A chill in the air, the scent of rain, about right for August then. Ian Storrer had contrived to make the upper room at the Hen and Chicken feel like a velvet clad cave, complete with a blinking string of lights in the tunnel between stairs and seats. It was an appealing Sunday evening setting for the trio comprising the never predictable, always compelling Sam Crockatt on saxophones, quietly, arrestingly, propulsive and melodic Riaan Vosloo on bass and the restlessly inventive Dave Smith on drums. They served up two tasty sets, taking a winding path through folk songs, a handful of originals and diverse mixture of tunes from the pens of Dave Holland, Gil Evans via Wayne Shorter, David/ Hoffman/ Livingston via Disney and Ornette Coleman.
The snaking theme of Dave Holland’s Four Winds kicked things off followed by a moody, introspective take on the folk song Fair Phoebe and the Dark Eyed Sailor, Crockatt evoking a ghostly ships horn to set the scene. All The Things You Are’s famous theme was sketched and turned inside out, before gaining a hurtling momentum. Grandfather Clock had a delightful drum introduction replete with ‘tick-tock’s’, setting up a lilting groove. Crockatt’s delivery evoked a whiff of Sonny Rollins as dancing riffs and fluid runs ramped the energy up. Crockatt’s own Stroll on the Knoll closed the set with with a snappy energy.
The second set continue in the same eclectic vein, but no matter what the material, there was a musical and melodic understanding that seemed to bind the three together. Drum solos had a melodic shape to them, sax solos a rhythmic energy and distilled economy of phrase, Vosloo was complementing and commenting as much as anchoring.
All of these three are sought over sidemen and leaders in their own right. The trio is a meeting of equal. Their choice of material, fearless playing and instinctive, bred-through- long-familiarity understanding, make them a winning combination.
Frome Festival is in full swing. To call it a smorgasboard may be underplaying it. I can’t make the bee-keeping taster on Thursday afternoon and am genuinely gutted it looks like I won’t make the Iain Ballamy/ Huw Warren duo on Sunday 9th (I’m noticing how normal it seems for something so good to be in the festival programme). There’s something else a bit special going on later in the week however, that adds yet another dimension to proceedings: Two nights, six (or is it seven) – count ’em! – acts from the Loop Collective at Frome’s Silk Mill. Formed over a decade ago by some of the most exciting young players on the London scene at the time, the collective has spawned dozens of bands and projects and its members have gone on to establish international reputations. Much of the music defies categorisation, but improvisation, creative exploration, blending of influences and a ‘jazz sensibility’ are probably constant threads.
Dave Smith, a founder member and now resident in Frome has pulled together the two nights. His personal CV has Robert Plant’s current band on it as well as plenty of experimental electronica and the band Outhouse (a version of their music appears on the second night, Friday 14th). Thursday 13th sees a set from Kit Downes and Tom Challenger (harmoniums and sax) a project that originated through improvised duo performances of sax and church organs they call Vyamanikal. Splice (laptops, trumpet sax and Dave on drums) and a solo set from vibes supremo Jim Hart. Friday 14th has Fofoulah vs Outhouse preceded by an outfit call Primitive London (a hip-hop and DJ influenced set) and bass, laptop sax duo Rills and Courses. There’ll be a finale involving remixes of samples from the two nights’ performances. Its sure to be something a bit special then: Unpredictable, mind expanding, absorbing and good fun. Tickets here and here
Footnote: Dave Smith was interviewed by London Jazz News about this happening here
The Cloudmakers touched down at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday bringing a healthy crowd out to experience the dense thickets of rhythm, mazy themes and explosive playing of the expanded trio. Vibes man and composer Jim Hart, drummer Dave Smith and getting to be a Hen and Chicken regular, Michael Janisch on bass are joined by Hannes Riepler on guitar and Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto and clarinet for their pretty extensive current tour.
This was music with a lot going on. Two in one began to seem like a theme. A piece combining elements of All the Things You Are and Ornithology had been preceded by Travelling Pulse Somewhere North of Ghana, built around a complex rythmn but referencing colder Nordic climes. The second set started with The Road for Ed a demented, wonky samba-like groove overlayed with a slow moving free-boppish theme. It spiralled off into urgent freeblowing with Hoang and then flipped back to the hurtling groove behind a blistering vibes workout.
Watching Janisch look first at Smith, then Hart with a quiet smile as rockets of rythmn seem to pass between them summed something about the gig up. They were individually and in combination electrifying, Hart sublimely fluid and inventive with Smith seeming to catch every accent and kick almost before it happened.
Hoang was a revelation. From unearthly squawks, honks and atmospheric squeals to percussive and dramatic blowing, Harts writing gave him plenty of action. Riepler was adding ghostly textures and atmosphere as often as digging in. It wasn’t all tumult. Golden‘s simple motif, emerging from a meditative Riepler introduction swelled to an anthemic climax. The gig closed with Back Home, full of yearning and shimmering atmosphere.
The quintet are individually top drawer players. Hart’s writing and their empathy meshes them into a formidable unit.