March/ April Highlights 1: Live – Bruce Barth; Fellow Creatures

If blog posts have been a little sporadic over the last couple of months, listening and gig attendance has not.  A quick look back over the shoulder is in order.  I fancy we recall impressions and how it felt to be present rather than details when it comes to recalling live gigs at  distance.  A couple stand out in sharp relief. Pianist Bruce Barth touched down at the Hen and Chicken early in March, a world class performer (a CV that includeds Mingus Big Band AND Tony Bennett!) , he’d not been seen in Bristol for 18 years he said.  It was an evening of blistering straight-ahead trio jazz. The tingle of excitement is still there. We did wonder if the newly donated grand piano was going to last the evening given the energy Barth devoted to testing it out.

March also saw the 2017 edition of Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival. Jon Turney’s summary for London Jazz captures the thrill and buzz.  I am still thrilled by Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures. The original themes and grooves are all engaging and absorbing, the afterglow that has remained is the unbridled gust of energy and joie de vivre with which the band played. Singling out the dual horns of Laura Jurd’s trumpet and Mark Lockheart’s sax seems a little invidious given the importance of the collective vibe, but their interplay and individual soloing lifted the roof a inch or two more off its moorings. To play with such freedom and togetherness on complex material marks this band out as something special. They went on to record a live album at the end of the tour of which this gig was a part.  Put me down for a copy!


Jazzy March Round-up 2: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

It’s March – it must be time for the Jazz and Blues Festival in Bristol. It may only be the fourth edition, 2103 saw the inaugural festival, but it’s established itself fast as a fixture in the calendar.  So the weekend before Easter found me pretty much living at the Colston Hall together with a big chunk of the area’s jazz folk.  There are a few people I confess I’ve seen just four times in the last four years… yup, in more or less the same spot in the Colston Hall foyer.

There are now plenty of reviews and round-ups around. Mine for Jazzwise (with more to come in the magazine) , Jon Turney for London Jazznews and Charley Dunlapp for Listomania.   There were many great moments with highlights in all those reviews but, as I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen, you could have a fantastic jazz festival just sitting in the foyer, surrounded by a steady throng of thousands and lapping up the phenomenal programme on the free stage, punctuated by DJ Tony Clark’s well chosen atmosphere building selections. GtB

Get The Blessing predictably ensured there was no room to move  on Saturday tea-time with an energetic set for the home town crowd.  GTB’s Jake McMurchie was possibly the busiest of the the quartet over the weekend with performances in at least two or three other bands including the big band that played behind Pee Ellis and Fred Wesley re-visiting their jazz roots on Sunday afternoon.  Have we mentioned Ruth Hammond’s Bari solo on a bouncing groover in that gig?  It had Pee Wee grinning as well as the crowd whooping.   Exiting that gig we were captured by another free-stage moment with Pete Judge and Paul Wigens ambient electronica and groove duo transfixing the packed foyer.   Saturday had IMG_1735-2seen Kevin Figes quartet whetting the the appetite for his double release of a quartet album and an octet album on his own Pig Records later in April. Another electrifying moment was provided by expanding his line-up to included two vocalists (Cathy Jones and Emily Wright) tenor and trumpet and delivering an impressionistic closely scripted interpretation of birdsong.  The festival , through its headliners, was also catering to a broad church with the bluesey half of the Jazz and Blues festival well catered for.

This has evolved into a wrap around celebration of music and coming together of people of all ages and musical predilections. Three cheers (or more) for the team that work year round to make it happen.

A Feast of Jazz for Bristol and Bath coming your way

There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting  really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and  already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).

But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio.  If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February.  The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April.  Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.

Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.

Housekeeping – Referencing and Archiving

One of my personal pleasures of 2014 was writing a bit for London Jazz News (mainly CD reviews) and more occasionally Jazzwise (website and print).  I have linked to most pieces on websites during the year but purely for my own ‘keeping track’ purposes there’s a few more recent ones here and below for archiving purposes, a few reviews that appeared in print in Jazzwise originally

Recent Reviews for London Jazz News

CDs:  Euan Burton, Stefano Bollani, Shalosh

Gigs: Liam Noble/ Mike Chillingworth, Nikki Iles with Royal Academy Big Band (London Jazz Festival), Bobby Avey Project (Hen And Chicken)

Archiving Jazzwise reviews

Festivals: Bristol Jazz and Blues, Manchester

Gig:  Phronesis

Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival, Colston Hall, March 2014

Andy Sheppard’s delightful, contemplative duo set with John Paricelli was the perfect palette cleanser at the start of the 2nd Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival. Gently throbbing washes of looped guitar chords mingled with the tenor’s breathy sighs and hoots as crowds thronged the building. An early highlight was Alan Barnes and Howard Alden re-kindling a longstanding friendship, leading a quintet including Dave Newton and revelation on drums, Parisian Julie Saury. A duet of furiously twisting, intertwining boppish lines had the room whooping and It Might as Well be Spring producing fireworks all round, had them skipping out of the door. Roars of appreciation greeted young Georgian pianist Beka Gochiashvilis thunderous post bop, dial set to 11. An improvised duet with drummer Justin Tyson, Chic Corea’s Blue Miles, then a lump in the throat rendition of a ballad, Yellow Leaves, showed us his capacity for emotional range. This is a name we will hear more of. “Every festival should have funk” declared legendary drummer Ziagboo Modeliste before his band grooved their way through a chunk of The Meters’ back catalogue. And if that wasn’t enough, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley orchestrated a Saturday evening party with plenty of audience participation and raucous blowing. The capacity crowd lapped it up. The premier of Interplay, Kate Williams and William Goodchild’s Ravel, Debussy and Satie meet Bill Evans project offered a sharp contrast on Sunday. Arrangements that wove the French Impressionist source materials into pieces with Williams’ more dynamic trio were the highlights of an occasionally becalmed set. Later, Indigo Kid were a delight. The melodic, quirky originals were carried beautifully by the just so blend of Iain Ballamy’s sax and Dan Messore’s distinctive guitar work before Get the Blessing took to the stage. Trademark bass hooks and crackling grooves were still there but edgier new material and increased live use of effects added menace and energy. Another enchanting duo set from Andy Sheppard, this time with the shirt fluttering, bacofoil rustling, wild creativity of Italian percussionist Michele Rabbia took us back to where we started. Whether plotting a path through the ticketed gigs or just hanging out, soaking up the continuous, best Bristol had to offer, free foyer programme and late night jams, this weekend was a sure-fire winner.

Manchester Jazz Festival, Various venues,  July 2014

On the last Friday of Manchester’s ten-day Jazz festival, not even the blazing July sunshine could discourage the buzzing crowd from packing into the Thwaites Festival Pavilion in the city’s central Albert Square. Beats and Pieces’ two storming sets lured them in, delivered with a celebratory verve featuring nearly as many whoops and cheers from the stage as from the audience. Explosive riffs, switch back shifts of mood and tempo, exhilarating soloing whether from Patrick Hurley at the keys, Anton Hunter on the guitar or incendiary blowing from Sam Healey on alto, it was spine-tingling stuff. The creative hubbub of this Mancunian, award winning outfit seems to be incubating leaders and composers giving the festival a strong local strand. On Thursday Anton Hunter had premiered a festival commission and on Sunday afternoon Sam Healey put his new quartet through its paces. A set of originals, delivered with the same intensity and passion as his Friday night blowing revealed another emotional and thoughtful side to this accomplished young player. The week’s packed, diverse and international programme had included Aron Ghosh and The Bad Plus, both delivering as expected. A big feature of this festival is the spotlight that fresh talent gets. Jazz on 3’s ‘Introducing’ show launched the festival at Band on the Wall, Wednesday’s set from newly crowned Young Scottish Jazz Musician Jonathan Silks’ big band was another hit. Tuesday’s return for Adam Fairhall’s Imaginary Delta Project collaborating with author Jackie Kay was still inspiring excited comment at the weekend. There was something for everyone. The London Afrobeat Project’s drum and percussion heavy grooves were an invitation to end the week by dancing at Band on the Wall on Saturday night before Sunday’s final series of sets at the festival hub in the square wrapped up this exciting, distinctive festival.

Phronesis, Colston Hall Bristol, Friday 23rd May

A quick flex of the shoulder muscles, a business like glance across at Ivo Neame settling onto the piano stool that seemed to say ‘…right, where were we?’ and Jaspar Høiby launched into the off-kilter, hooky bass riff that introduces ‘Urban Control’. The urgent clatter of Anton Eger’s drums locked with the bass, a tiny repeated melodic fragment appeared and the trio span off into a fierce, jostling, jousting passage of improvisation led by Ivo Neame’s piano. Staccato bursts of chords punctuated the seething groove, picked up and hurled back by the rat-a-tat of the drums provoking more surging runs or percussive responses, Høiby’s driving bass carrying them all towards a crunching halt. The near capacity crowd were lapping up the locked step explosive interaction that the trio have made their speciality. There was no sign of the after effects of a day off in Bristol that Høiby gently rued, the energy and propulsive momentum never diminished, but there was a comfortable ease about them on-stage, born of relentless touring and nearly a decade tuning their responses to each other. The first of Anton Eger’s bravura drum workouts was over the closing section of ‘Behind Bars’, his long fringe falling over his eyes as the intensity of the hail of rhythms was greeted with roars approvals. There were more meditative moments. Arco bass and rippling piano introduced ‘Phraternal’ and space cleared for a more flowing, pastoral solo from Ivo Neame. Then a hint of a repeated bass figure, a nod from Hoiby and snap! They segued seamlessy into Nine Lives and a jigsaw, fragmentary riff with racing drums skittering around to sweep them off in another wave of energy. This was Phronesis on top form with another thrilling evening of their distinctive brand of contemporary jazz.

Festivals, programmes – vive la difference

A few jazz festivals have announced their programmes over the last month or so and of course Bristol’s has shown us what it was made of already a couple of weeks back.  A few thoughts have been rolling around my head so I’ll set them free here. They are however the thoughts of a punter rather than a promoter/ organiser so there’s definitely another side to all this.  Firstly Bath gets a loud cheer – jazz is back in the programme. A slight anxiety is how slender the whole programme is, more of that shortly. Secondly, some common threads are noticeable in the programmes of  a few others (Cheltenham, Love Supreme and Brecon – Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula are going to busy this summer) but Bristol’s (feel the funk, gospel, New Orleans vibe) and Bath’s (don’t you just love it  when you have to look the names up… except Jan and Hilliard)  are different. More loud cheers – vive la difference!

Listening to comment gossip and whispering where opinions are expressed, they often seem to fall into a few camps: ‘its not jazz’, ‘its the wrong sort of jazz’ , ‘its not the right people playing the jazz … why them or why not the other?’  All quite understandable if one’s own particular favourite flavour is not well represented.  With the seeming explosion of music festivals more generally, large and small, standing out from the crowd becomes increasingly important.  An obvious point is that most of these festivals throw the net pretty wide and have quite a mix in the programming. That’s both  pragmatic in terms of selling tickets and mind expanding in that it exposes festival goers to more than their usual diet of listening.  Cheltenham, Love Supreme and Brecon have a pretty similar mix of headliners but alongside that there’s a lot of variety and some very adventurous music.  Bristol’s Jazz and Blues looks in a different direction and embraces funk and blues pretty wholeheartedly – vive la difference!

But its not just the programme on its own that marks them out. The location and how they draw on a local scene makes the experience of being there distinctive.   There’s an intriguing piece here about academic researchers working with festivals – the video’s worth a look.  Bristol’s festival is shaped by the sheer fun of being in the Colston Hall for the weekend, crammed in with thousands of others and the roster of mainly local bands playing on the free stage – ticketed programmed optional!  Brecon is defined by its location, the way the festival inhabits the whole town and a programme with plenty of  dynamic Welsh scene threaded through it (happily the drinkers in the streets, propped up against a mountain of lager gradually dissolving into stupor and raucousness seem  to be no longer a feature!).  Love Supreme has the boutique, jazz festival in field market cornered. No-one would call Nile Rogers and Chic jazz (would they?), but reeling out of GoGo Penguin, via Troyka to dance to Chic, before soaking up Terence Blanchard was quiet a ride last year – blazing sunshine helped.  Vive la difference!

And so back to hometown Bath.   For many years, under the stewardship of Nod Knowles, a music festival that embraced classical, contemporary, folk, world over three weekends had an intense jazz focus but with a determinedly European flavour. Having to look most of the names up was a near guarantee, as was hearing something magical the like of which one had not imagined (anyone remember that throat singing/ alpine horn duo?!).  After a mysterious wiping of the slate clean last year, a series of gigs is back, the grand finale is Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble’s grand finale (they are ceasing to tour apparently ) in Bath Abbey.  Did I already do the loud cheers?  Brass Jaw and Stacey Kent are familiar, I confess the Canadian and Finish piano trios were not – well, good!   But look at the scope of the whole programme and reduced funding, and other priorities are clear. It’s slender. The vision  spelt out on the website is pretty exciting; I don’t see it reflected in the programme more generally.  There’s a big idea lurking there, I wonder what’s stopping it hollering from the rooftops – vive la difference?   Is it as simple as funding?

My Month of Jazz: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival and more


Conjunto Gringo with the final blast of the foyer programme at Bristol Jazz&Blues

If John Fordham can do a ‘month in jazz’ round up, then why not me. I notice its literally a month since I last posted here, but that’s not because ears have been sealed. Far from it. Aside from total immersion in the Jazz and Blues fest of which more in a moment, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to a few new recordings having started reviewing a few for LondonJazz News. This month its been relatively young emerging talent I’ve listened to in the shape of Norwegian tenor saxophonist Hans Paulsberg, British pianist Peter Edwards and Brit but based now in Amsterdam  pianist (and grew up in Wiltshire) Dominic Marshall; reviews here, here and here respectively.  Dominic Marshall in particular is one to watch. The main event of course was last weekend’s Jazz and Blues festival (although top notch gigs have been coming thick and fast either side. Jon Turney somehow seems to manage to alert us to most of them).  I’ve reviewed the festival headline programme for a certain indispensible jazz publication, I think it will be the May issue (out towards the end of April!) in which that appears, so won’t say too much about that.  But like everyone else whose posted, tweeted, facebooked and generally emoted, all I can say is wow!  There’s just the sneaking feeling that for anyone who went, it was the foyer wot stole the show.

If your entire weekend was spent soaking up the non-stop roster of bands on the free-stage and nodding to the sounds seamlessly inserted in breaks by local legend DJ Tony Clark, maybe hanging on until the regular bands morphed into the jam sessions later in the evening, then chances are you’d have had a natter with just about everyone you know on the local scene, seen some extraordinary music and got a good impression of the what people thought of the gigs in the two halls as the crowds ebbed and flowed. If you’d wondered why there was so much dancing going on, maybe it was because Friday night’s swing dance with the  Bruce/Ilett Big Band seemed to set the tone and give everyone license to appreciate the music in whatever way they felt like.  Another really special occasion and definitely the highlight of my month.

Winter into Spring: Highlights on your doorstep in Bath and Bristol.

With the lengthening days comes a diverse jazz flavoured choice of music in dozens of venues over the next few months in this corner of the South West. All the venues mentioned below have far more extensive programmes than are sketched out. Here are a few New Year tips and pointers to whet your appetite whatever your tastes run to.

Firstly, don’t let familiarity make you forget that a number of our local regulars have well deserved international reputations. Andy Sheppard has been making Bristol’s  Fringe Bar something of a home from home over the last year and he’s back there with a ‘Friends’ band and also the now firmly established favourites, The Pushy Doctors in January and February as well as opening Ian Storrer’s latest series at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday January 12th with an interesting looking new quartet.  Dave Newton kicks off the new season at Future Inns  in Bristol on Thursday 9th having reportedly finished the year in dazzling form. He’s back there again the  following week in the company of incendiary violinist John Pearce and the hard blowing James Morton. Ever inventive pianist John Law, feted almost more in Europe than at home, is out and about with a new project ‘Boink!’ A quartet making full use of electronic effects and improv as well Law’s artful compositions. Catch them at Burdall’s Yard in Bath in the 10th Jan and Bristol’s BeBop Club in February. Jason Rebello, former sideman for everyone from Wayne Shorter to Sting and Jeff Beck, is focussing more on jazz again these days and pops up in St. George’s, Bristol piano series in a two piano workout with rising start Ivo Neame on March 6th.

Secondly, don’t let unfamiliar names discourage you.  Between local, well connected rising stars on the national scene and open minded programming, there’s some truly dazzling talent passing through.  Local lad James Gardiner Bateman features in two bands in January. The first with young trumpeter Reuben Fowler at the BeBop club on 17th January. Reuben has recently released a widely and wildly acclaimed big band album and the visiting group has a phenomenal London based rhythm section. Gardiner Bateman’s second appearance sees another line-up featuring a different collection of the brightest young talent on the national scene at Future Inn on the 30th featuring Josh Arcoleo. Bass Player on that date Chris Hyson has just released an album of his own compositions performed by Kit Downes. Downes brings his own previously Mercury Prize nominated band, now expanded to a quintet,  to the Hen and Chicken on 9th February. A few other touring bands to take note of  are, at the Be Bop Club; Ant Law Quartet (hotly tipped guitarist) late January; in March Tori Freestone Trio (more established and really blossoming tenor player) and Vitor Pereira Quartet  (emerging Portugese star) and at Colston Hall Lantern in February,  Zara McFarlene (soul jazz songstress causing a real stir).

Thirdly, don’t underestimate or forget the quality of locally based musicians and their ever shifting combinations. Singer Emily Wright brings The Royals to The Bell in Bath on 27th January and Moonlight Saving Time, who have garnered plaudits and national radio air play over the last year, come to Burdall’s Yard at the end of March. John Paul Gard’s Pedalmania also visit  The Bell in January and the energy levels are sure to be high there for visits from the mighty Dakhla and The Fresh Dixie Project (not strictly local!) during February. Saxophonist Kevin Figes‘ adventurous Octet are at the BeBop Club in late February and James Morton and fiery trumpeter Jonny Bruce make sure Bath doesn’t miss out with visits to St. James Wine Vaults in January and February respectively to guest with the Jazzhouse Trio who are embarking on their eighth year hosting visiting soloists. . The regular programmes at Bath’s The Ring o Bells, Gascoyne Place, Bristol’s Cori Tap are reliably high quality as well all the venues already mentioned.

Fourthly, salute our enduring stars and support the gigs to keep them coming. Another coup for St. James Wine Vaults is the visit of guitar ace Jim Mullen in later February. Chris Biscoe, stalwart saxophone adventurer on the English scene for decades returns to the BeBop club in late March and international visitors include Norway’s contemplative but groovy pianist Tord Gustavesen and American singer and star Gregory Porter  at St. George’s on consecutive weeks in late March.

Four principles (catch locally based national and international stars, the next generation of  stars as they visit, the best of the local scene and national and international stars locally)  all of which can be honoured in one go at the 2nd Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival on the weekend of 7-9th March at Colston Hall, with an overlapping but different set of names. Check out the programme here.

Finally, music that is more experimental or freely improvised is becoming a bit more visible.  The Fringe Bar hosts a monthly session that is dedicated to free improvisation and Paul Dunmall visits on 30th January with a trio that features drummer Mark Sanders. Sanders also features in one the gigs sponsored by a new venture called Bristol New Music.  A  joint effort between Colston Hall, St. Georges, the Arnolfini, Spike Island,  ICIA at Bath University and others, the weekend of 21st – 23rd February sees a series of events involving artists and musicians some of which are gigs including Keith Tippett’s Octet at the Colston Hall and ECM recording artist, composer and pianist Christian Wallumrod at St. George’s.

The weather may be unpredictable, but it looks like we can rely on a steady supply of high quality live music.