Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four, BeBop Club, Friday 21st April

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Hammond organ, drums, guitar, tenor sax; a punter could be forgiven for thinking they knew what to expect with that line-up. Draw by Four, playing mostly original material by leader Jon Shenoy, gave the classic formula a distinctly contemporary twist with artfully crafted compositions, patiently developed ear tweaking melodic and rhythmic hooks and some expansive blowing and interplay from the band.

They revved up with a couple of looseners. A burner, with a title that sounded like Kinky D, had a clattering, even quavered groove from Chris Draper on drums and gave everyone a chance to stretch out, Shenoy and Sam Dunn on guitar locked in unison for an attention grabbing, rhythmic theme. The Beach Boys’ Don’t Talk followed,  Will Bartlett using the organ to provide textures and atmosphere and Shenoy’s warm, with just the right dose of tension tenor sound,  more than doing Brian Wilson’s classic justice. Then a suite of Shenoy originals conjured a different vibe. Lost Clouds had a dreamy melodic line, with contrasting rythmic hooks and a quietly snappy groove.  A trio of pieces inspired by paintings had more complex arrangements; variations in tempo and layering of rhythms, juxtaposing melodies and riffs, spaces for interplay between duos,  tempos and themes crafted to conjure images and emotions.  Colonsay Harbour was a standout moment of the whole gig (and the polar opposite of a stereotypical hammond organ vibe). A free-ish interplay between sax and guitar, with colour and texture provided by drums and organs, gave way to a sparse, meditative and fluting melody, Dunn’s guitar almost implying fills.  A time stood still moment.   They closed the set with Deluge and plenty of bustle and fire.  Hand in Hand  had a another attractive melody with more counter-posing riffs and appealing harmonic shifts. Bartlett let fly a lovely. fluid, lyrical, piano on the organ solo.  A ‘see we can do it’ rendition of Marriage is for Old Folks had all the bluesey swagger and groove expected of an organ quartet and closed a scintillating gig.

The writing and arranging for this band had a lightly worn sophistication, serving its purpose,  creating  light and shade and giving the band plenty to work on. There was also a very appealing simplicity and directness, about many of the melodic and harmonic building blocks, reflected in some of Shenoy’s soloing. For all the hustle, bustle and complexity, it put me in mind of Andy Sheppard’s penchant for simple melodies, particularly on the slower tunes.

This was an early gig on a very extensive tour and there are plans to record this material.  Catching them on the tour and checking out the subsequent recording are definitely to be recommended.  Details here

 

 

Sterland-Temmink, Be Bop Club, Friday 31st March

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 IMG_2145around 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.

CD catch up: Dominic J Marshall & Friends – Triolithic; Jonathan Silk – Fragment

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  dmarshall_triolithicreunited 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.

jonathan-silk-fragment-stoney-lane-records-slr1977-150x150Jonthan 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.

 

John Law’s Congregation, BeBop Club, Friday 17th February

John Law is a man in constant motion.  On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas img_2103from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums  he popped up with a band he called Boink!,  three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape.  The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar.  There was a sense of them all now fully  integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.

The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band.  An early stand-out was And Them.  It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s  electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a img_2104rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at  Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax.   I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum.  Each of the quartet had moments like this.  On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck.  They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high.  A vintage night at the BeBop  Club

 

 

Alex Munk’s Flying Machines, The Lescar,Wednesday 15th February

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

Quercus, St. George’s Bristol,Thursday 9th February

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.

Green/Gress/Rainey, Bonington, Theatre Nottingham, Thursday 2nd February

Was that a deliberate typo on the booking page of Jazz Steps Nottingham’s website that img_2076turned this trio into Green – Grass and Rain (ey)?   There  was no sabotaging the quality of the music however.  If you’re going to hook up with a kick ass New York rhythm section then you may as well go for the top drawer and Barry Green did just that when he recorded his just released Almost There trio album in New York with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey.  Now there’s a short tour and my own roamings meant I was crossing their path in Nottingham.

The material  expresses different sides of Green’s personality.  From muted, glowing renditions of pop ballads and hymns, through tumbling free improv,  a sprinkling of originals that are jagged polished little jewels of rhythmic jigsaws and fragmentary melody, some viscerally driving swing and bursts of rhapsodic lyricism.  In Gress and Rainey he has perfect foils who anticipate, play off each other and shadow every move.

In the first set Paul Simon’s A train in the distance sucked the air out the room, as the piano chimed the affecting melody, floating on a pulsing, insistent sizzle from Rainey’s drums. Then they launched into Green’s own My Spy a jagged left hand riff doubled with Gress’s bass and stabbing chords and glittering fragments of melody from the right hand.  If little clusters of notes and angular turns in the piano solo hinted at Monk, it was overt as they ripped into a tumbling, free-wheeling take on the master’s Work.  This is a tour on the back of the album release, but they were stretching beyond that material.  More Green originals, another clattering tumultuous deconstruction this time of McCartney’s Her Majesty and a burst of sunshine and joy with a lilting calypso like piece, Pim, that drew a fluid, singing solo from Gress on the bass.  Rainey was a revelation throughout. Sometimes adding colour, at others rhythm and clatter that tugged the band in new directions, at others sitting on the simplest of driving pulses.  The choice of materials may have been Barry Green’s, but this was a group conversation and performance. A delight.

And another delight for me was to visit the Bonington for the first time and dip into Jazz Steps’ programme. They are another bit of the live music and jazz network on which we depend and run of course by volunteers.  Loud cheers.