Cloudmaker Trio Five, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 15th January

img_2064

The Cloudmakers touched down at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday bringing a healthy crowd out to experience the dense thickets of rhythm, mazy themes and explosive playing of the expanded trio. Vibes man and composer Jim Hart, drummer Dave Smith and getting to be a Hen and Chicken regular, Michael Janisch on bass are joined by Hannes Riepler on guitar and Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto and clarinet for their pretty extensive current tour.

This was music with a lot going on. Two in one began to seem like a theme.  A piece combining elements of All the Things You Are and Ornithology had been preceded by Travelling Pulse Somewhere North of Ghana, built around a complex rythmn but referencing colder Nordic climes.  The second set started with The Road for Ed a demented, wonky samba-like groove overlayed with a slow moving free-boppish theme.  It spiralled off into urgent freeblowing with Hoang and then flipped back to the hurtling groove behind a blistering vibes workout.

Watching Janisch look first at Smith, then Hart with a quiet smile as rockets of rythmn seem to pass between them summed something about the gig up. They were individually and in combination electrifying, Hart sublimely fluid and inventive with Smith seeming to catch every accent and kick almost before it happened.

Hoang was a revelation. From unearthly squawks, honks and atmospheric squeals to percussive and dramatic blowing, Harts writing gave him plenty of action.  Riepler was adding ghostly textures and atmosphere as often as digging in.   It wasn’t all tumult. Golden‘s simple motif, emerging from a meditative Riepler introduction swelled to an anthemic climax.   The gig closed with Back Home, full of yearning  and shimmering atmosphere.

The quintet are individually top drawer players. Hart’s writing and their empathy meshes them into a formidable unit.

New Year Post 1: A word or two about Andy Sheppard

Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the  Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience.  First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music.  A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the  unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.

And why valedictory?  Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal.  Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion.  Its also made me a bit reflective.  The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.

Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol,  but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz.  Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro,  world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album),  made me want to listen again.  One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton  who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album

Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years.  And he’ll be back.  The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March.  It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect.  Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music.  Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with  the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.

Recent Highlights 2: Norma Winstone Celebration and Dominic Howles Quintet

The London Jazz Festival is brain-melting in the volume and variety of music and IMG_1951.jpgexperiences on offer over a ten day period in November.  I could only make one gig, but what a night it was, duly reviewed for London Jazz here. That piece hopefully captures some of the magic of being there.   The second set with a full orchestra and sublime arrangements by the late Steve Gray overwhelmed the senses. Since the gig I have also been reflecting on how extraordinary the trio is. With just clarinets, piano and voice they cover ground from Madonna, Tom Waits and exultant and dramatic originals.  Check out the CDs on ECM; a unique sound, distilled and expansive all at once.   I’ve also been giggling ever since about over hearing the man on the ticket desk explaining to someone that Manfred Eicher (ECM boss) was not now coming.  I did ask if I could use the tickets he was going to have – ‘I sat in Manfred Eicher’s seat’ was going to sound good over an expresso in a suitably hip cafe – but I was told ‘your seats are better than his’!

There’s an unexpected link between that gig and last Sunday’s visit to the Hen and Chicken by Dominic Howles’ Quintet. Norma’s gig featured the arrangements of  composer, arranger, pianist Steve Gray many of which were penned with Norma in mind. Gray died in 2008 and, it turns out was Dominic’s father-in-law. The Quintet that Howles brought to the Hen and Chicken had plenty of fire-power. With the Fishwick brothers on drums and trumpet, Dave O’Higgins on tenor and Nick Tomalin on piano, they ripped into Howles’ originals and arrangements. The repertoire was firmly in swinging, Blue Note and sixties driving jazz territory, given a thrilling edge by the contemporary sensibilities and sound of the fluent band.  The Police’s Message in a Bottle got a jazz working over, odd time-signatures and angular harmony giving it a darker edge,  the shuffling groover Ease Up got everyone going. Time after time O’Higgins sculpted graceful lines over dense, twisting harmony, with bursts and flurries of notes wriggling through,  building the excitement. The temperature went up every time he stepped forward. There was no doubting where Howles’ heart lies with nods at Benny Golson, a tribute to Coltrane firmly in Moments Notice/ Giant Steps territory over a rolling groove and a borrowed Ray Brown arrangement of Remember.  Meet me at the Deli, another bluesey shuffle and the newly formed band, easing into the arrangements were well and truly cooking. They are out and about over the next few months with an album in production, so look out for more

 

Andrew Bain’s Embodied Hope Quartet, Hen & Chicken, Sunday 13th November

Andrew Bain may sound Scottish (he is) and may be listed as a teacher at Birmingham img_1943Conservatoire (he does teach there), but really, we discovered last night,  he’s part of a very hot New York crew.  Hen & Chicken punters got to hear them at the end of a 14 date run and it showed in the ease and freedom with which they explored Bain’s suite of seven original pieces.

Jon Irabagon (twice Downbeat critics poll winner) led the charge on Accompaniment, a loose rubato theme swept along by tumbling percussion from Bain, the droning bass of Whirlwind Records boss Michael Janisch and splashy piano from Jack DeJohnette and Cassandra Wilson sideman img_1948(amongst many others),   George Colligan.  The tumult built with Irabagon alternately keening and squalling then spinning out blizzards of lightning quick runs before handing the baton to Colligan.  Practice showed us how rooted in rhythm they all were with a time shifting groove and preposterous mazy unison rendition of the theme by sax and piano. Colligan let rip with the first of several electrifying work-outs ,Bain and Janish exuberantly following every step, the drums instinctively connecting with img_1941accents and bass propelling the headlong frenzy. Responsibility alternated between a shuffling groove and driving swing for a blues,  Janisch digging in to raise the temperature with his solo.   Hope  had a chiming repeated note to set img_1946the mood and Irabagon’s solo soared and swooped over a skirling rythmn. Hope got a little raucous too as there seemed to no holding the momentum of this band back.

Bain had created the outlines of the pieces for this band to work with, it was the four-way interaction that brought it all bursting  to life. They moved in an out of free-er sections, grooved hard and burned  on frequent bursts of racing swing, frequently switching between them with no apparent cues. This was a fabulous, exhilarating ride and the last section, Trust an appropriately rousing, hymn-like, emotional finale.

‘Do not miss gigs’ – South West, Autumn Preview Pt 4

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.

Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet, Hen and Chicken, Friday 13th May

It’s obvious really. The New York based, guitar led quartet with a hot reputation and Grammy winning pianist on-board had the twenty plus tour dates around Europe sorted.  The London date at Pizza Express was booked. Another couple of dates in UK?  Well one has got to be the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster of course. We don’t know how promoter Ian Storrer does it, but there was no doubting the appreciation of the capacity crowd the gig lured to the pub’s upstairs room on a sunny Friday evening.

2016-05-13 20.10.36They eased in gently. Colin Stranahan set up an infectiously crisp, shuffling groove on the drums and a subtly twisted Stella by Starlight unfolded  over singing open chords. Jonathan Kreisberg’s fluently, lyrical solo was nudged along by the tasteful sparse comping and characteristic rhythmic stabs of pianist Dave Kikoski,.  It was a perfect starter. Delicious, appetite whetting but just a taster of what was to come.

The rest of the two sets were mainly Kreisberg originals and whilst the takeaway memories of the gig are of glittering musicianship, volcanic soloing and an electric understanding and interaction within the band, Kreisberg’s writing was one of the stars of the show. Rhythmically dense and intricate themes shape shifted into a modal work-out for solos, or a gear change to a different meter revealed a simpler appealing melody or groove around which the piece was built.  There were breakneck tempos, locked tight with unison lines between guitar and piano and then an unadorned, ever so so slightly wonky lilting waltz with a carefully crafted melody allowed to sing.

Wild Animals We’ve Seen had a relaxed rocking groove, a theme of repeating and morphing  motifs with 2016-05-13 20.04.31little darting phrases. Kresiberg built the energy with a steadily thickening cascade of ideas before Kikoski uncorked the first of his incendiary solos of the evening.  Ideas were sketched with sharply struck chords, shaded in with darting runs then pummelled into a variety of shapes with shimmering volleys of notes. Occasionally he’d freeze over the keys, before diving back in. It was repeated throughout the evening with a rainbow of textures and moods appearing. Being Human evoked gospelly, shout like phrases, little displaced fragments and stabs somehow anticipated telepathically by Stranhan with snapping reports from the snare.   The drummer was an unstoppable flow of energy and invention all evening animating everything. Until You 2016-05-13 20.09.14Know’s spooky guitar effects laden intro and dancing boppish theme bounced along over his skittering racing drums. Stir the Stars at one point became a conversational duo performance of guitar and drums conducted at a lethal tempo. It was riveting.   It would have easy to miss the contribution of Rick Rosato on bass. His was a vital contribution to the propulsive energy of this band, smooth, skipping lines anchoring and pushing the band along.

The quartet were in the latter stages of that lengthy tour and the fruits were on display in this electrifying band performance. Another fizzing night of New York comes to Bedminster.

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.