The late list, my favourite moments and sounds of the last 12 months.

The ‘best of’/’highlights lists’ for 2015 have been and gone and there were a lot of them this year it seemed.  They are always entertaining. Jazzwise mag inveigled a huge cast list to each compile one with a complex point scoring system – always intriguing results.  I managed not to do one in December, or even early January (I just got busy… didn’t get around to it).  There is pleasure to be had in looking back however. So here we go.  It’ a very personal selection, dependent entirely on my idiosyncratic preferences and what may have appealed on a particular day or at different times.  Rules of my game are explained for Live thrills and recorded pleasures respectively.

Gigs & Live Moments  ( a small slice)

For a live gig or moment within a gig, the simple rule is  ‘Can I still conjure up the moment and the thrill?’, or maybe  it returns unbidden to give me a tingle of pleasure at the recollection.

Anthony Braxton at the Lantern, Colston Hall in Bristol for his only UK appearance. A unique and mysterious improviser I’ve remained haunted by the Ghost Trance Music

Julian Arguelles  at Cheltenham Festival with a septet playing inventive arrangements of his enchanting, exuberant music

When I looked back, I realised a trio of duos with Gwilym Simcock stuck out:

Gwilym Simcock/ Jason Rebello at Wiltshire Music Centre in the Bath Festival. Intergenerational? Maybe, but certainly interactive and plenty of fireworks alongside lyrical flights

Gwilym Simcock/ Brigitte Beraha at Falmouth University, an impromptu moment at the end of a solo concert, a moment of magic as piano and voice took flight together on I fall in love too easily

Gwilym Simcock/ Michael Wollny at a tribute to John Taylor, two former pupils of the maestro let fly on Ambleside Days, an extra ordinary moment.

Norma Winstone/ Ralph Towner Another tribute/ celebration and another duo.  These two slid into a version of Celeste that gave me goosebumps at an ‘Evocation’ of Kenny Wheeler’s music in London Jazz Festival.

Paolo Conte at the Barbican. Is it jazz? Cabaret? Pop?  Who cares – the veteran, unclassifiable  Italian crooner wove his spell and charmed everyone ( that’ll be me and what seemed like a significant proportion of Italian and Italian descended London residents)

Kamasi Washington at the Lantern again this time for one of two UK appearances(the Lantern had a good year for coups!) and demonstrating live with only septet (no massed choirs or orchestra on hand) why his debut deserved the title The Epic

I could list all those moments at my regular haunts (St. James Wine Vaults, Bath; BeBop Club; increasingly irresistible, The Hen and Chicken), however one each:

Iain Ballamy – at the Wine Vaults. Never knowingly miss an opportunity to hear him. Back in January last year at the Wine Vaults, just the theme from East of Sun was worth the trip.

Wildflower Sextet – at the BeBop Club early in the year. Any Wayne Shorter related outing is likely to get my but this sextet led by Matt Anderson were a particular delight.

Hotel Bristol –  at The Hen and Chicken. Fierce competition for this slot, but the Andy Sheppard orchestrated quartet has it with fierce blowing, delectable melodies and grooves and the inevitable top-drawer collaborators.

Recorded Music

In the case of  recorded music the question is ‘Do I still get the urge to play the CD/ Download?’     Memory can be deceptive and what happened most recently can loom larger than it should. Discovering that iTunes has sneakily logged a good proportion of my listening, reveals what have been the most frequent of my ‘just got to listen to that again’ or ‘I’m in the mood for..’ choices.  Taken alongside what has got stuck in my (old tech) six CD changer and picking a few faves from albums I’ve reviewed, generates a list that may reveal more about my preferences than anything else, but also looks pretty high quality to me.

 Heavily edited in the interests of not overdoing it –

Stuck in the CD changer

Kamasi Washington – all three discs of The Epic. It’s a throwback (whether jazz or dance music), its very current, its so the ‘next thing’, its irresistible.

Julian Arguelles – Let it Be Told,   Mining the South African repertoire and arranging for Big Band its fabulous (and coming to Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2016)

Babelfish – Chasing Rainbows was this piano, voice, bass and percussion quartet’s second outing. Understated, fizzing with energy, creativity and exquisitely twisted melody.

Reviewed with humility and repeating on the playlist

Andy Sheppard  –  Surrounded by Sea.  Trio Librero with the addition of Elvind Aarstead, whisperingly magical

Charles LloydWild Man Suite, a unique instrumentation. Maybe only Charles Lloyd would respond to the suggestion of adding strings by doing it with lyra and cimbalom, but its vintage Lloyd

The Printmakers – its been a bit of wait, but in Westerly at last we have a recording of this sublime and joyful music from Brit super group

Others, some reviewed some not, but high on the count of ‘plays’

Bebe Buchanan Tagel  – Gone . Danish outfit, featuring that Arguelles chap again. Euro? Yes, lyrical? Yes? Distinctive – oh yes.  Thanks Peter Bacon for the review tip-off

Drifter  – Flow An Edition Records orchestrated quartet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano. Vibrant, exciting contemporary jazz

Mads La Cour – Almuji  I keep returning to this loose limbed, weaving in and out of structures blowing from the Norwegian trumpeter’s quartet

Eyebrow  – Garden City hypnotic and uplifting slowly evolving grooves and hooks from this trumpet, drums and effects duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens

Indigo Kid – Fistful of Notes Not nearly enough fanfare around this second outing for Dan Messore’s quartet playing his enticing and quirky melodies

Veneri Pohjola Another Edition Records release, early in 2015, Finnish trumpeter Pohjola on a set of emotion packed originals and the leaders gorgeous, bang up to date trumpet sound kept calling me back



An August Week in the West Part 2: Gwilym Simcock Solo, University of Falmouth

There are moments in music that seem so right, so beautifully judged, that they both remain suspended in the memory and can eclipse to some extent what led up to them.   After a scintillating and at times gravity defying solo set in the well appointed and intimate performance space at Falmouth University’s performance centre, Gwilym Simcock invited Brigitte Beraha to join him for the inevitable encore. The totally absorbed and universally thrilled audience was drawn mainly from students on the Jazz Summer School and Brigitte was one of their tutors for the week. What followed was a little piece of alchemy. A few stroked abstract chords, Beraha’s wordless sighs and gliding phrases and then I fall in Love to Easily unfolded. A repetition of the stanza followed with the melody distorted and tugged, Simcock following every move with chords by turns lush and sparse.  It’d be tempting to reference Shirley Horne for the sense of pacing or Betty Carter for the imagination with melody and words, but that would perhaps not do justice to Simcock and Beraha’s artistry and simply re-state a jazz truth: great musicians absorb and transmute the ideas an innovations of those that have gone before and weave their own magic. And as the last words dissolved in a sigh and the the piano’s chords faded, it was a piece of pure magic they’d created.

The solo performance that had preceded it had been magical in its own right. Simcock’s now almost taken for for granted protean talents were deployed on exhilarating rhythmic workouts, Barber inspired barely believable counterpoint on Barber’s Blues and exquisite re-workings of the familiar on Everytime we Say Goodbye and, emotionally, Everyone’s Song But My Own. No matter how furious or dense the textures, there was no stopping fluid melodic lines breaking through. It was a breathtaking performance and then followed that encore.  What a moment to stumble across on an evening, in August, in Falmouth.

CD Review: Babelfish, Chasing Rainbows

BabelfishBabelfish, 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

Jazz local and national; Riff Raff in Sheffield – What a difference a grant makes?

The back room of a pub, something ear tweakingly interesting leaking out of the PA as a respectable sized crowd gathered , settling amongst a mis-matched jumble of chairs and tables. It was the Lescar in the backstreets of Sheffield, but could have been almost anywhere. It was my first visit. In Sheffield for non-jazz reasons serendipitously on a Wednesday, I nipped along.  It felt like visiting a distant branch of an extended family. The Lescar’s back room hosts a well established weekly session programmed and promoted by the energetic and discerning Jez Matthews with  a crew of willing volunteers making it all happen on the night (Jez’s energy had taken him off to the Copenhagen jazz festival on this particular evening).  The gig turned out to be the penultimate date of Dave Mannington’s Riff Raff  tour . I’d caught them early on in May  at the BeBop Club in Bristol so knew I was in for a treat.

Riff Raff are a band of band leaders. With Ivo Neame in the piano chair, squeezing in this leg of Riff Raff’s tour before dashing of to continue Phronesis’ relentless international schedule,  and Tim Giles on drums this is no ordinary rhythm section . Tom Challenger, Rob Updegraff and Brigitte Beraha complete the band and Mannington has a premier league outfit to negotiate his complex compositions. They unfold, rarely doubling back on themselves, exploring different styles and with references from around the globe, but a soaring melody or electric atmosphere is never far way. The impact of touring and playing the material was evident as the evening wore on. The already riveting music seemed to have  grown and relaxed and deepened since Bristol. Early on, their cover of Bjork’s Anchor had everyone sighing as an extended  climax built behind Brigitte Beraha’s swooping vocals with the whole band blending beautifully. Ivo Neame’s intro to Catch Me the Moon was even more expansive and edgy, and a spacy cadenza from Rob Updegraff emerged to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.  There was new material with Iliad having the whole band glued to their charts for the epic, adventurous piece. What a treat.

Like many others, this club hosts local and regional bands with a fair sprinkling of national tours that are often  subsidized by a  grant, this visit of Riff Raff being no exception.  Occasional infusions of small amounts of cash from grant schemes also helps build a club’s programme and an expectant audience and the Lescar has been a beneficiary in the last year.  This visit took place just as the controversy got going over Jazz Services failure to secure  guaranteed three year funding from the Arts Council (the unfolding story captured by Peter Bacon here). They of course have been one of the main conduits for these small grants. Through all the anguish (and a certain amount of restrained claim and counter claim) one message has been clear. Promoters and musicians know the  value of the grant schemes that support touring and small promoters.  My lovely, uplifting evening was a little cameo of the difference quite a modest investment can make to the development of new music, the development of the artists themselves and on the other side, the  ability to invest enough to develop a sustainable programme for a small venue.  It seems like a good return to me.




Printmakers, classic jazz and Riff Raff – a week in the west.

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

It’s been quite a week for visitors to this corner of the west country. Last Saturday The Printmakers blew into The Wiltshire Music Centre and dazzled with their class. My account of that one found its way onto the Jazzwise site (here). Then on Thursday two more London based musicians popped up at St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Jim Mullen had such a good time playing with the host Jazz House Trio when he was down a couple of months ago, the word is he insisted on coming back to accompany singer Zoe Francis on her date at this gig that’s fast approaching local institution status. The instinctively grooving partnership of Wade Edwards on bass and Trevor Davies on drums is surely one of the things that keeps guests returning with enthusiasm,

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

their ever alert responsiveness make them the perfect hosts, no matter what the guests bring to play.  On Thursday it was a set of classic standards drawing on Ellington, Billie Holiday, Mel Torme and more. The mood was set by Francis’ clear toned, relaxed delivery: personal, but with fidelity to the swinging groove of originals or, as with Prelude to a Kiss and Swing Low, re-casting them as a crisp bossa. Jim Mullen was a delight. His solos were at once familiar, staying firmly within the language of bop, but still fresh and engaging. His instinct for creating melodic phrases and when to accelerate or hang back was a constant thrill. There was an added little frisson at the delicacy and intimacy of this performance  knowing just how raucous he can be in other settings, something we were reminded of by  DJ Tony Clark as he mischievously played an old Mullen recording the moment the band stopped that sounded for all the world like Freedom Jazz Dance performed by Led Zeppelin complete with rock vocals.


Dave Manington’s Riff Raff at the BeBop Club

An equally sharp, but engaging contrast to the classic jazz of the Wine Vaults set was served up by Dave Manington’s Riff Raff on Friday night at Bristol’s BeBop Club. It was set of  almost all originals from the bass player leader’s pen, bang up to date with pieces that draw on influences from everywhere (modern classical, any number of national cultural sources as well as jazz) and wrap them in evolving compositions with shifting time signatures and insistent polyrhythmic grooves from the ever inventive Tim Giles on drums.  Brigitte Beraha‘s vocals were sometimes wordless, faultless in negotiating the angular melody and wild interval leaps on the opener Agile; sometimes delivering her lyrics penned to Manninton’s melody on tunes like the gorgeous Catch me the Moon. That was preceded by a spacious, moody intro from Ivo Neame on piano from which the singing, melancholic harmony gradually emerged. There was plenty of energetic and fiery soloing, Tom Challenger on tenor providing a hooting, rhythmic highlight of a solo on the second tune of the night (I missed the title!) The one cover was Bjork’s Anchor replete with lingering plaintive chords from Ivo Neame’s accordion and effect laden washes from Rob Updegraaf‘s guitar.  This was music to engage the head as well as the heart and made me want to listen again to peel back some of those layers.

It’s been a great week and there’s no let up. Jon Turney as ever has laid out the riches  on offer over the next week in Bristol and that’s with out dipping into the jazzy bits of the Bath Festival Programme next weekend  Bring it on and see you at Phronesis on Friday at the Colston Hall.

Red Skies, Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 2nd February

A quietly exhaled, appreciative ‘oh yeah’ from Bobby Wellins summed up all of our responses to this trio, just starting a short tour  playing the repertoire from their recent album.  The sigh came as Brigitte Beraha’s interpretation of My Funny Valentine added a new twist to  a familiar standard, stretching the lyric out and gliding over John Turville’s rolling arpeggios from the piano. The lush, fluent accompaniments gave a classical air to a few standards throughout the evening. This is a class act and there was plenty of range and variety within and between songs. The chosen standards almost defined the term: They can’t take that away from me, But not for me,My Funny Valentine of course and a good sprinkling of Jobim. In contrast there were unusual tunes: A Paul Simon song ‘Night Game’, Beatriz by Chico Barques (you’d have to be a close follower of Brazilian music to know that one) and the odd Beraha original. Brigitte_BerahaThis was a very intimate performance with Bobby Wellins’ tenor twisting around Beraha’s vocal lines as much as providing solos. The trio format gave them plenty of freedom to develop that interaction without ever distracting from the focus on the song. A delightful and uplifting evening.

While I was away… January round up

I seem to have taken January off from blogging though not from jazz. I caught the reliably fiery, funky and moving James Morton at St. James wine Vaults at the first gig of the year there, missed Johnny Bruce on trumpet there a couple of weeks later though.  Compassionate Dictaorship swept through the BeBop club, happily Jon Turney enjoyed it as much as I did and said as much. I missed plenty at the BeBop subsequently, sadly including John Law’s trio who are simply sublime. Still, there’s plenty more to come in the month ahead and this week seems to be Bobby Wellins week in the Bath area. He was one third of the trio that appeared at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday (Brigitte Beraha and John Turville completed it) and he’s back at the Wine Vaults on Thursday to put the Jazzhouse Trio through their paces – I’ll be there. Just a bit further ahead, Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival – meejah presence seems to be reaching fever pitch, deservedly. I feel a preview coming on soon! But first, to enjoy Wellins week (obviously arranged especially for my birthday)