Entropi, BeBop Club, Friday 6th October

A gale force blast of sax and trumpet pinned my ears back as I poked my head round the door of the BeBop club last night.  I don’t think it was a comment on my late arrival; the band where in the middle of an unstructured collective workout. My tardiness aside, venturing out on an inhospitable Friday was richly rewarded.  Entropi, led by alto player Dee Byrne have just released their second album, Moment Frozen and had touched down at the BeBop in the middle of a tour.  They sounded like a band who’ve played together a lot and Dee Byrne’s writing  like it’s been refined, the gold dust extracted and then refined again.  There was variety,  with pieces as likely to take off into one of those free excursions as groove over a jagged riff.

Entropi’s is a formidable line-up with most of the band leading projects of their own.  Andre Canniere on trumpet was at the club earlier in the year.  Rebecca Nash on keys, a Bristol native is well know here but well established on the national scene. Regular bass player Ollie Brice, a former Bath resident, was unavailable but it was hard to imagine a better dep than Will Harris. Matt Fisher on drums was dazzling with the flow of ideas and articulation of grooves.

The hubbub that had greeted me soon subsided and they were on to the next piece Cold Light of Day. It was cued in by an Will Harris’ expansive  bass solo that condensed to a cycling tone poem, creating palpable tension and anticipation in the room.  The band took up the rolling pulse and Canniere built an intense solo, shading between dark flurries and long arcing, austerely lyrical lines before passing the baton to Byrne.  The band goaded her on with snappy riffs.  The collective imaginations unpacked a lot of ideas from the deceptively simple source material. It was the pattern for the evening. Stelliferous Era got an evocative and thoughtful intro from Rebecca Nash, making the most of the sparkling Fender sounds from the Nord before Fisher lit fires and stoked the energy from behind the kit under a series of fine solos.  It’s Time bustled along and Leap of Faith’s stabbing riffs grabbed the attention.  There was a slightly dark, angular turn to much of the music.

It was all delivered with confidence, commitment and authority. There’s something special about this band.  Well worth the trip down to Bristol’s longest running club, now well into its third decade.

 

 

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Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four, BeBop Club, Friday 21st April

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Hammond organ, drums, guitar, tenor sax; a punter could be forgiven for thinking they knew what to expect with that line-up. Draw by Four, playing mostly original material by leader Jon Shenoy, gave the classic formula a distinctly contemporary twist with artfully crafted compositions, patiently developed ear tweaking melodic and rhythmic hooks and some expansive blowing and interplay from the band.

They revved up with a couple of looseners. A burner, with a title that sounded like Kinky D, had a clattering, even quavered groove from Chris Draper on drums and gave everyone a chance to stretch out, Shenoy and Sam Dunn on guitar locked in unison for an attention grabbing, rhythmic theme. The Beach Boys’ Don’t Talk followed,  Will Bartlett using the organ to provide textures and atmosphere and Shenoy’s warm, with just the right dose of tension tenor sound,  more than doing Brian Wilson’s classic justice. Then a suite of Shenoy originals conjured a different vibe. Lost Clouds had a dreamy melodic line, with contrasting rythmic hooks and a quietly snappy groove.  A trio of pieces inspired by paintings had more complex arrangements; variations in tempo and layering of rhythms, juxtaposing melodies and riffs, spaces for interplay between duos,  tempos and themes crafted to conjure images and emotions.  Colonsay Harbour was a standout moment of the whole gig (and the polar opposite of a stereotypical hammond organ vibe). A free-ish interplay between sax and guitar, with colour and texture provided by drums and organs, gave way to a sparse, meditative and fluting melody, Dunn’s guitar almost implying fills.  A time stood still moment.   They closed the set with Deluge and plenty of bustle and fire.  Hand in Hand  had a another attractive melody with more counter-posing riffs and appealing harmonic shifts. Bartlett let fly a lovely. fluid, lyrical, piano on the organ solo.  A ‘see we can do it’ rendition of Marriage is for Old Folks had all the bluesey swagger and groove expected of an organ quartet and closed a scintillating gig.

The writing and arranging for this band had a lightly worn sophistication, serving its purpose,  creating  light and shade and giving the band plenty to work on. There was also a very appealing simplicity and directness, about many of the melodic and harmonic building blocks, reflected in some of Shenoy’s soloing. For all the hustle, bustle and complexity, it put me in mind of Andy Sheppard’s penchant for simple melodies, particularly on the slower tunes.

This was an early gig on a very extensive tour and there are plans to record this material.  Catching them on the tour and checking out the subsequent recording are definitely to be recommended.  Details here

 

 

John Law’s Congregation, BeBop Club, Friday 17th February

John Law is a man in constant motion.  On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas img_2103from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums  he popped up with a band he called Boink!,  three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape.  The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar.  There was a sense of them all now fully  integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.

The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band.  An early stand-out was And Them.  It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s  electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a img_2104rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at  Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax.   I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum.  Each of the quartet had moments like this.  On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck.  They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high.  A vintage night at the BeBop  Club

 

 

February Round Up: Greens & Barnes, Chirimoya, John Law New Congregation

Amidst a busy few weeks, mandatory infusions of live jazz have kept me going. Three episodes offered different delights.  Two Greens (Barry and Dave) and Alan Barnes formed an impromptu trio on a Friday night at London’s Vortex Club. This was a balm to the soul gig.  Pianist Barry and bass legend Dave are not blood relations, but they’ve had a close musical relationship over years, recording a delightful duo album of mainly Alex Wilder tunes a few years back (check here ).  A ripple of a piano chord and an abstract flutter from Barnes, a perfectly placed harmonic or sonorous pedal note from the bass was all it took to launch some tunes as another lesser known gem from the standards book unfolded. The trio format gave them all plenty of space and freedom for playful interchange and fluent, emotional expression. A Friday night treat.

Dropping into Bristol’s Alma Tavern on a Sunday night for a set by Chirimoya had a different, no less enjoyable flavour. Singer and percussionist Tammy Payne has put together a band and repertoire that re-makes the most unlikely source material with a pulsing latin/ Brazilian vibe. Its great fun and beautifully balanced.  What do you need for a storming latin groove? Well Ruth Hammond‘s left hand on the keys, Matt Jones on drums and a few well judged stabbed chords from Ruth’s right hand. Tammy’s vocals, a Bristol treasure since the eighties and Smith and Mighty, glide over the groove with Beyonce, Bronski Beat, Jimi Hendrix all offering up repertoire. They started with a taught grooving Round Midnight and Gary Aylesbrook‘s liquid, melodic lines on trumpet sketching out the familiar theme.  Great fun.

I wrote about John Law’s New Congregation ahead of their BeBop Club gig and the event didn’t disappoint. Word was out and The Bear’s back room was packed, standing room only at the back. The musical territory was the same as the album even if more than half the tunes were not, there’s a continuing flow of new tunes from the leader’s pen. What stood out even more than on the album was the strength of the melodic hooks. Rythmically dense and complex the music may be, but the peer-less musicians, (Laurie Lowe on drums and Yuri Goloubev on bass are surely hard to top as rhythm section) negotiated it at will and played beautifully and freely.  Sam Crockatt on tenor was outstanding, never overplaying, his developing phrases and hooks glowed and took flight, delivered with a rough edged warm tone.  Another Friday night treat.

Not quite The Session but still cooking, BeBop Club, Bristol, Friday 12th June

The audience, packed into The Bear’s back room like sardines, appeared all to be holding their breath as James Partridge wove an impassioned, growling baritone sax  phrase through the changes of Duke Ellington’s Solitude. It was mid-way through the second set of a fizzing quintet gig. If the band wasn’t quite the one billed, the jazz was still top drawer.  Friday’s gig at the BeBop Club was another great example of airlines conspiring to disrupt a gig, only to be defeated by the magic of new musical alliances formed at a moment’s notice (it’s happened before in Bristol).  Hotly anticipated doesn’t quite cover the buzz around the return of the The Session. The New Orleans based band of young and already feted musicians wowed Bristol audiences last summer, including a hastily scheduled appearance at the BeBop Club in August.  Their heady brew of hard swinging jazz, visceral New Orleans grooves and bang-up-to-date harmonic sensibility set the jazz grapevine buzzing and they are back this summer with a sprinkling of gigs and a residency at  Musicfest Aberystwyth Big Band & Jazz Course

Friday was the inaugural gig, back at the BeBop,  and the audience created a New Orleans – like atmosphere in temperature and humidity in the tiny club room  with late arrivers disappointed and waiting their turn to cram in at the back.   But bad weather back in the Crescent City meant that flights were delayed, so that only bass player Jason Weaver, pianist Andrew McGowan and ex-pat Englishman, saxophonist James Partridge were there on Friday, with hot young drummer Charles Burchell and trumpeter Steve Lands stranded the other side of the pond. The three who made it were in safe hands however. It’s a fairly badly kept secret that BeBop Club maestro Andy Hague has assembled a collection of charts and arrangements of near library proportions over the years, mining the repertoire of classic Blue Note era writers onwards as well as artful arrangements of standards. He’s also a very fine trumpeter. A quick call to local drummer Mark Whitlam who’s fast acquiring a national reputation in a variety of ensembles and a cracking quintet was assembled, with a repertoire covering Ellis Marsalis grooving New Orleans standards, irresistibly swinging fare from the pens of Tad Dameron, Bob Brookmeyer, Wayne Shorter and a sprinkling of classics from Ellington and the standards book.  The magic emerged as the newly formed quintet explored the material together. The Session’s instinct for drama appeared as backing for solos sometimes dropped to minimal, giving them space to breath and build; Andy Hague reminded us (if we needed it) what a fine improviser he is, with solos on flugelhorn particularly, full of elegant phrases and warm toned flurries over Weaver’s driving, propulsive bass lines; Andrew McGowan’s angular and scattered phrases on piano accumulated to build exciting solos and a standout trio reading of the ballad I Want to Talk About You was greeted with roars of approval.  With Bristol forming more regular links with New Orleans, this is a collaboration it would be great to see again.  For Bristolians keen to see the The Session in full, they should be at the Hen and Chicken in early August.

Greg Cordez Quintet, BeBop Club, Friday 27th march

Greg-Cordez-1Eight Minutes and Twenty Three Seconds is the time it takes light to travel from the sun to earth and the inspiration for a typical  Greg Cordez composition. In the hands of his formidable quintet,  it built steadily last night  from Jim Blomfield‘s simple, fragile, piano opening to a roaring, all hands on deck climax, before subsiding suddenly to a whisper.  The emotional punch was powerful, a pattern they’d followed most of the evening with bass player leader Cordez’s pieces developing an inexorable momentum over march-like, rocky pulses overlayed with themes that declared themselves steadily, given space to breath and take hold as first one soloist and then the next developed and expanded them.   This band debuted over two years ago at the BeBop and since then the repertoire has evolved into mainly originals with an album due for release soon on the New York based Ninety and Nine record label.  Tenor man Jake McMurchie‘s regular foil Nick Malcolm was absent from the line-up that recorded the album, with  Nick Dover stepping in forming a twin tenor frontline for the evening. The two horns blended beautifully, now stating another of Cordez’s compelling melodic fragments, now offering contrasting developments of the looping sequences, Jake’s throaty, warm sound swooping and crying, Nick offering an edgier sound and probing harmonic embellishments, no less emotionally laden.  The only tunes not from the leaders’ pen were by American bassist Todd Sickafoose.  Blood Orange’s hooky theme over a snappy groove set Jim Blomfield up for a blistering solo with a Rhodes sound, shimmering clouds of notes scattered between wild percussive episodes. The twin tenors came in with a shout chorus cum backing riff and suddenly everyone was blowing, Mark Whitlam‘s drumming goading theme on. It was thrilling stuff.   Later, after the Eight Minutes and Twenty Three seconds of ever brightening sunlight, another Blomfield workout, this time solo piano, segued the band into the sumptuous ballad Camilla Rose, before 1000 Paper Cranes traced another arc to end the gig, from simple chiming phrase on piano underpinned by a bass figure through swelling, building, melody and impassioned blowing back to that chiming phrase. On this showing the album, Paper Crane will be well worth catching. Meanwhile you can get some previews from Greg’s website.

January Roundup – Gigs and CDs.

A quick look back at January’s diary confirms a cracking month of listening and gig going. Aside from Anthony Braxton, and Iain Ballamy early on, I caught Tom Green‘s Septet at Burdalls Yard at the start of a lengthy national tour. A rousing start to the month and my account is on Jazzwise’s website. A couple of CDs confirmed what a service two still relatively young labels, Whirlwind and Edition, are performing for our jazz scene. Both labels were of course  started by musicians (Mike Janisch and Dave Stapleton). The-Gate-High-Res-CoverOn Whirlwind, The Gate is bass player Phil Donkin‘s debut release as a leader after an already stellar career as a sideman, (my review for London Jazz here). Edition have done it again in signing another formidable European player, this time distinctive Finnish trumpeter Veneri Pohjola. His album Bullhorn has been stuck on my playlist (review here). EDN1056_Verneri_Pohjola_Bullhorn

And then an epic weekend starting with Head South‘s authentic Latin grooves fronted by UK trumpet meister Steve Waterman at the BeBop Club. Chino Martell Morgan‘s percussion blended with Buster Birch’s rocket fuelled drumming to stir anyone’s blood, all MD’d by keysman John Harriman locked tight with Alsofredo Pulido‘s bass for the night.   The Impossible Gentlemen at Wiltshire Music Centre followed on Saturday.  Oh, its good to see them back again. Jon Turney’s review nicely  impossible_gentscaptures the thrill. They roar and raunch and sigh and swoon in equal measure. There’s a singing bittersweet voicing of  chords from Mike Walker‘s guitar blending with Gwilym Simcock‘s piano that’s almost a signature sound: my ole heart flipped over as a new tune Hold Out For The Sun launched the gig with just such a cycling sequence.  The local jazz scene were out in force to appreciate.  The weekend was topped off by Andy Sheppard and Denny Illett’s Hotel Bristol on Sunday at the Hen & Chicken. I’ve nothing to add to this. I’m not sure I can stand the pace.