May Round-up: Nightingale in St James Square, Marsalis in Bath and a decade of Play Jazz Weekend

Mark Nightingale is probably heartily sick of bad puns on his name, but his appearance atmarknightingale 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.

 

My (still just about)New Year Jazz Honours

Just after the official New Years Honours were announced, London Jazz News’ word search of the list returned a big fat zero.  So no recognition this time by ‘her maj’ of services to jazz, or to humanity through the medium of jazz.  However, I had been musing over repeating my own version of ‘jazz new year’s honours’ – its turning out to a biennial affair – so here goes, all to briefly and better late than never.

Disclaimer

This isn’t meant to be a music awards list ( Parliamentary Jazz Awards coming up if any one wants to put their votes in) or a best of list. I, very objectively and with a complete absence of bias, think about people who I’ve noticed making things happen (for jazz and lovers of) when they don’t have to.  That inevitably means its all quite local – otherwise I may not have noticed it – and generally something I’ve experienced directly or someone I’ve met.

So here we go ‘new year shout out to’

Wade Edwards  – Later this year the Jazz at the Vaults gig at St. James Wine Vaults in Bath will celebrate 10 years of unbroken gigs.   Wade gets a gig too as he’s the bass man in the house trio, but his energy and organising have meant its become a local institution with a big following.  Thanks Wade.

Ian Storrer –  Ian is a bit of an institution himself having run the Albert in Bedminster for years, but over the last couple of years, little by little,  the latest spot at The Hen and Chicken has become more and more established  until now we are getting a top class gig most months and sometimes more. January has been a bonanza.  He’s making it pay and the rest of us are the gainers.  Thanks Ian.

Craig Crofton  Another tireless, musician organiser. Has anyone checked just how many years the Canteen Jam Session has been going and Craig has been the front man and fair minded, business like organiser for a while now since Greg Cordez passed the baton on. Lets not forget also the huge family of performing blowers he’s grown with Mark Archer through the Blow Out Sax school.  Lots of people want to thank Craig.

Sebastian Scotney  A bit of different one. London jazz News got a deserved award in the parliamentary jazz Awards, but this is a personal ‘honours list’ and the eclectic community of bloggers as well as the amount of promotion and encouragement to musicians the site makes happen all gives me a warm glow. Its down to Seb and he doesn’t have to do it. Thanks Seb.

Honourable Mentions

It would be possible to reel out the same names every time I do this list, even if it is biennial. Maybe I should anyway.. there are weekly gigs going on, showcasing and promoting great music and these people don;t have to do it

Thanks Andy Hague at the BeBop (weekly on a Friday)

Thanks Jonathan Taylor at Fringe Jazz (now returned to The Fringe, weekly on Wednesday)

Thanks Steve Williams for Jazz at Future Inns (weekly on a  Thursday)

Thanks Joe Spibey for the Ring 0 Bells in Bath (weekly on a Sunday)

And there’s an implied thanks to all the people who’s names I don’t know who set the rooms up, do the sound, take the money.

 

 

 

 

October Moments: Another Barnes storming night at the Vaults and Andy Hague’s big birthday celebrated with a big band

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 Alan_Barnes_Press_Photo_XL01Moll 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 AndyHagueturned 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.

Not quite The Session but still cooking, BeBop Club, Bristol, Friday 12th June

The audience, packed into The Bear’s back room like sardines, appeared all to be holding their breath as James Partridge wove an impassioned, growling baritone sax  phrase through the changes of Duke Ellington’s Solitude. It was mid-way through the second set of a fizzing quintet gig. If the band wasn’t quite the one billed, the jazz was still top drawer.  Friday’s gig at the BeBop Club was another great example of airlines conspiring to disrupt a gig, only to be defeated by the magic of new musical alliances formed at a moment’s notice (it’s happened before in Bristol).  Hotly anticipated doesn’t quite cover the buzz around the return of the The Session. The New Orleans based band of young and already feted musicians wowed Bristol audiences last summer, including a hastily scheduled appearance at the BeBop Club in August.  Their heady brew of hard swinging jazz, visceral New Orleans grooves and bang-up-to-date harmonic sensibility set the jazz grapevine buzzing and they are back this summer with a sprinkling of gigs and a residency at  Musicfest Aberystwyth Big Band & Jazz Course

Friday was the inaugural gig, back at the BeBop,  and the audience created a New Orleans – like atmosphere in temperature and humidity in the tiny club room  with late arrivers disappointed and waiting their turn to cram in at the back.   But bad weather back in the Crescent City meant that flights were delayed, so that only bass player Jason Weaver, pianist Andrew McGowan and ex-pat Englishman, saxophonist James Partridge were there on Friday, with hot young drummer Charles Burchell and trumpeter Steve Lands stranded the other side of the pond. The three who made it were in safe hands however. It’s a fairly badly kept secret that BeBop Club maestro Andy Hague has assembled a collection of charts and arrangements of near library proportions over the years, mining the repertoire of classic Blue Note era writers onwards as well as artful arrangements of standards. He’s also a very fine trumpeter. A quick call to local drummer Mark Whitlam who’s fast acquiring a national reputation in a variety of ensembles and a cracking quintet was assembled, with a repertoire covering Ellis Marsalis grooving New Orleans standards, irresistibly swinging fare from the pens of Tad Dameron, Bob Brookmeyer, Wayne Shorter and a sprinkling of classics from Ellington and the standards book.  The magic emerged as the newly formed quintet explored the material together. The Session’s instinct for drama appeared as backing for solos sometimes dropped to minimal, giving them space to breath and build; Andy Hague reminded us (if we needed it) what a fine improviser he is, with solos on flugelhorn particularly, full of elegant phrases and warm toned flurries over Weaver’s driving, propulsive bass lines; Andrew McGowan’s angular and scattered phrases on piano accumulated to build exciting solos and a standout trio reading of the ballad I Want to Talk About You was greeted with roars of approval.  With Bristol forming more regular links with New Orleans, this is a collaboration it would be great to see again.  For Bristolians keen to see the The Session in full, they should be at the Hen and Chicken in early August.

Bristol and Bath’s Autumn starts with a blast – Cooks, Hawks and a bit of Hague and Newton

The summer is behind us and the Autumn programmes are starting in earnest in the jazz clubs around Bristol and Bath. Bath’s Jazz House Trio kicked off their fortnightly sessions at St. James Wine Vaults with guest Damian Cook leading them through a set paying homage to his tenor heroes and love of great tune. Dexter Gordon’s Cheese Cake started proceedings, there were Coltrane tunes, Wayne Shorter classics and plenty of tasty arrangements of standards including a beautiful rendition of As Times Goes By. Cook has recently moved to the area and it was clear why he’d been busy on the London scene with a fluent, muscular approach and warm tone. Keep an eye on gig listings for his name for a guaranteed treat. The next night saw us take in the early evening free foyer gig at Bristol’s Colston Hall on our way to the BeBop Club. London based quartet Blue Eyed Hawk stopped by on their short tour to promote their debut release on Edition, Under the Moon. The band are a collaborative of some of the hottest young tickets on the London scene. Their genre bending set with a distinctly rocky edge had a enthusiastic early evening crowd cheering loudly. The BeBop club’s opening gig of the season had Dave Newton filling the piano chair in what otherwise looked like the Andy Hague Quintet. Newton is a hard working musician. His name’s to be spotted on those gig listings somewhere fairly locally almost weekly. The downside of that is that it’s possible to be a bit blasé and forget just how good he is, even though it’s been recognised with numerous rewards, sideman gigs with the best in the business and a voluminous recording catalogue. What a joy then to catch him in this company. Trumpet maestro Andy Hague as usual called a set of tunes, whilst being less familiar, were beautifully arranged, covered a fair bit of classic hard bop to contemporary jazz territory and left plenty of space for the band, that also included drummer Mark Whitlam, bass man Will Harris and saxophonist Ben Waghorn, to flex their formidable jazz muscles. It’s a great band and Newton brought a bit of extra magic. His technical mastery and immersion in the jazz tradition mean he can play anything in any idiom, but he chooses to make boppish, swinging jazz his starting point and the man swings like a demon! There was a crackle of excitement whenever he launched into a riff to start a tune like Secret Love or reeled out a bluesy solo with subtle forays into more angular harmony on a New Orleans classic Andy pulled out. A trio version of Alice in Wonderland was a bring the house down moment, with Newton apparently arranging and deconstructing on the spot, Will Harris and Mark Whitlam all ears finding just the right response with a beautifully paced bass solo raising hairs on a few necks. The energy lifted everyone with Hague and Ben Waghorn at full tilt all evening. It was sizzling start to an Autumn programme packed with goodies.

New Orleans pops up in Bristol: The Session, BeBop Club, Tuesday 5th August

There was no kidnapping involved as far as we know, but after an Ian Storrer promoted gig at The Hen and Chicken for New Orleans based quintet The Session, whose members have been touring Europe with The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a two day lull in touring became a shopping trip and playing break with a visit to the regular Canteen jam session on Monday and this pop-up gig at the BeBop club engineered by Ian and Andy Hague. Impromptu gig it may have been, but  as Ashlin Parker pointed his trumpet at the ceiling one last time and with an ear piecing blast led the quintet into a down-home New Orleans stomp, there was no doubt it was a roaring, joyous success of an evening.  The TheSession@TheBeBoptheatrics of leading the horn section off in procession (temporarily boosted by Bristol resident Julian Alenda for the last number) was only slightly undermined by the difficult they had squeezing between the rows of chairs to get out.  The word of social media campaign to conjure up an audience at 24 hours notice had resulted in jam packed room at The Bear (shh… don’t tell ‘ealth and safety).   And what a gig it was.  A bubbling bass figure from Jason Weaver, given rocket boosters by occasional Christian Scott sideman Charles Burchell on drums, then Parker, himself a regular in Ellis Marsalis’ band,  and tenor man James Partridge eased into Horace Silver’s Doodlin. It was effortless, intensely grooving  and hair tinglingly thrilling.  They mined familiar resources to the full, the impassioned blowing of Parker and Partridge rousing whoops and cheers every time. More complex original material (Untitled Numbers one and two!) introduced a different dimension, a flowing harmonically angular piece by pianist Andrew McGowan and a stately ballad by Jason Weaver drawing out meditative and lament like solos.  There was no keeping the sheer exuberance and energy down for long though and the second set surfed to its stomping conclusion via a freshly minted funky groover in honour of temporary surrogate tour manager Ian Storrer.  The band were off to Cardiff the next day, but for the dispersing crowd it was hard to believe they were going to have more fun than this.

Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra. Colston Hall, Bristol, Thursday 26th June

The Jazz at the Lincoln Center roadshow swept into town on Thursday and a mini festival popped up around their show at Bristol’s Colston Hall. The Bristol Schools Jazz Band performed to a buzzing foyer before the evening gig. That was after an  open soundcheck for the young musicians followed by an impromptu seminar with the Lincoln Center Orchestra‘s alto player Sherman Irby and trombonist Eliot Mason.  The enthusiastic foyer performance’s varied repertoire of niftily arranged classics (Girl from Ipanema via Birdland to a Gil Evans’ Porgy and Bess like Summertime) warmed us up for the main event and we emerged after over two hours of a riveting celebration of ‘The Best of Blue Note’  to Andy Hague’s Quintet in full cry on the New Orleans funk of Hands Up, an Andy original. The energy levels only went up from there as the jam session got going. This was unquestionably an occasion.

J@LCOThe catalyst for all this buzz, the relatively rare regional visit of Wynton Marsalis’ gobally renowned big band had a lot of expectation to live up to. And they delivered in buckets. The hook for the repertoire, the back catalogue of the legendary Blue Note Records, was focussed on the label’s heyday in the 50’s and 60’s and the hard swinging, blues and gospel inflected style of Hard Bop.  That was almost always delivered by small bands like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.” I played in the Jazz Messengers.. it’s how I learned this music”  muttered Marsalis as he introduced the opener ‘Free for All’.  The translation of the small group sound to a big band  was in the hands of the skilful arrangers drawn from the ranks of  this band. It was exhilarating stuff. Little fills and embellishments from the originals became horn sections parts and backings, solos became shout choruses delivered rousingly by the whole band. The sample from the enormous library of Blue Note on this evening overlapped with other performances on the tour (Seb Scotney saw them in Cambridge) but they’ve got plenty to draw on.  There was the the occasional foray into the later sixties.  Chick Corea’s The Matrix was an electrifying moment with Marsalis delivering a blistering solo over more contemporary racing swing, just a nod towards the post-bop with which the leader launched his early career.  A trio of Horace Silver compositions, a tribute to the legendary pianist composer who died recently, was a tour de force.  Senor Blues kept morphing into different tempos and styles behind each soloist under the playful direction of drummer Ali Jackson and finished with a keening lament like solo from Walter Blanding on tenor over Carlos Henriquez‘s quietly bubbling bass riff; impossible not to hear its as a heartfelt ‘farewell Horace’.  The arrangement of the beautiful, melancholic ballad Peace gave full rein to the rich, lush harmonies possible with a big band before the exuberant samba like groove of Cape Verde Blues, with an incendiary piano solo from Dan Nimmer, raised the roofEarlier the writings of Lou Donaldson, Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan had all featured. If this was a look back to something of a golden age then there was nothing backward looking about the blowing. Shirman Irby on Blues Walk, was hair raisingly thrilling. The first purred note from Walter Blanding on the opener had my heart fluttering before Marcus Printup let rip

An encore of a quintet formed by the rhythm section behind Marsalis and Blanding was a lovely bit of icing on an enormous cake before we exited to the buzz in the bar.  What a great evening, with international and local contributing. The band are in residence in London at the Barbican after this tour. Maybe next time the regional tour could be series of short residences and capitalise on the energy this visit created.