Note to self: In amongst the hurly burly of ‘yet another thing’, jostling for attention or needing to be done, remember to stop and appreciate the moments of of magic. The mind can play tricks. With non-musical pre-occupations distracting me (a lot) the last month or so, I’d been thinking live music had taken a back seat. Until I wrote a list
There were the ones that I actually wrote about: Chris Potter at Cheltenham Jazz Festival; London Vocal Project (LVP)‘s UK premiere of Miles Ahead; Bath Festival gigs (these for Jazzwise) – Brad Mehdlau, Georgie Fame with Guy Barker Big Band and ‘Stormy‘, a one women theatre show about Lena Horne. Of that little crop Mehldau, and LVP still give me a physical tingle if I stop and think about it.
It seems we are never short of great live music at the moment for the local scene. We took in an outing of Andy Hague‘s Quintet. As well as being a fine trumpeter and drummer, Andy is a prolific and inventive writer and arranger, making these gigs a bit of a roast for his band. It’s a good job they are all top drawer. A scintillating arrangement of Ladies in Mercedes still glows in the memories and George Cooper in peak form (only depping mind) absolutely burning on an Andy tune inspired by Giant Steps.
We took in a double bill of Zoe Rahman and Jay Phelps at the Colston Hall’s Lantern stage. Rahman’s was a solo set at the piano and she was simply glowing. A set of mainly originals with a sprinkling of other sources were vehicles for fiery improvisations. Elbows, snaking glissandos, plucking and muting strings inside the piano, all were melded into fluid lines that ebbed and flowed, full of drama. Never far away was a meaty groove, sometimes implied, often explicit. If we’ve seen less of her over the last two or three years on the live circuit, this is timely reminder that she must be one of our most assured and individual voices. More!! Jay Phelps band are also, individually, some of the busiest and hardest grooving musicians around. They let rip on a collection of Phelps originals inspired by a couple of years of globe trotting on his part. Sophisticated funk, latin grooves and soulful hip hop inflected themes were the order of the day. Phelps made is mark as trumpeter as a very young man. His writing for voice seemed to stretch his own vocal technique however.
As if all that wasn’t enough – catching a set of Alex Hutton stretching out on what sounded like a Bill Evans themed set at the Archduke (just on London’s southbank ) was a delight. With Dave Whitford on bass and a drummer whose name I didn’t quite catch, they were nonchalently swinging like mad and Hutton reminding me what fine, lyrical improvise he is.
Maybe not such a quiet month then. Wherever you are, it seems you may not be too far from some great live music.
Dipping into the BeBop Club on Friday just as the quartet had kicked off, I caught a little fizz of excitement as tenor man Greg Sterland dug into Blues for Philly Joe over a pulsating swinging groove. Pasquale Votino on bass and Paolo Adamo have been ubiquitous around Bristol of late, a first call rhythm section and that moment captured why. The energy and propulsive momentum was palpable. Sterland is an adventurous and fluent improviser. Even on the blues, familiar phrases were twisted and pulled into long lines, occasional gutteral cries and rasps adding colour. And then a change of pace and a moody Kenny Kirkland piece brought a more smoky, brooding sound from Sterland and Daan Temmink his co-leader on keys, spun rhapsodic and lyrical flurries over Kirkland’s distinctive angular harmony. All was set fair for an absorbing and exciting evening’s music. Bird Food ramped the energy levels further still, Sterland pulling out another, twisting, volcanic solo. Paolo Adamo was all ears on drums seeming to anticipate and catch every rhythmic swerve. A lovely Temmink original followed, Song for Helen. If we didn’t already know that he plies his trade as a composer for film and TV, someone might have been tempted to commission him on the strength of that one. Sterland’s Nothing Serious was a ghostly latin number, making the most of the simplest of motifs and breathy tenor, wheezing and fluttering. It inspired an incandescent solo from Temmink, all glittering runs and sinuous melodic lines. A second set saw more originals, a wonky Coltrane tribute by Votino, Dear John. If Coltrane didn’t write in 5/4 maybe he should have done; another Temmink original, Dragonfly all dance and skitter then a gorgeous reading of Monk’s Reflections to finish, Sterland growling, rasping and fluttering again around the melody, in between the perfectly crafted swoops of the melody.
I’m not sure if this is a regular band, but the busy, collaborative, Bristol scene mean these players know each other well and it showed in this performance. A evening that delivered all the promise of that first tune.
I’m still catching up with 2016’s recorded largesse as 2017 rolls on. These two excellent albums are wildly different but give a flavour of the diverse creativity honed and unleashed by now well established jazz programmes at top music colleges. Drummer Silk hails from Scotland originally but went to Birmingham, whilst pianist Dominic Marshall went to Leeds before migrating to Holland for further study.
Marshall’s latest recording Triolithic, released towards the end of last year, finds him reunited for half the dozen tracks with fellow Leeds alumni Sam Vicary on bass and Sam Gardner on drums. The rest are recorded with regular collaborator Jamie Peet on drums and Glenn Gaddum Jr on bass. There are plenty sources of inspiration blended into Marshall’s playing and writing but the lodestar is the blending of melodic lines, jazz drenched harmony, fluid improvising and the beats of hiphop. It’s territory he’s been exploring for a while, but this collection has the assured feel of an artist confident in his own voice. A liquid groove may never be far away but different atmosphere’s are conjured up with a playful hook from the synth on 80 Campbell Road, a dark modal work out on Deku Street with Jarret-like spiraling invention. Blue Lotus takes off with dazzling counterpoint. The pieces evolve and the developments suggest little stories. This is music that draws on influences and makes something fresh from them.
Jonthan Silk‘s Fragment is another set of original music, but using an altogether different palette. Silk has written for a big band augmented by a 13 piece string section. He’s put his studies with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider to good use creating sweeping, dynamic pieces. Some, like Introduction, Prelude, Reflection are very short setting us up for more prolonged development. After swelling strings, the trumpet entrance on Introduction is a catch the breath moment before Buchaille kicks in, layers build up and solos swoop over stabbing interjections from the ensemble. The title track Fragment is high octane, burning improv over a rocky clatter. Fool’s Paradise’s succession of episodes uses the full range of the the band building to a climax, the trumpet section soaring over a clamorous sax solo before calm descends. There’s some glorious playing from individuals and the whole ensemble. This is a notable achievement and too many strings to count added to the bow of Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records who put this one out.
If 2017’s crop of recordings produces many like these two, it will be a very good year.
There’s only one place to be, if you happen to find yourself in Sheffield on a Wednesday night. Off to The Lescar I went. This week they were hosting guitarist Alex Munk’s Flying Machines touching down in Sheffield on an extensive tour promoting their album.
They took off straight away with a throbbing bass line from Conor Chaplin, Dave Hamblett‘s drums and the guitar locking in a groove that had a whiff of a skirling dance to it. Rainbow Line followed with a fractured, funky bass line and a snapping, off-kilter feel. As Long As It Lasts after a ruminative intro from Munk, had a hymn like melody traced out by ringing chords. Chaplin unwound a fluid melodic solo before handing the baton to Munk. The leader has a knack of stringing crisply articulated motifs into long arcing phrases even as the rhythm section revs up underneath him and they collectively lean towards rocking out. Matt Robinson on keyboards is the fourth, indispensable element of the sound. Subtle synth washes and tastefully judged chordal stabs or melodic flurries were ever present. On a new, as yet untitled Munk tune, a plaintive, folky melody accelerated over Hamblett’s hip, driving drums and Robinson let fly with a blistering solo, blending darting lines and blocked chords to build to a climax. There were a couple of excursions into out and and out prog rock meltdowns, but always lurking were artfully layered rhythms and harmonic shifts. Towards the end Robinson guided a more reflective piece with a gorgeous reflective intro before the gently rocking groove of A Long Walk Home drew another bass solo, packed with ideas and long fluid lines.
Munk’s music steers a path through all sorts of references with a seasoning of a rocky groove or a kicking riff never far away. It was rapturously received by a full house at The Lescar. Their tour continues so catch them if you can. The remaining 16 (count-em) dates are here
June Tabor started the performance at St. George’s by declaring “We are Quercus”, and then musing on the contradiction of the plural ‘we’ (herself, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren) and the singular Quercus. Well it’s simple June. Three peer-less musicians, one exquisitely blended sound.
The music was by turns dancing then meditative; brightly sparkling then dark and brooding. The repertoire was their trademark eclectic confection, centred on the English folk tradition but touching the jazz standards book, breezing past Brazil and drawing on more contemporary folk and rock. And only ever sounding like this band. Tabor’s note bending slide between two pitches; a subtle harmonic inflection and ripple of notes from Warren on piano; a breathy, astringent phrase from Ballamy’s saxophone all suffused the most familiar
of melodies with a distinctive flavour.
Southern Sea launched the show, Tabor’s crystal clear sonority underpinned by simple piano chords with just a hint of rich colour and an artful modulation giving the sax enough to sweep and swell over to an emotional climax. Jobim’s Meditation, shifted the gears, The Irish Girl injected an overtly folky pulse then Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice took on an irrestibile momentum with a gently rocking implied groove form Warren’s thickening and propulsive chords.
This rare live gig found the band airing material from their forthcoming second release on ECM and on this showing it will be a ‘must buy’. As the second set proceeded, the intensity peaked and readings of You Don’t Know What Love Is and Beating the Retreat evoked a rapturous response from the generous audience. We were rewarded with a take on Auld Lang Syne that seemed to breathe the personality of the band whilst honouring the original.
That voice and the lyrics were the centre of the evening, but Warren and Ballamy were extraordinary. The piano accompaniment somehow contrived to maintain the simplicity
and openness that much of the music demanded whilst imbuing every chord and flourish with colours that evoked the mood. Ballamy’s sound is like no other and the restraint and occasional bursts of lyricsm were judged to perfection
This was a magical evening which, for all the pain and loss expressed in the lyrics, left this listener feeling uplifted, a bit more human and more alive.
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.
If you check out Phelan Burgoyne‘s Bandcamp page for his just released debut as a leader Unquiet Quiet, the words offered as tags are jazz, improvisation, London (so far unsurprising) and rubato. The last one might raise an eyebrow, given this is a drummer led trio playing Burgoyne’s compositions. It’s a little signal however, that listening and on the spot alchemy are part of the brew.
And so it turned out to be when I dropped into the Vortex last Friday for the launch gig. Burgoyne’s co-alchemists were Martin Speake and Rob Luft supplying thoughtful probing alto and layers of guitar sound respectively. The unannounced pieces crept in with maybe a squeal from the alto, a distant rattle or a ripple from the guitar. There was always development and a strong hook to anchor the piece invariably emerged. A smear of cymbals announced the first tune, then the simplest of themes, a repeating off-kilter motif launched the exploration. Speake’s alto swirled and cried over the wash and bubble of guitar that swelled to a climax before the plaintive motif returned. The drums were all colour in the midst of the collective steady momentum.
That set the tone. The loose free-wheeling vibe was a thread through the set. Burgoyne switched to sticks and there was a more insistent clatter, giant distorting chords and clangs from the guitar before sparring with alto, trading astringent phrases. A moody introspective theme blurred into a gentle waltz. A bright melodic tone poem delivered, yes of course – rubato, was pushed along by skittering drums and shadowed by ghostly guitar lines before morphing into a quietly insistent groove. A throbbing, skipping, clackety pulse from drums lifted the energy and a snaking theme surfed along.
This was open, interactive music from a trio in tune with each other insisting on being listened to as intensely as the musicians listened to each other and cast its spell on me. It was an absorbing evening’s music.