The late list, my favourite moments and sounds of the last 12 months.

The ‘best of’/’highlights lists’ for 2015 have been and gone and there were a lot of them this year it seemed.  They are always entertaining. Jazzwise mag inveigled a huge cast list to each compile one with a complex point scoring system – always intriguing results.  I managed not to do one in December, or even early January (I just got busy… didn’t get around to it).  There is pleasure to be had in looking back however. So here we go.  It’ a very personal selection, dependent entirely on my idiosyncratic preferences and what may have appealed on a particular day or at different times.  Rules of my game are explained for Live thrills and recorded pleasures respectively.

Gigs & Live Moments  ( a small slice)

For a live gig or moment within a gig, the simple rule is  ‘Can I still conjure up the moment and the thrill?’, or maybe  it returns unbidden to give me a tingle of pleasure at the recollection.

Anthony Braxton at the Lantern, Colston Hall in Bristol for his only UK appearance. A unique and mysterious improviser I’ve remained haunted by the Ghost Trance Music

Julian Arguelles  at Cheltenham Festival with a septet playing inventive arrangements of his enchanting, exuberant music

When I looked back, I realised a trio of duos with Gwilym Simcock stuck out:

Gwilym Simcock/ Jason Rebello at Wiltshire Music Centre in the Bath Festival. Intergenerational? Maybe, but certainly interactive and plenty of fireworks alongside lyrical flights

Gwilym Simcock/ Brigitte Beraha at Falmouth University, an impromptu moment at the end of a solo concert, a moment of magic as piano and voice took flight together on I fall in love too easily

Gwilym Simcock/ Michael Wollny at a tribute to John Taylor, two former pupils of the maestro let fly on Ambleside Days, an extra ordinary moment.

Norma Winstone/ Ralph Towner Another tribute/ celebration and another duo.  These two slid into a version of Celeste that gave me goosebumps at an ‘Evocation’ of Kenny Wheeler’s music in London Jazz Festival.

Paolo Conte at the Barbican. Is it jazz? Cabaret? Pop?  Who cares – the veteran, unclassifiable  Italian crooner wove his spell and charmed everyone ( that’ll be me and what seemed like a significant proportion of Italian and Italian descended London residents)

Kamasi Washington at the Lantern again this time for one of two UK appearances(the Lantern had a good year for coups!) and demonstrating live with only septet (no massed choirs or orchestra on hand) why his debut deserved the title The Epic

I could list all those moments at my regular haunts (St. James Wine Vaults, Bath; BeBop Club; increasingly irresistible, The Hen and Chicken), however one each:

Iain Ballamy – at the Wine Vaults. Never knowingly miss an opportunity to hear him. Back in January last year at the Wine Vaults, just the theme from East of Sun was worth the trip.

Wildflower Sextet – at the BeBop Club early in the year. Any Wayne Shorter related outing is likely to get my but this sextet led by Matt Anderson were a particular delight.

Hotel Bristol –  at The Hen and Chicken. Fierce competition for this slot, but the Andy Sheppard orchestrated quartet has it with fierce blowing, delectable melodies and grooves and the inevitable top-drawer collaborators.

Recorded Music

In the case of  recorded music the question is ‘Do I still get the urge to play the CD/ Download?’     Memory can be deceptive and what happened most recently can loom larger than it should. Discovering that iTunes has sneakily logged a good proportion of my listening, reveals what have been the most frequent of my ‘just got to listen to that again’ or ‘I’m in the mood for..’ choices.  Taken alongside what has got stuck in my (old tech) six CD changer and picking a few faves from albums I’ve reviewed, generates a list that may reveal more about my preferences than anything else, but also looks pretty high quality to me.

 Heavily edited in the interests of not overdoing it –

Stuck in the CD changer

Kamasi Washington – all three discs of The Epic. It’s a throwback (whether jazz or dance music), its very current, its so the ‘next thing’, its irresistible.

Julian Arguelles – Let it Be Told,   Mining the South African repertoire and arranging for Big Band its fabulous (and coming to Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2016)

Babelfish – Chasing Rainbows was this piano, voice, bass and percussion quartet’s second outing. Understated, fizzing with energy, creativity and exquisitely twisted melody.

Reviewed with humility and repeating on the playlist

Andy Sheppard  –  Surrounded by Sea.  Trio Librero with the addition of Elvind Aarstead, whisperingly magical

Charles LloydWild Man Suite, a unique instrumentation. Maybe only Charles Lloyd would respond to the suggestion of adding strings by doing it with lyra and cimbalom, but its vintage Lloyd

The Printmakers – its been a bit of wait, but in Westerly at last we have a recording of this sublime and joyful music from Brit super group

Others, some reviewed some not, but high on the count of ‘plays’

Bebe Buchanan Tagel  – Gone . Danish outfit, featuring that Arguelles chap again. Euro? Yes, lyrical? Yes? Distinctive – oh yes.  Thanks Peter Bacon for the review tip-off

Drifter  – Flow An Edition Records orchestrated quartet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano. Vibrant, exciting contemporary jazz

Mads La Cour – Almuji  I keep returning to this loose limbed, weaving in and out of structures blowing from the Norwegian trumpeter’s quartet

Eyebrow  – Garden City hypnotic and uplifting slowly evolving grooves and hooks from this trumpet, drums and effects duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens

Indigo Kid – Fistful of Notes Not nearly enough fanfare around this second outing for Dan Messore’s quartet playing his enticing and quirky melodies

Veneri Pohjola Another Edition Records release, early in 2015, Finnish trumpeter Pohjola on a set of emotion packed originals and the leaders gorgeous, bang up to date trumpet sound kept calling me back

 

My little slice of London Jazz Festival

London Jazz Festival – oof! The producers Serious had a neat little strap line this year that ran ‘2,000+ artists. 300+ gigs. 50+ venues. 23 years. 1 city’.  There was even a ‘pop-up’ radio station, a first and a joint enterprise between the Beeb and JazzFM. No traffic was stopped or streets closed (to my knowledge), but the festival was surely hard to miss if you’ve even a passing interest in jazz or the very large umbrella that embraces ‘jazz inspired’ or ‘jazz related’.   My own little skirmish with the gargantuan proportions of the programme seems extremely modest, but the afterglow is still there a week later, so here’s a quick sum up together with links (I reviewed them for London Jazz News).

My nearly-a- weekend (Thursday to Saturday) was bookended by ‘An Evocation of the music of Kenny Wheeler (review here) in the august surroundings of Cadogan Hall and  ‘A tribute to Bill Evans’ in the more louche, authentic jazz club of the 606 Club (review here).  In between was the even sweatier, literally underground, scene of the Con Cellar Bar with a double header of today’s rising stars George Crowley‘s Can of Worms and Kit Downes’ The Enemy (review here).

The Kenny Wheeler had a dazzling line-up. Check the website but did they really have Ralph Towner on for just three numbers and twenty minutes?  Gwilym Simcock (poignantly, effectively a dep for John Taylor) and Chris Laurence similarly in a short ‘last quintet’ set? Well yes they did.  Somehow they hit their stride instantly.  Moments of pure ‘hairs standing on the back of the neck’ magic for me were  Norma Winstone and Ralph Towner doing Celeste. The uncanny blend of Norma’s voice and Towner’s guitar made time pause for a moment. The London Vocal Project were remarkable. Never mind their rhythm section of Dave Holland, Nikki Iles and Martin France(!), they were simply thrilling as they leapt around the melody of Humpty Dumpty their voices another exquisite blend such that I kept checking it wasn’t just one person singing.

The Bill Evans tribute had its own share of thrills. The sound an repertoire is so familiar, but the glow in the memory is from the quality of the band and the performances. Nikki Iles led the core trio and B minor Waltz, as well as starting the evening, set the bar high. From sketchy phrases, long notes and rustles from the drums, the energy and intensity seemed to grow and flower rather than self-consciously build. Magical stuff.

Con Cellar Bar’s menu was altogether more frenetic,dense but no less thrilling.  London Jazz Fest seems to hoover up some regular London gigs into its programme to everyone’s benefit. This was a home match for these players, in many cases now with big reputations,  with perhaps an audience from further afield than the regular crowd at this particular venue. Its one whose reputation has spread as so many of our current maturing talents have cut their teeth there.  There’s nervousness about its longevity as the pub is due for a re-furb. Let’s hope it continues.

Mine was a wafer thin slice through this huge, wide ranging festival. London Jazz News awesomely reviewed over 60 in total (so just 20% or so!) including this short summary of 35 or so.  Just scanning it is a little bit tiring, but inspiring that there’s so much great music being created, live, and people still going to see it.   Oof!

 

Piano Summit: Tribute to John Taylor, Purcell room, Wednesday 9th September

The joyous, dancing theme of Ambleside Days erupted out of the boiling, rhythmic tumult of percussive chords and hand damped strings that Michael Wollny and Gwilym Simcock exchanged to launch their duet.  It was  towards the end of two hours of rotating occupancy of the piano stools by a total of eight pianists and was a scintillating, dazzling display. After exchanging phrases of the theme, the soaring climax was delivered in unison. Simcock unleashed blistering, rhapsodic run after run somehow combining exuberance and attack with a flowing lyricism in a mesmerizing passage, the effect only heightened by the percussive barrage from Wollny. It was not hard to imagine that both had enjoyed a playful mauling from John Taylor as the other pianist at some time on this very tune, both having been taught by him in Cologne and London respectively.

Wednesday night’s ‘Jazz Piano Summit’, of which this was the climax, was originally planned as a launch gig for Taylor and Richard Fairhurst’s  two piano duet album. It became, after Taylor’s sudden death in July, a tribute, celebration and, at times elegy, in music as well as words to the unique and towering figure in jazz. Wollny and Simcock’s extraordinary performance seemed like all three and a fitting conclusion to the evening as they played out on what sounded like another Taylor burner.

Throughout the evening, Jazz FMs Helen Mayhew had encouraged the pianists to say something about John Taylor and his music and what individually it meant to them.  Whether by design or unwittingly it served to the illustrate the mysterious blend and range of characteristics that made his music so distinctive.  Liam Noble spoke of an attitude and playful approach to making music, Trish Clowes instantly heard an almost orchestral dimension and richness to his playing, Gwilym Simcock recognised an unwavering commitment to giving everything in a performance.  For some, there was still a palpable sense of shock and loss as they spoke of time spent with him.

Duos in different combinations (Tom Hewson/ John Turville, Michale Wollny and Trish Clowes, Wollny/ Fairhurst, Wollny/ Simcock, Kit Downes/ Tom Cawley)  solo spots (from Liam Noble, John Turville) produced wildly differing music, some obviously from the Taylor canon or inspired by his sound ; some utterly individual and distinctive whilst being inspired by an approach or an incident. It was unfailingly absorbing.   Downes and Cawley opened the second set with music of tenderness and luminous beauty. Quietly dancing piano figures gave why to insistent grooves and soaring poetic lines from Cawley or smouldering runs from Downes. It was a moment of special magic amongst much treasure. Liam Noble delivered a typically angular and sideways approach to I’m Old Fashioned somehow making the appearance of the theme, voiced with dense chords and edgily swinging a tense emotional moment.  After a head clearing free improvisation from Wollny and Fairhurst came that thunderous finale.  It was a remarkable evening even without its greater significance. The reason for the surely never to be repeated meeting,  gave the occasion an extra and special charge.

An August Week in the West Part 2: Gwilym Simcock Solo, University of Falmouth

There are moments in music that seem so right, so beautifully judged, that they both remain suspended in the memory and can eclipse to some extent what led up to them.   After a scintillating and at times gravity defying solo set in the well appointed and intimate performance space at Falmouth University’s performance centre, Gwilym Simcock invited Brigitte Beraha to join him for the inevitable encore. The totally absorbed and universally thrilled audience was drawn mainly from students on the Jazz Summer School and Brigitte was one of their tutors for the week. What followed was a little piece of alchemy. A few stroked abstract chords, Beraha’s wordless sighs and gliding phrases and then I fall in Love to Easily unfolded. A repetition of the stanza followed with the melody distorted and tugged, Simcock following every move with chords by turns lush and sparse.  It’d be tempting to reference Shirley Horne for the sense of pacing or Betty Carter for the imagination with melody and words, but that would perhaps not do justice to Simcock and Beraha’s artistry and simply re-state a jazz truth: great musicians absorb and transmute the ideas an innovations of those that have gone before and weave their own magic. And as the last words dissolved in a sigh and the the piano’s chords faded, it was a piece of pure magic they’d created.

The solo performance that had preceded it had been magical in its own right. Simcock’s now almost taken for for granted protean talents were deployed on exhilarating rhythmic workouts, Barber inspired barely believable counterpoint on Barber’s Blues and exquisite re-workings of the familiar on Everytime we Say Goodbye and, emotionally, Everyone’s Song But My Own. No matter how furious or dense the textures, there was no stopping fluid melodic lines breaking through. It was a breathtaking performance and then followed that encore.  What a moment to stumble across on an evening, in August, in Falmouth.

January Roundup – Gigs and CDs.

A quick look back at January’s diary confirms a cracking month of listening and gig going. Aside from Anthony Braxton, and Iain Ballamy early on, I caught Tom Green‘s Septet at Burdalls Yard at the start of a lengthy national tour. A rousing start to the month and my account is on Jazzwise’s website. A couple of CDs confirmed what a service two still relatively young labels, Whirlwind and Edition, are performing for our jazz scene. Both labels were of course  started by musicians (Mike Janisch and Dave Stapleton). The-Gate-High-Res-CoverOn Whirlwind, The Gate is bass player Phil Donkin‘s debut release as a leader after an already stellar career as a sideman, (my review for London Jazz here). Edition have done it again in signing another formidable European player, this time distinctive Finnish trumpeter Veneri Pohjola. His album Bullhorn has been stuck on my playlist (review here). EDN1056_Verneri_Pohjola_Bullhorn

And then an epic weekend starting with Head South‘s authentic Latin grooves fronted by UK trumpet meister Steve Waterman at the BeBop Club. Chino Martell Morgan‘s percussion blended with Buster Birch’s rocket fuelled drumming to stir anyone’s blood, all MD’d by keysman John Harriman locked tight with Alsofredo Pulido‘s bass for the night.   The Impossible Gentlemen at Wiltshire Music Centre followed on Saturday.  Oh, its good to see them back again. Jon Turney’s review nicely  impossible_gentscaptures the thrill. They roar and raunch and sigh and swoon in equal measure. There’s a singing bittersweet voicing of  chords from Mike Walker‘s guitar blending with Gwilym Simcock‘s piano that’s almost a signature sound: my ole heart flipped over as a new tune Hold Out For The Sun launched the gig with just such a cycling sequence.  The local jazz scene were out in force to appreciate.  The weekend was topped off by Andy Sheppard and Denny Illett’s Hotel Bristol on Sunday at the Hen & Chicken. I’ve nothing to add to this. I’m not sure I can stand the pace.

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.

Here comes London Jazz Festival – An eleven pianist route through the programme

Thud. The London Jazz Festival brochure’s audible arrival on my doormat hinted at the bewildering choice on offer.  Running to over sixty pages detailing the 10 days, 250+ gigs in 50+ venues,  where do you start if you want to look beyond some of the already sold out headliners? Well here’s a completely idiosyncratic set of choices based on my personal history with jazz.  Having fumbled and crashed around on piano for almost as long as I’ve been listening, pianists have often caught my attention.

First a list: Geri Allen, John Taylor, Jacky Terasson, Brad Mehldau, Danilo Perez, Enrico Pieranunzi, Tom Cawley, Marcin Wasilewski, Gwylim Simcock, Kit Downes, Reuben James.

They are all appearing at the festival although not necessarily under their own names, the list is in the order, very roughly, of when I discovered them and started listening to them.  Geri Allen an early one, never quite understanding what I was hearing just knowing it had a subtle blend of beauty and excitement in the context of superficially familar jazzy styles; John Taylor just took my breath away – the richness of the harmony was the first thing that grabbed me, and its never let me go; Jacky Terasson seemed to be able to play in any style but his sense of space and understatement always captivating. A one off album with Cassandra Wilson remains a favourite – whose inspired ideas was that? Brad Mehldau a unique new voice since I excitedly bought ‘Introducing’ and an early ‘Art of the Trio’ on a trip to New York (was that one when we saw Geri Allen at the Vanguard with Buster Williams wearing a blouse with sleeves too long and sitting on telephone directory… Geri Allen that is, not Buster Williams!…? Maybe). Danilo Perez, his music introduced to me by a friend and thinking I’d never seen anyone play with such freedom and passion when we saw the Motherland project at Ronnie’s and Enrico Pieranunzi, who I was convinced was an Italian John Taylor for a while so unlike anything I’d heard before, so rich a harmonic palette rooted in the jazz canon – maybe Bill Evans would sound like them if he’d been born later and in Europe. And then a new generation emerged, almost fully formed it seemed and I’ve listened to them explore and reveal new delights in all sorts of contexts, only Reuben James remains unrepresented in my CD collection. I’m sure that won’t last much longer.
Looking at their gigs in the programme,  the projects and bands they are appearing with are pretty varied (some clash), so they offer a satisfyingly wiggly route through large and small gigs, and all over London

Geri Allen – with ACS at the Barbican, part of Shorter Sunday (17th); John Taylor, with Kenny Wheeler on Monday 18th at the Queen Elizabeth Hall; Jacky Terasson – guest with Jazz at the Philharmonic, Sunday 17th, Milton Court Concert Hall; Brad Mehldau – Brad Mehaldau and Mark Guiliana, Thursday 21st Barbican, Danilo Perez – with Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican, Sunday 17th, Enrico Pieranunzi, with his trio, Friday 15th, Bishopsgate Institute; Tom Cawley, with Trio Red at King’s Place, Saturday 23rd (double bill with Nik Baertsch); Marcin Wasilewski with Arild Anderson Quintet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Saturday 16th; Gwilym Simcock, three night residency ‘Eurozone’ at Pizza Express Friday – Sunday 22nd – 24th and a solo gig Tuesday 19th at St. Stephen’s Rosslyn Hill; Kit Downes, with julian Arguelles at the 606 Tuesday 19th and the same evening later on, Reuben James at the 606. Something tells me both of these guys may be playing elsewhere as well that I haven’t spotted.

There’s so much more, even just sticking to pianists, this is just one slice through based on my listening history.  Enough to melt the sturdiest, most frozen heart I’d say.