Jake McMurchie Quartet, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 23rd April

Once I had a Secret Love.  Is it too whimsical to connect the title of a Jake McMurchie JakeMcM_H&Chfavourite to his now 30 year association with the sax? The thought popped into my head as he unfurled, unaccompanied, a viscerally grooving take on the Doris Day theme, artful phrasing, space and a stabbing little phrase upping the momentum as the rest of the quartet joined in.  We didn’t really need any reminding of what a musical and inventive player Jake is, the solo that followed rammed it home nevertheless.

The love affair with the sax can’t have stayed secret for long once he started gigging and there were plenty of people who knew how good he was by the time Get The Blessing won the BBC awards in 2008 and the late Jack Massarik was asking ‘where’s he been?’  Sunday night’s gig had the feel of a reflective retrospective. The repertoire dipped into  favourites from the past. Monk’s I Mean You, and the standard Paper Moon each got an outing. There were different vibes; a bit of the GTB back catalogue got an airing, Nick Drake’s  Know was a mesmerizing opener, a vintage McMurchie tune Oranges and Melons was all delicate lyricism and plaintive soprano swoops following by a more bristling, darker brand new one, as yet untitled.

The recently minted quartet gave the music the energy and emotional charge it warranted.  Riaan Vosloo on bass was a taut, propulsive force throughout, on occasion looping a riff until the intensity reached fever pitch. Matt Brown behind the kit never overpowered the sound but lit fires under the band throughout the gig, sometimes  stoking the momentum relentlessly, at others laying down a trance like pulse or when the occasion demanded, swinging like mad.  Dan Waldman’s guitar provided the perfect harmonic and melodic foil to the sax, finding by turns singing lines and then angular and divergent paths through the tunes.

If the retrospective drew on plenty of back catalogue,  it sounded fresh and dynamic in the hands of this band.  Lets hope there is plenty more to come from them.

March/ April Highlights 1: Live – Bruce Barth; Fellow Creatures

If blog posts have been a little sporadic over the last couple of months, listening and gig attendance has not.  A quick look back over the shoulder is in order.  I fancy we recall impressions and how it felt to be present rather than details when it comes to recalling live gigs at  distance.  A couple stand out in sharp relief. Pianist Bruce Barth touched down at the Hen and Chicken early in March, a world class performer (a CV that includeds Mingus Big Band AND Tony Bennett!) , he’d not been seen in Bristol for 18 years he said.  It was an evening of blistering straight-ahead trio jazz. The tingle of excitement is still there. We did wonder if the newly donated grand piano was going to last the evening given the energy Barth devoted to testing it out.

March also saw the 2017 edition of Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival. Jon Turney’s summary for London Jazz captures the thrill and buzz.  I am still thrilled by Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures. The original themes and grooves are all engaging and absorbing, the afterglow that has remained is the unbridled gust of energy and joie de vivre with which the band played. Singling out the dual horns of Laura Jurd’s trumpet and Mark Lockheart’s sax seems a little invidious given the importance of the collective vibe, but their interplay and individual soloing lifted the roof a inch or two more off its moorings. To play with such freedom and togetherness on complex material marks this band out as something special. They went on to record a live album at the end of the tour of which this gig was a part.  Put me down for a copy!

Cloudmaker Trio Five, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 15th January

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The Cloudmakers touched down at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday bringing a healthy crowd out to experience the dense thickets of rhythm, mazy themes and explosive playing of the expanded trio. Vibes man and composer Jim Hart, drummer Dave Smith and getting to be a Hen and Chicken regular, Michael Janisch on bass are joined by Hannes Riepler on guitar and Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto and clarinet for their pretty extensive current tour.

This was music with a lot going on. Two in one began to seem like a theme.  A piece combining elements of All the Things You Are and Ornithology had been preceded by Travelling Pulse Somewhere North of Ghana, built around a complex rythmn but referencing colder Nordic climes.  The second set started with The Road for Ed a demented, wonky samba-like groove overlayed with a slow moving free-boppish theme.  It spiralled off into urgent freeblowing with Hoang and then flipped back to the hurtling groove behind a blistering vibes workout.

Watching Janisch look first at Smith, then Hart with a quiet smile as rockets of rythmn seem to pass between them summed something about the gig up. They were individually and in combination electrifying, Hart sublimely fluid and inventive with Smith seeming to catch every accent and kick almost before it happened.

Hoang was a revelation. From unearthly squawks, honks and atmospheric squeals to percussive and dramatic blowing, Harts writing gave him plenty of action.  Riepler was adding ghostly textures and atmosphere as often as digging in.   It wasn’t all tumult. Golden‘s simple motif, emerging from a meditative Riepler introduction swelled to an anthemic climax.   The gig closed with Back Home, full of yearning  and shimmering atmosphere.

The quintet are individually top drawer players. Hart’s writing and their empathy meshes them into a formidable unit.

Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet, Hen and Chicken, Friday 13th May

It’s obvious really. The New York based, guitar led quartet with a hot reputation and Grammy winning pianist on-board had the twenty plus tour dates around Europe sorted.  The London date at Pizza Express was booked. Another couple of dates in UK?  Well one has got to be the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster of course. We don’t know how promoter Ian Storrer does it, but there was no doubting the appreciation of the capacity crowd the gig lured to the pub’s upstairs room on a sunny Friday evening.

2016-05-13 20.10.36They eased in gently. Colin Stranahan set up an infectiously crisp, shuffling groove on the drums and a subtly twisted Stella by Starlight unfolded  over singing open chords. Jonathan Kreisberg’s fluently, lyrical solo was nudged along by the tasteful sparse comping and characteristic rhythmic stabs of pianist Dave Kikoski,.  It was a perfect starter. Delicious, appetite whetting but just a taster of what was to come.

The rest of the two sets were mainly Kreisberg originals and whilst the takeaway memories of the gig are of glittering musicianship, volcanic soloing and an electric understanding and interaction within the band, Kreisberg’s writing was one of the stars of the show. Rhythmically dense and intricate themes shape shifted into a modal work-out for solos, or a gear change to a different meter revealed a simpler appealing melody or groove around which the piece was built.  There were breakneck tempos, locked tight with unison lines between guitar and piano and then an unadorned, ever so so slightly wonky lilting waltz with a carefully crafted melody allowed to sing.

Wild Animals We’ve Seen had a relaxed rocking groove, a theme of repeating and morphing  motifs with 2016-05-13 20.04.31little darting phrases. Kresiberg built the energy with a steadily thickening cascade of ideas before Kikoski uncorked the first of his incendiary solos of the evening.  Ideas were sketched with sharply struck chords, shaded in with darting runs then pummelled into a variety of shapes with shimmering volleys of notes. Occasionally he’d freeze over the keys, before diving back in. It was repeated throughout the evening with a rainbow of textures and moods appearing. Being Human evoked gospelly, shout like phrases, little displaced fragments and stabs somehow anticipated telepathically by Stranhan with snapping reports from the snare.   The drummer was an unstoppable flow of energy and invention all evening animating everything. Until You 2016-05-13 20.09.14Know’s spooky guitar effects laden intro and dancing boppish theme bounced along over his skittering racing drums. Stir the Stars at one point became a conversational duo performance of guitar and drums conducted at a lethal tempo. It was riveting.   It would have easy to miss the contribution of Rick Rosato on bass. His was a vital contribution to the propulsive energy of this band, smooth, skipping lines anchoring and pushing the band along.

The quartet were in the latter stages of that lengthy tour and the fruits were on display in this electrifying band performance. Another fizzing night of New York comes to Bedminster.

Gilad Atzmon/ Alan Barnes, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 24th January

Blib-Blob may have summed it up. The blistering bebop-ish theme twisted and leapt through the rhythm changes sequence, tenor (Gilad Atzmon) and alto (Alan Barnes) locked together. The groove though, was a self-consciously heavy handed, funky shuffle injecting a subversive flavour into the passionate blowing, a riotously serious delivery that pervaded the whole evening.  This was Atzmon and Barnes with Atzmon’s regular, equal to and up for anything rhythm section of Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Chris Higinbottom on drums.

Pairing two primarily alto players of the prodigious fluency of these two might have signalled a touring ‘cutting contest’.  The swagger and competitive blowing was tongue in cheek though, entertaining fire-works, less than half the story and wrapped around with plenty of self-deprecating and, courtesy of Atzmon, shoulder shruggingly bawdy humour.

The array of instruments across the front of the stage appeared in a variety of File 25-01-2016, 21 32 40combinations. They’d kicked off with a funkily swinging groover, Barnes on baritone and Atzmon on alto duties before Blib Blob. Then a see-sawing, plaintive melody rendered by soprano and clarinet over a loping groove conjured a different mood.  The fire-works started again with twin altos on a gloriously free-wheeling Alone Together, Barnes’ dazzling melodic invention contrasting with Atzmon’s fiery attack that veered off into a frenetic modal work out.  Blomard changed the mood again with bass clarinet and clarinet combining on a melancholic bossa.  Expectations of high octane blowing were inevitable and they weren’t disappointed, but the light and shade and evocative moods added an extra dimension.

The ‘marquee names’ may have been the draw but delightfully, for this listener, Frank Harrison kept threatening to demand at least equal billing.  Time and again after a gale force blast from Atzmon, or dancing, whirling workout from Barnes, a beautifully judged shimmer and hanging phrase from Higginbottom and Stavi would set the scene for the pianist to build and develop solos that were full of invention, poetry and excitement.  The second set saw him set up two ballads to perfection, Atzmon and Barnes getting through four instruments between them (tenor, alto, bass-clarinet clarinet) on Old Folks , a bit of a show-stopper – ‘for you’ quipped Barnes, risking his life, nodding at the audience).  A thunderous groove and a grand finale on Spring in New York brought the house down and prompted another subverted be-bop tune with Donna-Lee at break neck tempo over a crunching rocky vibe.

Gilad Atzmon may have insisted they were called Lowest Common Denominator, but no-one in the once again packed out Hen & Chicken were in any doubt that they’d heard top class, committed, exuberantly entertaining jazz.

 

An August week in the west – Part 1 : The Session in town

The Session_H&ChI’m not sure I can remember the last time I was at  jazz gig that wrapped up with a sing-a-long, but trumpeter Steve Lands was irresistible as he declaimed the verses and egged on the cheerfully dis-inhibited crowd for the responses and chorus of L’il Liza Jane.  It was the encore and the packed Hen and Chicken had been thoroughly won over by two blistering sets from the return of the New Orleans based band last Sunday. The trio of pianist Andrew McGowan, bass player Jason Weaver and saxophonist James Partridge (on Baritone for the evening) have been constants in the line-ups that have visited over the last year. This visit saw Willie Green III powering the quintet from the drum chair.  It was two sets that covered plenty of bases.  They launched with dense contemporary jazz, drifting horn hooks over spikey bass and percussion figures and urgent swing and furious blowing from Lands and Partridge on Sitting Bull Beckons.  Newly minted originals, Andrew’s Blues, Steve’s Samba, Andrew’s 6/8 thing showed their skill in taking familiar jazz materials and forms, twisting them and opening them up for fluid improvising.   A howling, squealing bleak solo from Lands over the chiming piano chords of a Partridge penned ballad was a stand-out moment of the first set – no surprise that the trumpeter is an increasingly in demand player.  Partridge was formidable all evening. Whenever he stepped up the emotional temperature went up, whether blowing flurries of notes or letting long notes and a delicious tone from the baritone sax carry his thoughts.  As the gig went on, the dynamism and fluency  of Weaver’s bass playing shone through and by the time the inevitable second line groove kicked in on  one of his originals, the band were steaming and the smiles broad all round.   A band of mainly New Orleans natives who all met on the Crescent City’s scene, they bring an exuberance and desire to connect which is infectious and once again it wowed the near capacity crowd at the Hen and Chicken.   Another side of their generosity and musicianship was on display the following evening when they showed up at the regular fortnightly jam session at The Canteen.  The occasion was captured beautifully here by Tony Benjamin, who is once again chronicling much what’s interesting and exciting in Bristol on the Bristol 24/7 site.

Alan Barnes/ Dave Newton, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 12th April

Barnes&NewtonIf Alan Barnes is to be believed, and caution is surely advisable given the occasional scatalogical departures in his legendary repartee, he and Dave Newton have been playing much of their repertoire for nearly 40 years since they first met as students. As they ripped into Art Pepper’s Chili Pepper at a blistering tempo, no counting in just Barnes’ liquid flurry of arpeggios to set the tempo, Newton’s chords instantly catching every accent of the quintessentially be-bop theme, there was no doubting the near telepathic nature of the musical partnership.  ‘He’s been taking care of the chords for most of my adult life’ quipped Barnes at one point in the evening, lauding Newton’s playing  and it’s hard to overstate the pianist’s visceral driving energy, coupled with a protean fluency whether with locked hands embellishing chord sequences or fizzing runs over an implacably grooving left hand bass-line. The one man rhythm section frequently seemed to fire himself up as the momentum built behind another dynamic solo.   It wasn’t all fire and brimstone.  Alan Barnes, gags about playing the same stuff in a different octave aside, evoked different moods and voices switching between alto, baritone and clarinet as we were quietly shepherded through a masterclass in repertoire and styles stretching from 20s writers like Don Redman, Gee Baby I Love You getting a through Newton workover, through to Hard bop master Cedar Walton with a thoroughly gospelly account of I’ll Let You Know and lingering over Barnes’ beloved Strayhorn, the quivering, final note of Lotus Blossom from the Baritone a heart stopping moment.  These two musicians have spent their professional lives absorbing and absorbed in the writing and  language of swing, big bands and be-bop onwards and its become their own language of expression.  There were laughs, joyfulness, pain and melancholy for sure. And a hugely entertaining evening greeted with roars of approval as they burned out on Cottontail at an implausible tempo.