Was that a deliberate typo on the booking page of Jazz Steps Nottingham’s website that turned this trio into Green – Grass and Rain (ey)? There was no sabotaging the quality of the music however. If you’re going to hook up with a kick ass New York rhythm section then you may as well go for the top drawer and Barry Green did just that when he recorded his just released Almost There trio album in New York with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey. Now there’s a short tour and my own roamings meant I was crossing their path in Nottingham.
The material expresses different sides of Green’s personality. From muted, glowing renditions of pop ballads and hymns, through tumbling free improv, a sprinkling of originals that are jagged polished little jewels of rhythmic jigsaws and fragmentary melody, some viscerally driving swing and bursts of rhapsodic lyricism. In Gress and Rainey he has perfect foils who anticipate, play off each other and shadow every move.
In the first set Paul Simon’s A train in the distance sucked the air out the room, as the piano chimed the affecting melody, floating on a pulsing, insistent sizzle from Rainey’s drums. Then they launched into Green’s own My Spy a jagged left hand riff doubled with Gress’s bass and stabbing chords and glittering fragments of melody from the right hand. If little clusters of notes and angular turns in the piano solo hinted at Monk, it was overt as they ripped into a tumbling, free-wheeling take on the master’s Work. This is a tour on the back of the album release, but they were stretching beyond that material. More Green originals, another clattering tumultuous deconstruction this time of McCartney’s Her Majesty and a burst of sunshine and joy with a lilting calypso like piece, Pim, that drew a fluid, singing solo from Gress on the bass. Rainey was a revelation throughout. Sometimes adding colour, at others rhythm and clatter that tugged the band in new directions, at others sitting on the simplest of driving pulses. The choice of materials may have been Barry Green’s, but this was a group conversation and performance. A delight.
And another delight for me was to visit the Bonington for the first time and dip into Jazz Steps’ programme. They are another bit of the live music and jazz network on which we depend and run of course by volunteers. Loud cheers.
It was a routine Friday night at the Vortex, and the music was routinely out of the ordinary. Barry Green has had a semi-regular slot there with a variety of guests and this time he was joined by jazz national treasure Stan Sulzmann. The tenor silenced the room with a few exploratory hoots and phrases to start the gig. Then, with a flurry, a slide and a slither, a sinuous melodic line hinted at I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and suddenly everyone was playing. Tim Giles on drums somehow played off not quite stated rhythmic feints from the piano and Steve Watts’ loping bass line created momentum with subtle nudges and pushes. It was magical stuff.
This may not be a regular band, but they know each other of old. Tim Giles’ debut recording at age of 14 with the Hungry Ants had Steve Watts on bass, Giles has been playing with Green since the pianist’s college days and Watts has been a bass player of choice for just about everyone since the days of Loose Tubes. The long acquaintance and pleasure in each other’s company was tangible from the off.
They continued with a nod to John Taylor playing first his tune Ambleside and then How Deep is the Ocean, played frequently by Taylor. Ambleside’s soaring, spiralling melody evoked lyrical solos all round, before Sulzmann really took off on the standard. Long, melodic ideas just swept us along over a racing pulse from the band, extended single notes stretching over the tune’s form, the intensity suddenly relieved by cascades of notes. Everyone responded. After a grooving arrangement of You’ll Never Get to Heaven, Green pulled out a fiery solo on Kenny Wheeler’s Old Time. Glittering runs were punctuated by fiercely percussive episodes, the interaction with Giles on drums electrifying.
It was smiles and whoops all round as the familiar sprang surprises and a top drawer quartet had some fun. Just an average Friday at the Vortex then.
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.
Pianist Barry Green has been haunting my September. After popping up on Alan Barnes’ quartet recording One For Moll as a sideman, his trio with two A-list American partners, saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver (yes, no bass), provided the gig of the month and a hot CD recommendation. Barry recorded an album last year at the legendary System Two studios in New York with the two Americans and they were touring, promoting the album in September. They touched down at the Hen and Chicken in the middle of the month and tore into a varied set, skipping through a sizzling take on Ornette Coleman’s ‘Happy House‘ after moody abstraction on Paul Motian’s ‘Owl of Cranston’ and the lyrical ebb and flow of Green’s own ‘Stubblerash’. After a grooving workout on the John Martyn tune ‘May You Never’, they thoroughly deconstructed ‘Off Minor’ before completing the evening with a heart stopping reading of ‘When I Grow to Old Dream’. The fleet footed switches and lightening interaction of the trio are all captured on the CD as well as the quirky swerves in repertoire. Green can sound like several different pianists, now impressionistic colour and pensive exploration, now driving Ornette-ish free bop, followed by a folky Jarretish tinge to his playing on the album’s closer Getting To Be A Habit With Me and unsentimental lyricism and and richness of harmony on many of his compositions. The live set and the album reveal a distinctive musical personality and Gerald Cleaver and Chris Cheek are peer-less collaborators. Cleaver enlivens, goads and colours the music with every twitch, flourish and pause. Chris Cheek’s sound weaves through the mix sometimes sweetly melodic at others spooling out long spiky lines. It’s an intoxicating brew. You can get the album here.
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.
Babelfish, the quartet led by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green have released a little more quiet beauty laced with wry mischief into the world in the shape of their new album Chasing Rainbows. A set of mainly original tunes and songs from the two co-leaders are given life by the effortlessly meshed grooves conjured up by Chris Laurence on bass and Paul Clarvis on busying, rustling, bustling percussion laced through with now elegant, now acerbic lines from the piano. Brazil is never far away. Michelangelo Anonioni begins as a languid, almost bossa and then subtly changes gear into a pulsating samba-like groove as Green builds an exciting solo over a Laurence/ Clarvis magic carpet of accompaniment that sounds both like its blazing away with its intensity and hardly there with the less is more approach to playing. Beraha’s Sushi Hero is more bouncing, slightly warped latin overlaid with a typically spikey vocal line, all leaps and dives. Nuit Blanche is darker, retaining a Brazilian edge in its gentler pulse. There are folkier themes with Salley Gardens given a joyous bouncing lilt. Barry Green’s Confusion is an angular, interval hopping, boppish theme, sown through the album with individual ‘tryouts’ by each band member before a final performance to close the set. This is beautifully wrought music, full of invention from Green and Beraha’s soloing but always complementing each other and developing their artfully constructed, compellingly melodic themes. This is another gem of an album to follow up their 2012 debut. They are launching in London on Tuesday 21st at Pizza Express. Let’s hope they manage to spread the beauty around the country in the months ahead
A mini-blog to capture my recollection of a sunny Friday at London’s Southbank; Bablefish on the engagingly named Front Room stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and a large appreciative crowd for an absorbing and top class set. The quartet revolves around the partnership of singer Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green. The huge rich sound of this ensemble comes from some great writing and arranging and from the seeming unerring instinct of these consummate musicians to to do just the right thing at the right moment to create that sound. They touch all sorts of reference points with African and Latin rythmns alternating with propulsive grooves, driving swing, moody introspective episodes underpinned by rich harmony that shifts and twists in unexpected ways. Beraha’s composition Fatty Tuna summed a lot of this up (an episodic piece with most of those elements). There was a moment when a scintillating rythmn, with a devious line on piano locking perfectly with an off kilter bass line supported the wordless spiky theme delivered by Beraha. It held the chatty post-work crowd rapt; I realised that percussionists extraordinaire Paul Clarvis was only using a tambourine, Barry was playing with one hand on the piano – everyone doing just the right thing and no more to create that huge sound. This can have been no easy pick-up gig for bass player Sam Lssserson deputising for Chris Laurence but he sounded like he did it every day. Of course there was plenty of scope of fizzing and fluent soloing from everyone, but I left with the thought ‘what a great band’ in my mind. An album coming out on Barry’s own Moletone soon will be well worth checking out and keep the eyes peeled for a tour in the Autumn.