It took just a couple of notes from Byron Wallen‘s trumpet to infuse the Wine Vault’s atmosphere with a crackle of excitement on Thursday night. He led the band into Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom, an easily swinging groove with a bluesey theme; a quintessential sixties Blue Note vibe. The visitor unfurled a blistering solo, gracefully shaped phrases following the arc of the harmony and little accelerations and flurries of notes building the excitement. By the time he’d finished, bass man and the Vaults’ impressario Wade Edwards was grinning like a cheshire cat. We all were.
This was Wallen’s second visit to share the stage with the house trio. The last (here), several years ago now, still glows in my memory. Then as now, there was plenty of engaging chat and a reminder from DJ Tony Clark in his introduction of the weight and length of the trumpeter’s CV. This time the theme was trumpet heroes and we got a slew of classics associated with various legends and music firmly rooted in classic jazz. Orthinology was for Fats Navarro, Sky Dive for Freddie Hubbard, Tom Cat for Lee Morgan and Budo for Miles. In between a sprinkling of Wallen originals added another flavour to the mix, his artfully constructed pieces always having a twist or darker tone to them.The Little Giant, for Booker Little, was a lilting waltz with bitter-sweet harmony and an angular rhythmic hook to nudge the band in different directions. It also occasioned the name drop of the evening as Wallen recounted hanging out with the legendary Charles Lloyd after a gig and asking him about Little, with whom Lloyd had been at school and apparently, according to the sax man, ‘showed him the blues’. We got some jazz history as well as scintillating music. Home Truth got an airing as it it did on Wallen’s previous visit, a dark, brooding ballad with echoes of the music of Kenny Wheeler.
Every time the trumpet spoke, there was an easy fluency and energy that fired the house band up and brought new sounds out of them. As soon as Vyv Hope Scott launched into his piano solo on the opening Lotus Blossom he’d found a slight different more open sound compared to the familiar muscular swing of the trio’s warm up number You and the Night and the Music, the gear shift somehow cued by Wallen’s exploratory playing. It’s a testament to the quality and flexibility of the house trio that they respond readily to the sound of their varied guests. Deep into the second set Wallen called You Don’t Know What Love Is and brought the house down with a keening, emotional reading of the standard.
This was top drawer jazz from an A list name in British jazz. Let’s hope he’s return is even quicker next time.
Anniversaries are little way markers really. The real sweat, inspiration and commitment is expended on the journey, not in the moment we pause to note the distance traveled. They are a welcome reminder and a prompt to salute (again) the achievements however. It really is ten years now since Wade Edwards started the Jazz at the Vaults sessions. Tomorrows gig with Art Themen joining the house trio marks the anniversary. The legendary sax man was one of the first guests from out of the area and he’s been back a few times since. Vyv Hope Scott‘s ever fluent, muscular swing at the keys and Trevor Davies‘ responsive, subtle and rock-steady groove on the drums have formed a formed a formidable and flexible unit, with Edwards on bass, to accompany the now huge roster of guests who’ve paid a visit.There are plenty of stand-outs. The combined force of Jason Rebello and Iain Ballamy remains one of mine, I’m sure many would cite the visit of Pee Wee Ellis and poignantly the late great Bobby Wellins.
So happy anniversary to the team at the Vaults and Wade in particular. A heart-felt thankyou from this jazz lover. The tenth anniversary season looks like a steady stream of treats. Byron Wallen follows Themen on 26th January, Karen Sharp on 9th February, Winston Rollins on the 23rd and Josh Arcoleo on 9th March.
Bath has its share of tourists, but we can hazard a guess that it may not have been just the Georgian architecture that drew Norwegian saxophonist Petter Wettre to Bath. His mate Jason Rebello lives here and lets face it, what are two long-time collaborators and fellow former Manu Katche sideman going to do when one comes a-visiting? Well, a gig of course and with Rebello’s son George pretty handy behind the drum kit, all that remained was to rope in another Bath resident, bass player Greg Cordez and the scene was set for vintage night down in St James’ favourite cellar.
This was no stand on ceremony gig. They were having fun, bringing some originals but plenty of familiar tunes appeared, but not always as we know them. After a gently grooving Wettre original Opportunity Fox as an opener, sinuous phrases from the sax cueing a reflective solo from Rebello, Bye Bye Blackbird‘s sparked recognition. The phrases were soon distorted however, twisting harmony scripted by the vistor making us do a double take. Autumn Leaves got similar treatment later in the set and both standards sparked pulsating burn-ups. This may have been an impromptu ‘pick up’ gig, but there was little sign of that as first Wettre and then Rebello senior shifted up through the gears. Wettre’s sound walks line between classic throaty tenor and a more astringent edgy sound (he was Manu Katchu’s choice or replacement for Jan Garbarek in his band). He dug into and traced mazy patterns all over the dense harmony. Rebello was in his element piling up layers of rhythm and glittering runs. They were definitely de-frosting a chilly evening.
There were moments when they leapt beyond what would have been a merely exhilarating evening. The deceptive simplicity and emotional directness with which they played the classic My Funny Valentine stopped the breath. It was hard not to hear echoes of Miles Davis era Herbie Hancock in some of Rebello’s instinctive flourishes on that tune, an impression reinforced as he took the band through one of Hancock’s funkier tunes Butterfly – the keyboard producing a fantastic squelchy Rhodes sound. Wettre produced a sizzling original in the second set Flavour of the Month that included some gravity defying unison playing between sax and piano with the drums somehow picking out all the accents.
The evening was full of implicit nods to heroes and influences and the finale of Joe Henderson’s Recordame was surely more than just fishing out a favourite jam session tune, Wettre’s fluency and groove over the familar harmony confirming his absorption of the master’s example. That was a great finale to a fizzing evening of top class music.
I’m not sure how Tony Clark got away with it. As he led the whoops and cheers at the end of another great evening in the cellar beneath St. James, the resident DJ and compère for the Jazz at the Vaults sessions assayed a wisecrack about the guest soloist, suggesting he was improving with age like a vintage wine. Roger Beaujolais, who must surely have fielded a few dreadful jokes about his name in his time, let it go and didn’t appear to notice or mind the reference to his age. Perhaps it was the warmth of the reception from the packed cellar or maybe Tony’s winning grin, either way he wielded the mallets one last time and led the band through Yesterdays (the standard) to finish only the second ever gig with a vibes player in Jazz at the Vaults’ now nine year history. That encore summed up the evening. The slight wow in the chiming sound of the vibes contrasting with percussive chords from Vyv Hope Scott before the mallets became a blur as Beaujolais swang like a demon, stretching and buffetting the shape of the old standard with a blistering solo. He spurred Vyv on to produce another volcanic solo, possibly his most adventurous of the night as his characteristic bluesey workouts morphed into more abstract tumults of notes. It was a fiery end to a great evening that had taken in plenty of standards as well as some of the guest’s originals, all delivered with the same energy. The House rhythm section were on form as ever and Trevor Davies was called on to bounce fours, eights and drum solos off the band on several occasions, Beaujolais nodding his approval at his invention and grooves that always seem to manage to hint at the tune or structure of the piece. Success is breeding success at the moment for the Wine Vaults with this gig ending the season on high before they restart in September with returning legend Art Themen. There’s a full programme booked for the Autumn to launch the tenth year including, so its rumoured, another Brit Jazz luminary, Henry Lowther.
“I’m showing off a bit tonight aren’t I?” said Jason with a rueful grin after a massive name drop in the course of naming the blistering latin tune with which the trio had opened the second set. The tune in question was Chick Corea’s Spain and if you’re going to name drop, then it may as well be big. So Rebello referred to the time he’d been out to Chick’s house (in Florida) for a jam. In the first set, there’d been a reference to touring with Wayne Shorter in his 20s. Nobody minded. They are reference points in the development of one UK’s foremost jazz musicians and its possible we’re blase about the frequency with which we get to hear him play locally. It was certainly not his first visit to the Vaults and the second occasion on which he’d brought son George along on drums. Resident bass man and organiser Wade Edwards had a deserved grin on his face as the sell out crowd squeezed in and just a bit of sweat on the brow as Rebello and Son put him through his paces. Standing a couple of feet from the keyboard was a spine tingling experience as Rebello perceptibly went up through the gears during the first set. As he launched into Cantaloupe Island, the felt in the bones, expressed through the muscles earthy, funky groove with razor sharp timing was enough to make the blood fizz and he really let rip as patterns spooled out and hooky riffs tweaked the ear over the cycling sequence. On other tunes like Sting’s La Belle Dame Sans Regrets or another Corea number You’re Everything, it was a fluid lyricism that emerged. A sumptuous reading of Somewhere over the Rainbow reminded us of his ear for shifting and reworking harmony on the fly. It wasn’t a one man show though. George may have only just finished his GCSEs but there was a maturity and depth to the interplay with the keyboard. Some of the standout moments of the gig were the almost conversational exchanges of 4’s and 8s between keyboard and drums and repeatedly instinctive echoing and doubling of rhythmic flourishes and flexibility in the Jason’s soloing. They were at it again on Billy’s Bounce as a finale, fours bouncing back and forth between father and son, building to a great climax. You have to hand it to Wade Edwards: his capacity to lure the best musicians around to the Vaults and keep them coming back means we are treated to nights like this – a regular Thursday night at Jazz at the Vaults and reliably exhilarating.
Is cause and effect operating here? Is the opportunity to guest with a house trio at a long standing jazz gig, playing to appreciative audiences in the ‘could-have-been-designed-for- the- purpose’ cellar bar beneath St. James, behind the migration of increasing numbers of top flight musicians to this part of the west country? Possibly a little fanciful. A programme that included Iain Ballamy, Dave Newton, Jason Rebello would look pretty strong for a club anywhere. Lucky Bath that they are all locally resident and have appeared since January (or soon will – Jason is next up on July 9th). That’s not to mention the steady supply of locally sourced talent and out of town visitors. This week it was the turn of fairly recently arrived to the area Sam Crockatt, member of London based Loop Collective and sporting an impressive CV despite his relative youth.
A couple of phrases, reeled off as the band dug into Secret Love, was enough to hear just why he attracts admiring comments and turns of the head wherever he plays. There’s a fullness of tone and easy fluency of phrase that instantly conjures up the great tradition of tenor players from Sonny Rollins through Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson. But there’s a distinctive contemporary edge as well. A propulsive kick from the snare of JazzHouse trio’s drummer Trevor Davies and Crockatt was off, burning through the standard’s harmony with a deceptively relaxed ease, but rhythmically inventive and with a blistering sense of groove. The repertoire nodded towards classics and heroes with Softly as the Morning Sunrise, East of the Sun, Dexter Gordan’s Soy Califa, Henderson’s Recordame and some classic Ellington, Isfahan and riotous A Train. The playing was uncliched and full of fire. The regular trio, as ever, were a great foil. Returning for the evening, the original house pianist, John Paul Gard showed us why he is in constant demand. He’s able to colour and float over the music as well as dig in behind soloists and formed a tight knit unit with bassist Wade Edwards and drummer Davies. Crockatt, is popping up all over the local area in various ensembles and any that include him should come highly recommended on this showing.
Iain at the Vaults. pic from from Vaults Facebook p
January has brought some icy blasts with it, so the warm caressing tone of Iain Ballamy’s sax was a ‘balm to the soul’ welcome as we stumbled down the stairs to the cellar bar and to a session that will surely soon be able to add ‘longest running’ to ‘top’ in the list of adjectives that describe the Wade Edwards’ house band plus guest, fortnightly gig. Ballamy has become a regular if not frequent visitor but whilst his guest sessions may lean on the standards jazz repertoire, they are deliciously unpredictable and to take him for granted would be a mistake. He’s an ECM recording artist (one of the most iconic jazz labels and home to Keith Jarrett amongst many others for nearly 40 years). He’s feted around Europe and appears in ambient elctronica ensembles, uncategorisable sublime jazz- folk crossovers, a burning contemporary jazz band the legendary Loose Tubes anarchic big band – the list goes on. You never quiet know what’s coming next, and the Jazz House Trio (Wade, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies) certainly didn’t as Iain decided on the spot what to play next and frequently how (instant arrangements either demonstrated or hurriedly whispered as they started). It didn’t matter though. At the centre of it was Ballamy’s sound, sketching out whispy melodic lines with a crackly almost hoarse sound in the upper register that speaks straight to the heart. Desafindao welcomed us in, a gorgeous statement of the theme that had the packed in audience applauding as if it was a grandstanding solo. An extraordinary arrangement of East of the Sun had a single throbbing note under half the theme, building tension until they slid into an easy free-wheeling swing , but setting a mood that sent the band off in new thoughtful directions. A Burt Baccharach classic, Wives and Lovers was an unexpected twist with a fluid out of time reading of the familiar tune preceding the breezy tempo established for the solos. The ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ high wire act offered thrills and spills as Ballamy started the gorgeous Wayne Shorter ballad Myako in a different key to the rest of the band. But after a blistering Out of Nowhere, time stood still as he made Autumn in New York completely his own. This was a fantastic start to a new season at the Vaults. It’s a treasure of a gig with a house band that welcomes artists of international stature like Iain Ballamy as well as the best of a top class scene in area. Its good to see that Bath people know a good thing when they see it. Audiences are regularly healthy. Long may it remain so!