CD Round Up – Part 2: Pigs and ANt (Figes and Nowak)

The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.

kfwwFirstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records .  There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick  Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.time-being-front

There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back.  The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties.  The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets.    Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.

Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before andynowakthe summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since.  This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement.  First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony,  Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos.  Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November

‘Do not miss gigs’ – South West, Autumn Preview Pt 4

Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare.  Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene.  Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio.  Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss.  Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back  briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live.  Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio.  The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.

Bristol/ Bath – Phronesis and Tetra, a weekend of treats

There was probably no collusion, but on the weekend of 10th to 12th June,  Wiltshire Music Centre and Colston Hall have between them managed to arrange  gigs by some the best, most exciting jazz musicians on the current scene (that’ll be UK, Europe or anywhere according to some).

Was Jazzwise magazine  being a bit lurid when they described Phronesis as one of the most exciting bands on the planet?  Their gig at Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10 June is one of only three opportunities in UK to find out on their current tour.  They are promoting their release of a new album on Edition Records (their  UK launch gig is at London’s Cadogan Hall on the Sunday). There’s no doubting the energy and exhilaration this trio generate when they play.  Much of their music is built around Jaspar Hoiby‘s catchy bass riffs, frenetic rhythms from Anton Eger on drums and fragments of melody that bounce around the band, often as not, traced out by pianist Ivo Neame, but they move as an improvising unit and there is no telling where they’ll end up. Hailing from Denmark, Norway/Sweden and UK respectively they have an international reputation.  What a way to start the weekend.  Book here.

Having taken Saturday to recover, The Lantern, Colston Hall is the only place to be on Sunday 12th June. Saxophonist  Julian Arguelles has been a singular and creative presence on the British Jazz Scene since playing with Loose Tubes in the 1980s.  Last month he received a Parliamentary Jazz Award for his recording Let it Be with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and now he’s on tour with his quartet Tetra and what a band this is. Playing Arguelles’ compositions that are always deeply rooted in jazz, but constantly delight and surprise with flights of lyricism and echoes of music from all over the world, the band are all sublime musicians. Kit Downes on piano and James Maddren on drums are some of the most in demand payers around, Downes leading plenty of award winning projects of his own. Sam Lasserson  is amongst the most exciting of the formdiable current crop of bass players.   They too are touring on the back of an album, this one on Whirlwind and much praised by John Fordham in the Guardian. Book those tickets here

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.

 

 

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.

Kamasi Washington, The Lantern, Colston Hall, Friday 13th November

IMG_0167It started with a sharp report from the drums and preemptory blast from sax and trombone, before a gale force tumult of modal jazz surfing a visceral, rhythmic surge exploded, first Brandon Coleman on keyboards and then Kamasi Washington on tenor building incendiary solos.  It ended,  over 90 minutes later with the ecstatic, thunderous climax of Malcom’s Theme, saxes, trombone, voice, howling synths all combining in a wild incantation over the tumult of two drum kits (yes, two!).  Although much used, its hard to find a better word than ‘Epic’ to describe both the music and show Kamasi Washington and his band put on. “It’s my first time here in UK – in Bristol” declared Kamasi, but word had gone ahead.  The Lantern was packed (no seats, it was a standing gig), somehow the buzz has spread around his debut release, triple CD set The Epic (what else?).

The elements of the music are familiar, but mixed up and combined in distinctive ways.  After the hurricane of jazz, came Final Thought, funky doesn’t quite cover it, with Coleman producing what looked like a Moog Latitude keytar (think Herbie Hancock – 1980s) and Miles Mosley on bass demonstrating what the array of pedals and effects he had in front of him could do to an acoustic bass, at one point sounding like screaming lead guitar.  An epic narrative requires light and shade however and there was plenty of that. Washington’s hymn to his grandmother Henrietta our Hero had Patrice Quinn‘s warm vocal delivered over a piano sound that sounded for all the world like a slightly clanky parlour piano and Washington’s father Rickey on flute joining the leader’s tenor and Ryan Porter‘s trombone to provide an exultant choir-like backing.  There were plenty of features for the band. Porter blew up a storm on his grooving arrangement of Oscarlypso, and the twin drum attack of Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr was unleashed for a firestorm introduction to The Message, another pulsating latin tinged funk workout. Kamasi Washington’s declamatory, by turns burning and occasionally  wistful sax was the centrepiece however.  The solos build and build and then build some more, often leading the band into anthemic choruses at the climax of tunes. It’s frequently, there’s no other word, epic.

There is an almost casual fusing and juxtaposing of styles that range from the exploratory probing of sixties jazz, through thunderous funk and beat and groove driven music.  It makes for an exhilarating experience with a group of musicians steeped in the music, connected to family and community – half the band grew up together and have formed out of a Los Angeles scene. The music and lyric carries messages, its committed but delivered with a humour and verve that is irresistible.  An epic gig (or course).