John Law is a man in constant motion. On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas from 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 rampant 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
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.
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.
Eight 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.
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). On 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).
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 captures 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.
Their publicity says ‘sure to put a smile on your face’ and Laura Jurd‘s Quartet, on their first visit to the BeBop Club, more than lived up to the promise. In two sets of bracingly original music, the almost diffident delivery of these dazzlingly accomplished musicians allowed the beautifully crafted and arranged music to have the starring role. Melodies, often deceptively simple and with a folky edge to them are stated and elegantly developed; sudden switches of pace or the entrance of urgently dancing grooves keeps the listener guessing, but its never jarring, just beautifully judged. The ebb and flow of ideas around the band is constant and keeps the mood buzzing. And then someone cuts loose. Lady of Bruntal had a spritely swirling theme that gave way to a rockier passage of rasping trumpet calls and darting runs before Corrie Dick let rip with a storming solo. Sognefjord, all rumble and clatter and a rubato theme developed a racing, clattery backing to another blistering trumpet solo from Jurd, Tom McCredie’s pulsating bass-line locking it all down. Then hints at more clubby beats from the drums sparked an electrifying piano solo from Elliot Galvin all misshapen blues riffs, silvery runs and a visceral groove.
For all the bursts of virtuosity and temperature raising solos, those episodes didn’t dominate the music. These were carefully constructed pieces with strong themes and episodes that developed and complemented them. Oh So Beautiful took the simplest of delicate melodic phrases and pulled it around, stretching over different rhythms, bending and distorting the motif until it went back into shape.
There’s been plenty of glowing music press about Laura Jurd both as composer and player and it was more than borne out by this gig. Its a tribute to the musicians that its the spirit of the music that lingered on after the band had packed up and gone and we were back home. Now there’s a rare gift.
Returning from the bar after the interval, clutching my pint and still reflecting on the complex, layered pieces we’d heard in the first set from Tommy Andrews‘ Quintet, I found the respectably sized BeBop Club audience peering at densely typed photocopied sheets as the band settled back in at the front of the room. ‘Its the programme notes’ was the response to my bemused enquiry. Surely a first, certainly at the BeBop but for me anywhere at a jazz gig, to have the detailed inspiration and interpretation of themes, moods, shifts in metre and key and compositional devices of the music we are about to hear set out for us in a detailed hand-out. A gulp of Doom Bar and I found myself charmed by the seriousness and ambition. An extended suite of related, through composed pieces (for that was what was in prospect) is certainly an idea that surely goes back at least to Ellington in jazz (although I’m not sure he ever handed out detailed programme notes)
The Galilean Suite then is a suite of seven pieces that run together, using the inspiration of the discovery of four of Jupiter’s moons by Galileo and the Greek myths associated with the names by which those moons have been known (for the curious, read more). What we heard was uniformly complex and detailed, but the attempt to paint musical pictures using all the resources of the band and improvisational imagination of these fine players was really compelling. Strong melodic fragments came and went against different textures and rhythms. Sometimes there were driving rocky grooves, at others more lilting, still others glorious ballads. Europa started with a perfectly judged sighing melody from Andrews’ alto before first Dave Mannington on bass and then Nick Costley White on guitar pulled out really affecting solos. There were climatic and thunderous passages with everyone locked and blowing furiously. Rick Simpson‘s piano was variously holding down angular grooves and then inserting rich harmonies before he let loose with dynamic, building solo on the Outro a real highlight. Lloyd Haines, depping for Dave Hamblett, gave a bravura performance. This passage of just over half an hour was worth coming out for on its own, a real calling card of a writing and performing talent to watch.
For the rest of the gig, the quintet’s recent release the The Crux was the source of the material. It mostly shares the attention to mood and texture and multi staged construction of the suite, all played with a freedom and ease that was genuinely engaging. In the end I didn’t need the explanations and route map to enjoy what I was hearing, but it was fun!