Keith Jarrett Trio, Royal Festival Hall, Wednesday 27th July

This trio have released so much of their music on CD (17 albums worth apparently) often live recordings, that you can take them for granted. Of course the performance is flawless; of course the interplay and communication seem telepathic (this is a long and successful marriage). In fact barely a word was spoken, so naming of tunes was down to our own radars. We did about as well as all the newspaper reviewers ( In Your Own Sweet Way, Basin Street Blues, Slow-ish pop tune sounding number, Sandu, ballad I didn’t know but apparently ‘What now my love. Second set, Bop-be, Yesterdays, When Will the Blues Leave; four encores – God Bless the Child, ballad, blues, When I fall in Love). I don’t see many gigs where the player’s sound is so familiar. Like many lovers of the piano in jazz, this trio has been a constant soundtrack to life (for pushing twenty years for me).  On this evening a couple of things stood out to my ears. The first was how increasingly classical Jarrett’s touch sounds sometimes; there were exquisitely rendered intros and lullaby like ballads where the simplest of single note lines were singing and hanging in the air. Then, in contrast, the blues was never far way, always a strong part of his playing but particularly present this evening whether on a blues form or lace through the improvisation on the standards.  The first set was unquestionably low – key, almost introspective (my other pair of ears experienced it as a bit flat). The energy ramped up in the second set by the time they were playing Ornette Coleman’s When will the Blues Leave they really seemed to be cutting loose. Jarrett’s rocky take on God Bless the Child makes it hard not to grin and dance along.  The man seemed in form to me. The characteristic blizzards of notes fused together into long melodic lines that were utterly compelling. Like the best gigs, I’m still recalling some of those moments now a couple of days later. To paraphrase Jack de Johnette’s words as he appealed for no photos, I took the music home with me.  Having read a few of the other reviews now Guardian, London Jazz, Evening Standard, I see there are plenty of different or opposite responses, so for the record, another of my impressions was how good I thought the sound was.


A glimpse of the Future and other delights

I’m intending to pop to Future Inn tonight to see Tim Whitehead and am excited by the prospect. A not loudly feted, but unfailingly passionate and creative tenor player of the generation of lyrical and thoughtful players (and a few incendiary ones as well) that emerged in the late 80s and 90s ( Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart, that Sheppard chap, Courtney Pine to name a few).  I am struck by the quality of the Future Inns programme this Autumn and the fact that it’s slightly less ‘classy but conservative’ to quote Jon Turney than when it started and a bit more up and coming, world beating, varied and adventurous. So I’ve missed John Parecelli and Kit Downes (doh!) – will miss Phronesis (damn), but Robert Mitchell, Killer Shrimp and others are coming so the quality is assured. But Future hasn’t cornered the market this Autumn. The be-Bop Club programme looks good with the best of Bristol as ever (Nick Malcom, James Gardner Bateman, Andy Hague ) in the programme but some stellar visitors as well – Simon Spillet, Damon Brown coming soon for instance.  Up at the Cori tap a wildly funky super group (led by Gary Aylsbrook) is doing a two night residency from tomorrow and in October you can catch James Morton there, Jim Mullen’s Organ Trio and much more. Bristol is certainly well supplied this Autumn (and I haven’t mentioned St. George’s or Colston Hall or started on Bath…).

Andy Hague’s Text Messengers, Be-Bop Club, Friday 7th May

Trumpeter and drummer Andy Hague’s composing and arranging skills are a very badly kept secret in these parts, showcased as they are in his long standing quintet, occasional big band and a host of other fleeting projects. But it bears repeating (and broadcasting): skillful writing and arranging can define and meld a band together and that’s what Andy achieved again with this fantastic line-up (Andy on trumpet, Alan Barnes alto, Ben Waghorn tenor and rhythm section to die for of Scott Hammond, Thad Kelly and Jim Blomfield).  Self deprecating, jokey titles and names are also a Hague stock in trade (I ‘m sure I’ve an album of his on my shelves called Portrait of the Artist as an old git!). This one told us to expect Art Blakey-like sounds and we were not disappointed, the  jokiness belied the seriousness and respect that the band gave the material. Closely harmonised themes, catchy horn riffs behind solos, even a few shout choruses  cueing up drum solos. It was great fun and the standards repertoire in the first set evoked some lovely controlled soloing all round, spiced up with the Alan Barnes stand up routine between tunes. The introduction of a few Hague originals and slightly unusual material (Freddie Hubbard’s Jodo for instance  – a bit of a modal workout) seemed to light a bit of a fire under everyone and the blowing got more impassioned and the temperature in the room seemed to go up a few degrees during the second set. Alan Barnes really seemed to let go on Hands Up, a Hague penned New Orleans like shuffle – real hairs on the neck stuff. For me, the stand out moments were still some the more tender, beautifully arranged,  statements of themes such as Corcovado in the second set, and the thoughtful fluent soloing it evoked. Apparently the project was conceived for the Swanage Jazz Festival in July, so the punters there are in for a treat if this gig was anything to go by.

Borrowed Ears: Pee Wee Ellis, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 18th March

Distractions and busy-ness have kept me away from live gigs and blogging of late. But Pee Wee Ellis, the late James Brown’s legendary sideman, in the intimate and impeccably jazzily louche surroundings of the Wine Vaults was surely irresistible. Others thought so too. Curses! It was sold out, so this review comes to you through borrowed ears.

Presence. Groove – damn that swings. Energy. Qualities, hard to pin down, but they just seem to ooze out of the man. A nod, a final grin from Pee Wee, and the band were into There Is No Greater Love  with an unforced swinging pulse that had everyone in the room unable to stop themselves from nodding or tapping along. This set the scene for two sets of standards with the obligatory Pee Wee penned ‘Chicken’ to finish – the only out and out funky tune of the night. As Pee Wee said, growling into the microphone at the end, this was a jaaaazz gig.  We see quite a bit of Pee Wee around here. There’s a lot of guesting and sitting in, so its easy to be a bit blase. But a gig like this reminds us why he’s got near legend status. There were no stylistic envelopes being pushed in terms of repertoire or the content of solos, but the emotional force and melodic power of his playing was reminiscent of Sonny Rollins live in the way the actual material seemed to cease to matter .

The Jazz House Trio (Wade, Vyv and Trevor) rose to the occasion again, sitting up a bit straighter, digging a bit deeper and this one had really pulled the crowds in. The Vaults were bulging (and chatting loudly at the back!). There were even signs of a bit of rehearsing with some neat endings and unexpected modulations. Another triumph for the vaults then, lets hope a few of the unfamiliar faces come again now they’ve tried it. As my borrowed ears said of the evening – what’s not to like? This was a real jaaazz gig

Gareth Williams Trio, Future Inn, Bristol, Sunday 19th December

Power Trio in action

Photo by Bob Woodburn

I’ve no idea why Gareth Williams decided to call his trio the Power Trio but it’s certainly apt. They boil with energy that bursts out it  in tumultuous solos from Gareth, the sideman (Laurence Cottle on bass and Ian Thomas on drums) or simply through an infectious pulse that has everyone swaying. This wasn’t raucous music (…well maybe sometimes). The repertoire, whilst predominantly Williams originals, felt like standards albeit reworked with a gloriously rich harmonic vocabulary. The leader seems umbilically connected to the American blues and bop beginnings of the music whilst infusing it with a zany humour and quirkiness.  This band skip through complex music at blistering tempos in odd time signatures  seemingly without breaking sweat. When they did play standards (and there were a few), Williams sang. It was a delight to hear Every thing I Love, It could happen to you, love in Vain done this way. Given the uncomprisingly dense harmonic and melodic language of the band it could have been jarring but here seemed absolutely appropriate. Every now and then the little red Nord keyboard was pressed into action and we were treated to a bit of electro – funk. This also cued a couple of thunderous drum solos from Ian Thomas. Being a piano-phile I could have lived with out the Nord incursions but they did make a certain sense in the context of the leaders lateral lines of repartee and musing. By the time we left, I felt like I’d been treated to a visit to the world of Gareth Williams and its was dazzling, exciting and just a bit exhausting.  Another cracking evening at the Future Inn with some of the finest musicians in the land.

Iain Ballamy and Anorak, Future Inn,Bristol, 6th December

What a thoroughly absorbing gig. I came away thinking about the music (of which more in a moment) having heard every flutter, rustle and shifting shape. This is a good place to really listen. The sound is good and the acoustic of the room sympathetic and what a treat – a proper piano; there is a bit of clatter from the bar upstairs but I didn’t find it intrusive. The whole endeavor has been assembled with love – use it or lose it jazz lovers.  I know coffee isn’t very jazz, but I seemed to cause chaos at the bar when I asked for one in the break – bit of training needed there. Back to that music.

To start the gig the band eased straight into a melodic rubato passage with cymbal shimmers and breathy sighs from the sax before launching  the driving modal workout that is the main section of Ballamy’s Tribute to Alan Skidmore’s Tribute to John Coltrane . Blistering solos from Iain and Gareth Williams at the piano set the tone for the evening. It struck me as I listened that nothing is straightforward about these original pieces by Ballamy. The band is constantly changing pace either by literally speeding up or finding different meters within the basic pulse and shifting gears. Bright catchy themes suddenly veer off into passages which almost sound like the harmony is in a different key to the melody before  dissipating the tension with a melodic flourish. Ballamy’s sound on sax is utterly distinctive both in the sound he gets and the phrasing and language. Whether you pay attention to the detail or let it wash over you, the themes have a really double sense of highly melodic appealing tunes whilst being kept off balancing by the shape shifting. It can sound deceptively straight forward. There was no doubt the band were equal to the challenge of making this music live and breath on the stand. Ballamy, Gareth Williams, martin France and Chris Laurence (who appeared to be depping for the evening) are all world class musicians. Being picky (we expect a lot of our world class bands in these parts)  I’m not totally convinced they were firing on all cylinders as a unit on this occasion…. I’ll just have to make sure I see them again to check that one out – it won’t be a hardship.

Round up: Azhar Saffar, Jazz Factory, Emma Hutchinson

Much as I love my CDs (and mp3s, 4s etc), its  good to remember jazz is a live music. The visceral excitement of sensing a band go up a gear in a heartbeat as somethings clicks is unbeatable. Friday last week at the Bebop (27th) we arrive a bit late – sorry Azhar – but walked into the rythmn section really fizzing. Anders Olinder on piano and keyboards and Will Harris on bass were really driving the band. They both play a bit ‘up’ on the beat and impart a real sense of energy and excitement to the simplest of swing tunes. A mark of class. I liked Azhar’s repertoire as well, ranging from Chic Corea, John Mclaughlin tunes, through originals and even a beautiful ballad credited to Kurt Elling which summoned a show stopping melodic bass solo from Will Harris – I swear everyone stopped breathing. On Monday, I popped into the Jazz Factory concert,  an end of term concert for the Bradford on Avon based workshops. This is one up for the inclusive end of music making. My random pleasurable moment was wondering what the approx 14 year old alto player and the flute player who could surely have been his gran, chat about whilst waiting their turn to have a blow on C-Jam blues. There are a good 50 ish people involved in this on a regular basis. I do sometimes wonder, if there are that many people doing the music (there are a number of other such workshops in the area) why the relatively few jazz gigs struggle for audience. Emma Hutchinson down at the vaults tonight had pulled a few folk in, but numbers have been a bit low this autumn. I hear that its likely that the pub will only support a monthly gig from January. Wade Edwards has sustained a minor miracle keeping the gig going. My source tells me that Iain Ballamy will be down at the end of January to put the trio through its paces so that will start the new year with a bang. If you can’t wait that long, get down to Future Inn in Bristol on Sunday to see Iain with his stellar ‘Anorak’ band.