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 Moll 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 turned 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.
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.
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.
Photo by Walter Dirks
More than once, listening to this album by Andy Hague’s quintet, I reached for the album sleeve thinking I was listening to a revived and re-worked classic only to find it was an Andy original. The CD cover’s elegant art work might suggest the album is all about the trumpet, and in his notes Andy cites a few exponents as inspiration (Kenny Wheeler, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Dorham , Dave Douglas) but I think it might be his pen that’s the star turn. This is a great set of tunes that repay a few listens; there are subtle dodges and swerves as well as the immediate attractiveness of the themes and arrangements. This top quality band negotiate the corners and quirks effortlessly making it all sound easy and natural. Blues and gospel inflected themes with neat arrangements are a distinct thread. Andy makes no bones of his love for the great pioneers of the ‘ Hard Bop’ style of jazz, running a Horace Silver tribute band Silverado and another, the Text Messangers, with more than a nod to the great Art Blakey. This collection updates that tradition and draws on wider range of inspirations . The opener Drip Drop has one of those Bluesy melodic lines with off beat phrases in the theme over a swing feel with a snappy back beat; not Hard Bop or Hip Hop but maybe Hip Bop? (Ok, I’ve used that one before; Joshua Redman seems a great exponent of this as well). It certainly sets the band up for some great playing. If I’d been in a club listening, the beautifully judged, staccato phrase with which Ben Waghorn launches his solo would have had me whooping. Darkness has a slow moving theme over a rolling vamp, the harmonised horns immediately evocative of a Kenny Wheeler ensemble, the reference strengthened by some melodic squeals from Andy on the repeating end section that really builds the emotional intensity. Green Leaf gives the vibe another twist with a Dave Douglas inspired sound to theme, more contemporary but still drawing a fiery inventive solo from Jake McMurchie on tenor for one of his two guest appearances. There’s a real energy about the playing throughout with the recording capturing a very live sound to the band (two of the tunes are literally recorded live at the Be-Bop club). In amongst all that energy and excitement, the tune that produced some of the most affecting playing and soloing for me was Tranquil Moment, another piece that had me convinced it was an undiscovered classic this time by Jobim. Brigitte Beraha guesting on vocals set the scene for lyrical yearning solos from Jim Blomfield on piano and Andy on one take, and Ben Waghorn’s tenor on a second ‘Radio Edit’ to end the album. This is another fine session from the vibrant Bristol scene that should be heard by a much wider audience.
St. George’s the old church turned concert venue in the middle of Bristol is just off Park Street, the steeply rising thoroughfare connecting the city centre to Clifton Triangle. This bit of topology means that if you approach from the front to get to the box office and cellar bar your feet, crunching the gravel on the path round the side of the building, are at one point level with the ceiling of the bar inside the building. As we approached on Friday evening just after 10 pm, an almost perfectly balanced for sound, slightly muted, gust of jazz blew across our feet. What better lure to get us down the steps into the bar? The grate near the ceiling ventilating the bar had given us neatly canned sample of Andy Hague’s Quintet going full throttle (I’ve managed to resist the temptation to title this post “Grate jazz at St’ George’s” or any permutation of those words). After catching a bit of the early evening jazz set at Colston Hall foyer on friends and family support of band duties and missing the gig of the evening in the main hall at St. George’s (Andy Sheppard’s Trio Librero) , by all accounts a cracker, we’d decided to head for the post match free gig in the bar at St. George’s. The grand old church is after all the main focus of that under the radar, accidental stealth festival. And what a great vibe in the bar. Andy’s Quintet are reliably high energy and high class. That gust that blew across our feet was the band revving up on Andy’s own composition Hand’s Up; a modern New Orleans funky shuffle with a typical mazy theme on the horns (Andy on trumpet and the peerless Ben Waghorn on tenor) and some ferocious blowing thereafter. We had a very enjoyable hour soaking up more of the same as did a fair few lingering concert goers and newly arrived free-loaders like ourselves. Three cheers for this bit of programming. Apart from diary clashes, another reason for lurking on the fringes of all the high quality jazz on offer this month is the wallet pain of tickets for up to five, £15 to £20 gigs in ten days. Happily audiences seemed to be good for the ECM mini-strand (Tord Gustavsen on Thursday and Trio Librero Friday). I have secured a ticket for Ambrose Amkinmusire, so fingers crossed numbers hold up for that one. As we left to the final energetic strains of the Quintet we were able to confirm a suspicion that had developed as we sat in the bar; the balance of the sound was better filtered through that grate than any spot we could find inside where one or the other instrument had tended to dominate. Happily it still sounded grate wherever we stood.
Trumpeter and drummer Andy Hague’s composing and arranging skills are a very badly kept secret in these parts, showcased as they are in his long standing quintet, occasional big band and a host of other fleeting projects. But it bears repeating (and broadcasting): skillful writing and arranging can define and meld a band together and that’s what Andy achieved again with this fantastic line-up (Andy on trumpet, Alan Barnes alto, Ben Waghorn tenor and rhythm section to die for of Scott Hammond, Thad Kelly and Jim Blomfield). Self deprecating, jokey titles and names are also a Hague stock in trade (I ‘m sure I’ve an album of his on my shelves called Portrait of the Artist as an old git!). This one told us to expect Art Blakey-like sounds and we were not disappointed, the jokiness belied the seriousness and respect that the band gave the material. Closely harmonised themes, catchy horn riffs behind solos, even a few shout choruses cueing up drum solos. It was great fun and the standards repertoire in the first set evoked some lovely controlled soloing all round, spiced up with the Alan Barnes stand up routine between tunes. The introduction of a few Hague originals and slightly unusual material (Freddie Hubbard’s Jodo for instance – a bit of a modal workout) seemed to light a bit of a fire under everyone and the blowing got more impassioned and the temperature in the room seemed to go up a few degrees during the second set. Alan Barnes really seemed to let go on Hands Up, a Hague penned New Orleans like shuffle – real hairs on the neck stuff. For me, the stand out moments were still some the more tender, beautifully arranged, statements of themes such as Corcovado in the second set, and the thoughtful fluent soloing it evoked. Apparently the project was conceived for the Swanage Jazz Festival in July, so the punters there are in for a treat if this gig was anything to go by.
Normal service was resumed at the Vaults tonight. There was no snow keeping folk at home, Tony (DJ) was back from illness the one constant, quality music, was there as ever.
Ben Waghorn is the real deal. This is the second time recently I’ve listened to a tenor player play a standard tune and almost render soloing a bit unecessary. The first was Bobby Wellins and Ben managed it a couple of times this evening. They are very different players. My one and Only Love was simply beautiful. Tone, feel, a slight hestitation here a rush of a phrase there, n embellishing flurry of notes almost like a sigh but some how etching out the harmony; all combined so that at the end of the melody it felt like the tune had been interpreted as well as stated. That was well worth coming out for. There was plenty more and Jim Blomfield was on keyboard this evening (playing an identical model to regular keys man Andy Novak, so it seems the Nord is the keyboard of choice at the moment), so there were a few pyrotechnic displays later in the evening. I wasn’t totally sold on Ben’s occasional switches to alto, but I think that might be because I was enjoying his tenor sound a lot.
There’s some great gigs coming up at this venue and elsewhere in Bath; Theo Travis in March (26th) at the vaults and Charley has lined up with Marcin Wasilevsky Trio at Chapel Arts, also in March (20th) – wow!