New Year Post 5: sort of best of

It’s still January, so I can just about get away with thinking about all the jazz related stuff I enjoyed over the last year (can’t I?).   I hope I don’t stop noticing and being amazed (and not a little overwhelmed) by how much new music, live music, wildly creative music there is around us. My listening is pretty strongly channeled into jazz related (whatever that is) zones and still its a fabulous all enveloping wave.  Here’s what I noticed in my usual idiosyncratic swim through the last 12 months or so.

Pianists. I saw live some longstanding heroes and people who’ve long made me shake my head in wonder.  Dave Kikoski was one. When was he last in UK?  If it was recently I missed him. In full flight a sight to behold and I didn’t have to leave town to see him. He was smuggled in with Jonathan Kriesberg’s band at the Hen & Chicken (one of several Storrer coups last year).  Also in Bristol, also smuggled in with another band (Martin Speake’s this time), Bobo Stenson, the Swedish maestro.  An evening at Colston Hall’s Lantern to remember. I finally saw Enrico Pieranunzi, Italian maestro, astonishingly debuting at Ronnnie Scott’s in AugustJulian Arguelles got my vote in the LondonJazz end of year accolades after the tumultuous gig with the FDR Big Band playing South African Jazz at Cheltenham, then the sublime quarte Tetra at the Vortex later in the year.  They all fulfilled stratospheric expectation.  Another highlight was the slightly more apparently left field, until you actually see them, double bass duo of Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer at St. George’s during Bristol’s (once again Jazz and Blues Festival).  Here’s a little taste

There was plenty of recorded music to taste as well, that all enveloping wave was even more overwhelming. There’s a few that got stuck, catching me at a particular moment or just demanding to be listened to again.   Early in year a typically divergent but compelling Charles Lloyd release I long to See You and around the same time, Sam Crockatt‘s Mells Bells (that one got my London Jazz end of year vote). Sam lives out west and there were a few releases from local (or near local bands) that really caught my ear.  The prolific Kevin Figes released two albums, a quartet and and octet, and Andy Nowak‘s trio recording was a little beauty.  Two from slightly further afield that really got lodged in the play list was the rocky grooves of  Duski  led by Cardiff bass man Aidan Thorne and  (keeping a Cardiff connection, albeit a now former resident) Huw Williams’ Hon was an excitingly varied, scintillating album.   But I’ll finish where I started, with a pianist. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the joy of re-visiting, via a re-release, the Erskine trio and its the piano of John Taylor that stays with me.  A good note on which to look forward into 2017

Here’s to a happy, music filled New Year – even if I am a bit slow starting!

Martin Speake/ Bobo Stenson, Colston Hall – Lantern, Tuesday 26th April

bobocolston2Bobo Stenson is a unique and quietly influential figure.  The Swedish pianist’s many sideman gigs with horn players have included  Jan Garbarek on some of the earliest ECM recordings and a series of Charles Lloyd releases. His distinctive, poetic sound and viscerally rhythmic  touch have most often been heard in recent years in the context of his own, telepathically sympathetic trio . His partnership with serial collaborator Martin Speake however, is an enduring one and he’s been coming to UK for short tours at regular, if not frequent intervals since their first hook-up, which led to an ECM recording with Paul Motion on drums finally released a decade ago now. The first gig  on the current tour at Colston Hall’s  Lantern was a thrilling demonstration of what is special about their collaboration.

The quartet was completed by Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums and not only was it the first gig of the tour, but also the first time the four had performed together. It meant one of the pleasures of the evening was watching the band begin to breathe together. Early in the first set a Speake original, with a simple pretty tune, provided a platform for Stenson to develop a fiercely driving solo and by the time they band were vamping out over the theme, Chaplin and Stenson were locked together with a little rhythmic kick they appeared to find together.  In the second set, Folk Song for Paul featured an extended introduction from the piano, the rhythmic pulse of the theme seeming just to condense from the atmosphere and a quintessential Stenson solo followed, full of rippling, melodic lines, hesitations and distortions of the time. James Maddren seemed to be inside his mind by this point, following every feint and flurry.

The gig had been billed as the quartet playing music from the ECM release Change of Heart. 2016-04-26 20.06.32It was nothing of the sort of course. Speake’s prolific composing output and insatiable musical curiosity meant that we were treated to a mixture of his finely crafted, frequently yearning and reflective compositions, a tune of literally medieval provencance,  arrangements of a Puccini theme (O mio babbino caro) and a Frederico Mompou compostion (Cancon is danse No. 6).  A dip into Charlie Parker’s oeuvre had Bobo deconstructing Be-bop on Charlie’s Wig and they closed on a wryly understated reading of Some Enchanted Evening.

Speake’s own sound has a distilled quality to it, crystal clear and solos developing extended ideas and occasionally erupting into passionate flurries and squeals of emotion.  Chaplin and Maddren may have been less to the fore in this gig, but they had their moments in the spotlight and the responsiveness of the band to each other breathed vital life into the set.

The expression of pleasure and joy through a slightly melancholy tinged reflectiveness is sometimes characterised as typically nordic, Swedish ‘vemod’. To my ears, there is something of this in Speake’s music.  Its better expressed through music than words (perhaps illustrated by the last sentence!) and was threaded through this performance.   Who better to play this with him than the Swedish master.  I  left uplifted and just a bit inspired.

They are on the second of a two night residency at London’s Vortex tonight, not to be missed if you are nearby.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Holiday Listening & Waterfront Cafe, Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday April 10th

What a location. Overlooking the inner harbour waterways in Bridgetown on a steamy Saturday night (it takes some foresight to book your holiday for the week the drought breaks in Barbados), this stone floored, atmospheric bar would be a great place to hear some jazz. The trio tonight led by Paul Thorne on trumpet didn’t set the place alight, but were initially good fun – a whizz through Breezin and a couple of calypsos… yes St. Thomas was one…. I must confess we were driven out when he picked up a tenor sax. He’s clearly decided to extend his sond by learning sax but we felt it wasn’t quite ready for gigging yet (tuning Paul!). Still the line – up is interesting: trumpet, bass and guitar. It sent me back to a Christian McBride album with Nicholas Payton and mark whitfield called Fingerpainting. All Herbie Hancock compostions. You never miss a larger ensemble and some awesome playing. So thanks for the nudge Paul.

While I’m on the subject, other holiday listens that have delighted me have been returning to some old faves. Firstly Serenity (Bobo Stenson). slightly weird on a Carribean beach with the Swedish meister being serene, minimal but profoundly groovy and melodic in my ears – but totally delightful. Second, couldn’t resist Flutterby Butterfly (Kenny Wheeler) – close to Fingerpainting on the iPod – the momentum and lyricism of the band can never fail to lift my spirits even as that drought breaking rain came down as well.

Martin Speake ‘Change of Heart’ with Bobo Stenson, St. George’s Bristol, Februay 14th

This was the fourth (or fifth?) gig of a week long tour by the band and they’ve been much reviewed it seems. A couple were spotted by a fellow Bristol blogger here and John Fordham had a go too here – I think these may all have been the same night; scope for  bit of redactive word there. So what to add? I think Martin Speake has had a good week. At times he seemed almost overcome by the fun they were having declaring at one point “.. these are the best muscians in the world”. The sound was nevertheless, as all the reviewers have noted, in a definite ‘space’. Often meditative, very European jazz. There was a range of moods from a gently rocking half time pulse under Lennie’s Pennies to more Ornette Coleman like swing under Fifteen Years Too Long, a Speake original. So whether you loved it seems a matter of taste – for me this music is really moving and the interplay and symapthy between the players a delight. Steve Watts on bass was quietly fabulous, frequently propelling tunes with strange broken rhythmic lines often echoing the angular phrasing of the melodies. Jeff Williams always seems to embellish and imply the groove without ever actually playing it. Need I go on about Bobo? – world class and check the other reviews for plenty of words about the leader’s intricate and thoughtful playing.  I left thinking Martin Speake’s little outburst perhaps wasn’t just an excess of enthusiasm: maybe these are some of the best musicians in the world.

What January Blues?

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.

In praise of Bobo ….. and micro gigs

Bobo is coboboming! In the new year, Martin Speake is touring his Change of Heart Quartet. I’m excited – this has sparked off two parallel trains of thought. One is a bit of a meditation on why I love the playing of Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson. The other is the experience of being part of a very small audience at a jazz gig. To deal with the second of these here’s why I thought of it. Back in 2001, I heard that Martin Speake was performing in Bristol with a Quartet he was calling his International Quartet. It consisted of Martin (!), Mick Hutton on bass, Bobo on piano and the legendary Paul Motian on drums. Wow – unmissable surely. So along I went to a little theatre attached to a school (very nice venue… but slightly weird place to find this band), saw my mate Trevor there and about 10 other people. And that was it. So this extraordinary collection of musicians played for us. What a strange gig. If I’m honest what I remember most is Paul Motion telling jokes about tomoatoes (I can’t remember the punch line though). This band then recorded for ECM (at the Rainbow studios) and the album was released as Change of Heart in 2006. Martin and Bobo are back in Bristol in February (http://www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/event.php?pid=544, http://www.martinspeake.co.uk/),  playing this music but this time with Jeff Williams on drums and Steve Watts on bass – I’ll be there. That was not the only time I’ve seen worl class musicians playing to tiny audiences; Dave Douglas’ Magic Triangle Quartet playing to 17 people at Sweet Basil in New York; Geri Allen and Buster Williams playing to around 20 in the Village Vanguard (I just had to count) – a bit horrifying, but amazing to be there.

And so – why do I love Bobo? I’ve had my ipod on perma shuffle recently, and every so often a piece starts. There will be a ringing resonant chord, a gentle pulse from the drums, a fluttering run on the piano and a delicate melody emerges. ‘What’s that?’ I think – of course its Bobo, from a few different albums; Serenity under his own name; Leosia, or Litania with Tomas Stanko; War Orphans again under his own name. There’s often something really groovy about it, mixed with a really strong melodic sense – its often not swinging, but its deeply jazzy. I first really noticed him on a Charles Lloyd album, Canto and have rather randomly explored his other recordings from then on.  For me, he rarely fails to delight. http://www.myspace.com/bobostenson