Fringe Jazz Notes – and a New York connection.

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 downtown_gallerydid look a little un-promising. The Downtown Music Gallery does downtown_2have 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 dunmallCDpile 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!

 

Advertisements

Ambleside Days – the last post

The bass was parked, music scattered, instruments abandoned to be collected later.  The musicians had left the stage. As we all left  Screen 2 at Zeffirellis for the last time in the four-day-fest, there was an inescapable sense of having witnessed something momentous.

I mused mid fest about the ‘recipe’, orchestrated by Derek Hook the festival director, of a pool of musicians combined and recombined over the four nights.  Saturday saw the sublime Printmakers playing opposite a trio of Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland and Joe Locke.  Sunday was billed as evening with Dave Holland, which turned out to be solo, quartet (Dave with Simcock- Mike WalkerNorma Winstone), trio (Dave with Nikki IlesJames Maddren), quartet (the trio plus Mike Walker) and then the ensemble flowered into a mini big band, the full cast list from the previous days with the addition of Nick Smart popping up on trumpet and flugel-horn.

What held the dizzying rotation together was that ‘contemporary music’ tag and the reference point and celebration of John Taylor.  There was a tricky to define but discernible sound, a particular use of harmony, musical choices about melody and space that gave the music identity.   It was a joyous and appropriate finale then for the mini big band to play  a couple of sections of Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Time Suite.  Holland, Stan Sulzmann and Norma Winstone were all on stage who played on the original Large and Small Ensembles recording with of course, John Taylor on piano. The final blast of Wheeler’s Foxy Trot also had the Holland-Taylor rhythm section on the original.  The Wheeler, Taylor legacy flavours so much of the music that these musicians play and it sounded like their natural habitat.

That was true even when they were playing standards or original material.   Added to that was a visible delight in each other’s presence.  Joe Locke’s quartet set had started with an angular arrangement of Autumn in New York and he was grinning delightedly at Asaf Sirkis as the drummer caught and embellished every rythmic fill.  Heads turned and eyes snapped sideways all weekend at moments of magic and hot interaction.  Mike Walker beamed slowly as Dave Holland’s solo on In Your Own Sweet Way worked its way to an intense climax in the quartet set with Winstone.  Holland visibly caught his breath and smiled as an exquisitely crafted line seemed to float from the piano and hang in the air during a Nikki Iles solo in their trio moment.

In amongst all the ‘for one night only’ configurations, The Printmakers reminded us how compelling a regular ensemble can be. Their take on Vince Mendoza’s Ambivalence was a hear-a-pin drop moment as the chanting motif faded away.   Mark Lockheart and Walker did their familiar but always enchanting evocation of a beach, the guitar providing swooping seagulls over the sax’s breathy shifting sands before the band slid into Nikki Iles’ Tideways. Walker’s scatological story telling threatened to become a stand-up routine before his own glorious, surely-nearly-a-standard-now Clockmakers made the stoniest heart swell.

We saw a lot of everyone in different line-ups.  Gwilym Simcock appeared every night and was dazzling in his range of expression from the faintest glazes of an open piano string to the tumult of Barber Blues that closed the trio set with Mike Walker and Joe Locke.   Mike Walker’s instinct for when not to play, conjure an unlikely growl or rumble from his guitar, let a fluid melodic line insinuate itself through a chord sequence or simply to rock out was a consistent delight every time he took the stage.  And what a treat to see and hear so much of Dave Holland. For all the virtuosity and command of his instrument, there was tingling thrill every time he settled into a groove and made the music pulse and glow.

Creating so many one-off line ups could have been a risk. As it was, there wasn’t a part that didn’t create special, exciting and moving moments. And the sum of all those parts? That word ‘momentous’ seems about right.

 

 

 

 

Ambleside Days – the first post

After two evenings of the Ambleside Days ‘Contemporary Music Festival’, it’s quite hard to contain the excitement at what’s still to come. What we’ve already experienced has been quite breathtaking.  For four nights at Zeffirellis in Ambleside, a shifting roster of musicians have assembled to play music that has as its touchstone  an ‘exciting beauty’, to use the words of Derek Hook, animateur of this near magical happening. There’s an overt dedication to the memory of John Taylor; some of his compositions have already been lovingly re-interpreted.  More than this though, there’s a shared sensibility and reverence for allowing arcing, melodic lines to sing; open rich harmony to swell and ring; dancing, fizzing rhythms to animate and most of all an open-ness and receptiveness between musicians that creates drama and excitement on the fly.

On the first evening the Ambleside Quintet took the stage: Stan Sulzman, Mike Walker, Asaf Sirkis, Dave Holland and Gwilym Simcock. On the second they were distilled to Simcock, Holland and Walker, before Joe Locke’s Quartet took the stage with Simcock and Sirkis joined by Daryl Hall on bass. They briefly expanded to a quintet with Tim Garland guesting.

There are already so many glowing moments, the most compelling have been freighted with emotion as well as dazzling spontaneity.  On the first evening, Gwyilm Simcock segued from an angular Asaf Sirkis piece via a swirling, abstract improvisation that condensed into a pusating groove to launch Stan Suzmann’s Choo Choo.  Mike Walker seduced us all evening with solos that eddied, flowed and soared.  The trio of Simcock – Holland – Walker held the room spellbound whether with a sumptuous solo rendition of Everyone’s Song But My Own by Simcock, an electrifying, joyous solo from Dave Holland on I Should Care or a riotous take on Solar with a playful collective improv as an intro set off by a clang of the strings from Walker, chased by Holland with a big grin.  The Quartet set from Joe Locke was full of vitality and feeling, a dedication to Bobby Hutcherson Make Me Feel Like Its Raining another special moment.

The setting, the pool of musicians as well as performances from world class, established ensembles , is proving to be the perfect recipe for creating a unforgettable tribute to John Taylor and perhaps glimpses of future collaborations.  There’s more to come with The Printmakers taking the stage tonight and another set from a  permutation of that pool of musicians, this time Locke, Garland and Simcock.  Tomorrow, its an audience with Dave Holland and whoever he calls up to join him.

 

Brouhaha, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 13th August

A chill in the air, the scent of rain, about right for August then.  Ian Storrer had contrived to make the upper room at the Hen and Chicken feel like a velvet clad cave, complete with a blinking string of lights in the tunnel between stairs and seats. It was an appealing Sunday evening setting for the trio comprising the never predictable, always compelling Sam Crockatt on saxophones, quietly, arrestingly, propulsive and melodic Riaan Vosloo on bass and the restlessly inventive Dave Smith on drums. They served up two tasty sets, taking a winding path through folk songs, a handful of originals and diverse mixture of tunes from the pens of Dave Holland, Gil Evans via Wayne Shorter, David/ Hoffman/ Livingston via Disney and Ornette Coleman.

The snaking theme of Dave Holland’s Four Winds kicked things off followed by a moody, introspective take on the folk song Fair Phoebe and the Dark Eyed Sailor, Crockatt evoking a ghostly ships horn to  set the scene. All The Things You Are’s famous theme was sketched and turned inside out,  before gaining a hurtling momentum.  Grandfather Clock had a delightful drum introduction replete with ‘tick-tock’s’, setting up a lilting groove. Crockatt’s delivery evoked a whiff of Sonny Rollins as dancing riffs and fluid runs ramped the energy up. Crockatt’s own Stroll on the Knoll closed the set with with a snappy energy.

The second set continue in the same eclectic vein, but no matter what the material, there was a musical and melodic understanding that seemed to bind the three together. Drum solos had a melodic shape to them, sax solos a rhythmic energy and distilled economy of phrase, Vosloo was complementing and commenting as much as anchoring.

All of these three are sought over sidemen and leaders in their own right. The trio is a meeting of equal. Their choice of material, fearless playing and instinctive, bred-through- long-familiarity understanding,  make them a winning combination.

 

 

 

 

Loop in Frome – preview

Frome Festival is in full swing.  To call it a smorgasboard may be underplaying it. I can’t make the bee-keeping taster on Thursday afternoon and am genuinely gutted it looks like I won’t make the Iain Ballamy/ Huw Warren duo on Sunday 9th (I’m noticing how normal it seems for something so good to be in the festival programme).  There’s something else a bit special going on later in the week however,  that adds yet another dimension to proceedings: Two nights, six (or is it seven) – count ’em! – acts from the Loop Collective at Frome’s Silk Mill.  Formed over a decade ago by some of the most exciting young players on the London scene at the time, the collective has spawned dozens of bands and projects and its members have gone on to establish international reputations. Much of the music defies categorisation, but improvisation, creative exploration, blending of influences and a ‘jazz sensibility’ are probably constant threads.

Dave Smith, a founder member and now resident in Frome has pulled together the two nights. His personal CV has Robert Plant’s current band on it as well as plenty of experimental electronica and the band Outhouse (a version of their music appears on the second night, Friday 14th).  Thursday 13th sees a set from Kit Downes and Tom Challenger (harmoniums and sax) a project that originated through improvised duo performances of sax and church organs they call Vyamanikal. Splice (laptops, trumpet sax and Dave on drums) and a solo set from vibes supremo Jim Hart. Friday 14th has Fofoulah vs Outhouse preceded by an outfit call Primitive London (a hip-hop and DJ influenced set) and bass, laptop sax duo Rills and Courses. There’ll be a finale involving remixes of samples from the two nights’ performances.   Its sure to be something a bit special then: Unpredictable, mind expanding, absorbing and good fun. Tickets here and here

Footnote:  Dave Smith was interviewed by London Jazz News about this happening here

 

Children of the Light – Perez/ Patitucci/ Blade Trio, Blue Note New York, Saturday 17th June

Danilo Perez  took the ‘Can you whistle the tune?’  question to a new level at New York’s Blue Note on Saturday night. Mid-way through the set, he cued the band in by whistling the tune, pausing to insist bass player John Patitucci join in. With a chuckle, Patitucci IMG_1499sportingly gave it a go. A few exploratory chords from Perez behind the whistling and then they were off, a frown of concentration from Patitucci and grin of delight from the pianist as zigzagging lines interlocked driven by the snappy, complementary groove from Brian Blade behind the kit.  The playfulness pervaded the whole set, alternating with deadly serious, razor sharp execution of complex moves. Many of Perez’s compositions have audible roots in fierce grooves, overlain with angular harmony and tantalisingly abstract, melodic lines. Blade was a constant, exuberant, alert presence producing some of the most thrilling moments of the evening as he stoked the fires of a building vamp, or lashed a free- wheeling improvisation along.

IMG_3683This trio set was a big ticket gig in the month long Blue Note festival and billed as ‘Children of the Light’, the title of the trio’s album released in 2015 after nearly a decade as the core of Wayne Shorter’s quartet.  They played with the same freedom and invention for which the quartet has become known.  Perez was constantly setting up vamps that sounded scripted, the impression belied by his impish grin as either Blade or Patitucci snapped him a look. The looks were the only indication, they followed his every move.

The set started with a version of Suite for the Americas a long, evolving piece that seemed to traverse the continent in its different sections and rhythms. An elegiac piece followed, Perez and Patitucci taking flight with emotional and melodic solos. Then pulsating rhythms and a maelstrom of improvisation.  A muted, exquisite take on Stevie Wonders Overjoyed evoked a singing solo from Patitucci before a finale of Perez singing the band in, orchestrating call and response riffs with the audience, beat boxing and whipping up Patitucci and Blade solos with two handed rhythmic barrages.

This was a storming performance by a trio of some of the best musicians on the planet, performing as if they had a single mind. It was simply joyous music making.

Magical musical moments a-plenty in the last month.

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.