New Year Post 5: sort of best of

It’s still January, so I can just about get away with thinking about all the jazz related stuff I enjoyed over the last year (can’t I?).   I hope I don’t stop noticing and being amazed (and not a little overwhelmed) by how much new music, live music, wildly creative music there is around us. My listening is pretty strongly channeled into jazz related (whatever that is) zones and still its a fabulous all enveloping wave.  Here’s what I noticed in my usual idiosyncratic swim through the last 12 months or so.

Pianists. I saw live some longstanding heroes and people who’ve long made me shake my head in wonder.  Dave Kikoski was one. When was he last in UK?  If it was recently I missed him. In full flight a sight to behold and I didn’t have to leave town to see him. He was smuggled in with Jonathan Kriesberg’s band at the Hen & Chicken (one of several Storrer coups last year).  Also in Bristol, also smuggled in with another band (Martin Speake’s this time), Bobo Stenson, the Swedish maestro.  An evening at Colston Hall’s Lantern to remember. I finally saw Enrico Pieranunzi, Italian maestro, astonishingly debuting at Ronnnie Scott’s in AugustJulian Arguelles got my vote in the LondonJazz end of year accolades after the tumultuous gig with the FDR Big Band playing South African Jazz at Cheltenham, then the sublime quarte Tetra at the Vortex later in the year.  They all fulfilled stratospheric expectation.  Another highlight was the slightly more apparently left field, until you actually see them, double bass duo of Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer at St. George’s during Bristol’s (once again Jazz and Blues Festival).  Here’s a little taste

There was plenty of recorded music to taste as well, that all enveloping wave was even more overwhelming. There’s a few that got stuck, catching me at a particular moment or just demanding to be listened to again.   Early in year a typically divergent but compelling Charles Lloyd release I long to See You and around the same time, Sam Crockatt‘s Mells Bells (that one got my London Jazz end of year vote). Sam lives out west and there were a few releases from local (or near local bands) that really caught my ear.  The prolific Kevin Figes released two albums, a quartet and and octet, and Andy Nowak‘s trio recording was a little beauty.  Two from slightly further afield that really got lodged in the play list was the rocky grooves of  Duski  led by Cardiff bass man Aidan Thorne and  (keeping a Cardiff connection, albeit a now former resident) Huw Williams’ Hon was an excitingly varied, scintillating album.   But I’ll finish where I started, with a pianist. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the joy of re-visiting, via a re-release, the Erskine trio and its the piano of John Taylor that stays with me.  A good note on which to look forward into 2017

Here’s to a happy, music filled New Year – even if I am a bit slow starting!

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


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.

New Year Post 4: A few words of fan mail to the erstwhile Erksine trio

End of year/ New Year lists tradition seems to demand the best of highlights from the previous year.  An unquestionable highlight for me was a re-release.  My first ‘new year post’ nodded at sounds that lured me jazz-wards.  It wasn’t long after that I discovered the trio led by Peter Erskine, then in the midst of a run of 4 albums recorded on ECM between 1992 and 1997 (You Never Know, Time Being, As It Is,  Juni).  Something about the trio and its sound  transfixed me with, at different times, one or another of the albums on repeat.  ECM released all four as a set halfway through the year under the title As It Was (ha ha).   asitwasWhat a delight it was to review it for London Jazz. My recollection was that I’d held the instinctive gushing of a fan back: reading the review I’m not sure I entirely succeeded.  Never mind.   The plan for this post is to give it full rein.  Listening to the albums again I realised that I’ve never stop listening to them. They’ve become another bit my personal soundtrack.  Its seems also that the sound of the trio has become a unique reference point for other listening.

Since this is a blogpost, I thought a ‘listicle’ was in order, albeit breaking the rules with the omission of numbers.

Things I love about the Peter Erskine Trio

  • How Peter Erskine, the drummer leader, is often hardly playing (try New Old Age on the first album, You Never Know; nearly two minutes before there’s a shimmer of a cymbal)
  • How rhythmic and grooving are so many of these pieces… even though it sounds abstract and floating at first listen, with Erskine hardly playing, just ticking on a cymbal or rustling on a snare.  (Almost anything but try For Ruth on As It Is
  • How repeating, quite abstract phrases, usually the themes of pieces, have little twists of ‘catch your breath’ melody,  and become like old friends after a few listens. (John Taylor’s Windfall on Juni is a bit like this)
  • Bursts of lyricism, like beams of sunlight ( How about Esperanca and Touch Her Soft Lips and Part on As It Is or Liten Visa Til Karin on Time Being)
  • Eruptions of blistering swing that seem to to build like a huge ocean swell (try Everything I Love on You Never Know or Twelve on Juni

But more than anything

  • Its John Taylor – the touch, the way just one chord both stretches your ears, makes your heart flutter and foot tap. How did he do that?
  • And Palle Danielsson. The perfectly placed bass note that opens up the harmony and sounds so rich
  • And the three of them together. Sometimes the music sounds like them breathing steadily as one (try Liten Visa again)

I know I’m not alone in loving these albums, but when music works its magic on us we may be sharing it, but it becomes part of us.  So this is my music as well now.  Thanks Peter, John and Palle.

New Year Post 3: A few words about St. James Wine Vaults (Bath)

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.

New Year Post 2: A word about Dempsey’s (Cardiff)

Getting the Dempsey’s Jazz email from Brenda O’Brien is always accompanied by a frisson of anticipation. ‘Who has Alistair McMurchie lured to that upstairs room opposite the castle now?’ is my usual thought.   The pair have run the club for well over ten years in that location and it is a ‘must visit’ on most tour itineraries, not least for the piano as well as the welcome.   What a jolt then to read not an early warning of another booking coup, but that Dempsey’s is closing and with it the venue of the club.  With two, sometimes three gigs a week through most of the year, they estimate 1400-1500 gigs put on during their tenure.   For such unwelcome news, its a remarkably up-beat message with the search for an alternative venue. They’ll run until the pub closes on 12th February. Its another moment to pause and this time salute Alistair and Brenda for what they’ve done.  Whether they can find an alternative remains to be seen.  Luck and a few helping hands are needed.

This is the advertised programme.

Monday 16th January  The Collective – Great Big Band with tremendous charts. and some fine players. Come and experience this music close up.
Tuesday 17 January  Cloudmakers plus2 – Jim Hart vibraphone, Michael Janisch double bass, Dave Smith drums with guests: Hannes Riepler guitar,  Antonin Tri Hoang alto saxophone
Wednesday 18th January RWCMD showcase – two bands of Welsh College   students
Tuesday 24th January – TBC
Wednesday 25th January TUK TUK – Joe Northwodd tenor, Aidan Thorne bass Paulo Adamo drums plus special guest
 Tuesday 31st January  RWCMD showcase – two bands of Welsh College students
Wednesday 1st February – TBC
Tuesday 7th February CAPITAL CITY JAZZ ORCHESTA – The Big Band with OMPH.
Wednesday 8th February  The Pete Canter Trio – Pete on Soprano and Tenor saxes Matt Johns on Keys and Ron Phelan on 5-string double bass. They will be playing originals fusing comtemporary European Jazz with fold and Latin Influences.

New Year Post 1: A word or two about Andy Sheppard

Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the  Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience.  First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music.  A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the  unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.

And why valedictory?  Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal.  Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion.  Its also made me a bit reflective.  The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.

Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol,  but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz.  Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro,  world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album),  made me want to listen again.  One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton  who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album

Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years.  And he’ll be back.  The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March.  It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect.  Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music.  Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with  the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.

Christmas musical post(s) … aiding recovery

A pre-christmas tangle with the seasonal flu virus has pretty much halted any blogging and gig going over the last couple of weeks (although there was a weekend of delights to be reported on involving Andre Canniere at the BeBop and Andy Sheppard‘s valedictory show at the Hen Chicken just as the virus was revving up).

But enough of this self-pity.  Something that’s put a smile on my face and aided recovery has been the rash of musicians/ bands posting live christmas performances on various platforms. Is it just me or is there suddenly more of it?  I may just be paying more attention of course.  Below are some gems I’ve found myself playing more than once ( in no particular order… and I’m sure there a plenty more out there – do post if you stop by and know of one you think I’d like.

With the technology to string these together, it will make a world beating soundtrack to the cooking/ eating/ general festivities.  And you get multiple ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘s (ItBMW)

London Vocal Project:  Four (count ’em) Pete Churchill arrangements  including ItBMW (1)

Jacob Collier   (ItBMW (2) )

Iain Ballamy and Jason Rebello‘s annual get-together   (includes ItBMW (3)

 I confess this shades it as my favourite selection – some deadpan cheese, total class and that Ballamy sound on tenor… I just melt.

Joey Alexander… looking like a teenager who just got out of bed (.. cos he is) .. sounding like… this.