Atlas, Jazz at Future Inn, Thursday 14th January

Gig-bookers have conspired this week to remind us (well,  me at least) how much Bristol nurtured talent has been leavening the UK scene over the last few years.  The gigs in question were last Sunday’s Moonlight Saving Time gig (here) and Thursday’s  at Future Inn with pianist Rebecca Nash and her new band Atlas.  The link?  As I settled into my seat and meditative flurries from the piano ushered in Lokum, I remember being impressed by a band at the BeBop Club, several years ago now, with Rebecca on keys, Emily Wright and Will Harris (from Moonlight Saving Time) and was Nick Malcolm in that band? Either way he was another link between Thursday and Sunday, appearing in both bands this week. Rebecca is not resident in Bristol anymore and Nick only part-time, but they have all, separately,  been quietly building a growing reputation nationally .

Atlas also includes the formidable Chris Mapp on bass and Matt Fisher on drums.  Fisher and Nash’s association dates back to college days and their complementary styles were an exquisite thread around which this early outing for a new project turned.  The leader’s compositions are eclectic in inspiration. Lokum had an even, rocky pulse, Leonard Cohen’s You Know Who You Are got a re-working, Grace experimented with electronic textures and synthy washes whilst Dreamer developed a delicious groove and a hooky melody.  Nash let solo’s build. Shapely motif’s and darting half-thoughts of runs gradually accumulated until flurries of melodic lines fused together. It was fluent and emotional playing. Matt Fisher and Chris Mapp followed every move, Fisher in particular picking up on implied grooves and accents to build an often irresistible pulse. When Nick Malcolm let fly with a typically inventive solo the temperature really began to build.  A thoroughly contemporary quartet then, with the composer leader happily fusing all sorts of references and styles into her distinctive pieces. Add them to the ‘ones to watch list’.

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.

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.

James Gardiner Bateman/ Josh Arcoleo, Future Inn, Thursday 30th January

For the second time in a couple of weeks James Gardiner Bateman rounded up some pals, most of whom are mainly resident at the London end of the M4 and brought them along to a Bristol stage to huff, puff and serenade away any remaining new year cobwebs (more on the first outing here). This time the local jazzerati were out in force, swelling the already healthy numbers at the Future Inn’s lovely downstairs jazz space, the lure of the combination of  James, another local lad made very good, Josh Arcoleo and the the un- advertised but somehow known about local(ish) titan of jazz on piano Jason Rebello was irresistible.  jgb_futureinnThe energy levels started high with James and Josh ripping through the boppish theme of Tears Inside, absolutely in step before James leapt off into a blistering solo.  A marker was down. Gradually their distinctive personalities emerged. There was no concealing what an even more exciting player Josh Arcoleo has become since he played regularly around Bristol as a young tyro and protege of Pee Wee Ellis before taking the inevitable trip to London. Bemsha Swing, closing the first set, was wound up by his tenor sketching the familar melody out, stretching the time, sliding phrases through the cycling harmony injecting a fierce propulsive groove.  The second set went up a gear. Everytime the youthful rhythm section revved it up a bit more, Jason Rebello seemed to get more comfortable and more dazzling. On Strasbourg St. Denis , a Roy Hargrove funky groover, the chocks seemed to come away and overlapping riffs, locked hands blocked chord passages and sizzlingly groovy runs had everyone whooping. Drummer Ed Richardson (one of those London visitors) responded with a fabulously melodic solo whilst maintaining an uncompromising thumping groove . He did it again on the closer, a frenetic Rhythm Changes that also produced another explosive Rebello solo this time managing to channel and update the spirit of Herbie Hancock and Kenny Kirkland on blazing bop.  James had slowed it down for a ballad earlier and lured bass player Chris Hyson out of the shadows. There was no mistaking the all round quality of this band. They may have just been taking  a gallop through a few of Mr Gardiner Bateman’s favourite tunes, but the result was thrilling and will surely be on a few ‘best of the year lists’ if memories are still clear in eleven months time.  Appreciating and celebrating organisers and do-ers always gets my vote and as he did at the  BeBop Club a couple of weeks ago, James name checked organisers and door folk. This time its Steve Williams who has kept this free, weekly session going with an increasingly varied and high quality programme.  Next week sees Dave Newton there with a trio. The rest of the programme is here

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.

Autumn in Bath and Bristol – what’s coming up

As summer keeps going, there seems to be exciting growth in the Bath and Bristol’s local jazz scene if the Autumn programme is anything to go by. The familiar seems to be thriving; large venues with established programmes like St. Georges, and Colston Hall in Bristol, Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon and clubs like the BeBop Club in Bristol and Bath’s Jazz at the Vaults session at St. James Wine Vaults all have great programmes. Encouragingly, new venues and sessions are appearing and new music by local players seems to be another theme.

There really is something for every jazz flavoured palate.  The David Murray Big Band, and Hugh Masekela are undoubted international highlights of St. George’s Autumn jazz programme in October and November respectively. UK based American bass player Michael Janish brings a transatlantic quintet there in late November with the incredible Liam Noble on piano. Expect burning contemporary jazz. The main Colston Hall hosts Jamie Cullum and Madeline Peyroux and goes left-field with a double bill of the Roller Trio and Go Go Penguin , plenty of genres referenced with rock lurking nearby.  In Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire Music Centre features classic Jazz with Claire Teal in October and Terry Seabrook’s Milestones (a recreation of Kind of Blue era Miles) later in the season with Larry Stabbins’ band with the fabulous Zoe Rahman on piano bringing their celebration of Coltrane in November.

The local club scene reliably provides week to week magic with local players of the highest quality often mixing with the country’s finest. This a regular occurrence at St. James Wines Vaults in Bath, the session hosted by a top drawer house trio led by bass man Wade Edwards with visiting soloists. Alan Barnes, not to be missed, is there on 19th September and then expect rising national stars Josh Arcoleo and James Gardiner Bateman in following sessions. Legend on guitar Jim Mullen is expected in November and Craig Crofton will be a Christmas treat.  Excitingly there are new clubs appearing in Bristol. Fringe Jazz in Clifton is soon to celebrate a year of a weekly programme on a Thursday that features really fine bands of mainly Bristol musicians – Andy Sheppard, James Morton, Denny Illet are regulars. The Future Inn has also re-started a jazz programme weekly with Freight (Craig Crofton Sax), Andy Hague Quintet and Dan Moore Trio (played with Andy Sheppard, Pee Ellis, etc) coming up in September. Notably, Ian Storrer has put together a jazz programme for the Autumn based at the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster bringing really top class bands to Bristol. It starts on the 15th September with the Ivo Neame Quintet. Neame is the pianist in trio Phronesis who have forged an genuinely international reputation playing dense, fluent contemporary jazz. On the 22nd is altoist Martin Speake’s trio with the amazing Mike Outram on Guitar and in October Julian Arguelles’ Quartet with Kit Downes. If you wanted to taste the best UK has to offer in current jazz then this series is one to check out.

Bristol’s BeBop Club has secured a grant from Jazz Services/ PRS to promote bands playing their own material. They are using it to kick off an impressive Autumn programme with the George Cooper Quintet. George is a young, relatively new to the area pianist who is one to watch and catch if you can.  The September programme also includes Andy Sheppard’s Pushy Doctors, another one not to miss. Original and new music is the focus of the newly established Bristol Composer Collective set up by Bath bass player Greg Cordez. They are playing monthly at The Wardrobe Theatre, White Bear Pub, Cotham Bristol. September 16th is the next gig. Expect to see Bristol and Bath’s finest musicians in unexpected combinations.  Back in Bath, the Ring o Bells in Widcombe and Gascoyne Place both continue with weekly Sunday evening sessions of real variety and quality, both are free entry.

This is not a comprehensive preview, but there’s enough here to signal there’s a real spring in the step of the jazz scene in this part of the world as we head for Autumn.