Anniversaries are little way markers really. The real sweat, inspiration and commitment is expended on the journey, not in the moment we pause to note the distance traveled. They are a welcome reminder and a prompt to salute (again) the achievements however. It really is ten years now since Wade Edwards started the Jazz at the Vaults sessions. Tomorrows gig with Art Themen joining the house trio marks the anniversary. The legendary sax man was one of the first guests from out of the area and he’s been back a few times since. Vyv Hope Scott‘s ever fluent, muscular swing at the keys and Trevor Davies‘ responsive, subtle and rock-steady groove on the drums have formed a formed a formidable and flexible unit, with Edwards on bass, to accompany the now huge roster of guests who’ve paid a visit.There are plenty of stand-outs. The combined force of Jason Rebello and Iain Ballamy remains one of mine, I’m sure many would cite the visit of Pee Wee Ellis and poignantly the late great Bobby Wellins.
So happy anniversary to the team at the Vaults and Wade in particular. A heart-felt thankyou from this jazz lover. The tenth anniversary season looks like a steady stream of treats. Byron Wallen follows Themen on 26th January, Karen Sharp on 9th February, Winston Rollins on the 23rd and Josh Arcoleo on 9th March.
The welcome reappearance of the sun over Bath recently may turn our thoughts to summer and festivals, and for seekers of jazz (fairly) nearby Cheltenham and Bath (hurrah, jazz is back in the programme) on the early and late May Bank Holidays certainly do the honours, not to mention Brecon celebrating 30 years in mid- August, but a quick survey of what’s coming up locally highlights the quality and range of the week by week options. World beating visitors there may be (and there certainly are), but our world beating local residents show no sign of slowing down so an illustrative round-up is in order, before flagging up who’s coming to visit.
In Bath, the longstanding residency of Wade Edwards‘ Jazzhouse Trio at St. James Wine Vaults continues, welcoming a stream of top quality guests. Fine local trumpeter Dan Reid is there on 1st May, on the 8th former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman and for many, one of the finest jazz musicians this country has produced, Jason Rebello visits with son George on drums and Somerset based Sam Crockatt on tenor who also has a national reputation. Another British jazz legend Art Themen returns to the Vaults on 12th June. An intermittent residency has emerged at The Fringe Bar in Bristol’s Clifton Village. ECM recording artist and global star Andy Sheppard has been appearing there regularly with a variety of line-ups including the much loved Pushy Doctors, a developing new quartet with guitarist Denny Illett and various one off hook- ups. He’s there on Thursdays 24th April, 15th May, 12th June and the 24th July. In between there’s a mix of really high quality local bands including James Morton, John Pearce and Dave Newton, Kevin Figes, Freight and many others. Thursdays are busy in Bristol with jazz at The Future Inn (now with a £5 cover charge but free parking thrown in) hosting a similarly strong line-up. George Cooper (on May 1st), Celestine Walcott Gordon, as seen on the Voice, Andy Hague, James Gardiner Bateman and Dave Newton Trio are there in May. In Bath the legendary Bell is doing its bit to showcase locally based bands with a wider reputation. Kevin Figes Quartet are there on June 8th with Freight featuring Craig Crofton and Bath based bass maestro Greg Cordez on July 7th. Earlier in June the groovier end of jazz gets its turn with the George Mabusa Band on 11th June and the peerless John Paul Gard with Jon Dalton on an annual visit from Los Angeles on 9th June. And there’s more, and more and more. Bristol blogger Jon Turney does a weekly round-up that reaches parts this taster can’t; it’s always worth checking our what he’s spotted if you’re heading out on a whim.
There are a few very notable visitors gracing venues nearby over the next couple of months. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart brings his Anticipating Ellington band to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday April 26th. The CD of this band was on many critics album of the year last year and its a cracking line-up. The following week, on Monday 28th, Mercury Prize nominated Led Bib land at The Bell. “Two saxes deliver raw energy and grit, the moodswings and slowdowns are tightly rehearsed and tunes are catchy” according to Mike Hobart in the FT . May 10th back at the Wiltshire Music Centre its pianist Niki Iles’ Printmakers with a band containing a who’s who of British contemporary jazz including Norma Winston, guitarist Mike Walker and that man Mark Lockheart again. Amongst a strong programme of local bands the BeBop Club has great London band visiting in Dave Manington’s Riff Raff in May and local man Nick Malcolm’s Quartet are there as part of a national tour in June.There’s action at Bristol’s Colston Hall too with Phronesis, the hottest trio ticket in town just now with their Scandinavian-British blend of complex but grooving jazz there on May 23rd and then late in June Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra for a celebration of Blue Notes 70th anniversary to the main hall.
This is an embarrassment of riches even without the festivals nearby. Cheltenham Festival on the first bank holiday covers the universe of jazz in tents, the town hall and small theatres. An astonishing line-up with something to make your mouth water whatever your favourite flavour. Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling will be hanging out with a re-united Loose Tubes and the hottest of New York young tyros trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to pick a few at random. Check out the programme. Brecon’s mid -August extravagnaza has a similar spread with some of the same names but plenty of individuality and eye catchingly Burt Baccharach headlining. Bath sounds a welcome, different note. It’s also smaller in scale but there’s a focussed weekend of gigs in the Guildhall and a cross-over finale in the abbey of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. It’s a welcome return.
Tis the season of good will and although you had to pay for your drinks, the wine vaults beneath St. James were a good place to begin the run in to Christmas with guest Art Themen closing a great Autumn Season for the resident Jazz House Trio last night.They were in fine swing too. Themen’s reliably entertaining (whether on the horn or with the banter) and its hard not to grin at all the Dexter Gordon quotes and hints and the plain, no nonsense hard swinging set he delivers. We are almost getting blase about the quality of the parade of guests Wade Edwards has secured – he’s definitely in line for one my new honors again, especially with a programme next term that’s got Bobby Wellins and Jason Rebello on it before the end of February. But before then look over to The Bell. The Pushy Doctors are there on Monday. There have been a number of Bristol outings recently and is there a smugness in the air, that you have to come to Bristol/ Bath area to see Andy Sheppard letting his hair down (hmmm… maybe that’s Dan Moore) in this particular trio? They veer between incendiary post bop jazz, uber cheese delivered so seriously its genuinely moving and full on rollicking, rocking organ trio fun. Who knows what the repertoire will be but I expect to laugh, cry and whoop before the evening’s out. And as if that wasn’t blessing enough, we can get some more on Wednesday at the same venue. Get The Blessing are there with Clive Deamer back from Radiohead duties it’s rumoured. Influence spotting is a fun game with this lot, but when it comes down to it there are legion catchy, often rocky riffs and tunes, not much singing and a world class ensemble that have most critics scrabbling for superlatives. They fit right in with the uncategorisable creative British Jazz scene of the moment. And they are popping over from Bristol on Wednesday. It’d be a crime to miss it.
There is a feast of jazz of all varieties and vintage to be sampled over the next couple of months in the Bath and Bristol area with a few intriguing, mainly co-incidental threads. The first has to do with the influential Tomorrows Warriors. They emerged in the late eighties in London as the Jazz Warriors and were sustained as an idea and incubator for talent by bass player Gary Crosby. The roll call of players who have made their mark on the British scene graduating from the varous incarnations of this band is lengthy; Courtney Pine, Andrew McCormark and Jason Yarde all performed in Bath at the festival back in May for instance. Tony Kofi, who has forged an international reputation, launched Bath’s Jazz at the Vaults sessions at St. James Wine Vaults in style the other week. Byron Wallen, another Warriors graduate with an international reputation returns to the Vaults on October 18th having loved his previous visit there. Meanwhile, the Lively Up Festival comes to Bristol. Its a traveling series of events celebrating 50 years since Jamaican independence and produced by the Tomorrow’s Warriors team. The latest spin-off of Tomorrows Warriors, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra performs at St. Georges Bristol on the 10th October performing music composed and inspired by the late Joe Harriot. They’ll be supported by the Bristol Reggae Orchestra, a phenomenal community music orchestra. It’ll be a great night. A second strong thread this Autumn is the quality of the other contemporary British jazzers visiting the area. If they’ll forgive the age reference, I’ve spotted at least three generations! Art Themen, tenor sax man supreme and Brit jazz scene living legend who started out jamming with Alexis Korner in the London blues scene of the sixties and inspired by Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins is back for another visit to Jazz at the Vaults in December. Bristol’s BeBop Club has fantastic programme this Autumn and two I’ll pick out for the the succeeding generations are Kate Williams on the 5th October, long established London based pianist and composer who brings a top notch quartet in a modern, straight ahead vein; a little sample on youtube here . Saxophonist Trish Clowes visits the club on the 12th, representing my third generation. Both her debut and recently released second album have caused quite a stir, blending genres and influences whilst retaining real improvisational flair. Although not a Brit, it would be odd not to mention the visit of American pianist Fred Hersch to Bristol on Thursday. Its a solo performance so his mastery of the instrument and take on the jazz canon will be on uncluttered display. Maybe not a household name, he’s definitely a giant and an influence on many current players (his former pupils include Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus). The final thread to pull on is the richness and quality of the local scene. Many of the players are themselves genuine stars. So regular gigs in Bath include the already mentioned Jazz at the Vaults (guitarist Denny Illett on the 4th Cotober, and be sure to check out Jake McMurchie of Get the Blessing on 29th October as well); Sunday evenings at the Ring o Bells are reliably first class and include occasional slots for Dave Newton and John Laws, that’s if you haven’t been lured by the programme at Gascoyne Place. In Bristol, in addition to the BeBop Club and St. Georges there’s a wealth of regular gigs indluding at Colston Hall Foyer (early evening and free), quirky, genre busting programmes at The Rose of Denmark in Hotwells and El Rincon in Southville programmed by Pete Judge (also of Get the Blessing) and notably a new session starting at the Fringe Bar in Clifton every Thursday from the 4th; Staring with the incendiary pairing of Andy Shepppard and James Morton this week and continuing with a weekly programme which includes a few slots of the Pushy Doctors who raised the roof at the Bell recently. What an embarrassment of riches. The main challenge will be deciding what to go to.
The first gig of the the fifth year (count-em) of Jazz at the Vaults and the cellar bar at St. James welcomed now regular visitor Art Themen to commune with the house trio. This season John Paul Gard is occupying the piano chair and he brings another distinctive, fluent voice to the proceedings. Themen’s repertoire and style is familiar. The regular homage to Dexter Gordon (although it was late in the second set before Cheese Cake made an appearance) and honking boppish lines, apparently as natural as breathing to him were there. One of the delights of seeing players of this class regularly, accompanied by a trio as responsive and open to a mood as this band , is that its rather like meeting up with an old friend knowing you are going to have a good evening but not quite sure what mood he’s going to be in. Sure, a few gags are bound to be trotted out (the slightly dodgy please buy CDs, expensive ex-wife) but there’s always the unexpected. So tonight the shadow of Sonny Rollins and a bit of Coltrane hovered more than alter ego Dexter Gordon. Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Up Jumped Spring’ delivered on soprano had Themen wailing and howling in almost vocalised, blurry runs of notes over the driving groove of the rhythm section. The ballad ‘I’ve never been in Love Before’ had the tenor sliding around the melody, using the full range of the instrument. DJ Tony Clark picked up on the mood playing vinatge sonny rollins trio recordings in the break, encouraging Themen to close the night with a tour de force playing four Rollins Blues in sequence before squeezing out anguished and growling lines in his solo (we spotted Sonny Moon for two, Blue Heaven and Tenor Madness but couldn’t name the fourth!). So an intriguing performance by Themen showing a more angular, almost introspective side in the midst of burning bop standards. As ever this was a genuine group effort. It was a delight to see John Paul Gard in action. His solos were full of silvery runs and lightning etching out of the dense harmonies, punctuated by gritty blues phrasing, frequently evoking yelps of approval from the leaders Themen. This was an auspicious start to the season and the achievement by Wade Edwards of maintaining the momentum of the club into its fifth year was rightly lauded. An auspicious start to the season.
Is Art Themen a national jazz treasure? (Discuss). There’s a little post here by Simon Purcell summing up the creative movers and shakers of post-war British Jazz. No name check for Art there, but he was playing with those people and learnt his jazz as it was being formed and shaped by the great American innovators (not to mention gigging with the aristocracy of British blues like Alexis Korner – there was a ‘when I got paid £15 for the session on Joe Cocker’s No.1 single’ anecdote last night). This is an elaborate way of saying he’s the real deal. As the first phrases of ‘Love is a Many Splendoured Thing’ unfurled from his shiny tenor last night it was hard not to sigh with recognition – that’s what jazz sounds like. He did feed us the lines to describe his music, declaring early in the evening his love for Dexter Gordon before launching into Cheese Cake (and if you’d closed your eyes you could have believed it was Dexter Gordon, so smokey was that tenor sound). Its quite a compliment to the club and the resident trio (Wade Edwards – bass, and organiser in chief, Trevor Davies on drums and Vyv Hope Scott on piano) that he was clearly so willing and pleased to be back. We could but just nod smugly as he observed it was the sort of room that jazz should be played in – especially this sort of jazz. The band were swinging hard. Versatile as Vyv on piano is , you sense that the muscular swing, blistering ,bluesy, boppish lines and dense locked hands chordal passages are home territory for him. So stylistically and in repertoire the 60’s and standards were the material but there was nothing complacent about this: the playing communicated plenty of intensity and emotion and Themen is not averse to squeaking and honking. And like all great musicians, he got the best out of the band with plenty of features for Trevor’s driving, exuberant drum solos with Wade really digging in and grooving. It was one of those leave with a smile on you face gigs again.
If you live in the Bristol/ Bath area, it might seem we are getting too much of a good thing! There are loads of cracking gigs coming up with a fair sprinkling of the world class. So Tim Garland and Gwilym Simcock come to St. George’s on the 15th with Asaf Sirkis ( listings here ). If you in Bath and can’t make it over, get down St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Art Themen is there with the house trio (only a fiver). Julian Arguelles is in town with his trio on the 29th – St. George’s again, swiftly followed by Martin Speake with Bobo Stenson on Feb 13th ( see my post “In praise of Bobo”).. see you there! As if that wasn’t enough, the Bebop club programme really is storming. Not all household names, but believe me the quality is high. A few I’m drooling over: Barry Green on the 30th (here for more … very whacky website), Plastic Chandeliers (16th) – Bristol’s young but already up generation, in February (27th) Ben Waghorn and in March (13th), the sublime Jonathan Taylor in trio playing the compositions of Michel Petrucciani.
And there’s plenty more out there. No excuse for ears that aren’t thoroughly warmed.