Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.
Blib-Blob may have summed it up. The blistering bebop-ish theme twisted and leapt through the rhythm changes sequence, tenor (Gilad Atzmon) and alto (Alan Barnes) locked together. The groove though, was a self-consciously heavy handed, funky shuffle injecting a subversive flavour into the passionate blowing, a riotously serious delivery that pervaded the whole evening. This was Atzmon and Barnes with Atzmon’s regular, equal to and up for anything rhythm section of Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Chris Higinbottom on drums.
Pairing two primarily alto players of the prodigious fluency of these two might have signalled a touring ‘cutting contest’. The swagger and competitive blowing was tongue in cheek though, entertaining fire-works, less than half the story and wrapped around with plenty of self-deprecating and, courtesy of Atzmon, shoulder shruggingly bawdy humour.
The array of instruments across the front of the stage appeared in a variety of combinations. They’d kicked off with a funkily swinging groover, Barnes on baritone and Atzmon on alto duties before Blib Blob. Then a see-sawing, plaintive melody rendered by soprano and clarinet over a loping groove conjured a different mood. The fire-works started again with twin altos on a gloriously free-wheeling Alone Together, Barnes’ dazzling melodic invention contrasting with Atzmon’s fiery attack that veered off into a frenetic modal work out. Blomard changed the mood again with bass clarinet and clarinet combining on a melancholic bossa. Expectations of high octane blowing were inevitable and they weren’t disappointed, but the light and shade and evocative moods added an extra dimension.
The ‘marquee names’ may have been the draw but delightfully, for this listener, Frank Harrison kept threatening to demand at least equal billing. Time and again after a gale force blast from Atzmon, or dancing, whirling workout from Barnes, a beautifully judged shimmer and hanging phrase from Higginbottom and Stavi would set the scene for the pianist to build and develop solos that were full of invention, poetry and excitement. The second set saw him set up two ballads to perfection, Atzmon and Barnes getting through four instruments between them (tenor, alto, bass-clarinet clarinet) on Old Folks , a bit of a show-stopper – ‘for you’ quipped Barnes, risking his life, nodding at the audience). A thunderous groove and a grand finale on Spring in New York brought the house down and prompted another subverted be-bop tune with Donna-Lee at break neck tempo over a crunching rocky vibe.
Gilad Atzmon may have insisted they were called Lowest Common Denominator, but no-one in the once again packed out Hen & Chicken were in any doubt that they’d heard top class, committed, exuberantly entertaining 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.
Summer is a quiet time for regular club gigs. Punters are on holiday, goes the thinking so audiences will be small, except of festivals. I’m hoping that a couple of experiences in the last week or so are more in the ’twas ever thus (occasionally)’ bracket rather than ‘sign of the times’ audience wise. Last weekend Marlborough Jazz Festival, a fixture for 25 years on the circuit of summer outings and our gig barely had an audience – we weren’t alone in this, a quiet opening night (a power cut taking out half the gigs including ours for a time) meant that the organisers must have been holding their collective breath hoping numbers were up over the weekend. Another outing for my band to a much loved and great performance space in Cardiff and again the old gag ‘I’d just like to introduce the audience to the band’ could have been deployed. It could be us of course (ouch), but I keep hearing how unpredictable, frequently small audiences are for regular and some festival gigs. It just leaves me hoping that as the hard times seem to squeezing so many players and promoters at the moment that we don’t lose too many. Or was it ever thus?
Its not all gloom. Sarah Gillespie’s gig at Marlborough with Gilad Atzmon doing a star turn as himself, was enjoyed by a capacity crowd at the Town hall. The banter and interplay between Atzmon and the singer adding to the enjoyment of the show as well as the fabulous music. Sophisticated, political charged song writing, touching lots of stylistic reference points but consistently driven by Gillespie’s own rythmic acoustic guitar playing. A nice lift at the end of a soggy Friday night.
And there’s a few things to look forward to: my tickets for the rare appearance of Keith Jarrett with the standards trio are booked and we’ll be there for Wynton Marsalis’ last night at Ronnie’s at the end of August. The big hitters can still draw the crowds it seems.