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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Moonlight Saving Time with Jason Yarde, Hen & Chicken, Sunday 10th January

A cycling sequence of ringing chords, sax and trumpet in full flight, wordless vocals weaving in, out and over, an effortless groove from the bass and churning drums building the excitement: it was an exhilarating musical tumult as Views reached a climax towards the end of Moonlight Saving Time’s first set of the Bristol launch of their album Meeting at Night. The Bristol based band have been getting deserved exposure, including national radio play, since the official release in the autumn and the Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was packed for the first gig of the 2016 season.

The band’s distinctive sound is a potent brew of jazzily melodic, gliding lines with occasional folk-like inflections; artfully crafted shifting harmony; never over-stated but propulsive and snappy grooves. The arrangements make the most of the cocktail of timbres and pitch in the line-up. This is a collective enterprise.  Emily Wright’s clear toned, supple vocals were frequently in the foreground carrying  lyrics, invariably personal and reflective, but then became another instrument blending beautifully with Nick Malcolm’s. trumpet in wordless swoops and flights.  The jigsaw of rhythms and harmony from Dale Hambridge on keys, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam behind the kit locked it all together.

In this band of leaders and composers there was plenty of scope for individual personalities to make their presence felt.  After the flowing grooves of Clouds, Silence is Here breathed more easily and Dale Hambridge gave his expressive, fluent touch at the piano full rein. On this and the playful, joyfully lilting  Arthur’s Dance Nick Malcolm flung out by turns lyrical and biting trumpet solos adding citric zest to the sophisticated palette of sound.  There were ‘just so’ changes of pace and mood that caught the attention, like leaving Will Harris’ bass to state a groove, imply a melody and a chord all at once whilst letting the space breath – little moments of magic

If the regular ensemble have visibly developed an easy confidence over the last three years or so, the addition of saxophonist Jason Yarde for the evening seemed to step everything up a gear. From his first solo on Clouds, the forceful, fluid exploration of the harmony; song like declamatory phrases and then burning intensity as momentum built, all served to get everyone grinning and nodding. The rest of the band responded in kind. This would have a great gig without the addition of Yarde, as it was it made for a real treat to start the year.  Moonlight Saving Time are going from strength to strength.

Moonlight Saving Time, Future Inn, Thursday 13th November

If you need to have a couple of deps for the home-town launch gig of your new single, then its hard to imagine two classier picks than John Turville  (keeping the piano seat warm for Dale Hambridge) and Jake MST-Not-Alone-CD-3Mc Murchie on saxes (filling the space left by Nick Malcom’s trumpet). Moonlight Saving Time‘s brew of funky, soulful grooves held by just so fizzing bass riffs, locked tight drums, sophisticated harmony, the front line blend of voice and horn, plenty of space for fierce blowing and an eclectic mix of styles and source material, all got an extra twist from the guests.  A wash of  piano chords and keening and vocalised cries from the soprano stilled any chatter from the sizeable crowd to start the gig at possibly the best appointed jazz venue in Bristol.  It quickly gave way to a trade-mark riff from Will Harris‘ bass and they launched into their arrangement of David Gilmour’s Douala, Emily Wright‘s vocal soaring over the afro-tinged pulse.  When they take a tune, this band make it their own.  The Future Inn gig marked the release of a single, a cover of Calvin Harris’ 2009 club hit ‘I’m not alone‘.  The contours of the original remain, with the melody and lyric there (check the original out here), but its transformed into a ballad with an understated, effortless groove and space for lyrical soloing (take a listen). Easy on the ear and a stony heart would be required to resist its emotional tug.  By the time the live show delivered that punch they’d played a bunch  of the increasing number of originals in their set. A Nick Malcolm original , Views, had a bravura McMurchie solo intro with layers of sax built up with the loop pedals and a spooky drone lingering over the funky ostinato figure that emerged.  A John Turville solo was one amongst many of the evening that set my heart racing. Little glancing runs sparking off another pulsing hook up between the bass and and Mark Whitlam‘s drums, building up into lyrical flowing lines.  Whenever a space cleared for Turville to let rip the temperature went up a few notches,  the peaks of intensity always somehow emerging from development of lines and rhythms. He’s a class act. The setting of a Masefield poem, Sea Fever, is becoming a highlight of the band’s  set with voice and piano alone hushing the room and reminding us of their versatility.  They were in confident form and on this showing the soon to come album will be a treat. London bound folk can catch them at Pizza Express on Monday in the festival.  Tickets are still there, but not for much longer I suspect.

(gorgeous big) Horns with a Hart; Concerto for Guitar & Jazz Orchestra, Wiltshire Music Centre, Saturday 28th April

I should have called this post ‘in praise of Mike Daniels’ (but I’m not writing an editorial for a certain liberal left leaning newspaper). This performance of Paul Hart’s concerto, originally written with guitarist John Williams in mind and performed by NYJO in the mid -eighties, was revived for this performance through GBH musical director Mike’s persistence, dedication and yes – love, of creating magical musical moments (m,m&m s?) and this concerto in particular. He relates experiencing one of the original performances of the three movement piece and the exhilaration of love at first hearing. We might all understand  that, but hats off to the single mindedness that persuaded the big band to tackle it, cajoled the additional guests to augment the band (Dale Hambridge on piano, Adam Biggs synths, drummer Mark whitlam vibes and GBH semi regulars Nick Malcolm, Johny Bruce, Simon Marsh as well as some French Horns and an additional brass section that played from the back of the auditorium) and convinced soloist on guitar Denian Arcoleo, who has returned in recent years to performing and recording on classical guitar,  to take on the challenge of a part which whilst written throughout was artfully constructed to sound spontaneous and improvised (original soloist John Williams was a feted classical guitar player but not an improvising jazz musician).  So after a quick limber up on a classic big band chart of ‘On the street where you live’ the augmented GBH launched into the 40 minute concerto.

The three movements take the listener on a journey through a variety of moods. The first had a series of repetitive figures and patterns interrupted by big band riffs and more textural passages. The second, quieter movement provided the standout moments of the evening with a moody intro dissolving into an unaccompanied passage on vibes, Mark Whitlam making the most of the opportunity to improvise with the rythmn as well as the open single chord marked in the score before a rocky ballad emerged sounding for all the world like an orchestrated Pat Metheny tune complete with soaring solo from John Diver on electric guitar. The final movement had another dazzling improvisation, this time from Dale Hambridge on piano before an uproarious ending. This was a rousing performance. There were a few moments when the horns going full throttle overwhelmed the more delicate tones of the guitar, but the result was very affecting. That second movement provided the best moments, but as a piece of writing overall I wasn’t completely convinced by Paul Hart’s concerto. There were lots of attention grabbing ideas, riffs and figures. Perhaps there were too many without any being really developed and instead a few slack moments before the next idea kicked in.

MD Mike had chosen a great selection of tunes for the second set to complement the first with compositions and chart from Maria Schneider (Greenpiece), Quincy Jones (Quintessence) and Pat Metheny (A place in the world) as well as some more conventional if no less challenging fare including the overture from Ellington’s Nutcracker suite. These variously gave Nick Malcolm, Simon Marsh and Dale Hambridge particularly the chance to show why their respective reputations are continuing to grow as fluent and creative improvisers. And long may GBH with the prodding and tough love of Mike Daniels continue to challenge themselves and provide great evenings like this one.

What’s hip, what’s jazz? and a bit of listening

Another blog prompted in part by a gig I’m missing. This time its the Dale Hambridge Trio at the Be-Bop Club tonight. Dale cites american pianist Robert Glasper as a big influence and Mr. Glasper is definitely pretty hip. The idea of blending club/dance music/hip hop grooves and sounds with Jazz isn’t very new but Glasper seems to doing it the context of an acoustic piano trio. Anyway it did get me thinking.

The instinct to classify and categorise music I suppose is a way to try and understand and makes sense of what you are hearing. So I was struck by a trend John Fordham describes here in a article about the jazz of the last ten years, which is the trend to build compositions and improvisations around repetitive loops and patterns. He says ” Jazz themes today…. sound more like drum patterns than the standard songs I’d first known, or the bop-blues licks I’d tried to learn guitar to in the 60s.”

He’s definitely got a point – is that coming from club and dance music or classical? I suspect some music school graduates are quite self-consciously using contemporary classical minimalism as a starting point. But it doesn’t really matter. I still tend to apply a really simple test: has it got soul? Shorthand for does it move me?

John Fordham’s little insight has been on my mind for a while. Reinforced when we saw the Kairos 4tet a few weeks back at Future Inns. They were definitely in the ‘themes based on repeated phrases and loops ‘ category apart from some departures when they were joined by a singer.

I’ve been thinking yeah… but… because they are plenty of bands playing melody and harmony led themes and playing changes, and still sounding fresh and interesting.  And as I was in the jazz shop the other day, the owner John cunningly put something that mad me go ‘oh – what’s that’

Jazz anoraks will be surprised I’ve not listened to this guy – he had put on a trio recording by Kevin Hays. Next post is about that one because of course I had to buy it and I’ve been loving it – very ‘now’ jazz, melody led,  changes playing.

So what is hip then?

Square and Compass Jazz Festival, Dorset, 5th September

We’re back from summer holidays and the end of season, jazz family outing that is the mini-fest at the Square and Compass was a great way to return. The setting is dramatic, looking down at the sea from from the vantage point above Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. With the majority of the bands from the Bristol/ Bath area it was something of jazz scene outing, and what a friendly appreciative atmosphere it created. The word was that the roof was only just back on the pub, having been lifted on Friday by James Gardiner-Bateman and his London, college crew. Introduced as a local band, the Paul Young Quartet were an early delight on saturday. The easy, propulsive groove of everything they played set the scene for incendiary soloing from the whole band on an eclectic mixture of standards and contemporary post bop material. Rick Foot on bass was an unassuming engine house.

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The Trio: Dorian, Trevor and myself

We did our best to mellow the assembled punters and passing hikers with a trio set at the end of the afternoon before the evening’s entertainment started with the Earnest trio led by John Short. They played a great set of largely original music, the exception being an Avashi Cohen tune. This was a driving groovy set of tunes assembled from blocks of complex rythmic figures, catchy riffs and virtuoso keyboard bursts from Dale Hambridge. Its a great synthesis of dancy beats, jazzy harmony and burning improvisations powered along by John Blakeley’s high energy drumming. It’ll be good to hear more of this band. The a capella band Boy held the room’s attention with their haunting selection of songs before Mike Willox and Kevin Figes got down and dirty with their Blue Note style re-invention of Beatles and other 60’s treasures. We shirked the pleasures of camping and headed back up the A350 before the end, but reports were of more delights on Sunday.

My abiding impression is of the treasure trove of creativity and fine music that’s happening around the area week to week that, thanks to the energy of John Blakely (animateur of the festival) was concentrated for the weekend down by the coast.

There’s more of it on show in he weeks ahead. Yum!!

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Dale Hambridge, Jon Short and John Blakely