Michelson Morley & Eyebrow, Wardrobe Theatre, Sunday 17th July

Michelson Morley are approaching the end of a tour playing music from the just released, tour de force Strange Courage and played a home-town launch gig last night, before heading up to London for a launch at the Vortex tonight.  What a treat is in store for that London audience.

The recording Strange Courage is, whilst audibly from the same stable as the excellent mmorleyscouragedebut release Aether Drift (reviewed here), an even more powerful and compelling experience. It’s a cocktail of effects; atmospheres concocted in the moment with electronics; quietly looping motifs; thumping, distorted, headsplitting riffs; jaunty melodic themes with a jagged edge. Leader and composer Jake McMurchie‘s sax is at the centre of the action . The original trio is now augmented by guitarist Dan Messore, joining Will Harris on bass and drummer Mark Whitlam.  He brings another dimension, thickening the sound with textures and effects as well echoing and countering melodies and unleashing occasional crunching chords. If the album is an assured, gripping group performance, the live show is an even more pulsating ride.

The music seemed to seep up through the stage at the start of the set as eerie effects, clatters and howls emerged, apparently un-related to the conventional sounds expected from the instruments on the stage. Tamer as Prey offered plaintive melodic hooks that distorted and changed shape over the an insistent throb. Ammageddon nodded to its mis-spelt name in the churning rocky riff before the The Last Of Me Will Wait set up an attractive little groove and McMurchie’s warm tenor sound ebbed and flowed. They dissolved into more ghostly washes as a prelude for  the catchy looping bass riff of There Are No Perfect Waves, a delicate phrase then alternated with another crunching power riff and blistering solos. It was a dramatic, exciting performance enhanced by evocative visuals provided by Cornwall based film maker Jo Mayes, always another turn or twist around the corner. They played out to whooping applause with the rocker Rice Rage.

The first, shorter set was by the peer-less Eyebrow. McMurchie acknowledged the inspiration of the approach of the duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens , their sparse, looping and layered improvisations are as riveting conjured live as on CD. Wigens place was ably filled at the last minute by Mark Whitlam due to illness but they still evoked the magic of the recent release Garden City to the delight of the audience filling the Wardrobe Theatre’s fabulous new home.

The two sets were a celebration of some of the more creative and imaginative music that has been brewing gently in Bristol over recent years and now, happily getting wider recognition.

 

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June Highlights (part 2): Listening – early Keith Jarrett and very now Indigo Kid

kjarret_originalalbumJune has involved a fair bit of listening and in particular two reviews for London Jazz. The first was a set of five albums from Keith Jarrett, his first five as leader and released fetchingly in little card board sleeves with the original artwork.  My review for London Jazz is here . It’s remarkable how familiar it sounds. You’d have to say the quality both of recording and delivery is a bit patchy, if only by the now established benchmark of ‘genius’ and the high-water mark of some of his astounding recordings.  They are great listening nevertheless and the characteristic blend of jazz with blues, rock and country threads its way through along with some astonishing free-for-all improvisations, especially with the later quartet album.  The other gem I’ve been listening to is Indigo Kid‘s second album Fist Full of Notes. Dan Messore has been touring the material with various line-ups and touched down in Bristol late last yearindigokid_fistful but the album is only now officially released on Babel. What a treat it is. My review is here.  There is something of the same open-minded attitude to all styles of music here as Jarrett displays in those early recordings ( I don’t think its just the effect of listening to them back to back!).  There’s no direct read across, but perhaps something about Jarret’s approach and use of the cadences and melody from rock and country in a jazz context, has found its way into language of jazz.  Wherever it comes from, Messore makes it his own and brings plenty of contemporary references to bear with subtle but pervasive use of electronics and effects. It’s a great follow up and development from the first album three years ago now.  More please!!

Indigo Kid, Fringe Jazz at the Mall, Thursday 20th November

IKIDListening to little ear tweaking melodic phrases, Jeff Spencer’s bass doubling Gareth Lochrane’s flute whilst a subtly distorted guitar chord hangs underneath them, the penny drops. Indigo Kid leader, writer and guitarist Dan Messore is a regular tunesmith. The band’s first album has featured regularly in my playlists over the last couple of years. That, coupled with a tantalisingly brief but widely remarked set at last year’s Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival were more than enough to lure me to Fringe Jazz’s new, roomier home at The Mall in Clifton against stiff competition elsewhere in town (since when did Thursday become peak jazz night?). The all too rare opportunity to catch the quartet was part of their tour playing material from their latest release Fistful of Dollars.

At times they sound like a restrained bluesy rock band, at others like a subversive eclectic country/folk outfit with artless themes twisted by little harmonic shifts and bursts of fierce, fluent improvising from all quarters.  All hands to Dance and Skylark could have started life as a shanty with its overtly dance like rhythms, Waiting for Paula switched between a flowing waltz and an edgier slower pulse, Quiet Water merged into The Bay with a catchy folk like melody. Its a subtle engaging brew.  Messore has chosen his partners carefully – not any dep will do for this music. Jeff Spencer’s lively feel on bass underpinned everything, but he brought a fluent lyricism as well with some elegant solos and locked tight shadowing of melodies. Gareth Lochrane’s credentials are well established and his rhythmically exciting and fluid lines on flutes of all shapes and sizes quickened the pulse whenever he stepped up (this despite a 5 hour journey from London and walking straight in to the  start of the gig as a result).  It’s music to warm the heart and put a skip in your step and great to see it at Fringe Jazz’s new berth now confirmed as a fixture into 2015 (loud cheers).

Bristol Composers Collective go Ensemble, Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol, Monday 11th November

What a stroke of inspiration: The packed stage (was it eleven or twelve of the collective up there?), instruments stilled, reduced to a choir with just composer Dan Messore’s Metheney-esque guitar quietly etching out the hymn like melody of ‘Passing Vision’ underneath layers of vocal harmony. After an action packed evening it was a magical way to close.

A relatively new venture, the Composers Collective have held three or four sessions previously, performing short sets of one or the other of the gradually expanding membership’s original music.  Making music and working together is the priority. Self promotion and publicity have come a poor second. This was my first taster of what is emerging having found out about a couple of previous sessions after they happened and this one proved rather special.  For the occasion the pattern had changed a bit and the rough rules seemed to be: select your band/ ensemble for the occasion from the members (newly launched website tells us who most of them are), write/ arrange original music for them, preferably rehearse, definitely perform.  Given the quality of players and writers on that list it’s a recipe for something special, the prospect of a few under rehearsed rough edges only adding to the high wire act thrills and so it proved to be with no holding back on the complexity and drama of the writing.

The second half of the evening featured the collective as an ‘orchestra’ with a small string section (double bass, cello, violin) as well as the full rythmn section (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards) and a frontline shuffling all manner of reed instruments and flutes and judicious use of effects. A simple flowing motif on guitar pegged by a sparse bass riff introduced Will Harris’ Damp Squib  before a gorgeous pallete of sound coloured a soaring melody that launched an impassioned

The collective dig into Will Harris' 'Damp Squib'

The collective dig into Will Harris’ ‘Damp Squib’

solo from Jake McMurchie on tenor.  Jim Blomfield stripped the ensemble back to a mere six piece but he certainly made them work. If this wardrobe had any doors, they’d have been kicked open by his ‘Pregnant Pause’. Odd time fragments and riffs played variously and separately by Kevin Figes on baritone, Nick Dover on tenor, McMurchie now switched to soprano until a crackling funky groove gradually merged and locked into a rocking pulse with a few handbrake turns between solos and switches to solo riffs before screeching to a halt with a tumbling riff from the keyboard. That raised the roof before Dan Messore’s ‘Passing Vision’ charmed us out of the door.

The first half had been a short set from ‘the slightly more established’ Kevin Figes Octet (two rehearsals and one previous performance apparently) with double drums including Mark Whitlam who was a fixture for the evening, double vocals from Emily Wright and Cathy Jones as well as a more regular front-line and rhythm section. ‘Loft Space’ had an epic feel to it with a slower section all rousing melody and jazzy prog rock anthem  before the angular grooves and fiery soloing kicked in.

If all that emerged from this collective was nights like this giving the creative muscles of the group the opportunity to work out and experiment, then it will surely have been worth it. What a delight it was just to listen and watch. But keep an eye on this.  Put such a rich mix of talent and creativity together and who knows what surprises and new directions will emerge. If the word spreads much more, the Wardrobe may need an extension. The next session is January, the website is www.bristolcomposerscollective.co.uk/ and there’s a twitter feed @BristolNewSound.