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.
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.
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
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 sportingly 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.
This 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.
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.
Everything on the stage at Kings Place on Sunday had taken time. A lot of it. Writing lyrics to every note of the whole Miles Ahead suite; extracting them from Jon Hendricks’ head, notating and arranging them; a choir that can make the sound of a perfectly blended string section or the stabbing riffs of a horn section; it all takes a lot of time. Years. The reviews are popping up of the evening and the music. John Walters’ account is hard to beat – giving the achievement due recognition in its vivid detail. This is a response more than a review.
When the now nonegenarian Jon Hendricks was nearing the completion of his self imposed, 50 year undertaking of setting lyrics to every solo, slur and nuance of every arrangement of Miles Ahead the reaction of his daughter Michele was ‘Who’s gonna sing this stuff?’ History doesn’t record the reaction of the musicians when first presented with Gil Evans’ score for Miles Ahead at the original recording session Posterity and critical acclaim have assured the result’s place in jazz history. On stage, behind Michele on Sunday at Kings Place was the answer to her question (gleefully pointed out by Pete Churchill):The London Vocal Project. Pointing to Pete she cried ‘.. this guy made it happen!’ It was impossible to listen without the knowledge of all that had led up to this. all that commitment, creativity and effort focused into forty odd minutes: sure they’ll do it again, yes they’ve been recording, but they’ll never do it again for the first time in London, here, now.
A wild imagining? A crazy dream? A magnificent obsession? Surely Hendricks’ idea was all of these. The story of the last six years of Pete Churchill’s work with Hendricks’ to complete the job, work with the choir, premiere the work in New York and now bring it back to London is well told elsewhere . We got a little taster three years ago one special Sunday at Ronnie’s.
And then the finished article was performed, with a copy of the vinyl original ceremonially in attendance on the stage and the choir fronted by Hendricks’ daughter Michele, Norma Winstone and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke singing Miles’ solos.
And Hendricks’ lyrics.
And then it was just about the music. And the sound.
I can still feel the swell of the arrangement in My Ship. I can still hear the horn stabs in Blues for Pablo. I can still here that very last chord, like a sigh.
And I still love that line from Maids of Cadiz – ‘If you would know what beauty is’
Chris Potter and Nasheet Waits were locked together telepathically. Surely. At the climax of ‘a blues’ that closed the Potter quartet’s set in front of a full Cheltenham Festival house , pianist Davide Virelles and bass man Joe Martin dropped out and showers of notes from the tenor, fused into jagged patterns. They seemed to be nudged and sorted into rythmic groups by Waits’ bristling drumming as the two paused and chopped up the phrases in lock-step at a dizzying tempo. It was an electrifying moment in a set full of burning intensity.
Playing mostly pieces from Potter’s latest release on ECM, the band tore into his compositions. Snappy angular themes and bursts of rhythmically arresting hooks bookended and provided a platform for improvisation. The explorations were unfailingly intense, frequently abstract and dense with explosive moments. The opener Yasodhara launched with a spiky rhythmic volley and Potter showed why he’s one of the most admired tenor players on the planet with a solo that started with exploratory, darting phrases, before building to a a blizzard of tangled lines. Ilimba, with an atmospheric sample of drums developed a an implied poly-rhythmic groove, before Virelles unleashed another solo. It was an extraordinary display, squalls of notes bundled up into clusters of rhythm with two fisted pummeling of the keyboard interspersed with glittering runs.
Waits was in danger of stealing the show even before the climatic dual at the close of the set. He boiled with energy continually, building and building momentum. On Ilimba by contrast, he developed a muted solo with beaters; call and response and space to draw breath, as the atmosphere thickened. A second solo later in the set was unbridled energy by contrast, the fusillade pinning us back in our seats. The Dreamer is the Dream was more overtly melodic and rhapsodic, Potter unfurling singing lines on soprano with Joe Martin stepping forward to solo.
On the final blues, the flavour of the form surfaced occasionally through the swirl of colour and texture; bursts of scintillating swing, a sudden switch to surging post-bop lines from the sax, a series of ringing chords from the piano. Then it would all be chopped up again, perhaps stitched together by a hooting riff from the tenor.
The energy and invention never let up. There was a sense of elation at the end and the feeling we’d witnessed something special. It is multi-faceted and complex music and the gig an invitation to get hold of the recording, listen again and take in more of that richness.