Fringe Jazz, the weekly gig in Clifton’s Fringe Bar that never seems to rest, is celebrating 5 years this Autumn. They’ve moved out to the pub round the corner and back again in that time and Jon Taylor has put together the usual mouth watering programme to celebrate. I’ve also detected an (admittedly tenuous) New York connection.
On a recent, all to brief, flit through New York, I sought out a CD store in a fairly shabby corner of lower Manhattan. The spray painted shutters and steps down to the the cellar did look a little un-promising. The Downtown Music Gallery does have a reputation however, both stocking a huge selection of the free-er, scronkier end of improvised music and even hosting occasional gigs. Descending, I turned out to be the only customer at that time and got a quick guided tour of the stacks. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when my eyes fell on some very familiar names in the first pile I looked at. Right there in the middle, a Paul Dunmall trio album with Bristol lads Tony Orrell and Jim Barr. Meanwhile, back at the fringe this very week (September 13), Paul Dunmall is in trio with Tony Orrell. It’s the mighty Percy Pursglove on bass this time. Now there’s a New York connection. That’s pretty representative of the quality of the Fringe’s programme (check out the full listings here). There’s a couple more I’ll flag.
On the 11th October, Martin Speake, Hans Koller, Calum Gourlay and Jeff Williams bring their Monk project to the bijou back room. This is a longstanding collaboration formed to play as many of Monk’s collaborations as possible and has been seen regularly at London’s Vortex club. London Jazz interviewed Gourlay about it. Speake is a creative veteran of the UK scene, last seen in Bristol with the legendary Bobo Stenson. Koller also has a formidable CV and Brooklyn-ite Jeff Williams provides another New York connection, dividing his time between there and UK and has a long history and huge reputation both sides of the pond. 15th November sees ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy return, this time with his unique duo with Norwegian button accordionist Stian Cartensen. A Nordic rather than a New York connection, but a rare opportunity to catch this extraordinary collaboration.
Too many words are required to summarise the whole programme, but there are plenty more gems there with the best of our local scene well represented. Let’s keep supporting the Fringe – and here’s to five more years!
Anyone who pays attention to the wider Bristol music scene will know Andy Nowak is a musician with eclectic tastes . He’s to be seen on the acoustic folk circuit, playing guitar and singing and he holds the keyboard chair in the grooving Duval Project. This outing at Fringe Jazz for his determinedly jazz orientated trio was a prelude to a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign to fund a recording. ‘Thanks for listening to us practice’ he said with a wry smile as B7 Blues finished with a snappy flourish. For the Thursday night punters , the banter between the trio about the tricky time signature (7/4) and unusual key for a blues (B) was the only clue that the shuffling funky number was anything other than a familiar well worn part of the set. With a repertoire drawing on sources as diverse as Duran Duran (no… really!), Nick Drake and Joey Caldarazzo as well the standards book and the leader’s own compositions, there was plenty of variety to keep us hooked. The rhythm team of Andy Tween and Spencer Brown on drums and bass are top drawer and made the odd metres, Brazilian grooves and pulsating swing that Andy threw at them sound effortless. It was the playing of Andy Nowak however that held this gig together and made it just a bit special. There are elusive qualities that mark any player out. A Pianist’s touch on the keyboard, their feel for rhythm and swing, the instinct of when to play and what to play, all combine to create an individual sound. In Andy there’s a light but assertive touch, seductive sense of groove and an instinctive sense and feel for space. He never over plays. The sound of bop inspired jazz is never far away and there’s a delightful instinct for developing melodic and rhythmic ideas in his solos. It was most transparent on standards like It Could Happen to You, but originals like Bloodstone with its rich harmony and that Brazilian groover stimulated lovely fluid solos. This is a very fine jazz piano trio and I for one would like to hear that album (although I must confess I think they could drop the Duran Duran cover). Keep an eye on the Kickstarter campaign here.
A quick footnote: This was another little triumph for the weekly session at The Fringe. They are going all through the summer. The July programme is here and I hear the August programme includes John Pearce with Dave Newton, Andy Sheppard’s intriguing quartet with Denny Illet and another consultation with the Pushy Doctors featuring that Andy Shepard bloke again.
Another troupe of the London scene were criss-crossing the west this week and stopped in Bristol on a Thursday night. This time it was a quintet led by key board player Dan Wood and Fringe Jazz the port of call. I stopped by for the first set , breaking a long , rain-swept journey back to Bath. The band had been to St. Ives earlier in the week and managed to get in and out between road closures due to flooding, so Bristol narrowly avoided jazz deprivation by reason of deluge. The mercurial genius of Thelonius Monk was the focus. The repertoire was exclusively his tunes and the bands performance gave full rein to the spikey-ness and rhythm shuffling angularity of his style. There was no scope for lapses of concentration here as the front line of Nick Malcolm on trumpet and George Crowley hit every displaced phrase together and drum and bass fills completed jigsaw like themes. Dan Wood’s choice of Fender Rhodes as weapon of choice gave the Monkish stabs and rhythmical driving comping on the opener Jackie-ing a different slightly unexpected twist. The intensity loosened as the set wore on. On a duo version of Panonnica Nick Malcolm let rip on trumpet rendering the beautiful melody with by turns the sweetest warmest of tones and then whines and sighs and sliding notes. As George Crowley really dug into Think of One, Ollie Brice on bass and Simon Roth seemed to be trying to make him think of anything but one, clattering out counter rhythms and skittering patterns that made the head spin. By the time Roth launched into a rolling rattling, staccato stabs drum solo on We See he’d nearly stolen the show with restless, inventive drumming that off-set and enlivened everything. Dan Wood’s conception of Monk with this band stays close to the originator’s swinging vibe making it an engrossing set and his playing was full of the clusters, stabs and rapid runs so characteristic of Monk’s own playing albeit given an individual flourish and recast with the Rhodes’ voice. I went away humming a couple of those themes as the jazz folk lore around the Monk legend says I should and with a ‘note to self’ somewhere to be sure to catch this lot again if I get the chance.
January jazz continued with a blast last week. My round-up of the Pushy Doctors and Reuben Fowler/ James Gardiner Bateman Quintet is up on the Jazzwise website ‘breaking news’ section so I’ll just add a few random thoughts here. I hadn’t seen the Pushy Doctors for a while and they were on sizzling form. Perhaps the regular slot at Fringe Jazz encourages adventurousness (not that they were ever coy), but they seemed even more playful and experimental than ever. An exquisite, representative moment was after a merely typically scorching soprano sax workout on My Favourite Things, the mood somehow transformed into a low intense pulse and the theme of In a Silent Way suddenly emerged. They all seemed startled, especially Andy Sheppard who’d played it! “We’re in a different world now… help!” he muttered. That improvising stuff is dangerous. The cavalry rushed in with the surging groove and they were off again. They are unfailingly exhilarating. There were plenty of thrills at the BeBop. Reuben Fowler down from London for what seemed to be a college re-union with Bristol’s own James Gardiner Bateman in the form of a roaring gig – happily to a packed house. The college in question is Royal Academy which seems to have set up production line supplying our national scene with breathtaking and matured talent. Reuben won the Kenny Wheeler prize, part of which involved releasing an album on Edition Records. With some additional funding he recorded a big band and the results “Between the Shadows’ I’ve been listening to non-stop since I picked a copy up at the gig (I did pay for it as well). As it happened, the big band were playing the material live the following night at Kings Place in London. The pianist, Matt Robinson was down on Friday with Dave Hamblett on drums and Andrew Robb on bass. They were all on great form, with two sets of standard/ classic tunes and a couple of originals but played with passion, energy and fire to rival anyone I’ll warrant. There were the most delicate of moments from a duo on The Nearness of You between Fowler’s flugel horn and the piano, full blooded no holds barred blowing from James on Tears in Inside and just a glimpse of the new music to come from the pens of Matt Robinson and Reuben Fowler. Surely these guys are going to entertaining, thrilling and moving us for a good few years to come.
Two Thursdays, two gigs, two locally run, promoted and sustained club nights. St. James Wine Vaults saw another visit from Alan Barnes a week ago. The itinerant jazzman extraordinaire, who appears at local gigs like this in between high profile gigs with a who’s who of jazz (and pop .. .pace Bryan Ferry) was on sizzling form for this, his third or fourth visit to the Vaults to put the host Jazzhouse Trio through their paces. The Jazz at the Vaults session is well established (subject of frequent loud cheers on this blog), Bristol’s Fringe Bar session is a relative newcomer, celebrating its first birthday on the 3rd October of weekly Thursday night gigs in the tiny back room of the bar in Clifton’s Princess Victoria Street. The predominantly local casting doesn’t mean any compromise on quality. Andy Sheppard is using a break in touring with Carla Bely and Steve Swallow to fit in (yet another) couple of gigs with the Pushy Doctors in late October. It does mean that some local talent with original music is getting exposure in a great context. This week it was pianist Andy Christie bringing a set of his originals and a band more than equal to the subtle twists, turns and sideways shifts of resonant, sometimes angular harmony and themes.
It would be fair to say Barnsey stormed the Vaults. As I watched him initiate the encore with an unaccompanied, dazzling shower of notes, all leaps, chromaticisms and arpeggios and fleeting references to any number of themes written for the changes of ‘I got Rythmn’, a few thoughts jostled for position. First I wondered, did he bustle in to meet the house band earlier and say ‘get yer be-bop chops out lads’? They were certainly needed and they joined in on cue in that encore, Vyv Hope Scott in particular seemed to be on fire and revved up the Barnes stimulus. The main thought, accompanied by a visceral emotional charge, was that stylistic mannerisms faded away as there was no dodging the passion, tinged with melancholy of the guest’s playing. It’s a mark of his class that what ever he’s playing , what comes through is the sense of some telling you something about themselves, with numerous erudite asides, no matter what the tempo or how many off the wall gags have people chuckling as he starts playing. It wasn’t a packed house, but there were plenty there to savour the moment.
If the Vaults was treated to a masterclass in standards, the Fringe got a set of original tunes from the pen of the pianist leader Andy Christie. There were even quavered pulses under shifting chords, an affecting sinuous melody over a waltz, a light samba-ish feel anchoring more dark harmonies and hints of an afro 12/8 rythmn in the melody of another tune with a quick burst of astandard (Autumn in York?). This was a really appealing set with a strong identity and writing. The fierce concentration of the band hinted at the newness of the venture but there was no hiding the quality in the band. Nick Dover in particular on tenor deployed a gorgeous tone and a sure footed melodic sense building real tension and swooping lines through the complex progressions. Jon Short on bass and Greg White on drums were a propulsive force behind everything. A band to watch and enjoy at hopefully more future outings. A thoroughly satisfying outing and another shout to a great local club (website here) and it’s tireless organiser Jon Taylor. And to complete this little circuit – Nick Dover is in action again on October 4th at the Vaults as the guest of the Jazz House Trio.