CD Round Up – Part 2: Pigs and ANt (Figes and Nowak)

The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.

kfwwFirstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records .  There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick  Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.time-being-front

There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back.  The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties.  The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets.    Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.

Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before andynowakthe summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since.  This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement.  First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony,  Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos.  Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November

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Jazzy March Round-up 2: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

It’s March – it must be time for the Jazz and Blues Festival in Bristol. It may only be the fourth edition, 2103 saw the inaugural festival, but it’s established itself fast as a fixture in the calendar.  So the weekend before Easter found me pretty much living at the Colston Hall together with a big chunk of the area’s jazz folk.  There are a few people I confess I’ve seen just four times in the last four years… yup, in more or less the same spot in the Colston Hall foyer.

There are now plenty of reviews and round-ups around. Mine for Jazzwise (with more to come in the magazine) , Jon Turney for London Jazznews and Charley Dunlapp for Listomania.   There were many great moments with highlights in all those reviews but, as I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen, you could have a fantastic jazz festival just sitting in the foyer, surrounded by a steady throng of thousands and lapping up the phenomenal programme on the free stage, punctuated by DJ Tony Clark’s well chosen atmosphere building selections. GtB

Get The Blessing predictably ensured there was no room to move  on Saturday tea-time with an energetic set for the home town crowd.  GTB’s Jake McMurchie was possibly the busiest of the the quartet over the weekend with performances in at least two or three other bands including the big band that played behind Pee Ellis and Fred Wesley re-visiting their jazz roots on Sunday afternoon.  Have we mentioned Ruth Hammond’s Bari solo on a bouncing groover in that gig?  It had Pee Wee grinning as well as the crowd whooping.   Exiting that gig we were captured by another free-stage moment with Pete Judge and Paul Wigens ambient electronica and groove duo transfixing the packed foyer.   Saturday had IMG_1735-2seen Kevin Figes quartet whetting the the appetite for his double release of a quartet album and an octet album on his own Pig Records later in April. Another electrifying moment was provided by expanding his line-up to included two vocalists (Cathy Jones and Emily Wright) tenor and trumpet and delivering an impressionistic closely scripted interpretation of birdsong.  The festival , through its headliners, was also catering to a broad church with the bluesey half of the Jazz and Blues festival well catered for.

This has evolved into a wrap around celebration of music and coming together of people of all ages and musical predilections. Three cheers (or more) for the team that work year round to make it happen.

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.

Winter into Spring: Highlights on your doorstep in Bath and Bristol.

With the lengthening days comes a diverse jazz flavoured choice of music in dozens of venues over the next few months in this corner of the South West. All the venues mentioned below have far more extensive programmes than are sketched out. Here are a few New Year tips and pointers to whet your appetite whatever your tastes run to.

Firstly, don’t let familiarity make you forget that a number of our local regulars have well deserved international reputations. Andy Sheppard has been making Bristol’s  Fringe Bar something of a home from home over the last year and he’s back there with a ‘Friends’ band and also the now firmly established favourites, The Pushy Doctors in January and February as well as opening Ian Storrer’s latest series at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday January 12th with an interesting looking new quartet.  Dave Newton kicks off the new season at Future Inns  in Bristol on Thursday 9th having reportedly finished the year in dazzling form. He’s back there again the  following week in the company of incendiary violinist John Pearce and the hard blowing James Morton. Ever inventive pianist John Law, feted almost more in Europe than at home, is out and about with a new project ‘Boink!’ A quartet making full use of electronic effects and improv as well Law’s artful compositions. Catch them at Burdall’s Yard in Bath in the 10th Jan and Bristol’s BeBop Club in February. Jason Rebello, former sideman for everyone from Wayne Shorter to Sting and Jeff Beck, is focussing more on jazz again these days and pops up in St. George’s, Bristol piano series in a two piano workout with rising start Ivo Neame on March 6th.

Secondly, don’t let unfamiliar names discourage you.  Between local, well connected rising stars on the national scene and open minded programming, there’s some truly dazzling talent passing through.  Local lad James Gardiner Bateman features in two bands in January. The first with young trumpeter Reuben Fowler at the BeBop club on 17th January. Reuben has recently released a widely and wildly acclaimed big band album and the visiting group has a phenomenal London based rhythm section. Gardiner Bateman’s second appearance sees another line-up featuring a different collection of the brightest young talent on the national scene at Future Inn on the 30th featuring Josh Arcoleo. Bass Player on that date Chris Hyson has just released an album of his own compositions performed by Kit Downes. Downes brings his own previously Mercury Prize nominated band, now expanded to a quintet,  to the Hen and Chicken on 9th February. A few other touring bands to take note of  are, at the Be Bop Club; Ant Law Quartet (hotly tipped guitarist) late January; in March Tori Freestone Trio (more established and really blossoming tenor player) and Vitor Pereira Quartet  (emerging Portugese star) and at Colston Hall Lantern in February,  Zara McFarlene (soul jazz songstress causing a real stir).

Thirdly, don’t underestimate or forget the quality of locally based musicians and their ever shifting combinations. Singer Emily Wright brings The Royals to The Bell in Bath on 27th January and Moonlight Saving Time, who have garnered plaudits and national radio air play over the last year, come to Burdall’s Yard at the end of March. John Paul Gard’s Pedalmania also visit  The Bell in January and the energy levels are sure to be high there for visits from the mighty Dakhla and The Fresh Dixie Project (not strictly local!) during February. Saxophonist Kevin Figes‘ adventurous Octet are at the BeBop Club in late February and James Morton and fiery trumpeter Jonny Bruce make sure Bath doesn’t miss out with visits to St. James Wine Vaults in January and February respectively to guest with the Jazzhouse Trio who are embarking on their eighth year hosting visiting soloists. . The regular programmes at Bath’s The Ring o Bells, Gascoyne Place, Bristol’s Cori Tap are reliably high quality as well all the venues already mentioned.

Fourthly, salute our enduring stars and support the gigs to keep them coming. Another coup for St. James Wine Vaults is the visit of guitar ace Jim Mullen in later February. Chris Biscoe, stalwart saxophone adventurer on the English scene for decades returns to the BeBop club in late March and international visitors include Norway’s contemplative but groovy pianist Tord Gustavesen and American singer and star Gregory Porter  at St. George’s on consecutive weeks in late March.

Four principles (catch locally based national and international stars, the next generation of  stars as they visit, the best of the local scene and national and international stars locally)  all of which can be honoured in one go at the 2nd Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival on the weekend of 7-9th March at Colston Hall, with an overlapping but different set of names. Check out the programme here.

Finally, music that is more experimental or freely improvised is becoming a bit more visible.  The Fringe Bar hosts a monthly session that is dedicated to free improvisation and Paul Dunmall visits on 30th January with a trio that features drummer Mark Sanders. Sanders also features in one the gigs sponsored by a new venture called Bristol New Music.  A  joint effort between Colston Hall, St. Georges, the Arnolfini, Spike Island,  ICIA at Bath University and others, the weekend of 21st – 23rd February sees a series of events involving artists and musicians some of which are gigs including Keith Tippett’s Octet at the Colston Hall and ECM recording artist, composer and pianist Christian Wallumrod at St. George’s.

The weather may be unpredictable, but it looks like we can rely on a steady supply of high quality live music.

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.

Jake McMurchie -Two Trios, Be-Bop Club, Friday 24th February

When life takes over blogging takes a back a seat I find. So busyness, and a fair of bit of fun, mean my recent outing to the Be Bop club remains unblogged. Usually that means it would stay that way, but this particular gig has stayed with me and I’ve found myself enthusing about it more than once to any willing (or merely trappped) listener. So I’ll try and log why here. Jake stands out as a distinctive voice on any stage, and Bristol folk are treated fairly regularly in a variety of different settings when he’s not on Get the Blessing duties (a quick rifle through this blog throws up at least half a dozen different bands over the last three years of so).

So what was special about this particular evening? The first trio teamed Jake up with bass player Will Harris and singer Emily Wright. They were captivating. The Oliver Nelson classic Stolen Moments epitomised the thrill of this line-up. Somehow between the funky, swinging rythmic figure on bass with artful use of singing intervals and chords from Will, and the beautifully chosen and blended harmonies between tenor and voice, this drumless trio evoked the sound of that Blue Note era band (with up to seven members) that recorded the original. Gorgeous. The varied repertoire from Joe Henderson compositions, through uber-contemporoary Dave Douglas to modern master Kenny Wheeler tunes with a seasoning of off the beaten track standards, were all given an intriguing twist by spooky riffs from the tenor and more grooves from the bass with bursts of impeccable swing. Emily Wright’s clear toned delivery, using wordless vocals as much as lyrics at times gave the sound an almost folk like qulaity  to blend with the jazzy harmony. La Vie en Rose became a very hip, dark sounding contemporary piece with this treatment. That the individuals are all supreme musicians goes with out saying here, the ensemble they’ve created in this trio is what created a bit of magic. The whole was most definitely more than the sum of the parts.

Writing less about the second trio (Will and Jake again, with mark Whiltlam on drums) doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this set, a nice contrast to the first with a set of Jake’s own compositions, his instinct for a great tune and ‘just so’ shift of harmony to embellish repeated figures made it thoroughly engaging. Its the first set I’ve kept returning to though. More please!