My Bristol week: From Craig Handy to Thelonius

As if last Friday’s outing to see Entropi wasn’t enough, catching Craig Handy mid-tour with a mouth-watering quartet at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday was followed on Wendesday by Thelonius celebrating the centenary of their eponymous inspiration at The Fringe. Soaking up the music and earning a crust has meant I’ve yet to reflect on either gig here, so an edited highlights is what follows.   It’s hard to imagine any city in the world hosting anything better than these two gigs as part of the week’s routine fare. There was also a connection, in my mind, between them. Both transparently drew on an in-the-very-marrow familiarity with jazz from bebop onwards and everything that has flowed from it, coupled with dazzling improvisation, so that the most familiar of material had zest and IMG_2571life and freshness.  Yup, it’s been quite a week.

Handy toured with Herbie Hancock in the mid 90s playing the New Standards material, was in the legendary Betty Carter’s band, has been a fixture in the Mingus Big Band including stints as MD.  It shouldn’t be a surprising then if his sound, choice of phrase, instinct for a mischievous quote or reference sounds, whilst still being his own, as if it comes from a long line of greats, .  It was gripping, it just oozed out of him. He was clearly enjoying the company of Jonathan Gee on piano, Nicola Sabato on bass and Rod Youngs on drums.  This wasn’t a grab you by the throat and shower you with notes session, but oh my it was grooving. Cedar Walton’s Holy Land was an easy medium swing tempo and as Handy layered phrase upon phrase, building momentum the band stoked it with him. It was like sitting on a gradually swelling ocean wave; quite exhilarating.  Rod Youngs was a delight, much of that energy coming from pushy, minimal strokes of his cymbal.  The two sets were mostly standards with a couple of Handy originals and the easy fluency was a thrill.  As we crept out (a case of catching the last bus syndrome), What’s New was just fading. We’d hung on every swoop and flutter of the melody. It was easy to imagine echoes of Coltrane or Dexter Gordon playing the ballad, but that’s because they’re surely in Handy’s the musical bloodstream.

Thelonius were drinking from the same well, but restricting themselves exclusively to compositions by Monk himself as Calum Gourlay reminded the full to over-flowing Fringe  before a note was played (just in case we were there under false pretenses). They kicked of with Epistrophy and the easy swing and Monk’s instantly catchy but typically off-kilter theme grabbed the ears. Hans Koller was on keys for this tune (he played valve trombone for most of the evening) and assembled a solo that was like shards of glass, all angles and dissonant fragments. A great start. This band, with Martin Speake on alto and for this gig the peer-less Jeff Williams on drums, have been playing weekly at times at the Vortex exploring the Monk canon. There’s always the possibility of deconstruction and radical re-interpretation in a project like this, but they approach the tunes with great fidelity to the original compositions in tempo and feel. They are each formidable improvisers and composers in their own right and the exploration of the tunes is from the inside out. Williams threatened to steal the show early on with a riveting, melodic solo on Teo. For Gourlay, the band frequently just laid out and he gave a hint of why a solo bass set from him might be a treat somehow evoking the harmony and sounding like an entire rhythm section as he played off Monk’s themes..  Koller is a a top drawer pianist, so hearing where his mind takes him with just a single line to pursue on the trombone , without the added  harmonic possibilities of the keyboard was fascinating.  There’s a  muted, fragile air to his tone adding a vulnerable almost melancholic edge to his playing.  His trombone and Speake’s alto blended and interacted beautifully and gave Round Midnight a fresh twist.  It was, as Gourlay again, reminded us the day after Monk’s would-have-been 100th birthday.   It was a delicious homage.

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Summer delights and Autumn preview pt 1: Fringe Jazz

I’ve had a bit of summer break from the blog as will be evident from the absence of posts, but there has been plenty of music, both recorded and live, to quicken the pulse and make the ears tingle, not to mention a few posts and reviews for other websites (Enrico Pieranunzi at Ronnie Scott’s, reviewed here, will likely be on the highlights of the year list).  There have been a few regular gigs out here in the west that have kept going right through the summer and provided some highlights, this then is the first of a couple of posts about delights sampled and more to come in the Autumn programme. We popped into Fringe Jazz last week to catch the Jazz Defenders, an end of August treat in the reliably classy programme now firmly re-established in it’s original bijou back-room off Princess Victoria Street.  The quintet are animated and led by quicksilver and rhythmically electrifying pianist George Cooper and wear their Blue Note heart on their sleeve. The suite of originals, writing credit’s spread around the formidable band but invariably with Cooper’s guiding hand, take the classic sound as a launch pad rather than a restrictive template. The themes and hooks are reliably catchy, grooves unvaryingly tight and propulsive whether swinging or with a funky edge (the combination of Will Harris on bass and Matt Brown behind the kit is dynamite) and arrangments lovingly crafted so that the front-line of Nick Malcom on trumpet and Nick Dover on tenor frequently sound like one Horace Silver’s bands in full flight. The improvising is always edgy however, Cooper’s solos veering from delicious bluesey licks to sizzling modal work outs; Malcolm suddenly taking flight, surfing a polyrythmic surge from the drums firing off angular phrases; Dover finding surprising melodic paths through familiar sequences.  The Defenders are a collaboration of some of Bristol’s finest so the quality and freshness of the band should come as no surprise. A real treat nevertheless and lookout for an album due for release soon.

The Fringe has a packed Autumn programme of jaw dropping quality including ECM recordings artists, award winners by the legion but more importantly, fabulous music. Andy Sheppard is back for a regular visit with The Pushy Doctors on 14th September with Dave Newton‘s Trio, including Nat Steel on vibes in Early October.  In between West Coast based former Bristol resident Jon Dalton returns.  ON 19th October, Iain Ballamy is the guest followed the week after by the increasingly high profile funky alto of James Morton riding high on his well received album release The Kid.  The rosta of tourist in November includes the legendary Trevor Watts on 9th November with the contrasting moods of Josh Kemp the week before and Phil Robson‘s organ trio the week after.  Promoter Jon Taylor seems almost to defy gravity by putting on a programme of this quality in a tiny back room, but of course its regular paying audiences that make it possible, so we know what to do.

 

 

Never mind the width, feel the quality – Autumn Jazz coming up for Bristol and Bath

There is so much exciting music happening over the next two or three months, that a comprehensive overview of  the Bristol/ Bath corner of the jazz planet would be a little overwhelming and occupy too much space.  Instead, let’s dwell on a few fantastic programmes that local promoters have put together. First up, here’s why you should really be paying a few visits to the Hen and Chicken  in Bristol on Sundays over the next couple of months. Ian Storrer’s series of promotions starts with Kevin Figes Octet on Sunday 13th September. Figes has been releasing a steady stream of original  music for various ensembles over the last few years and this Octet, featuring two singers and two drummers as well as the leader’s saxophones spreads his pallette further.  The following week, September 20th, a bit of a coup for Bristol, British pianist Barry Green brings a trio he recorded  in New York 18 months ago with Americans, saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver. It’s a short tour also taking in Barcelona and London’s Ronnie Scotts and The Vortex. The Americans’ combined CVs include Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Craig Taborn, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel and this is a meeting of musical hearts and minds not to missed.  Jumping forward to October 4th, there’s a more conventional line-up for celebrated pianist Kit Downes‘ new trio, but nothing conventional about the music.  The new collaboration with Swedish bass player Peter Eldh and drummer James Maddren, is called The Enemy and these are perhaps three of Europe’s finest young (ish) improvising musicans.  This will be another exciting ride.   Whirlwind Records boss and bass payer Michael Janisch brings a another transatlantic collaboration on the 11th, his formidable sextet Paradigm Shift that includes Jason Yarde and Paul Booth on saxes as well as live electronic wizardry.  The range and quality of this sequence of gigs is slightly boggling and it continues through to December.   If you go to all those, you’ll have had a hard choice on Sunday 13th as Get the Blessing are launching their new album at the Colston Hall. But that’s just on Sundays.  The weekly Fringe Jazz gig at The Mall in Clifton on Wednesdays would be a good focus of your mid-week attention. Jonathan Taylor has worked hard to establish this as a weekly gig and the roster is reliably top drawer and frequently world class. They kick off with local sax man Ben Waghorn‘s quartet on September 23rd, If you don’t see him very much locally, its because he’s in such demand elsewhere. Expect blistering post-bop jazz. Then a guitar theme kicks in (when its not more world beating saxophonists). Andy Sheppard‘s collaboration with guitarist John Paricelli was a highlight amongst many fantastic collaborations and the pair are at the Mall on the 30th. The following week another guitar legend, Jim Mullen appears with an organ trio. Then ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy appears, another unique British sax voice with an international reputation. Fringe Jazz regulars Dave Newton and John Pearce, Celestine and James Morton and Moscow Drug Club all put in an appearance then London based guitarist Maciek Pysz visits with the dazzling rhythm section of Yuri Gloubov and Asaf Sirkis followed by saxophonist Theo Travis’ quartet with the fantastic Mike Outram on guitar.  This another wildly varied programme of incredible quality given a final twist on 25th November by the improvising trio of saxophonist Paul Dunmall, John Edwards and Mark Sanders.

These are not the only regular or top quality gigs over the next few months.   Of course you should check out Bath’s  St. James Wine Vaults (fortnightly on Thursdays) kicking of of with Art Themen on 10th September and drop in on regular Sunday sessions at The Ring o Bells in Widcombe or Gascoyne Place. Bristol’s BeBop Club continues every Friday (watch out for 50th birthday Big Band led by promoter Andy Hague)and there’s  Jazz at Future Inns on Thursdays  going from strength to strength.  The bigger halls, St. Georges and Colston Hall both have eye catching gigs (not least Aaron Parks Trio on October 8th at St. Georges for anyone who wants see one of the hottest tickets in the new generation of American pianists).  The strength of the programmes at the Hen and Chicken and The Mall are signs of a very healthy scene and, we hope audiences to match.

 

Jazz is bursting out all over – Spring Preview : Local gigs Bristol and Bath , Cheltenham and Bath Festivals

With Easter and chocolate binges behind us, a scan of the live gig menu over the next couple months reveals a simple message; you won’t need to go far in Bristol and Bath to catch some outstanding jazz and music inspired by jazz.  There’s the obvious draw of two festivals in May (Cheltenham on the first bank holiday weekend and Bath around the second) of which more in a moment, but it would be a travesty not to notice the quality of what’s on offer week by week at regular sessions. Wade Edwards for example has excelled himself for the spring/ summer season at the fortnightly on a Thursday session at St. James’ Wine Vaults. The booker and occupier of the bass chair in the house trio has secured as a guest on the 16th April fabulous Bristol based Tenor Sax man,  Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley) and then the unique Bristol treasure vocalist Tammy Payne on the 30th April.  Through May and June the house band will go into overdrive with a Hall of Fame series of guests from the British straight-ahead jazz scene.  Don Weller, now in his 70s famously depped for Mike Brecker in Gil Evans Orchestra in the 80s and comes to the Vaults on 14th May. Dave Newton, winner of Best Pianist in the British Jazz awards on multiple occasions takes the piano chair for a trio session on the 28th and then in June, guitar legend Jim Mullen returns with vocalist Zoe Francis.  Regular sessions in Bristol have comparable depth.  Fringe Jazz, now firmly established on Wednesday at The Mall in Clifton, continues with regular appearances from Andy Sheppard who seems to be in the creative overdrive at the moment. The Fringe Jazz sessions feature him in variety of line-ups but the Pushy Doctors are regulars (27th May for instance) and hook-ups with Birmingham based phenomenon on trumpet and bass Percy Pursglove are always worth catching (15th April). In between there’s a great variety, Michelson Morley Jake McMurchie’s looping, live elctronica meets jazz improv (now) quartet featuring guitarist Dan Messore is there on 6th May. Check out the Thursday sessions at Future Inn, an increasingly varied and interesting programme featuring plenty of visitors as well as local bands. Pianist John Law is there on April 30th with a quartet playing material from his new album.  Friday’s see the longrunning BeBop Club continue with a first class programme.  And there are plenty of occasional treats. The Lantern at Colston Hall plays host to Polar Bear on 23rd April and Bill Laurence of Snarky Puppy on 28th May.  Keep your eyes peeled for shows by The Bristol Composers Collective. Their ‘Scratch and Sniff’ Orchestra has started popping up trying out new material by the local scene’s most adventurous spirits.  The next one is on Monday 13th April at The Fringe in Clifton Village. And what of those festivals?  Cheltenham Jazz Festival has evolved into a multi layered affair on the first bank holiday in May.  You can catch Van Morrison, Rumer, Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood fame, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Average White Band no less.  Another strand sees  Sun Ra Akestra, Joe Lovano with his Afrobeat project, Dave Douglas and Lee Konitz Quintet, John Scofield with rising star German pianist Pablo Held‘s Trio. Yet another sees a more contemporary European flavoured programme mainly at the Parabola Theatre starting with Phronesis, ending with the sublime Julian Arguelle’s Septet and touching a lot of bases in between. With talks, films, jam sessions, a big Sinatra celebration and a Gershwin one too with the inevitable presence of Gregory Porter and Claire Teal too,  it would be hard not indulge most aspects of a musical personality at this cover the bases,  full immersion now five day festival.  Bath Festival is showing signs of recovering its mojo.  After a few years of mysteriously thin programmes and now loss of long term Arts Council funding  (no doubt funding struggles and consequent competing priorities were all part of the challenge) the festival has worked with Serious to come up with a  lean  series of gigs that offer something distinctive for the ten day festival at the end of May. Serious’ specialisms in folk and world as well as adventurous jazz is evident. A two piano gig with Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock rounds off Rebello’s year long association with Wiltshire Music Centre. A strong improv thread sees Orphy Robinson’s Black Top making an appearance and American pianist/ iconoclast Matthew Shipp in duo with bass player Matthew Bisio.  By way of total contrast, American exponents of hot jazz, The Hot Sardines put in an appearance early in the festival and there are uncategorisable collaborations with Mike Westbrook bringing his Westbrook Blake to St. Mary’s Bathwick joined by Bath Camerata choir whilst Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) and drummer Tony Orrell renew an old association and perform an accompaniment to old silent film He Who Gets Slapped. The wildly, divergently creative duo will surely conjure up something magical.  The whole festival will come to a carnival like end with Hugh Masekela.

A Feast of Jazz for Bristol and Bath coming your way

There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting  really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and  already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).

But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio.  If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February.  The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April.  Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.

Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.

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, Bath and nearby – Preview of an Autumn feast of jazz

There’s a simple message for lovers of live music  in the Bristol/ Bath area this Autumn (be it jazz tinged or the howling, red in tooth and claw variety you seek).  Whether you  habitually attend or catch an occasional, spur of the moment burst, there will something on very close by, whenever you seek it out. It will always be top quality, often world class and not infrequently in very intimate surroundings. Here’s a few places to keep an eye on. The regular club nights have eye -poppingly great programmes. Every Thursday you’ll need to decide how to split yourself. In Bristol, Jazz at Future Inns continues weekly with a  very classy programme of mainly  local players, including that man Dave Newton at least monthly, an on outing for Moonlight Saving Time in November and some interesting visitors. Look out for Dominic Marshall, young piano fiend now resident in Holland. Fringe Jazz is moving round the corner in Clifton to  The Mall and hosting Andy Sheppard in various line-ups at lease three time between October and mid November, with Ian Ballamy in between and rising stars, Dan Messore’s  Indigo Kid in November. In Bath fortnightly on Thursdays, Jazz at the Vaults continues, again with reliably excellent locals and stellar visitors (saxmen Tony Kofi in November and Simon Spillett in December for instance).  Sunday nights in Bath there’s a weekly programme at Gascoyne Place (catch the peerless John Paul Gard at least monthly here) and the Ring 0 Bells in Widcombe (multiple award winning pianist Dave Newton will be there 0n 26th October – intimate surroundings probably overstates the space for the band). More sporadic, Ian Storrer has programmed some mouth watering Sunday gigs at The Hen and Chicken in Bristol starting with the Jim Hart on vibes led Cloudmaker Trio on 28th September with more to follow before Christmas including Tim Richards Heptet and the experimental Lund Quartet. Every Friday The BeBop Club in Bristol continues to showcase the best of the local talent and visiting bands.  The rapturously received Tom Green Septet are back there in November and the critically lauded Laura Jurd Quartet are there in December and don’t miss Dakhla in early November if you can help it.  In Bath, keep an eye on Burdalls Yard, Bath Spa’s performance space. They’ve received a grant from Jazz Services/ PRS to support a jazz programme and have the impressive collection of tutors on the Uni’s jazz programme performing as BiggSound in October and the Philip Clouts Quartet in November.  Gigs at Bath’s Chapel Arts seem to pass under the radar sometime but here’s one not to miss: John Etheridge, bona fide legend who has performed with everyone including Dizyy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Stefan Grapelli appears solo and in duo with singer Kit Holmes on 26th October.  The more formal concert spaces have plenty on too.  Former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman who started his career touring with the legendary Wayne Shorter, pianist Jason Rebello begins a year long artist in residence stint at The Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradord on Avon by teaming up with Empirical, the now firmly up and come group of still young stars who were last seen in Bath supporting Branford Marsalis in the festival a couple of years ago. That’s on the 27th September.   The Autumn programme at St. George’s Bristol has a handful of fantastic gigs through the Autumn (programmer Phil Johnson waxes lyrical about it here) It kicks off with an intriguing spin off from international wave making Snarky Puppy, The Bill Laurence Project on 3rd October, includes Gilad Atzmon‘s Charlie Parker with strings re-working and Scots Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duo and culminates with the adventuorous Swiss Vein Trio with former Miles Davis sideman another genuine legend, saxophonist Dave Liebman.  Taking in even a fraction of what’s on will be a feast for the ears and of course this little round-up as ever by no means covers everything.  It promises to be another fine season.