Alex Munk’s Flying Machines, The Lescar,Wednesday 15th February

There’s only one place to be, if you happen to find yourself in Sheffield on a Wednesday night.  Off to The Lescar I went.  This week they were hosting guitarist Alex Munk’s Flying Machines touching down in Sheffield on an extensive tour promoting their album.

They took off straight away with a throbbing bass line from Conor Chaplin,  Dave Hamblett‘s drums and the guitar locking in a  groove that had a whiff of a skirling dance to it.  Rainbow Line followed with a fractured, funky bass line and a snapping, off-kilter feel.  As Long As It Lasts after a ruminative intro from Munk, had a hymn like melody traced out by ringing chords. Chaplin unwound a fluid melodic solo before handing the baton to Munk.  The leader has a knack of stringing crisply articulated motifs into long arcing phrases even as the rhythm section revs up underneath him and they collectively lean towards rocking out. Matt Robinson on keyboards is the fourth, indispensable element of the sound. Subtle synth washes and tastefully judged chordal stabs or melodic flurries were ever present. On a new, as yet untitled Munk tune, a plaintive, folky melody accelerated over Hamblett’s hip, driving drums and Robinson let fly with a blistering solo, blending darting lines and blocked chords to build to a climax.  There were a couple of excursions into out and and out prog rock meltdowns, but always lurking were artfully layered rhythms and harmonic shifts.  Towards the end Robinson guided a more reflective piece with a gorgeous reflective intro before the gently rocking groove of A Long Walk Home drew another bass solo, packed with ideas and long fluid lines.

Munk’s music steers a path through all sorts of  references with a seasoning of a rocky groove or a kicking riff never far away.  It was rapturously received by a full house at The Lescar.  Their tour continues so catch them if you can.  The remaining 16 (count-em) dates are here

Vitor Pereira Quintet, BeBop Club, Friday 21st March

A capacity crowd jammed the room on Friday to listen to the  Vitor Periera Quintet, playing the last night of fairly extensive national tour.  Although London based, a few of the names were quite familiar both from previous visits and a growing national profile in their own right. Led Bib’s  Chris Williams was on alto, Dave Hamblett in the drum chair is becoming a Bristol regular (here with Gardiner-Bateman outfits recently and with Ivo Neame’s Quintet before that) and George Crowley as well as being very visible on the dynamic London scene was at The Fringe recently with Dan wood’s Monk project. With in demand bass man Ryan Trebilcock completing the line-up, they weren’t short of fire power. It was the guitarist leader’s gig however and its was his distinctive, dense, driving compositions that they were playing throughout. There was plenty of growly choppy guitar, interspersed with dissonant sustained chords.  The grooves were all clattery, snappy backbeat propelled by Hamblett’s insistent but never overwhelming drums, occasionally bursting into bravura inventive solos. On the Celtic flavoured Miranda he provided a real highlight. Alto and Tenor blended and bounced of each laying out the snakey , angular melodic lines of the themes, often restated and reworked repeatedly. The effect was of constantly building tension and momentum. Both Chris Williams and George Crowley built firey solos somehow managing to reel out forceful, jagged lines whilst sounding just a bit reflective, even melancholic. Just when the clamorous themes and solos threatened to overwhelm, A simple Disguise dissolved into an atmospheric mood, giving way to a more exposed guitar solo. The ballad Under the Pillow followed before the beats kicked back in to close the set.    This was ‘pay attention’ intricate music played with zest and fire by a top notch band who each provided moments of real excitement.

Blowing the Blues away – Pushy Doctors and James Gardiner Bateman, Fringe/ BeBop Club 16th/ 17th January

January jazz continued with a blast last week. My round-up of the Pushy Doctors and Reuben Fowler/ James Gardiner Bateman Quintet is up on the Jazzwise website ‘breaking news’ section so I’ll just add a few random thoughts here.  I hadn’t seen the Pushy Doctors for a while and they were on sizzling form. Perhaps the regular slot at Fringe Jazz encourages adventurousness (not that they were ever coy), but they seemed even more playful and experimental than ever. An exquisite, representative  moment was after a merely typically scorching soprano sax workout on My Favourite Things,  the mood somehow transformed into a low intense pulse and the theme of In a Silent Way suddenly emerged. They all seemed startled, especially Andy Sheppard who’d played it! “We’re in a different world now… help!” he muttered. That improvising stuff is dangerous. The cavalry rushed in with the surging groove and they were off again. They are unfailingly exhilarating.   There were plenty of thrills at the BeBop.  Reuben Fowler down from London for what seemed to be a college re-union with Bristol’s own James Gardiner Bateman in the form of a roaring gig – happily to a packed house.  The college in question is Royal Academy which seems to have set up production line supplying our national scene with breathtaking and matured talent. Reuben won the Kenny Wheeler prize, part of which involved releasing an album on Edition Records. With some additional funding he recorded a big band and the results “Between the Shadows’  I’ve been listening to non-stop since I picked a copy up at the gig (I did pay for it as well). As it happened, the big band were playing the material live the following night at Kings Place in London. The pianist, Matt Robinson was down on Friday with Dave Hamblett on drums and Andrew Robb on bass. They were all on great form, with two sets of standard/ classic tunes and a couple of originals but played with passion, energy and fire to rival anyone I’ll warrant. There were the most delicate of moments from a duo on The Nearness of You between Fowler’s flugel horn and the piano, full blooded no holds barred blowing from James on Tears in Inside and just a glimpse of the new music to come from the pens of Matt Robinson and Reuben Fowler.  Surely these guys are going to entertaining, thrilling and moving us for a good few years to come.