April and May – Jazz in Bath and Bristol

A quick scan of what’s on over the next couple of months has persuaded me that pointing out a few mouth-watering prospects is more realistic than any attempt at an exhaustive overview.    Before getting too far with that, you really should keep a close eye on the weekly gigs at Bristol’s Be Bop Club, Fringe Jazz and Future Inns and Bath’s St. James Wine Vaults.  All are a mixture of touring and local bands, but the standard is uniformly high.  Hard not to mention Guess the Bleating (featuring three-quarters of Get the Blessing with addition of keys-man Dan Moore and drum legend Tony Orrell) on 18th May at the Fringe and Andy Sheppard‘s Hotel Bristol on 20th April at the same venue and here’s hoping you made it the launch today at the Colston Hall  of two (count ’em) albums by Kevin Figes, a quartet and and octet recording and promoting his label Pig Records, also home to fine recordings by Jim Blomfield, Cathy Jones and more to follow it seems. That assumes you weren’t lured by The Necks playing the organ in the main hall. See what I mean?  You can’t have too much great music, but still…

Here then, are those highlights.  There’s a Nordic Jazz theme to relish. Swedish pianist  Bobo Stenson  is in Bristol at Colston Hall’s Lantern with Martin Speake‘s Change of Heart Quartet.  Stenson, not heavily recorded under his own name, but to sublime effect when he has been, with a series of trio records on ECM, has been a sideman to sax players from Jan Garbarek to Charles Lloyd and his collaboration with Speake dates from a Cheltenham Festival gig in the early 2000s as an International Quartet that included Paul Motian on drums and Mick Hutton on bass. That line- up played a gig in Bristol at the QEH theatre to an audience of under twenty people (that included me). They subsequently recorded for ECM and its music from that album they’ll be playing, with two of the the crop of exceptional young British jazz players, Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums completing the quartet. In May, the Nordic action shifts to St. Georges with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen on the 12th.  Accompanied by Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang and a visuals show to boot,  expect plenty of electronics, sound-scapes and a unique experience.  The following week on 19th May,  legendary bass player Arild Anderson is there for an acoustic set with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith and Italian percussionist Paolo Vinaccia. This line-up has recorded two beautifully melodic and vibrant albums for ECM and this gig is part of a very short tour with only a few gigs in UK.

There’s more.   Tucked away at the top of London Road in Bath, Burdall’s Yard is Bath Spa’s performance space and on April 22nd hosts Sam Crockatt‘s Quartet.  If you want to hear what the some of the most in demand players on the Bristol scened sound like, let loose on a a bunch of artful structured, original jazz tunes by the saxophonist leader get yourself along to this one; Kit Downes on piano, James Maddren on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass.  Downes and Maddren will be back in Bristol in early June at Colston Hall’s Lantern (ok, its not May but this will be a great gig) this time with Julian Arguelles‘ band Tetra.  Arguelles is,for my money, one of the most distinctive composing and fluently lyrical improvising voices in British jazz over the last twenty years. Sam Lasserson is on bass for that one

Finally, that man Ian Storrer, promoter of jazz gigs in Bristol for a lot of years, has done it again.  Friday May 13th sees New York come to the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster in the shape of the Jonathan Kriesberg Quartet.  Kriesberg is one of the hottest guitarists  on the New York scene and his pianist Dave Kikoski has an eye popping CV that includes Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.  This is one not to miss.

A selection then,  from a large box of treats over the next few weeks, that’s without mentioning the jazz festival over at Cheltenham at the end of April with a incredible line up and something for everyone.




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.

Coming Soon – Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival. March 1-3rd, Colston Hall Bristol.

“.. I guess you’d call it jazz” wheezed Ginger Baker, referring to his forthcoming appearance at the Bristol Jazz and Blues festival during an interview on Radio 4’s Loose Ends the other day. Baker’s latest group Jazz Confusion headline the first night of the weekend all based in Bristol’s Colston Hall complex. Stories and anarchic legend swirl around Baker but a consistent thread has been the respect he’s commanded from other great drummers and his own interest in jazz and African music. With Pee Wee Ellis and Alec Dankworth in the band fireworks are assured. A detailed review of this line-up from last year is here giving a flavour – its sounds like fun to me!  The Colston Hall complex will look a bit different to Chris Barber, also appearing on the first night with his Big Band, since he first played there in 1953. The revamp completed a couple of years ago now is an almost magical transformation making the prospect of weekend of music in the all the various spaces an exciting prospect.  The programming on the first night gives a flavour of the variety on offer. The tradition and mainstream is well catered for. As well as Chris Barber, there’s Alan Shipton’s Buck Clayton Legacy Band and a Louis Armstrong tribute. The headliners also cater for a range of tastes. After Ginger Baker’s African/ Jazz/ Rock (c0n)fusion of the first night, guitar legend John Scofield brings his organ trio with Larry Goldings and Gregory Hutchinson on drums on Saturday. The last night sees Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. He’s widely feted as a world beating virtuoso playing mainly latin and bebop. Dizzy Gillespie was his inspiration, mentor and friend.  These are artists known on the world stage. In between, there’s plenty more to choose from (Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero, New Orleans gospel- soul ambassador Lillian Boutte) and on the smaller Hall2 stage (Get the Blessing, blues guitarist Matt Schofield) and a full free stage programme with a roster of mainly local bands that I’d happily shell out from week to week to see ranging from Nick Malcolm’s fine adventurous quartet, blues with Innes Sibun’s quartet, the causing a stir contemporary jazz of vocal led Moonlight Saving Time, not to be missed  progrock tinged jazz of 4 sided triangle and the uncategorisable musical delights that Bristol seems to specialise in – Dakhla, Duval Project, Smith and Willox not to mention a fair smattering of cabaret meets gypsy jazz entertainment.   The full programme is here

This is an ambitious, something for everyone festival and I for one will be taking in a few gigs, hoping plenty of other people do the same and adding the organisers to my personal new year’s honours list!  I also suspect the programmers of a sneaky sense of humour. Knowing Ginger Baker’s love of African music and also somewhat chaotic addiction fuelled past, they’ve programmed  first Dahkla and then Moscow drug Club on the free stage immediately before his gig.. or am I reading too much into it? See you there.

Andy Sheppard and the Pushy Doctors, Get the Blessing – a week at The Bell

What week we had at The Bell in Bath. Monday’s visit by the Pushy Doctors was followed Get the Blessing on Wednesday and my breathless anticipation turned out not to be over heated. Charley Dunlapp’s breathless appreciation of both the Doctors and the bestowers of blessings sums it all up. Gag of the week has to be Jim Barr welcoming back Radiohead’s touring drummer from his ‘apprenticeship with Radio Shack’. Musical moment of the week would be selected from a very long list of nominations. One would be GTBs American Meccano, shorn of Robert Wyatt’s vocal and tweeting birds in the live show, but somehow the quartet manage to make the anthem like hook sound like its being delivered by a massed choir and orchestra – it makes my heart flutter everytime. Both bands are regular visitors so the repertoire is familiar. The Doctor’s set list may even have been nearly identical to their last visit in the summer, but they never sound quite the same and they get more free and playful every time we see them. Andy SheppardAndy Sheppard was on fine form. In his other bands playing so quietly that you can hear the clatter of the keys above his breath is regularly deployed effect – doing it in the Bell in contrast to some of the more furious organ trio numbers in the loud and shouty Bell was riveting (and provided one of the week’s more bizzare moments as one somewhat ‘out of it’ punter was inspired to lurch in front of the tiny stage and declaim loudly his sorrow at the passing of Ravi Shankar).  The drummers of both bands provided more of the nominations for musical moments (no cheap jokes about drummers and musicians on the blog!).  Tony Orrell, endlessly inventive and diversionary is surely behind some of the more mindblowing segues and arrangements (that switch from My favourite Things to Saving all my Love for instance!) and often seems to nudge the trio of into extended codas and unexpected grooves. The electricity between Jim Barr and Clive Deamer is the pulsing heart over which the layers of intrigue and invention provided by Pete Judge and Jake McMurchie define GTBs sound. Seeing both both bands side by side, contrasting as they are, made a couple of simple truths clear. Their music is carefully and skillfully constructed, but what makes them both such an exciting and moving experience live is the empathy and understanding in the group and the sense that the unexpected can and does happen; they’re all fantastic improvisers.

pReview: Seasonal warming, Sheppards and Blessings (from Wine Vaults to Bells)

Tis the season of good will and although you had to pay for your drinks, the wine vaults beneath St. James were a good place to begin the run in to Christmas with guest Art Themen closing a great Autumn Season for the resident Jazz House Trio last night.They were in fine swing too. Themen’s reliably entertaining (whether on the horn or with the banter) and its hard not to grin at all the Dexter Gordon quotes and hints and the plain,  no nonsense hard swinging set he delivers. We are almost getting blase about the quality of the parade of guests Wade Edwards has secured – he’s definitely in line for one my new honors again, especially with a programme next term that’s got Bobby Wellins and Jason Rebello on it before the end of February. But before then look over to The Bell. The Pushy Doctors are there on Monday.  There have been a number of Bristol outings recently and is there a smugness in the air, that you have to come to Bristol/ Bath area to see Andy Sheppard letting his hair down (hmmm… maybe that’s Dan Moore) in this particular trio?  They veer between incendiary post bop jazz, uber cheese delivered so seriously its genuinely moving and full on rollicking, rocking organ trio fun. Who knows what the repertoire will be but I expect to laugh, cry and whoop before the evening’s out. And as if that wasn’t blessing enough, we can get some more on Wednesday at the same venue. Get The Blessing are there with Clive Deamer back from Radiohead duties it’s rumoured. Influence spotting is a fun game with this lot, but when it comes down to it there are legion catchy, often rocky riffs and tunes, not much singing and a world class ensemble that have most critics scrabbling for superlatives. They fit right in with the uncategorisable creative British Jazz scene of the moment. And they are popping over from Bristol on Wednesday. It’d be a crime to miss it.

Super Thursday: Bijou, Backstreets, Brassy or Classy?

What to do?  Contemplating an evening out in Bristol we find ourselves spoilt for choice. Is it to be bijou, backstreets, brassy or classy (ok that was dictated more by flow of words than content so apologies to anyone offended). Bijou is Busnoys at the Rose of Denmark, a trio of left field-ish creative vibes man Martin Pyne, Jim Barr on bass (Get the Blessing, Portishead etc) and the versatile and inestimable Trevor Davies on drums. Will Jim be doing a quick dash for the 10 o’clock kick off for Get the Blessing at the canteen (brassy!) – party time there I think. It could be the backstreets (of Easton) for Kevin Figes at the Greenbank for a very fine quartet playing material from Kevin’s recent album Hometime (my reactions to it here). I have a sneaking feeling we’ll end up at St. Georges for Terry Seabrook’s Milestones, and his Kind of Blue tribute, the most favoured option of my other pair of ears. Its a great band that includes Byron Wallen and Alan Barnes. Its sure to be classy.

Get The Blessing,100 Club, Wednesday June 29th

Last week’s bestowal of taut, bass led riffy blessings at the 100 club still retains a warming glow in the memory (no excuse really, just been rather slow catching up on the blog).  The Get the Blessing experience is one of distilled pleasures and surprises; an intoxicating blend comprising blasts of raw, tight rocky grooves, sudden switches of mood, quietly demented, angular improvising often supplemented by judicious use of electronics, tender shapely melodies and swelling anthems over thunderous crescendos of drums. All delivered in neat parcels of 5 minutes or so.  There’s always more to them than meets the eye (and ear). The opportunity for a surprising twist and mischievous feint is rarely missed, frequently evoking grins of delight from the audience at the 100 club. Enduring images are a young women leaning across a table to explain one of bass player Jim Barr’s off beat jokes to her visibly puzzled friend; a delighted, head back laugh from another punter as a screaming crescendo of trumpet effects and scribbled phrases switches suddenly to a quiet, elegantly stated melody; Pete Judge and Jake McMurchie, eyes locked, building the tension, relishing the space in the music and exchanging gradually intensifying phrases over Clive Deamer and Jim Barr’s hissing off-centre riff.  Ivan Hewett in the daily Telegraph wanted them to let rip a bit more; certainly, the 5 minute parcels always seem to leave you wanting more – maybe that’s the point. There certainly plenty of cheers for more at the end on this evening.