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.





CD: Alex Hutton Trio, Magna Carta Suite

ahmcsSuite? Concept Album?  Whatever the tag, history since  the Magna Carta represented in music is both a connecting thread and an ambitious idea for this new album from pianist and composer Alex Hutton.  Consciously referencing musical styles down the ages, and drawing inspiration from historical events and movements over the last 800 years turns out, in Hutton’s hands, to be no dry technical exercise but to result in a compelling collection of twelve pieces . Checking in at just under 40 minutes, it’s a set packed with distilled musical ideas and yet with plenty of space for the trio to stretch out. Its a little triumph. As well as adding Cor Anglais, played by Liesbeth Allart and Liz Palmer on Baroque flute  on some tracks for this album, Hutton’s core trio do the heavy musical lifting and what a trio. The virtuosic and ever versatile Yuri Goloubev is in the bass chair and percussive magician  Asaf Sirkis at the kit.  Old Yew sets the scene with an elegant, stately melody from Gloubev’s singing arco bass. Plaintive folk tunes and lively jigs follow as King John’s Hunting Lodge and June 15th 2015 mark out the history. Three longer pieces at the heart of the album give the trio more scope to explore. Gutenburg Press has a gently funky groove under a baroque style harmonic progression and Goloubev is at his fluent melodic best with a singing solo and Hutton matching him with a fluid response, full of evolving ideas and swooping phrases.  Gunpowder and Compass, based on Bach a fugue, is infused with urgent rhythms and and a workout for Sirkis, goaded on by insistent repeated notes from Hutton and Goloubev. Self Made Man’s self declared romanticism evokes more sweet lyricism from bass and piano. The final section, with Neil Sparkes declaiming his poetry over the bands’ accompaniment may be more of a ‘marmite’ element for listeners, but adds another dimension.  This compact set has plenty of promise for a thrilling live performance but the recorded set stands on its own and has already wormed its way into my playlist for the summer.

Spring is here – April perambulations and Alex Hutton at the Be Bop

After icy blasts and un scheduled snow showers in April and an intense dose of other preoccupations, I did manage a few excursion to gigs. May promises to be a bonanza, starting with Cheltenham festival this weekend. Colston Hall sees a visit from Kit Downes on Thursday and the Bad Plus next Sunday (12th) and  Niki Iles’ Printmakers are not so far away at the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff  in between on Friday 10th. And then Iain Ballamy pops up at St James wine vaults in Bath with Jason Rebello and the rest of the regulator house trio. A feast, a feast! Sadly no pudding with jazz absent from the Bath Festival at the end of the month.

April’s samplings included Mike Mower at the St James Vaults. Despite his reputation as a writer and composer, he confined himself to standards and like so many visitors, visibly warmed and stretched out as the evening proceeded and the quality of the house trio nudged and pushed him on.  Alex Hutton passed through on a tour with his trio. Sadly I was only able to catch the end of an appetising evening in Bath organised by John Law. Bass player Yuri Goloubov and drummer Asaf Sirkis form the rhythm section of both Law and  Hutton’s trios so the evening was a double bill of both trios. Happily I caught up with Alex for his visit to the Be bebop club on the 27th April.

As with his album Legentis, the gig put a spring in the step as much for the writing as the playing. Writer/ composer – composer/ writer Hutton wheeled out attractive melodic themes over insistent rocky vamps,  hymn like stately themes, hummable catchy tunes over loosely swinging grooves. The playing had a fair bit of piano history condensed and personalised. From romantic delicacy, through plenty of Keith Jarrett like fluency and melodic invention with no shying away from muscular block chords with more than a nod to Errol Garner. And that rhythm section! There is always the possibility that they’ ll steal any show. Yuri Goloubov’s unaccompanied intro and then playing of the theme of the one standard of the evening, I hear a Rhapsody, was a highlight.

This was a delightful tour through Alex Hutton’s music and, via a few stream of consciousness anecdotes, a bit of personal history. It put a spring in my step.

CD: Legentis, Alex Hutton

Pianist/ composer or composer/pianist? Alex Hutton’s album, released on the F-IRE collective’s label, forces you to pay attention to both in equal measure. The opener, JJ is typical. An elegant melody accompanied by a singing, bowed bass-line is given a weird twist by a spooky vocal counterpoint; it dissolves in a shimmer of percussion before being restated over a insistent riff on the piano, then embellished in a moodier atmosphere by a virtuosic Yuri Goloubev on bass. The careful, artful often complex and extended construction of the compositions, love of a good riff (never as simple as first they appear), unabashed embrace of a rocky groove are all essential ingredients of this album. It was only on the second listening that I realised this was essentially a trio album. There are additional vocals and woodwind on a three of the tracks but most of the time Alex, Goloubev on bass and the peerless Asaf Sirkis on drums manage to sound like a full orchestra. It is pianist Hutton as well as composer Hutton. The Legentis Script after another carefully arranged theme gives way to an extended solo sequence, the long flowing, melodic lines and a rolling rythmic pulse driven from the drums combining to raise the intensity. Elsewhere, a tender side and classical touch on the piano are evident.  There are hymn like ballads (including one actually called Hymn II) and a lovely elegaic lament, Farewell 296,  majestic thundering chords, and out and out rocky grooves. Through it all an attractive melody is never far away.  Yuri Goloubev and Asaf Sirkis put in absolutely storming performances. Goloubev gets plenty of soloing space and doubles or shadows plenty of melodies; Sirkis is always doing something surprising, I suspect there wasn’t much overdubbing as I’ve heard him sound like this live but at times its hard to believe there’s just one drummer. This is an album that rewards a few listens; almost every tune is packed with twists, turns and varying moods. At the heart of it is a really great trio giving life to a fine, distinctive set of compositions.