New Year Post 1: A word or two about Andy Sheppard

Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the  Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience.  First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music.  A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the  unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.

And why valedictory?  Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal.  Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion.  Its also made me a bit reflective.  The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.

Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol,  but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz.  Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro,  world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album),  made me want to listen again.  One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton  who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album

Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years.  And he’ll be back.  The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March.  It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect.  Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music.  Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with  the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.

Summer Delights and Autumn Preview Pt 2 – The Bell (Pushy Doctors and more…)

The Pushy Doctors, reliably entertaining and exciting by turns, seem like a fixture on the local scene, but not one you can take for granted. They appear for short bursts and then lie low for a bit, most often dictated by saxophonist Andy Sheppard‘s international touring schedule . What a delight to see them back at The Bell last week and it was still August (just) and quite summery (just).  They played like old friends taking up where they’d left off last time. Killer Joe established the classic jazz organ trio feel, bluesy stabs from Dan Moore‘s organ whipped along with a grin by Tony Orrell on drums. Then they spiralled off into a mix of pop tunes, re-worked classics and jazz burn-ups. Andy Sheppard’s extended circular breathing episode on My Favourite Things took on an almost trance like character as phrases looped, stacked and mutated: urgent, intense and reflective all at the same time. The showstopper, unwittingly, came from the crowd. Towards the end of a medley that began with Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the band stopped together on a beat, one of many artfully choreographed moments of drama. Inserted with perfect timing into the momentary silence came a loud voice, volume adjusted to be heard over the now absent band. “I know that tune, I just don’t know what its called.”  Gales of laughter ensued including from the band. It did seem to sum up something. The Pushy Doctors may play with a witty glint in the eye, but they are deadly serious and never fail to move as well as thrill and delight.

The Bell’s music programme is as eclectic as it is legendary. The jazz(y) strands are there, most often on Monday but always with a bit of twist and frequently featuring some of the more experimental or genre blending and bending touring bands. Keeping an eye on their listings is always worthwhile.  In September, Baritone pop up on the 5th. A gypsy jazz flavoured trio featuring Charlotte Ostafew of Dhakla fame on baritone. Later in the month, John Paul Gard, local king of the Hammond, joins forces with California based guitarist Jon Dalton.   There’s sure to be plenty more through the Autumn, so keep an eye.

 

Summer delights and Autumn preview pt 1: Fringe Jazz

I’ve had a bit of summer break from the blog as will be evident from the absence of posts, but there has been plenty of music, both recorded and live, to quicken the pulse and make the ears tingle, not to mention a few posts and reviews for other websites (Enrico Pieranunzi at Ronnie Scott’s, reviewed here, will likely be on the highlights of the year list).  There have been a few regular gigs out here in the west that have kept going right through the summer and provided some highlights, this then is the first of a couple of posts about delights sampled and more to come in the Autumn programme. We popped into Fringe Jazz last week to catch the Jazz Defenders, an end of August treat in the reliably classy programme now firmly re-established in it’s original bijou back-room off Princess Victoria Street.  The quintet are animated and led by quicksilver and rhythmically electrifying pianist George Cooper and wear their Blue Note heart on their sleeve. The suite of originals, writing credit’s spread around the formidable band but invariably with Cooper’s guiding hand, take the classic sound as a launch pad rather than a restrictive template. The themes and hooks are reliably catchy, grooves unvaryingly tight and propulsive whether swinging or with a funky edge (the combination of Will Harris on bass and Matt Brown behind the kit is dynamite) and arrangments lovingly crafted so that the front-line of Nick Malcom on trumpet and Nick Dover on tenor frequently sound like one Horace Silver’s bands in full flight. The improvising is always edgy however, Cooper’s solos veering from delicious bluesey licks to sizzling modal work outs; Malcolm suddenly taking flight, surfing a polyrythmic surge from the drums firing off angular phrases; Dover finding surprising melodic paths through familiar sequences.  The Defenders are a collaboration of some of Bristol’s finest so the quality and freshness of the band should come as no surprise. A real treat nevertheless and lookout for an album due for release soon.

The Fringe has a packed Autumn programme of jaw dropping quality including ECM recordings artists, award winners by the legion but more importantly, fabulous music. Andy Sheppard is back for a regular visit with The Pushy Doctors on 14th September with Dave Newton‘s Trio, including Nat Steel on vibes in Early October.  In between West Coast based former Bristol resident Jon Dalton returns.  ON 19th October, Iain Ballamy is the guest followed the week after by the increasingly high profile funky alto of James Morton riding high on his well received album release The Kid.  The rosta of tourist in November includes the legendary Trevor Watts on 9th November with the contrasting moods of Josh Kemp the week before and Phil Robson‘s organ trio the week after.  Promoter Jon Taylor seems almost to defy gravity by putting on a programme of this quality in a tiny back room, but of course its regular paying audiences that make it possible, so we know what to do.

 

 

April and May – Jazz in Bath and Bristol

A quick scan of what’s on over the next couple of months has persuaded me that pointing out a few mouth-watering prospects is more realistic than any attempt at an exhaustive overview.    Before getting too far with that, you really should keep a close eye on the weekly gigs at Bristol’s Be Bop Club, Fringe Jazz and Future Inns and Bath’s St. James Wine Vaults.  All are a mixture of touring and local bands, but the standard is uniformly high.  Hard not to mention Guess the Bleating (featuring three-quarters of Get the Blessing with addition of keys-man Dan Moore and drum legend Tony Orrell) on 18th May at the Fringe and Andy Sheppard‘s Hotel Bristol on 20th April at the same venue and here’s hoping you made it the launch today at the Colston Hall  of two (count ’em) albums by Kevin Figes, a quartet and and octet recording and promoting his label Pig Records, also home to fine recordings by Jim Blomfield, Cathy Jones and more to follow it seems. That assumes you weren’t lured by The Necks playing the organ in the main hall. See what I mean?  You can’t have too much great music, but still…

Here then, are those highlights.  There’s a Nordic Jazz theme to relish. Swedish pianist  Bobo Stenson  is in Bristol at Colston Hall’s Lantern with Martin Speake‘s Change of Heart Quartet.  Stenson, not heavily recorded under his own name, but to sublime effect when he has been, with a series of trio records on ECM, has been a sideman to sax players from Jan Garbarek to Charles Lloyd and his collaboration with Speake dates from a Cheltenham Festival gig in the early 2000s as an International Quartet that included Paul Motian on drums and Mick Hutton on bass. That line- up played a gig in Bristol at the QEH theatre to an audience of under twenty people (that included me). They subsequently recorded for ECM and its music from that album they’ll be playing, with two of the the crop of exceptional young British jazz players, Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums completing the quartet. In May, the Nordic action shifts to St. Georges with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen on the 12th.  Accompanied by Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang and a visuals show to boot,  expect plenty of electronics, sound-scapes and a unique experience.  The following week on 19th May,  legendary bass player Arild Anderson is there for an acoustic set with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith and Italian percussionist Paolo Vinaccia. This line-up has recorded two beautifully melodic and vibrant albums for ECM and this gig is part of a very short tour with only a few gigs in UK.

There’s more.   Tucked away at the top of London Road in Bath, Burdall’s Yard is Bath Spa’s performance space and on April 22nd hosts Sam Crockatt‘s Quartet.  If you want to hear what the some of the most in demand players on the Bristol scened sound like, let loose on a a bunch of artful structured, original jazz tunes by the saxophonist leader get yourself along to this one; Kit Downes on piano, James Maddren on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass.  Downes and Maddren will be back in Bristol in early June at Colston Hall’s Lantern (ok, its not May but this will be a great gig) this time with Julian Arguelles‘ band Tetra.  Arguelles is,for my money, one of the most distinctive composing and fluently lyrical improvising voices in British jazz over the last twenty years. Sam Lasserson is on bass for that one

Finally, that man Ian Storrer, promoter of jazz gigs in Bristol for a lot of years, has done it again.  Friday May 13th sees New York come to the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster in the shape of the Jonathan Kriesberg Quartet.  Kriesberg is one of the hottest guitarists  on the New York scene and his pianist Dave Kikoski has an eye popping CV that includes Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.  This is one not to miss.

A selection then,  from a large box of treats over the next few weeks, that’s without mentioning the jazz festival over at Cheltenham at the end of April with a incredible line up and something for everyone.

 

 

The late list, my favourite moments and sounds of the last 12 months.

The ‘best of’/’highlights lists’ for 2015 have been and gone and there were a lot of them this year it seemed.  They are always entertaining. Jazzwise mag inveigled a huge cast list to each compile one with a complex point scoring system – always intriguing results.  I managed not to do one in December, or even early January (I just got busy… didn’t get around to it).  There is pleasure to be had in looking back however. So here we go.  It’ a very personal selection, dependent entirely on my idiosyncratic preferences and what may have appealed on a particular day or at different times.  Rules of my game are explained for Live thrills and recorded pleasures respectively.

Gigs & Live Moments  ( a small slice)

For a live gig or moment within a gig, the simple rule is  ‘Can I still conjure up the moment and the thrill?’, or maybe  it returns unbidden to give me a tingle of pleasure at the recollection.

Anthony Braxton at the Lantern, Colston Hall in Bristol for his only UK appearance. A unique and mysterious improviser I’ve remained haunted by the Ghost Trance Music

Julian Arguelles  at Cheltenham Festival with a septet playing inventive arrangements of his enchanting, exuberant music

When I looked back, I realised a trio of duos with Gwilym Simcock stuck out:

Gwilym Simcock/ Jason Rebello at Wiltshire Music Centre in the Bath Festival. Intergenerational? Maybe, but certainly interactive and plenty of fireworks alongside lyrical flights

Gwilym Simcock/ Brigitte Beraha at Falmouth University, an impromptu moment at the end of a solo concert, a moment of magic as piano and voice took flight together on I fall in love too easily

Gwilym Simcock/ Michael Wollny at a tribute to John Taylor, two former pupils of the maestro let fly on Ambleside Days, an extra ordinary moment.

Norma Winstone/ Ralph Towner Another tribute/ celebration and another duo.  These two slid into a version of Celeste that gave me goosebumps at an ‘Evocation’ of Kenny Wheeler’s music in London Jazz Festival.

Paolo Conte at the Barbican. Is it jazz? Cabaret? Pop?  Who cares – the veteran, unclassifiable  Italian crooner wove his spell and charmed everyone ( that’ll be me and what seemed like a significant proportion of Italian and Italian descended London residents)

Kamasi Washington at the Lantern again this time for one of two UK appearances(the Lantern had a good year for coups!) and demonstrating live with only septet (no massed choirs or orchestra on hand) why his debut deserved the title The Epic

I could list all those moments at my regular haunts (St. James Wine Vaults, Bath; BeBop Club; increasingly irresistible, The Hen and Chicken), however one each:

Iain Ballamy – at the Wine Vaults. Never knowingly miss an opportunity to hear him. Back in January last year at the Wine Vaults, just the theme from East of Sun was worth the trip.

Wildflower Sextet – at the BeBop Club early in the year. Any Wayne Shorter related outing is likely to get my but this sextet led by Matt Anderson were a particular delight.

Hotel Bristol –  at The Hen and Chicken. Fierce competition for this slot, but the Andy Sheppard orchestrated quartet has it with fierce blowing, delectable melodies and grooves and the inevitable top-drawer collaborators.

Recorded Music

In the case of  recorded music the question is ‘Do I still get the urge to play the CD/ Download?’     Memory can be deceptive and what happened most recently can loom larger than it should. Discovering that iTunes has sneakily logged a good proportion of my listening, reveals what have been the most frequent of my ‘just got to listen to that again’ or ‘I’m in the mood for..’ choices.  Taken alongside what has got stuck in my (old tech) six CD changer and picking a few faves from albums I’ve reviewed, generates a list that may reveal more about my preferences than anything else, but also looks pretty high quality to me.

 Heavily edited in the interests of not overdoing it –

Stuck in the CD changer

Kamasi Washington – all three discs of The Epic. It’s a throwback (whether jazz or dance music), its very current, its so the ‘next thing’, its irresistible.

Julian Arguelles – Let it Be Told,   Mining the South African repertoire and arranging for Big Band its fabulous (and coming to Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2016)

Babelfish – Chasing Rainbows was this piano, voice, bass and percussion quartet’s second outing. Understated, fizzing with energy, creativity and exquisitely twisted melody.

Reviewed with humility and repeating on the playlist

Andy Sheppard  –  Surrounded by Sea.  Trio Librero with the addition of Elvind Aarstead, whisperingly magical

Charles LloydWild Man Suite, a unique instrumentation. Maybe only Charles Lloyd would respond to the suggestion of adding strings by doing it with lyra and cimbalom, but its vintage Lloyd

The Printmakers – its been a bit of wait, but in Westerly at last we have a recording of this sublime and joyful music from Brit super group

Others, some reviewed some not, but high on the count of ‘plays’

Bebe Buchanan Tagel  – Gone . Danish outfit, featuring that Arguelles chap again. Euro? Yes, lyrical? Yes? Distinctive – oh yes.  Thanks Peter Bacon for the review tip-off

Drifter  – Flow An Edition Records orchestrated quartet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano. Vibrant, exciting contemporary jazz

Mads La Cour – Almuji  I keep returning to this loose limbed, weaving in and out of structures blowing from the Norwegian trumpeter’s quartet

Eyebrow  – Garden City hypnotic and uplifting slowly evolving grooves and hooks from this trumpet, drums and effects duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens

Indigo Kid – Fistful of Notes Not nearly enough fanfare around this second outing for Dan Messore’s quartet playing his enticing and quirky melodies

Veneri Pohjola Another Edition Records release, early in 2015, Finnish trumpeter Pohjola on a set of emotion packed originals and the leaders gorgeous, bang up to date trumpet sound kept calling me back

 

Never mind the width, feel the quality – Autumn Jazz coming up for Bristol and Bath

There is so much exciting music happening over the next two or three months, that a comprehensive overview of  the Bristol/ Bath corner of the jazz planet would be a little overwhelming and occupy too much space.  Instead, let’s dwell on a few fantastic programmes that local promoters have put together. First up, here’s why you should really be paying a few visits to the Hen and Chicken  in Bristol on Sundays over the next couple of months. Ian Storrer’s series of promotions starts with Kevin Figes Octet on Sunday 13th September. Figes has been releasing a steady stream of original  music for various ensembles over the last few years and this Octet, featuring two singers and two drummers as well as the leader’s saxophones spreads his pallette further.  The following week, September 20th, a bit of a coup for Bristol, British pianist Barry Green brings a trio he recorded  in New York 18 months ago with Americans, saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver. It’s a short tour also taking in Barcelona and London’s Ronnie Scotts and The Vortex. The Americans’ combined CVs include Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Craig Taborn, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel and this is a meeting of musical hearts and minds not to missed.  Jumping forward to October 4th, there’s a more conventional line-up for celebrated pianist Kit Downes‘ new trio, but nothing conventional about the music.  The new collaboration with Swedish bass player Peter Eldh and drummer James Maddren, is called The Enemy and these are perhaps three of Europe’s finest young (ish) improvising musicans.  This will be another exciting ride.   Whirlwind Records boss and bass payer Michael Janisch brings a another transatlantic collaboration on the 11th, his formidable sextet Paradigm Shift that includes Jason Yarde and Paul Booth on saxes as well as live electronic wizardry.  The range and quality of this sequence of gigs is slightly boggling and it continues through to December.   If you go to all those, you’ll have had a hard choice on Sunday 13th as Get the Blessing are launching their new album at the Colston Hall. But that’s just on Sundays.  The weekly Fringe Jazz gig at The Mall in Clifton on Wednesdays would be a good focus of your mid-week attention. Jonathan Taylor has worked hard to establish this as a weekly gig and the roster is reliably top drawer and frequently world class. They kick off with local sax man Ben Waghorn‘s quartet on September 23rd, If you don’t see him very much locally, its because he’s in such demand elsewhere. Expect blistering post-bop jazz. Then a guitar theme kicks in (when its not more world beating saxophonists). Andy Sheppard‘s collaboration with guitarist John Paricelli was a highlight amongst many fantastic collaborations and the pair are at the Mall on the 30th. The following week another guitar legend, Jim Mullen appears with an organ trio. Then ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy appears, another unique British sax voice with an international reputation. Fringe Jazz regulars Dave Newton and John Pearce, Celestine and James Morton and Moscow Drug Club all put in an appearance then London based guitarist Maciek Pysz visits with the dazzling rhythm section of Yuri Gloubov and Asaf Sirkis followed by saxophonist Theo Travis’ quartet with the fantastic Mike Outram on guitar.  This another wildly varied programme of incredible quality given a final twist on 25th November by the improvising trio of saxophonist Paul Dunmall, John Edwards and Mark Sanders.

These are not the only regular or top quality gigs over the next few months.   Of course you should check out Bath’s  St. James Wine Vaults (fortnightly on Thursdays) kicking of of with Art Themen on 10th September and drop in on regular Sunday sessions at The Ring o Bells in Widcombe or Gascoyne Place. Bristol’s BeBop Club continues every Friday (watch out for 50th birthday Big Band led by promoter Andy Hague)and there’s  Jazz at Future Inns on Thursdays  going from strength to strength.  The bigger halls, St. Georges and Colston Hall both have eye catching gigs (not least Aaron Parks Trio on October 8th at St. Georges for anyone who wants see one of the hottest tickets in the new generation of American pianists).  The strength of the programmes at the Hen and Chicken and The Mall are signs of a very healthy scene and, we hope audiences to match.

 

CD round up – Printmakers, Lloyd and Sheppard. Three gems to savour

A quick CD round up is in order. Having devoured and reviewed these three albums for London Jazz News its hard to imagine them not being embedded in every play list and favorites compilation for sometime to come. First up was Charles Lloyd‘s clwmdWild Man Dance.  The Lloyd magic is partly in a cultivated, deceptively thin sound on tenor that insinuates its way into your soul, and partly in the performance he evokes from his bands that ebbs and flows magically. They were riveting at the London Jazz Festival and this album is a recording of the live premiere and is every bit as good My review for London Jazz is here. Album two was Westerly, the long awaited debut recording of Nikki Iles band WesterlyThe Printmakers  They’ve been touring for several years now and most recently spotted in these parts at the Wiltshire Music Centre a year or so ago. This was a sure fire winner with the band delivering a live performance on CD every bit has lyrical, nuanced and varied as a gig, my review here. Finally, equally sublime is Andy Sheppard‘s Surroundedlatest release for ECM, Surrounded by Sea. We had a foretaste of this group and the music at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in March (my round up of that event here on the Jazzwise site) so I was really looking forward to this one and it didn’t disappoint. Its outwardly the polar opposite of rumbustious Andy Sheppard of the Pushy Doctors, a quiet, pared back atmospheric affair with a  band mesmerisingly in tune with each other.  My review is here.  Three top drawer albums to savour.