s in August . Julian Arguelles got my vote in the LondonJazz end of year accolades after the tumultuous gig with the FDR Big Band playing South African Jazz at Cheltenham, then the sublime quarte Tetra at the Vortex later in the year. They all fulfilled stratospheric expectation. Another highlight was the slightly more apparently left field, until you actually see them, double bass duo of Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer at St. George’s during Bristol’s (once again Jazz and Blues Festival). Here’s a little taste
There was plenty of recorded music to taste as well, that all enveloping wave was even more overwhelming. There’s a few that got stuck, catching me at a particular moment or just demanding to be listened to again. Early in year a typically divergent but compelling Charles Lloyd release I long to See You and around the same time, Sam Crockatt‘s Mells Bells (that one got my London Jazz end of year vote). Sam lives out west and there were a few releases from local (or near local bands) that really caught my ear. The prolific Kevin Figes released two albums, a quartet and and octet, and Andy Nowak‘s trio recording was a little beauty. Two from slightly further afield that really got lodged in the play list was the rocky grooves of Duski led by Cardiff bass man Aidan Thorne and (keeping a Cardiff connection, albeit a now former resident) Huw Williams’ Hon was an excitingly varied, scintillating album. But I’ll finish where I started, with a pianist. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the joy of re-visiting, via a re-release, the Erskine trio and its the piano of John Taylor that stays with me. A good note on which to look forward into 2017
Here’s to a happy, music filled New Year – even if I am a bit slow starting!
End of year/ New Year lists tradition seems to demand the best of highlights from the previous year. An unquestionable highlight for me was a re-release. My first ‘new year post’ nodded at sounds that lured me jazz-wards. It wasn’t long after that I discovered the trio led by Peter Erskine, then in the midst of a run of 4 albums recorded on ECM between 1992 and 1997 (You Never Know, Time Being, As It Is, Juni). Something about the trio and its sound transfixed me with, at different times, one or another of the albums on repeat. ECM released all four as a set halfway through the year under the title As It Was (ha ha). What a delight it was to review it for London Jazz. My recollection was that I’d held the instinctive gushing of a fan back: reading the review I’m not sure I entirely succeeded. Never mind. The plan for this post is to give it full rein. Listening to the albums again I realised that I’ve never stop listening to them. They’ve become another bit my personal soundtrack. Its seems also that the sound of the trio has become a unique reference point for other listening.
Since this is a blogpost, I thought a ‘listicle’ was in order, albeit breaking the rules with the omission of numbers.
Things I love about the Peter Erskine Trio
- How Peter Erskine, the drummer leader, is often hardly playing (try New Old Age on the first album, You Never Know; nearly two minutes before there’s a shimmer of a cymbal)
- How rhythmic and grooving are so many of these pieces… even though it sounds abstract and floating at first listen, with Erskine hardly playing, just ticking on a cymbal or rustling on a snare. (Almost anything but try For Ruth on As It Is
- How repeating, quite abstract phrases, usually the themes of pieces, have little twists of ‘catch your breath’ melody, and become like old friends after a few listens. (John Taylor’s Windfall on Juni is a bit like this)
- Bursts of lyricism, like beams of sunlight ( How about Esperanca and Touch Her Soft Lips and Part on As It Is or Liten Visa Til Karin on Time Being)
- Eruptions of blistering swing that seem to to build like a huge ocean swell (try Everything I Love on You Never Know or Twelve on Juni
But more than anything
- Its John Taylor – the touch, the way just one chord both stretches your ears, makes your heart flutter and foot tap. How did he do that?
- And Palle Danielsson. The perfectly placed bass note that opens up the harmony and sounds so rich
- And the three of them together. Sometimes the music sounds like them breathing steadily as one (try Liten Visa again)
I know I’m not alone in loving these albums, but when music works its magic on us we may be sharing it, but it becomes part of us. So this is my music as well now. Thanks Peter, John and Palle.
Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience. First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music. A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.
And why valedictory? Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal. Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion. Its also made me a bit reflective. The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.
Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol, but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz. Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro, world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album), made me want to listen again. One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album
Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years. And he’ll be back. The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March. It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect. Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music. Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.
A pre-christmas tangle with the seasonal flu virus has pretty much halted any blogging and gig going over the last couple of weeks (although there was a weekend of delights to be reported on involving Andre Canniere at the BeBop and Andy Sheppard‘s valedictory show at the Hen Chicken just as the virus was revving up).
But enough of this self-pity. Something that’s put a smile on my face and aided recovery has been the rash of musicians/ bands posting live christmas performances on various platforms. Is it just me or is there suddenly more of it? I may just be paying more attention of course. Below are some gems I’ve found myself playing more than once ( in no particular order… and I’m sure there a plenty more out there – do post if you stop by and know of one you think I’d like.
With the technology to string these together, it will make a world beating soundtrack to the cooking/ eating/ general festivities. And you get multiple ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘s (ItBMW)
London Vocal Project: Four (count ’em) Pete Churchill arrangements including ItBMW (1)
Jacob Collier (ItBMW (2) )
Iain Ballamy and Jason Rebello‘s annual get-together (includes ItBMW (3)
I confess this shades it as my favourite selection – some deadpan cheese, total class and that Ballamy sound on tenor… I just melt.
Joey Alexander… looking like a teenager who just got out of bed (.. cos he is) .. sounding like… this.
Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.
There was probably no collusion, but on the weekend of 10th to 12th June, Wiltshire Music Centre and Colston Hall have between them managed to arrange gigs by some the best, most exciting jazz musicians on the current scene (that’ll be UK, Europe or anywhere according to some).
Was Jazzwise magazine being a bit lurid when they described Phronesis as one of the most exciting bands on the planet? Their gig at Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10 June is one of only three opportunities in UK to find out on their current tour. They are promoting their release of a new album on Edition Records (their UK launch gig is at London’s Cadogan Hall on the Sunday). There’s no doubting the energy and exhilaration this trio generate when they play. Much of their music is built around Jaspar Hoiby‘s catchy bass riffs, frenetic rhythms from Anton Eger on drums and fragments of melody that bounce around the band, often as not, traced out by pianist Ivo Neame, but they move as an improvising unit and there is no telling where they’ll end up. Hailing from Denmark, Norway/Sweden and UK respectively they have an international reputation. What a way to start the weekend. Book here.
Having taken Saturday to recover, The Lantern, Colston Hall is the only place to be on Sunday 12th June. Saxophonist Julian Arguelles has been a singular and creative presence on the British Jazz Scene since playing with Loose Tubes in the 1980s. Last month he received a Parliamentary Jazz Award for his recording Let it Be with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and now he’s on tour with his quartet Tetra and what a band this is. Playing Arguelles’ compositions that are always deeply rooted in jazz, but constantly delight and surprise with flights of lyricism and echoes of music from all over the world, the band are all sublime musicians. Kit Downes on piano and James Maddren on drums are some of the most in demand payers around, Downes leading plenty of award winning projects of his own. Sam Lasserson is amongst the most exciting of the formdiable current crop of bass players. They too are touring on the back of an album, this one on Whirlwind and much praised by John Fordham in the Guardian. Book those tickets here