May Round-up: Nightingale in St James Square, Marsalis in Bath and a decade of Play Jazz Weekend

Mark Nightingale is probably heartily sick of bad puns on his name, but his appearance atmarknightingale the St. James Wine Vaults session in Bath in the middle of the month in a cellar bar beneath St. James Square, made allusions to singing and squares irresistible. Anyone who was there might also think it’s an apt comparison however. Opportunities to see one of our foremost exponents of trombone as the lead horn are relatively rare so this was a real treat. The fluency and agility of the playing were dazzling and Nightingale’s tone was like honey in the ear as he led the house trio through two sets of tunes from some less visited corners of the standards and jazz classics repertoire.  This was another absorbing evening in the fortnightly session’s programme, now a decade old, that continues to attract the best players on the scene.

It’s a year of anniversaries, as Play Jazz Weekend, an annual pop-up jazz jazz school held at Wiltshire Jazz Centre, reached a run of a decade under the stewardship of Rachel Kerry over the Bank Holiday Weekend . This year, as on some previous occasions, the tutors for the weekend assembled the night before for a gig at Bristol’s Be-Bop Club. Alan Barnes, Damian Cook and Andy Hague (alto, tenor, trumpet) formed the frontline of the band that also featured the fourth tutor Jim Blomfield on piano. Chris Jones on bass and Mark Whitlam secured a grooving, responsive rhythm section. This kind of gig is a Hague specialty. He arrived with a pad of arrangements in ‘roughly hard swinging, sixties Blue Note territory’  as he put it, making sure the impromptu sextet served up a fizzing set of familiar tunes  with new twists and the unfamiliar  with attention grabbing energy. So we got standards such as Like Someone in Love, Billy Strayhdorn’s UMMG, a little known rip-roaring Horace Silver, Smell my Attitude, evoking burning soloing all round. There were  moments of tender delicacy sprinkled throughout the evening as well. A rousing Marcus Printup stomper closed the evening,  loudly appreciated by  prospective Play Jazz students and regular punters alike.

The much reduced Bath International Festival took place over the week before the bank holiday weekend and the overtly jazzy gigs were on the first Saturday.  There’ll be more from me in Jazzwise about those, suffice to say that a solo Branford Marsalis gig in the Abbey, complete with tolling bells to welcome him to the stage, was a dramatic piece of billing. One man, his saxophones and a big church was certainly a challenge but Marsalis rose to it, sounding most compelling to these ears when he eased into some jazz standards, but mining  classical and contemporary sounds along the way and using the response of the natural reverb chamber to exhilarating effect.   Kansas Smitty’s House Band provided a raucous antidote later in the same evening, impossible not to enjoy.



2013, my gigs and listens

There’s a distinct pleasure in recalling and re-living some of the most thrilling moments of live music lodged in the memory.  Here goes, as I  join in with the welter of  lists and round ups of the year.  My CD picks are a bit more random, as they include recordings I have come across this year, although not necessarily released in 2013.  As ever, it’s reflective only of my own sampling of the impossible to absorb panoply of choice, both live and recorded, constrained of course by time, finances and the vagaries of life.

Live Music

Jason Rebello – he never really went away, but it’s a delight to see him out and about more regularly. Never mind the extraordinary talent on the British scene, he still stands out. Two gigs: Trio at St. James Wine vaults with son George on drums (review here); quartet, again at St’ James Wine Vaults, with Iain Ballamy no less (review here)

Julian Arguelles at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol with his quartet (review here); I’m still getting a warm glow when I think of it.

Cassandra Wilson at Ronnie Scotts; the intimate atmosphere heightened the thrill, she is unique (review here)

Love Supreme Festival: Snarky Puppy just will not permit anything less than total enjoyment; grab you by the throat uproarious fun; Terence Blanchard the opening phrases of Magnetic I can still conjure up; Brandford Marsalis it was his band but what I remember is the excitement Joey Calderazzo‘s solo generated as they launched into The Mighty Sword. (round up of the festival  here and here)

and finally three gigs that captured my imagination beyond already high expectation

Mike Gibbs Ensemble celebrating Gil Evans (note to self, must get the CD, available on Whirlwind as ‘plus 12’) – occasionally forgot to breath when I wasn’t chuckling at a Gibbs anecdote or shaking my head – big band arrangements of Ornette Coleman anyone? Reuben James a tantalisingly short piano trio set just dazzled me. There’s a special magic about his touch and feel – he’s young, so hopefully there’ll be plenty more chances to catch him. Both of these were at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

And late in the year Corey Mwamba Trio at Burdall’s Yard in Bath. Constant invention, surprises and delights (review here)

Recorded Music

The main criterion here is CDs that I’ve come by this year that seem to get stuck in the CD player or head phones – I just keep wanting to listen to them.

Be Still – Dave Douglas released in 2012. Hymns and folk songs plus a smattering of originals; The title track is utterly transporting every time, beautiful, lyrical melodic playing throughout.

Quercus – June Tabor/ Iain Ballamy/ Huw Warren More folky fare, this trio are something special and June Tabor is surely a national treasure

Swept Away – Marc Johnson/ Elaine Elias  Straight ahead (ish) jazz on ECM! A set of mainly originals just gloriously delivered with Joe Lovano on a good few adding the icing on the cake. Yum

MirrorsKenny Wheeler/ London Vocal Project mainly Kenny’s settings of Stevie Smith poetry with Pete Churchill’s amazing London Vocal Project and a good proportion of Nikki Iles’ Printmakers making up the band. What’s not to love?

Magnetic – Terence Blanchard On lots of critics’ lists but I can only agree, it’s a great album. Contemporary, small group jazz at its best.

First Hello to Last Goodbye – trio red Another 2012 release I think, but I spent a lot of early 2013 listening to it. A quirky project from scottish drummer Tom Bancroft with Tom Cawley on piano and swede Per Zanussi on bass. There’s a reason Tom Cawley is a regular in the Ronnie Scott’s house band; for my money one of the most creative players in this sort of band on the British scene. Perhaps less visible thnan some however. This trio popped up at the London Jazz Festival (missed it sadly)

and also getting a lot of plays: Birds – Marius Neset;  Concert in the Amazon – Jeff Williams; Ground Rush – Julian Arguelles Trio (released 2010.. but new to me); In Full View – Julia Hulsmann Quartet; and it’d be rude not include a Keith Jarrett album, this year’s much heralded trio release Somewhere was well up to their sublime standard.

Scorching Sunday at Love Supreme

Magnetic. Never mind it was just after 2 pm on the hottest afternoon of the year; never mind there were a few people to be stepped over if you wanted to move around, sleeping off  Saturday night’s excesses no doubt; never mind the distant throb of other stages; Terence Blanchard‘s quintet were magnetic and mid way through the first set as the dark swirling chords at a march like tempo underpinned a lament like keening theme, the leader launched into an anguished impassioned solo that built from a few elegant phrase to a pitch of  such raw emotion it was almost too much to bear. That was Hallucinations the third tune from their aptly titled recent release Magnetic (back on Blue Note as Blanchard observed with a self deprecating implied roll of the eyes in his tone).

Terence Blanchard in the Big Top

Terence Blanchard in the Big Top

Fabian Almazon on piano and a very youthful Joshua Crumbly had been combining with almost veteran by comparison Kendrick Scott on drums to create a surging, often swinging pulse with lots of space for by turns spacious and furious soloing from tenor man Brice Winston and Blanchard himself. Magnetic, compelling, moving.  Not to be missed.  A full house of New Orleans jazz royalty then with Branford Marsalis later in the afternoon. I’d made my way past the main stage to get there where Soweto Kinch had been whipping up an uncompromising Ornette-ish squall with a trio of his alto,  bass and drums. There  were a few slack jaws in places. After Gregory Porter had wowed the main stage crowd, rocking out on ‘1960 what’ to finish, a tune that’s beginning seem like a classic that’s always been around, I sat down for iced coffee a bit of time out and a natter.  The question ‘is it a jazz festival’ and odd on-line growl ‘ there’s not much jazz in the programme’  came up and just seemed weird on a lot of levels, especially as we looked round at the thousands milling around. Cheek by jowl was pop, soul, funk, jazz inspired/ influenced music; uncategorisable creative blends of who knows what influence and oh yes, world class, world beating music that everyone would agree is in the vanguard of bop orientated inspired jazz today – for what the labels are worth. If this was what festival director Ciro Romano had imagined when he set about getting backers and big name supporters for this festival, then the hard work made it a reality. Whatever had drawn someone here, they were unlikely to escape hearing something that hadn’t (even if it made them want to escape). Fabulous.
Back to the main stage for Esperanza Spalding – ‘Espee’ as one of the band called in one the half sung, half talking bits of interplay that linked each liquid, jazz, soulful song to the next. Theirs was an utterly compelling, relaxed effortless excursion through the Radio Society People repertoire holding a large crowd in the sun rapt. When the trombone was exhorted to show us how he felt, we got it. Not even the roar and applause that somehow swept through the crowd as Andy Murray clinched the Wimbledon championship could disrupt their groove.

My last infusion of energy was from Branford Marsalis’ Quartet before leaving to battle with getting across the country on trains on Sunday night. And what an infusion. Joey Calderazzo on piano and Justin Faulkner on drums were in danger of stealing the show. The combination between the two seemed to escalate inexorably. On a familiar Marsalis post-bop swinger, replete with doubled bass and piano fills on the head Calderazzo started with just -so boppish phrases leaving plenty of space and displacing rhythms teasingly. Then a cycle of dazzling runs building to crashing chords before the thunderous roll of Faulkner’s drums seemed sparked off an even more incendiary runs. It went on ratcheting up until the the whole tent seemed to roaring them on and still they ramped it up. Extraordinary stuff. Branford just grinned and nodded approvingly from his chair behind bassist Eric Revis.  Another fabulous moment amongst a weekend’s worth.  The something for everyone Love Supreme idea showed its worth on this magical weekend.

Bath Jazz Festival: Empirical & Branford Marsalis Quartet, Monday 25th May

large_Branford MarsalisIf on Sunday night we had a candidate for premier small jazz group on the planet, then here was another down the road at the Forum tonight. This was jazz and no mistaking it. From the burning opener, a Jeff Watts tune in the driving post-bop style this group have made their own, through a sprinkling of standards and some hymn like ballads by pianist Joey Calderazo the enrgy and intensity never dropped. This was another group ‘breathing as one’. Joey Calderazo seemed to be on fire, driving the rhythm section into a frenzy on two other tunes in the long hour and half set. Marsalis himself stepped in on occasions and showed his mettle, particularly on Jabberwocky, but a lot of the time seemed content to distill his contributions into beautifully balanced and lyrical solos. This was perhaps the most straightforward gig of the weekend, visiting familar terrain, but doing so with a command, energy and joyfulness that made this one of the highlights.

Empirical’s opening set of Eric Dolphy inspired originals was sophisticated and engaging jazz with the vibes player really catching my attention. This band are continually exploring it seems, it’ll be fun to see where they go next.  Nathaniel Facey, the alto player came back with the Marsalis Quartet for their encore and seemed to enjoy the fire lit under him by the band on Oleo to end the evening.

Wait.. and the (jazz) world will come to you….

I am just a little breathless at the quality of the jazz coming up over the next few months; Bath seems all of a sudden to have become centre of the Jazz universe. Very quietly, the Fat Fowl in Bradford upon Avon has been hosting a series of incredible gigs; on Thursday (19th) Jason Rebello and Iain Ballamy are in duo. In April, John Law is there with his trio (world class in John Fordham’s view). Blimey! Thurday 26th sees Theo Travis at St. James Wine Vaults with the house band. He is without question an unsung hero of the British scene – a mighty fine player.I can barely contain my excitement at the prospect of Marcin Wasilevsky at Chapel Arts in Bath on Friday (20th). They are around in London and that Fordham chappy is looking forward too here.

And then… I opened my programme for the Bath Festival. Check it out here, but suffice to say what with Dave Holland and  Branford Marsalis each bringing their band the wow factor is there. I’m excited about Curios and Bojan Z as well (old Bath fest fave) and there’s a bit of quirk there too. Musings on whether or not the Bath Fest has got a bit more conservative under Joanna Macgregor’ s direction will have to wait for another day, I for one am saving up for my weekend pass.

I am just wondering if the credit crunch is sending all these chaps out on the road. What ever the reason, I plan to enjoy.

Snoozing – a meditation

Have you ever fallen asleep at a gig? A reasonable assumption would be that if you have, it was because you were bored. But I’ve been wondering about that. There is a connection between this and my previous posts. I started by describing gigs I’ve loved or magic moments with live music. So this train of thought is provoked by why it might not be magical.

Here are just two of my snoozing at the gig moments. Firstly, the Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Village Vanguard in New York. I choose this one because I should have been at fever pitch of excitement through out. What a line-up! Eric Revis, Jeff Tain Watts, Joey Calderazo and Branford Marsalis, They told us it was great to be there and ‘back home’ and that there they could play how they wanted to. Why then, as the rest of the audience whooped and shouted for more did I realise I had nodded off for the last bit of the set – I don’t know for how long! I do remember thinking, as I pondered on what I’d heard, that maybe there was nothing left to do with this music. They had deconstructed it, played free, played time, played ‘in’, played ‘out’ and shifted as if a unit telepathically connected- what a band. And yet.. and yet.. More of this on another occasion.

Courtney Pine at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Now if you go to a Courtney Pine gig, you know what you are going to get. Pyro technic playing, heavy grooves, dancing (!). So when we went to this gig, part of the London Jazz Festival, why did I fall asleep?

My first simplistic answer is that a wall of sound, deliver at an unvarying intensity can aneasthetise the senses. It literally ‘ knocks you out’. So Branford and Courtney – give me more light and shade please, don’t just shout at me.