We are Leif – Forge Session, Wednesday 4th October

The funky environs of The Forge, tucked away in Colston Yard, was the venue for We are Leif‘s launch of their EP back in May, reviewed approvingly at the time by Tony Benjamin.    They were back on Wednesday  to record live and film, meaning waleifheadphones were supplied. Heads nodded and bodies swayed as the beautifully balanced grooves were fed direct to our ears. The band’s sound is firmly anchored in the tight grooves and lightly worn sophistication of R&B flavoured nu-jazz. If attention drifted for a moment we could have fancied we were in a hip New York loft.   The headphones may have invited comparisons to Snarky Puppy videos, but the  band headed these off with a few self- deprecating gags. The music however suggested only favourable reference points with the best on the scene.  Skip to Love  came first with with  layered rhythms from Chris Jones‘ bass and Mark Whitlam‘s drums under Louise Victoria‘s appealing chant- like vocal hook. Transition started with an infectious groove implied by an off-kilter vocal riff. Less is more with this band and Dale Hambridge’s tasteful soloing pulled of the trick of stoking the energy, bringing a smile to faces of the band without ever over-playing.  Louise Victoria’s vocal is naturally in the foreground. Her lines flow effortlessly across grooves with subtle shifts of meter and harmony.  There’s an emotive fragility to the sound, balanced by occasional shifts up through the gears.   We Are Leif are steadily building a buzz around themselves. Look out for gigs and get hold of the EP, satisfaction is guaranteed.

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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.