The Pushy Doctors, reliably entertaining and exciting by turns, seem like a fixture on the local scene, but not one you can take for granted. They appear for short bursts and then lie low for a bit, most often dictated by saxophonist Andy Sheppard‘s international touring schedule . What a delight to see them back at The Bell last week and it was still August (just) and quite summery (just). They played like old friends taking up where they’d left off last time. Killer Joe established the classic jazz organ trio feel, bluesy stabs from Dan Moore‘s organ whipped along with a grin by Tony Orrell on drums. Then they spiralled off into a mix of pop tunes, re-worked classics and jazz burn-ups. Andy Sheppard’s extended circular breathing episode on My Favourite Things took on an almost trance like character as phrases looped, stacked and mutated: urgent, intense and reflective all at the same time. The showstopper, unwittingly, came from the crowd. Towards the end of a medley that began with Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the band stopped together on a beat, one of many artfully choreographed moments of drama. Inserted with perfect timing into the momentary silence came a loud voice, volume adjusted to be heard over the now absent band. “I know that tune, I just don’t know what its called.” Gales of laughter ensued including from the band. It did seem to sum up something. The Pushy Doctors may play with a witty glint in the eye, but they are deadly serious and never fail to move as well as thrill and delight.
The Bell’s music programme is as eclectic as it is legendary. The jazz(y) strands are there, most often on Monday but always with a bit of twist and frequently featuring some of the more experimental or genre blending and bending touring bands. Keeping an eye on their listings is always worthwhile. In September, Baritone pop up on the 5th. A gypsy jazz flavoured trio featuring Charlotte Ostafew of Dhakla fame on baritone. Later in the month, John Paul Gard, local king of the Hammond, joins forces with California based guitarist Jon Dalton. There’s sure to be plenty more through the Autumn, so keep an eye.
They’re back. The first outing for six months for what the uninitiated might think is a classic jazz organ trio (sax, drums and organ player) but for those of us who’ve been excitedly following their all to infrequent forays to various hostelries in the area (previous reports to be found elsewhere on this blog), its a dazzling genre busting swerve through surging post bop jazz, loving but radical surgery on rock and pop classics and angular, wryly humorous programming that never fails to have an audience begging for more. Lucky Bath, this latest burst of activity started at The Bell in Walcott Street last Wednesday. They began as ever with a jazz classic Killer Joe, a staple of organ trios and bands who cherish swinging, bluesy, gospel inflected jazz. But as they tore into Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, the sound was a more flat out modal jazz and Andy Sheppard’s furious arpeggios, squeals and honks on tenor reminded us that, as with many tenor players, perhaps a first love was John Coltrane, an impression re-inforced when, after an excursion via a Pink Floyd tune, Sheppard launched into Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice with drummer Tony Orrell doubling the distinctive rhythmic hooks of the theme. Their layoff as a band was enforced by musical projects elsewhere that in each case could hardly be more removed from this. Andy Sheppard, a genuinely world class musician and ECM recording artist last seen in Bath at the Festival with the whisperingly quiet, exquisite Trio Libero; Dan Moore on the organ seems to tour with a bewildering array of bands but country -soul band Phantom Limb are really attracting attention with their latest release. Tony Orrell has a long history of collaborations most recently with conductor Charles Hazelwood. Pushy Doctors then gives another side to all of them free rein, but the quality will out no matter the context. Andy Sheppard some how builds solos that first make you say wow, then raise the hairs on the neck, and then raises everything a notch – if you don’t feel the surges of excitement you should get some one to check you still have a pulse. But this a trio and the sound, as well as that burning sax and swirling growling organ, is built round clever arrangements and rhythm. And Tony Orrell is the beating heart of it. Not always obviously, he managed to play a rock ballad later in the second set without playing an obvious back beat once. But the pulse and the groove is always there. The joins between songs are frequently hilarious. I’ve previously called them segues, but on reflection they are more like crunching musical handbrake turns. After more coltrane-esque fireworks on My Favourite Things, an uptempo swing in 3/4, they ended it by picking up and beating out a slower 4/4 pulse before switching to Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love. The second set finished by going from what sounded like Back Street Betty with a New Orleans funk groove, to Baby Love and on into What a Wonderful World, finishing on the phrase I love You. Priceless. Yes you laugh, but you whoop as well. You might chuckle at a song choice, but you’ll be moved as well. How can you not skip home afterwards. Its life affirming stuff.
Bristol based Kevin Figes has been busy. Between last year’s quartet recording Hometime and completing another soon to be released session on his own Pig Records, up pops another completely different project showcasing his funky side. From the first slap of Daisy Palmer’s snare on the opener ‘Evel Minx’, there’s no doubting what this album is about and it’s hard to sit still listening to it. Kevin has assembled an outrageously groovy band to play a set of his own tunes and one cover sometimes leaning to a rocky feel, at others to a more explicitly New Orleans flavoured funk. Plenty of jazz chops are on display for sure, but this is something of a master class in how to play just enough and no more to really stoke up excitement whether building solos, letting a riff really rip or a quieter mood develop .
That opener Evel Minx definitely has a foot in the rock camp, Rising opens with a really snappy riff and a hint of New Orleans funk from the drums underpinning the mazy theme doubled by Mike Outram’s guitar and Kevin’s alto. Dan Moore on keys plays a blinder. Some hanging chords on the Rhodes he plays throughout the album gradually interspersed with some darting funky lines build tension only released at a crescendo before he gives way to a burning solo from the Kevin on alto for this track. I wanted to shout for more. There are plenty of other moods with Kevin alternating between alto and baritone and some great writing with really appealing melodies. ‘Still’ is delivered over a steady even pulse from the band and Mike Outram’s just perfect lyrical accompaniment and singing solo on guitar. The constant presence, often artfully lowkey, Rhodes piano gives several tunes a hint of a 70s prog rock blended with a very contemporary take on harmony and rhythm (there are plenty of odd meters sprinkled around if you listen). The solitary cover is Name of the Game by 70s Welsh rockers Badfinger, Kevin’s baritone rasping out the melody with real emotional force.
This is a great collection of tunes with a band really on song mining fertile musical territory. There’s great playing from everyone; Mike Outram sounds utterly compelling whatever he’s doing whether its sweet ballads, screaming rock guitar or burning jazzy funk, Kevin sounds in his element and Daisy Palmer and Dan Moore’s contributions are judged to perfection keeping the excitement and tension bubbling nicely . I’ve a feeling this one will keep finding its way onto my CD player. The forthcoming launch is accompanied by a tour so another ‘must catch’ live experience to seek out.
A consultation in progress
A return to the Greenbank for the Pushy Doctors was greeted with an easy familiarity by the assembled punters last night. Treasuring the exclusively local opportunities to see the doctors over the last six months or so, we’ve never had to wait too long for the next chance. The peer-less practitioners of their arts ensure the experience is always memorable . I’ve caught them a couple of times before, once in the same venue and then at The Bellin Bath. The material hasn’t really changed nor its arrangement, but that doesn’t mean they are just going through the motions. The ease with which they slipped into their examination of the repertoire (I’ll get bored of the medical puns soon) on this occasion suggested the regular gigs have added an extra dimension to the interactions. So no white coats last night, but Andy Sheppard was wearing s suit. “Have they been promoted” folk at the bar wondered.” Pushy Consultants now?”
Dr Dan Moore
There was something a bit different last night. Were they a touch more reflective? A bit jazzier? A vamp at the end of Killer Joe dropped to a whisper and a few of those breathy, soaring phrases that can only be Andy Sheppard were unleashed. Segues between tunes were a bit looser and freer before snapping back into a tight groove. ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ squeezed mine a bit harder than usual delivered as it was with tense emotional force. The encore Naima was almost angular delivered over another ‘just so right’ groove with Tony Orrell producing just the perfect accessory to shake (brought along for this moment?). Breathtaking stuff again with a different twist. I did pause to reflect on the fact we had all paid just £4 in this pub in the back streets of inner city Bristol to see world class jazz, that had been promoted mainly through word of mouth, tweet and facebook as far as I can tell. Count your blessings say I, and this lot are still a big life affirming one. Keep your ear and eyes to the networks (and facebook page) for the next one.
Dr. Tony Orrell
Dr. Andy Sheppard
The Bell in Bath’s Walcott Street is not a large pub. With the small stage taking up half the available width of the front bar area, even a modest crowd can make the place feel jammed. With a large one, as there was for the Pushy Doctor’s second visit here, it is absolutely rammed, and its not unknown for the roar of chatter to drown the band out. After the third number last night, Andy Sheppard drew breath and reminded the assembled hordes that talking and generally having fun was allowed. The Doctors had segued from a galloping Killer Joe, via a clattery melodic drum solo into a hooky modal piece through an organ interlude into a blazing latin groover. Andy could have reminded some folk that they could close their mouths (quite a few seemed to have dropped open). This band were on blazing form. Everything seems to have gone up a gear since I saw them last at the Greenbank. The pace is up, the grooves are springier and lighter (not that that seemed possible); Andy Sheppard seemed to be relishing surfing on the rolling momentum created by Tony Orrell’s drums. Dan Moore’s playing absolutely locked in but there were lots of darker chords and tones giving everything an edge. And there was a pride in the material; “My name’s Andy Sheppard and I love cheese”. There’s always a twist to remind you just how good they are though. ‘Baby Love’, the rousing closer modulated effortlessy through key change after key change just ramping up the excitement. ‘I only have eyes for you’ had a great, recurring stabbing rythmn to subvert it. Each pop tune interspersed with 1930’s cheese (aka standards). And the anthemic rendering of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love can break your heart’ brought a lump to this cheese lover’s throat. Occasionally the momentum and tension was almost unbearable. My other pair of ears was screaming ‘breathe, breathe’ as the long, held soprano note over the crescendo of drums and and organs at the end of Dear Prudence extended and extended (okay, strictly that circular technique is breathing). There’s a delicate balance between being playfully respectful towards material, delivering it seriously but with a smile (or beaming grin in Tony Orrel’s case) and being over ponderous, and sentimental. The Pushy Doctors have it down to a tee; impossible not to leave feeling enlivened and borne up by the occasion. They’ve been playing pretty relentlessy around the small pubs and clubs of Bristol and Bath these last few months. Catch them while you can is all I can say.
Whispers on facebook and a bit of texting were all the promotion that an Easter Sunday outing received for Andy Sheppard with this trio. They’ve caused a bit of stir over the last month or so popping up here and at the Cori Tap and reportedly raising the roofs of both. With Dan Moore on organ and Tony Orrell on drums(Tony’s also an old sparring partner of Andy’s from early days in Bristol) the line up has the appearance of a conventional organ trio and they certainly quacked like one at the start with Killer Joe getting the full on swinging groove Blue-note era treatment. But things began to subtly shift thereafter. Tunes segued into each other with a drum solo or hymn like passage from the organ. Another skipping hard bop groove but with a modal sounding coltranesque hook somehow morphed seamlessly into a Whitney Houston power ballad. At the start of the second set, a modal burn up developed, via trademark Sheppard sax pyrotechnics into Dear Prudence with a bass riff and groove that, as my second pair of ears observed, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Portishead album. A Neil Young ballad got the gospel treatment with soaring climax of a melodic and textured drum solo, keyboard and sax repeating the melody with increasing intensity (stand-out moment amongst many crackers of the evening). The delight in each others company of the three protagonists was there constantly and a sense that anything might happen. There was predictably powerful blowing from Andy Sheppard, but he was being driven on by Dan and Tony who were giving as good as they got and equally prepared to play at a whisper as one tune was blended into the next. This trio may be a bit undercover at the moment, but there’s nothing thrown together about the repertoire and there’s an already mature understanding between them. Watch out for when they break cover, although hopefully they’ll still find time to visit the back streets of Easton.