Bath has its share of tourists, but we can hazard a guess that it may not have been just the Georgian architecture that drew Norwegian saxophonist Petter Wettre to Bath. His mate Jason Rebello lives here and lets face it, what are two long-time collaborators and fellow former Manu Katche sideman going to do when one comes a-visiting? Well, a gig of course and with Rebello’s son George pretty handy behind the drum kit, all that remained was to rope in another Bath resident, bass player Greg Cordez and the scene was set for vintage night down in St James’ favourite cellar.
This was no stand on ceremony gig. They were having fun, bringing some originals but plenty of familiar tunes appeared, but not always as we know them. After a gently grooving Wettre original Opportunity Fox as an opener, sinuous phrases from the sax cueing a reflective solo from Rebello, Bye Bye Blackbird‘s sparked recognition. The phrases were soon distorted however, twisting harmony scripted by the vistor making us do a double take. Autumn Leaves got similar treatment later in the set and both standards sparked pulsating burn-ups. This may have been an impromptu ‘pick up’ gig, but there was little sign of that as first Wettre and then Rebello senior shifted up through the gears. Wettre’s sound walks line between classic throaty tenor and a more astringent edgy sound (he was Manu Katchu’s choice or replacement for Jan Garbarek in his band). He dug into and traced mazy patterns all over the dense harmony. Rebello was in his element piling up layers of rhythm and glittering runs. They were definitely de-frosting a chilly evening.
There were moments when they leapt beyond what would have been a merely exhilarating evening. The deceptive simplicity and emotional directness with which they played the classic My Funny Valentine stopped the breath. It was hard not to hear echoes of Miles Davis era Herbie Hancock in some of Rebello’s instinctive flourishes on that tune, an impression reinforced as he took the band through one of Hancock’s funkier tunes Butterfly – the keyboard producing a fantastic squelchy Rhodes sound. Wettre produced a sizzling original in the second set Flavour of the Month that included some gravity defying unison playing between sax and piano with the drums somehow picking out all the accents.
The evening was full of implicit nods to heroes and influences and the finale of Joe Henderson’s Recordame was surely more than just fishing out a favourite jam session tune, Wettre’s fluency and groove over the familar harmony confirming his absorption of the master’s example. That was a great finale to a fizzing evening of top class music.
It’s taken a while. Bass player Greg Cordez had the tracks recorded a year ago we were hearing, having herded the frighteningly busy team of Jake McMurchie (tenor sax), Nick Malcom (trumpet), Jim Blomfield (piano) and Mark Whitlam (drums) into the studio. The occasional teaser has appeared on his website but now Paper Crane is released on Ninety and Nine records and the artefact is here, the CD cover artfully designed to look like it might have been recovered from a batch of a 1000 Paper Cranes and the quintet were at The Hen and Chicken on Sunday to launch it.
But first that CD: If an un-rushed build-up to the release was a deliberate strategy to stoke tension and anticipation, it mirrors much of the music on the compelling recording. A throbbing, repeated bass note launches Real and Imagined, Brown Bear begins with a lightly stepping repeating motif, piano and bass spelling it out, 8’23” with chiming piano chords, Black Bear arrives through clattering percussion and an insistent piano note. Each time, layers accrete and momentum builds as the piano binds things to together and the horns conjure affecting, slow moving melody lines. No need to rush. As these pieces reach their climax there’s a powerful emotional charge. There’s plenty of scope for soloing to grow out of the ensemble playing. Shcrodinger vs Cat with a thumping rock vibe and Up Quark with its rolling, propulsive momentum really build up a head of steam. Ballad November is a lyrical song, Malcolm’s keening trumpet sculpting beautiful lines over the cycling harmony. There’s a coherent musical vision running through the set, providing a frame for these formidable musicians to really sing and stretch.
If the recorded music draws the listener in and holds them, the live experience added another dimension. As carefully constructed as these compositions are, the repeated figures and riffs and driving grooves seemed to liberate McMurchie and Malcom further, Brown Bear stimulating a volcanic solo from McMurchie and Malcolm really letting fly on Blood Orange, a rare imported tune. Blomfield cut loose on 8’23” spiralling off into a solo piano interlude now rhapsodic now an eruption of two fisted rhythm, exploiting all the piano’s quirks.
They launched this music in style with a few ‘new’ ones from the Cordez pen whetting our appetite for more recorded output to come. No need to rush. The steady evolution will be compulsory viewing. Cordez himself supplied one the moments of the evening as he and Blomfield played All That Is as a duo, the bass channeling Charlie Haden with a sonorous melody and singing harmony from the piano.
A delight of an album, a fabulous gig.
Eight Minutes and Twenty Three Seconds is the time it takes light to travel from the sun to earth and the inspiration for a typical Greg Cordez composition. In the hands of his formidable quintet, it built steadily last night from Jim Blomfield‘s simple, fragile, piano opening to a roaring, all hands on deck climax, before subsiding suddenly to a whisper. The emotional punch was powerful, a pattern they’d followed most of the evening with bass player leader Cordez’s pieces developing an inexorable momentum over march-like, rocky pulses overlayed with themes that declared themselves steadily, given space to breath and take hold as first one soloist and then the next developed and expanded them. This band debuted over two years ago at the BeBop and since then the repertoire has evolved into mainly originals with an album due for release soon on the New York based Ninety and Nine record label. Tenor man Jake McMurchie‘s regular foil Nick Malcolm was absent from the line-up that recorded the album, with Nick Dover stepping in forming a twin tenor frontline for the evening. The two horns blended beautifully, now stating another of Cordez’s compelling melodic fragments, now offering contrasting developments of the looping sequences, Jake’s throaty, warm sound swooping and crying, Nick offering an edgier sound and probing harmonic embellishments, no less emotionally laden. The only tunes not from the leaders’ pen were by American bassist Todd Sickafoose. Blood Orange’s hooky theme over a snappy groove set Jim Blomfield up for a blistering solo with a Rhodes sound, shimmering clouds of notes scattered between wild percussive episodes. The twin tenors came in with a shout chorus cum backing riff and suddenly everyone was blowing, Mark Whitlam‘s drumming goading theme on. It was thrilling stuff. Later, after the Eight Minutes and Twenty Three seconds of ever brightening sunlight, another Blomfield workout, this time solo piano, segued the band into the sumptuous ballad Camilla Rose, before 1000 Paper Cranes traced another arc to end the gig, from simple chiming phrase on piano underpinned by a bass figure through swelling, building, melody and impassioned blowing back to that chiming phrase. On this showing the album, Paper Crane will be well worth catching. Meanwhile you can get some previews from Greg’s website.
Its a couple of years now since bass player, and general making things happen man Greg Cordez debuted his quintet at the BeBop club. Since then the band has been making occasional appearances locally and their set list has been evolving. As well as organising a series of jam sessions over the years, an email from Greg was the stimulus for getting the Bristol Composers Collective going. A series of bands have released CDs since that include music (and musicians) first trialled at the collective’s more or less regular monthly gigs (Michelson Morley, Kevin Figes’ Octet to name two) . Now Greg looks to be next in line. With the same line-up still in place from that first gig, bristling with creativity (Jim Blomfield on keys, Mark Whitlam on drums, Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Jake McMurchie on sax) Greg has managed to align their busy diaries for long enough to record an album of his compositions which is near release. We know this because he’s been sneaking out a preview reel with a fun graphic and a taster track with slightly mysteriously accompanying footage from the Apollo 17 landing. I’ve not heard a release date, but the album is coming soon and it sounds like it’ll be tasty when it arrives.
The welcome reappearance of the sun over Bath recently may turn our thoughts to summer and festivals, and for seekers of jazz (fairly) nearby Cheltenham and Bath (hurrah, jazz is back in the programme) on the early and late May Bank Holidays certainly do the honours, not to mention Brecon celebrating 30 years in mid- August, but a quick survey of what’s coming up locally highlights the quality and range of the week by week options. World beating visitors there may be (and there certainly are), but our world beating local residents show no sign of slowing down so an illustrative round-up is in order, before flagging up who’s coming to visit.
In Bath, the longstanding residency of Wade Edwards‘ Jazzhouse Trio at St. James Wine Vaults continues, welcoming a stream of top quality guests. Fine local trumpeter Dan Reid is there on 1st May, on the 8th former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman and for many, one of the finest jazz musicians this country has produced, Jason Rebello visits with son George on drums and Somerset based Sam Crockatt on tenor who also has a national reputation. Another British jazz legend Art Themen returns to the Vaults on 12th June. An intermittent residency has emerged at The Fringe Bar in Bristol’s Clifton Village. ECM recording artist and global star Andy Sheppard has been appearing there regularly with a variety of line-ups including the much loved Pushy Doctors, a developing new quartet with guitarist Denny Illett and various one off hook- ups. He’s there on Thursdays 24th April, 15th May, 12th June and the 24th July. In between there’s a mix of really high quality local bands including James Morton, John Pearce and Dave Newton, Kevin Figes, Freight and many others. Thursdays are busy in Bristol with jazz at The Future Inn (now with a £5 cover charge but free parking thrown in) hosting a similarly strong line-up. George Cooper (on May 1st), Celestine Walcott Gordon, as seen on the Voice, Andy Hague, James Gardiner Bateman and Dave Newton Trio are there in May. In Bath the legendary Bell is doing its bit to showcase locally based bands with a wider reputation. Kevin Figes Quartet are there on June 8th with Freight featuring Craig Crofton and Bath based bass maestro Greg Cordez on July 7th. Earlier in June the groovier end of jazz gets its turn with the George Mabusa Band on 11th June and the peerless John Paul Gard with Jon Dalton on an annual visit from Los Angeles on 9th June. And there’s more, and more and more. Bristol blogger Jon Turney does a weekly round-up that reaches parts this taster can’t; it’s always worth checking our what he’s spotted if you’re heading out on a whim.
There are a few very notable visitors gracing venues nearby over the next couple of months. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart brings his Anticipating Ellington band to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday April 26th. The CD of this band was on many critics album of the year last year and its a cracking line-up. The following week, on Monday 28th, Mercury Prize nominated Led Bib land at The Bell. “Two saxes deliver raw energy and grit, the moodswings and slowdowns are tightly rehearsed and tunes are catchy” according to Mike Hobart in the FT . May 10th back at the Wiltshire Music Centre its pianist Niki Iles’ Printmakers with a band containing a who’s who of British contemporary jazz including Norma Winston, guitarist Mike Walker and that man Mark Lockheart again. Amongst a strong programme of local bands the BeBop Club has great London band visiting in Dave Manington’s Riff Raff in May and local man Nick Malcolm’s Quartet are there as part of a national tour in June.There’s action at Bristol’s Colston Hall too with Phronesis, the hottest trio ticket in town just now with their Scandinavian-British blend of complex but grooving jazz there on May 23rd and then late in June Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra for a celebration of Blue Notes 70th anniversary to the main hall.
This is an embarrassment of riches even without the festivals nearby. Cheltenham Festival on the first bank holiday covers the universe of jazz in tents, the town hall and small theatres. An astonishing line-up with something to make your mouth water whatever your favourite flavour. Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling will be hanging out with a re-united Loose Tubes and the hottest of New York young tyros trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to pick a few at random. Check out the programme. Brecon’s mid -August extravagnaza has a similar spread with some of the same names but plenty of individuality and eye catchingly Burt Baccharach headlining. Bath sounds a welcome, different note. It’s also smaller in scale but there’s a focussed weekend of gigs in the Guildhall and a cross-over finale in the abbey of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. It’s a welcome return.
After gate-crashing the Collective’s informal meeting last week, the lure of this week’s performance was strong. They’d had a last minute change of plans as Jake McMurchie, originally scheduled to lead the session, was away on Get the Blessing duties. Most of what transpired is summarised here on Jazzwise’s site. Intimate probably underplays the atmosphere. When all the assembled musicians clambered on stage for a final, genuinely unscripted and spontaneous composition, those of us left in the audience were outnumbered. There were a handful of different contributors of compositions; Keven Figes, Nick Dover, Jeff Spencer, Greg Cordez, Mike Willox – his absence notwithstanding! Some had come with sketches that the band on stage turned into a ‘moment’ . Greg Cordez arrived with a couple of sections of harmony hastily sketched out on a till roll – ‘this is what my day dream sounds like’ ; that turned out to be a resonant, singing, sighing folky ballad full a melancholic peacefulness expressed in breathy soaring phrases from saxes. Jeff Spencer’s Anti Freeze was the result of a ‘Sarasate moment’ he explained; this involved leaping out of bed in the middle of the night to scribble an idea down as the Spanish violinist/ composer was reputed to have down. The result, a series of instructions along the lines of “.. do this sort of thing, and when the sax does something, you do the next sort of thing…” produced the most satisfying freely improvised piece of the evening with real shape and drama. It was all great fun, hugely entertaining and wonderful music making. These regular sessions deserve a bigger audience even if the bigger pay off in the long run may be the projects with which this eclectic bunch of musicians are involved.
Afterglow. A sure sign of a great gig. Specific details of two hours of music fade, although there will be memorable moments for sure, but your own response stays with you. For this inaugural outing, Greg Cordez’s Quintet played music assembled by the leader, some self-penned others his arrangements for this band of an eclectic mix of tunes from the ground breaking trio Bad Plus, through jazz giants Hank Mobley and Charles Mingus via bang up to date, somewhat less well known contemporary American players – Todd Sickafoose anyone? And they certainly triggered the afterglow effect. ‘Silence is the Question’, penned by Bad Plus’s Reid Anderson built over several minutes, from unaccompanied, emphatically stated phrases on the bass to an overwhelming roar from just piano bass and drums. The underlying tempo never really accelerated beyond the heart beat pulse at which the march like progression started. The emotional punch was big and made a bold opening to the gig. It certainly grabbed the (once again a bit more than) capacity crowd. There followed two more tunes at a similar tempo albeit with contrasting moods. Charlie Haden’s My Love and I was a song like melody with Nick Malcolm’s trumpet and Jake McMurchie’s tenor blending beautifully in tone as well as Greg’s arranged harmonies. On this and Greg’s own tune November that followed, it was evident what a great band he’s assembled. These are all players with big reputations in their own right and in demand nationally (internationally in the case of Jake’s band Get the Blessing) but they showed their class and the strength of the writing and material in the way their playing was full or surprises and response to these particular tunes. Jim Blomfield on piano showed a lyrical melodic side to his playing not always on display in more blazing post bop settings in which we often see him reminding us, if we needed it, what a complete player he is. If the first part of the set made our heart’s swell, then there was plenty to make the blood fizz as well. The Hank Mobley tune was an uptempo swing number; thos Todd Sickafoose tunes morphed from electronic rumbles through spooky off-centre grooves into open sections that gave the front line space for blazing soloing. Nick Malcolm showed his imagination and speed of thought with an incendiary work out on Blood Orange. On the Mingus tune Jake’s endlessly inventive blowing really pumped it up ending with wailing almost vocal note getting the crowd whooping along. This was a really varied set, assembled with transparent pleasure and open mindedness by the leader. The mysterious, magical combination of fine, improvising musicians interacting with each other and the raw material of these compositions and arrangements produced a special gig on Friday. Lets hope they get opportunities to do it again.