Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.
Mark Nightingale is probably heartily sick of bad puns on his name, but his appearance at the St. James Wine Vaults session in Bath in the middle of the month in a cellar bar beneath St. James Square, made allusions to singing and squares irresistible. Anyone who was there might also think it’s an apt comparison however. Opportunities to see one of our foremost exponents of trombone as the lead horn are relatively rare so this was a real treat. The fluency and agility of the playing were dazzling and Nightingale’s tone was like honey in the ear as he led the house trio through two sets of tunes from some less visited corners of the standards and jazz classics repertoire. This was another absorbing evening in the fortnightly session’s programme, now a decade old, that continues to attract the best players on the scene.
It’s a year of anniversaries, as Play Jazz Weekend, an annual pop-up jazz jazz school held at Wiltshire Jazz Centre, reached a run of a decade under the stewardship of Rachel Kerry over the Bank Holiday Weekend . This year, as on some previous occasions, the tutors for the weekend assembled the night before for a gig at Bristol’s Be-Bop Club. Alan Barnes, Damian Cook and Andy Hague (alto, tenor, trumpet) formed the frontline of the band that also featured the fourth tutor Jim Blomfield on piano. Chris Jones on bass and Mark Whitlam secured a grooving, responsive rhythm section. This kind of gig is a Hague specialty. He arrived with a pad of arrangements in ‘roughly hard swinging, sixties Blue Note territory’ as he put it, making sure the impromptu sextet served up a fizzing set of familiar tunes with new twists and the unfamiliar with attention grabbing energy. So we got standards such as Like Someone in Love, Billy Strayhdorn’s UMMG, a little known rip-roaring Horace Silver, Smell my Attitude, evoking burning soloing all round. There were moments of tender delicacy sprinkled throughout the evening as well. A rousing Marcus Printup stomper closed the evening, loudly appreciated by prospective Play Jazz students and regular punters alike.
The much reduced Bath International Festival took place over the week before the bank holiday weekend and the overtly jazzy gigs were on the first Saturday. There’ll be more from me in Jazzwise about those, suffice to say that a solo Branford Marsalis gig in the Abbey, complete with tolling bells to welcome him to the stage, was a dramatic piece of billing. One man, his saxophones and a big church was certainly a challenge but Marsalis rose to it, sounding most compelling to these ears when he eased into some jazz standards, but mining classical and contemporary sounds along the way and using the response of the natural reverb chamber to exhilarating effect. Kansas Smitty’s House Band provided a raucous antidote later in the same evening, impossible not to enjoy.
Amidst a busy few weeks, mandatory infusions of live jazz have kept me going. Three episodes offered different delights. Two Greens (Barry and Dave) and Alan Barnes formed an impromptu trio on a Friday night at London’s Vortex Club. This was a balm to the soul gig. Pianist Barry and bass legend Dave are not blood relations, but they’ve had a close musical relationship over years, recording a delightful duo album of mainly Alex Wilder tunes a few years back (check here ). A ripple of a piano chord and an abstract flutter from Barnes, a perfectly placed harmonic or sonorous pedal note from the bass was all it took to launch some tunes as another lesser known gem from the standards book unfolded. The trio format gave them all plenty of space and freedom for playful interchange and fluent, emotional expression. A Friday night treat.
Dropping into Bristol’s Alma Tavern on a Sunday night for a set by Chirimoya had a different, no less enjoyable flavour. Singer and percussionist Tammy Payne has put together a band and repertoire that re-makes the most unlikely source material with a pulsing latin/ Brazilian vibe. Its great fun and beautifully balanced. What do you need for a storming latin groove? Well Ruth Hammond‘s left hand on the keys, Matt Jones on drums and a few well judged stabbed chords from Ruth’s right hand. Tammy’s vocals, a Bristol treasure since the eighties and Smith and Mighty, glide over the groove with Beyonce, Bronski Beat, Jimi Hendrix all offering up repertoire. They started with a taught grooving Round Midnight and Gary Aylesbrook‘s liquid, melodic lines on trumpet sketching out the familiar theme. Great fun.
I wrote about John Law’s New Congregation ahead of their BeBop Club gig and the event didn’t disappoint. Word was out and The Bear’s back room was packed, standing room only at the back. The musical territory was the same as the album even if more than half the tunes were not, there’s a continuing flow of new tunes from the leader’s pen. What stood out even more than on the album was the strength of the melodic hooks. Rythmically dense and complex the music may be, but the peer-less musicians, (Laurie Lowe on drums and Yuri Goloubev on bass are surely hard to top as rhythm section) negotiated it at will and played beautifully and freely. Sam Crockatt on tenor was outstanding, never overplaying, his developing phrases and hooks glowed and took flight, delivered with a rough edged warm tone. Another Friday night treat.
Blib-Blob may have summed it up. The blistering bebop-ish theme twisted and leapt through the rhythm changes sequence, tenor (Gilad Atzmon) and alto (Alan Barnes) locked together. The groove though, was a self-consciously heavy handed, funky shuffle injecting a subversive flavour into the passionate blowing, a riotously serious delivery that pervaded the whole evening. This was Atzmon and Barnes with Atzmon’s regular, equal to and up for anything rhythm section of Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Chris Higinbottom on drums.
Pairing two primarily alto players of the prodigious fluency of these two might have signalled a touring ‘cutting contest’. The swagger and competitive blowing was tongue in cheek though, entertaining fire-works, less than half the story and wrapped around with plenty of self-deprecating and, courtesy of Atzmon, shoulder shruggingly bawdy humour.
The array of instruments across the front of the stage appeared in a variety of combinations. They’d kicked off with a funkily swinging groover, Barnes on baritone and Atzmon on alto duties before Blib Blob. Then a see-sawing, plaintive melody rendered by soprano and clarinet over a loping groove conjured a different mood. The fire-works started again with twin altos on a gloriously free-wheeling Alone Together, Barnes’ dazzling melodic invention contrasting with Atzmon’s fiery attack that veered off into a frenetic modal work out. Blomard changed the mood again with bass clarinet and clarinet combining on a melancholic bossa. Expectations of high octane blowing were inevitable and they weren’t disappointed, but the light and shade and evocative moods added an extra dimension.
The ‘marquee names’ may have been the draw but delightfully, for this listener, Frank Harrison kept threatening to demand at least equal billing. Time and again after a gale force blast from Atzmon, or dancing, whirling workout from Barnes, a beautifully judged shimmer and hanging phrase from Higginbottom and Stavi would set the scene for the pianist to build and develop solos that were full of invention, poetry and excitement. The second set saw him set up two ballads to perfection, Atzmon and Barnes getting through four instruments between them (tenor, alto, bass-clarinet clarinet) on Old Folks , a bit of a show-stopper – ‘for you’ quipped Barnes, risking his life, nodding at the audience). A thunderous groove and a grand finale on Spring in New York brought the house down and prompted another subverted be-bop tune with Donna-Lee at break neck tempo over a crunching rocky vibe.
Gilad Atzmon may have insisted they were called Lowest Common Denominator, but no-one in the once again packed out Hen & Chicken were in any doubt that they’d heard top class, committed, exuberantly entertaining jazz.
Alan Barnes? He’s not bad, but after half an hour his playing does your head in – at least that the verdict of Barnes’ daughter Moll as related by the man himself, introducing the tune he wrote for her. It was more than half an hour into the first set and the signs were that the audience in a packed St. James Wine Vaults didn’t entirely share the verdict, judging by the whoops, cheers and sighs greeting the swerve through Barnes’ huge repertoire. There’d been plenty of overt Charlie Parker references and a blistering take of The Song is You (“… lets the get the fast one out of the way to show we can..” quipped Barnes), but a stand-out was an enchanting reading of Alice in Wonderland all wispy phrases and oblique phrasing demanding attention in a less overt way. It was another bravura performance for what has become a regular visit from Barnes to the Vaults. The energy seemed to flow back and forth between audience and band. With guests of Barnes’ quality, the regular house trio of Wade Edwards, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies always seem to find something extra and different as they rise to the occasion. Jazz at the Vaults may be in its tenth year, but the longevity seems to consolidating the popularity of the fortnightly slot – long may it continue!
Earlier in the month, Andy Hague, trumpeter, drummer, BeBop Club head cook and newly turned 50 year old, celebrated his own longevity with a birthday bash in the shape of a Big Band assembled for the occasion performing his charts. Some were freshly minted, some dusted down crackers and a few re-worked old ones. Manic Molluscs started with a workout from long-time sparring partner Jim Blomfield on piano and a gutsy tenor solo from Jake McMurchie. There was a big turn-out to cheer on a band of Bristol’s finest and Andy’s Friday Night at the BeBop Club gave them a chance to get whooping with a fiery solo from Ben Waghorn on the crisply swinging hard bop vibe. There were stylistic nods in all sorts of directions and the assembled talent did Andy proud. There’s not just life in the old dog, he might just be hitting his stride on this showing.
There’s been plenty of listening in September with with a steady flow of albums reviewed for London Jazz News offering a cross section of jazz. First up was One for Moll from Alan Barnes. The tone is set by the first track, the Barnes original Blue Note, a swinging funky groove in the spirit of the legendary record label. It’s a set bristling with great tunes, some of them standards, and committed straight ahead playing from a top drawer band assembled for the recording. It’s making my heart skip and putting a smile on my face with every listen. The full review is here. Alan Barnes comes to Bath’s Wine Vaults to play with the resident jazz House trio on October 22nd. From a different stable but no less passionate, comes Flow by Drifter. Edition Records boss Dave Stapleton persuaded Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila and Belgian saxophonist Nicolas Kummert to re-establish a partnerhsip that ended ten years ago after they shot to international fame in the early 2000s. The new band are recording powerful anthemic themes and hooky melodic pieces but its Tuomarila’s dazzling playing and Kummert’s passionate nuanced blowing that grab the ear. Full review here. Another sharp contrast was Michael Janisch‘s Paradigm Shift. Based around a live recording of a quintet of breathtaking quality at Pizza Express some four years ago now, the double CD set has the suite from which the album’s name comes, a set of Janisch originals traversing styles with wild punky thrash, free playing, electronics, hair raising grooves and moody textures all part of the brew and then a set on which the band really stretch out – seething contemporary jazz to match the best. The full review is here. Janisch is currently on an epic tour playing this material which arrives at Bristol’s Hen and Chicken on March 11th. Strikingly, these were all released on record labels started by the musicians, Woodville, Edition and Whirlwind respectively. Buy the albums in whatever format takes your fancy!
If Alan Barnes is to be believed, and caution is surely advisable given the occasional scatalogical departures in his legendary repartee, he and Dave Newton have been playing much of their repertoire for nearly 40 years since they first met as students. As they ripped into Art Pepper’s Chili Pepper at a blistering tempo, no counting in just Barnes’ liquid flurry of arpeggios to set the tempo, Newton’s chords instantly catching every accent of the quintessentially be-bop theme, there was no doubting the near telepathic nature of the musical partnership. ‘He’s been taking care of the chords for most of my adult life’ quipped Barnes at one point in the evening, lauding Newton’s playing and it’s hard to overstate the pianist’s visceral driving energy, coupled with a protean fluency whether with locked hands embellishing chord sequences or fizzing runs over an implacably grooving left hand bass-line. The one man rhythm section frequently seemed to fire himself up as the momentum built behind another dynamic solo. It wasn’t all fire and brimstone. Alan Barnes, gags about playing the same stuff in a different octave aside, evoked different moods and voices switching between alto, baritone and clarinet as we were quietly shepherded through a masterclass in repertoire and styles stretching from 20s writers like Don Redman, Gee Baby I Love You getting a through Newton workover, through to Hard bop master Cedar Walton with a thoroughly gospelly account of I’ll Let You Know and lingering over Barnes’ beloved Strayhorn, the quivering, final note of Lotus Blossom from the Baritone a heart stopping moment. These two musicians have spent their professional lives absorbing and absorbed in the writing and language of swing, big bands and be-bop onwards and its become their own language of expression. There were laughs, joyfulness, pain and melancholy for sure. And a hugely entertaining evening greeted with roars of approval as they burned out on Cottontail at an implausible tempo.