John Law is a man in constant motion. On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums he popped up with a band he called Boink!, three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape. The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar. There was a sense of them all now fully integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.
The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band. An early stand-out was And Them. It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax. I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum. Each of the quartet had moments like this. On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck. They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high. A vintage night at the BeBop Club
The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.
Firstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records . There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.
There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back. The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties. The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets. Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.
Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before the summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since. This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement. First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony, Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos. Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November
Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.
The Wildflower Sextet’s artfully twisted performance of Lester Left Town was still buzzing, ear-worm like, in my memory when I woke on Saturday morning to find London Jazz News had posted a review by Peter Jones of their album. He observes that at first hearing, many of the originals by leader and tenor man Matt Anderson could have come from the pen of the inspiration behind the music himself, the legend that is Wayne Shorter. The opener, J.G fitted that bill perfectly. After a rippling atmospheric blend of Alex Munk‘s guitar and Sam Leak‘s piano set the scene, it kicked into an insistent, driving swing with Laura Jurd‘s trumpet blending with Anderson’s warm toned tenor on a familiar/ not familiar melody. ‘Surely that’s from one those 60’s Blue Note albums after Shorter had left Art Blakey’s band?’. But no, it was an Anderson original. The idiom was nailed, but this is far more than a tribute band. They say they make music ‘inspired by’ Shorter and as they warmed up and the enthusiastic Be Bop club audience warmed to them, they really started stretching out. Firedance saw Jurd and Anderson swapping phrases and winding each other up before a deliciously melodic solo from Sam Leak wound its way through the harmony, all glancing boppish phrases, locked beautifully with the pulse from the rhythm unit of Sam Gardner on drums and Sam Vicary’s bass (a trio of Sams!). Things really seemed to lift off when they put on the cloak of the modern Shorter quartet and deconstructed Mahjong, a much looser open approach with each section of the tune explored at length punctuated by flurries of the familiar melody, Anderson and Jurd again soloing together. Sfumato (an Anderson original before you rush off to check the Shorter oeuvre) started of back in 60s Shorter territory, tenor and trumpet mingling and then Jurd stretched out, lithe melodic lines drawing the ear on, ramping up the energy, a great solo and the whole ensemble coalescing around a lurching off-kilter funky vamp as an outro. And then the teasing arrangement of Lester Left Town, speeding up and slowing down to keep us guessing and providing a roaring finale to a great evening. They may have been mining a rich legacy, but they were in no way slaves to it. They didn’t even play Wildflower. Go see them.
A quick look back at January’s diary confirms a cracking month of listening and gig going. Aside from Anthony Braxton, and Iain Ballamy early on, I caught Tom Green‘s Septet at Burdalls Yard at the start of a lengthy national tour. A rousing start to the month and my account is on Jazzwise’s website. A couple of CDs confirmed what a service two still relatively young labels, Whirlwind and Edition, are performing for our jazz scene. Both labels were of course started by musicians (Mike Janisch and Dave Stapleton). On Whirlwind, The Gate is bass player Phil Donkin‘s debut release as a leader after an already stellar career as a sideman, (my review for London Jazz here). Edition have done it again in signing another formidable European player, this time distinctive Finnish trumpeter Veneri Pohjola. His album Bullhorn has been stuck on my playlist (review here).
And then an epic weekend starting with Head South‘s authentic Latin grooves fronted by UK trumpet meister Steve Waterman at the BeBop Club. Chino Martell Morgan‘s percussion blended with Buster Birch’s rocket fuelled drumming to stir anyone’s blood, all MD’d by keysman John Harriman locked tight with Alsofredo Pulido‘s bass for the night. The Impossible Gentlemen at Wiltshire Music Centre followed on Saturday. Oh, its good to see them back again. Jon Turney’s review nicely captures the thrill. They roar and raunch and sigh and swoon in equal measure. There’s a singing bittersweet voicing of chords from Mike Walker‘s guitar blending with Gwilym Simcock‘s piano that’s almost a signature sound: my ole heart flipped over as a new tune Hold Out For The Sun launched the gig with just such a cycling sequence. The local jazz scene were out in force to appreciate. The weekend was topped off by Andy Sheppard and Denny Illett’s Hotel Bristol on Sunday at the Hen & Chicken. I’ve nothing to add to this. I’m not sure I can stand the pace.
Their publicity says ‘sure to put a smile on your face’ and Laura Jurd‘s Quartet, on their first visit to the BeBop Club, more than lived up to the promise. In two sets of bracingly original music, the almost diffident delivery of these dazzlingly accomplished musicians allowed the beautifully crafted and arranged music to have the starring role. Melodies, often deceptively simple and with a folky edge to them are stated and elegantly developed; sudden switches of pace or the entrance of urgently dancing grooves keeps the listener guessing, but its never jarring, just beautifully judged. The ebb and flow of ideas around the band is constant and keeps the mood buzzing. And then someone cuts loose. Lady of Bruntal had a spritely swirling theme that gave way to a rockier passage of rasping trumpet calls and darting runs before Corrie Dick let rip with a storming solo. Sognefjord, all rumble and clatter and a rubato theme developed a racing, clattery backing to another blistering trumpet solo from Jurd, Tom McCredie’s pulsating bass-line locking it all down. Then hints at more clubby beats from the drums sparked an electrifying piano solo from Elliot Galvin all misshapen blues riffs, silvery runs and a visceral groove.
For all the bursts of virtuosity and temperature raising solos, those episodes didn’t dominate the music. These were carefully constructed pieces with strong themes and episodes that developed and complemented them. Oh So Beautiful took the simplest of delicate melodic phrases and pulled it around, stretching over different rhythms, bending and distorting the motif until it went back into shape.
There’s been plenty of glowing music press about Laura Jurd both as composer and player and it was more than borne out by this gig. Its a tribute to the musicians that its the spirit of the music that lingered on after the band had packed up and gone and we were back home. Now there’s a rare gift.
Returning from the bar after the interval, clutching my pint and still reflecting on the complex, layered pieces we’d heard in the first set from Tommy Andrews‘ Quintet, I found the respectably sized BeBop Club audience peering at densely typed photocopied sheets as the band settled back in at the front of the room. ‘Its the programme notes’ was the response to my bemused enquiry. Surely a first, certainly at the BeBop but for me anywhere at a jazz gig, to have the detailed inspiration and interpretation of themes, moods, shifts in metre and key and compositional devices of the music we are about to hear set out for us in a detailed hand-out. A gulp of Doom Bar and I found myself charmed by the seriousness and ambition. An extended suite of related, through composed pieces (for that was what was in prospect) is certainly an idea that surely goes back at least to Ellington in jazz (although I’m not sure he ever handed out detailed programme notes)
The Galilean Suite then is a suite of seven pieces that run together, using the inspiration of the discovery of four of Jupiter’s moons by Galileo and the Greek myths associated with the names by which those moons have been known (for the curious, read more). What we heard was uniformly complex and detailed, but the attempt to paint musical pictures using all the resources of the band and improvisational imagination of these fine players was really compelling. Strong melodic fragments came and went against different textures and rhythms. Sometimes there were driving rocky grooves, at others more lilting, still others glorious ballads. Europa started with a perfectly judged sighing melody from Andrews’ alto before first Dave Mannington on bass and then Nick Costley White on guitar pulled out really affecting solos. There were climatic and thunderous passages with everyone locked and blowing furiously. Rick Simpson‘s piano was variously holding down angular grooves and then inserting rich harmonies before he let loose with dynamic, building solo on the Outro a real highlight. Lloyd Haines, depping for Dave Hamblett, gave a bravura performance. This passage of just over half an hour was worth coming out for on its own, a real calling card of a writing and performing talent to watch.
For the rest of the gig, the quintet’s recent release the The Crux was the source of the material. It mostly shares the attention to mood and texture and multi staged construction of the suite, all played with a freedom and ease that was genuinely engaging. In the end I didn’t need the explanations and route map to enjoy what I was hearing, but it was fun!