Quercus, St. George’s Bristol,Thursday 9th February

June Tabor started the performance at St. George’s by declaring “We are Quercus”, and then musing on the contradiction of the plural ‘we’ (herself, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren) and the singular Quercus. Well it’s simple June. Three peer-less musicians, one exquisitely blended sound.
The music was by turns dancing then meditative; brightly sparkling then dark and brooding.  The repertoire was their trademark eclectic confection, centred on the English folk tradition but touching the jazz standards book, breezing past Brazil and drawing on more contemporary folk and rock. And only ever sounding like this band. Tabor’s note bending slide between two pitches; a subtle harmonic inflection and ripple of notes from Warren on piano; a breathy, astringent phrase from Ballamy’s saxophone all suffused the most familiar
of melodies with a distinctive flavour.
Southern Sea launched the show, Tabor’s crystal clear sonority underpinned by simple piano chords with just a hint of rich colour and an artful modulation giving the sax enough to sweep and swell over to an emotional climax. Jobim’s Meditation, shifted the gears, The  Irish Girl injected an overtly folky pulse then Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice took on an irrestibile momentum with a gently rocking implied groove form Warren’s thickening and propulsive chords.
This rare live gig found the band airing material from their forthcoming second release on ECM and on this showing it will be a ‘must buy’. As the second set proceeded, the intensity peaked and readings of You Don’t Know What Love Is and Beating the Retreat evoked a rapturous response from the generous audience. We were rewarded with a take on Auld Lang Syne that seemed to breathe the personality of the band whilst honouring the original.

That voice and the lyrics were the centre of the evening, but Warren and Ballamy were  extraordinary. The piano accompaniment somehow contrived to maintain the simplicity
and openness that much of the music demanded whilst imbuing every chord and flourish with colours that evoked the mood. Ballamy’s sound is like no other and the restraint and occasional bursts of lyricsm were judged to perfection

This was a magical evening which, for all the pain and loss expressed in the lyrics, left this listener feeling uplifted, a bit more human and more alive.

Christmas musical post(s) … aiding recovery

A pre-christmas tangle with the seasonal flu virus has pretty much halted any blogging and gig going over the last couple of weeks (although there was a weekend of delights to be reported on involving Andre Canniere at the BeBop and Andy Sheppard‘s valedictory show at the Hen Chicken just as the virus was revving up).

But enough of this self-pity.  Something that’s put a smile on my face and aided recovery has been the rash of musicians/ bands posting live christmas performances on various platforms. Is it just me or is there suddenly more of it?  I may just be paying more attention of course.  Below are some gems I’ve found myself playing more than once ( in no particular order… and I’m sure there a plenty more out there – do post if you stop by and know of one you think I’d like.

With the technology to string these together, it will make a world beating soundtrack to the cooking/ eating/ general festivities.  And you get multiple ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘s (ItBMW)

London Vocal Project:  Four (count ’em) Pete Churchill arrangements  including ItBMW (1)

Jacob Collier   (ItBMW (2) )

Iain Ballamy and Jason Rebello‘s annual get-together   (includes ItBMW (3)

 I confess this shades it as my favourite selection – some deadpan cheese, total class and that Ballamy sound on tenor… I just melt.

Joey Alexander… looking like a teenager who just got out of bed (.. cos he is) .. sounding like… this.

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Summer delights and Autumn preview pt 1: Fringe Jazz

I’ve had a bit of summer break from the blog as will be evident from the absence of posts, but there has been plenty of music, both recorded and live, to quicken the pulse and make the ears tingle, not to mention a few posts and reviews for other websites (Enrico Pieranunzi at Ronnie Scott’s, reviewed here, will likely be on the highlights of the year list).  There have been a few regular gigs out here in the west that have kept going right through the summer and provided some highlights, this then is the first of a couple of posts about delights sampled and more to come in the Autumn programme. We popped into Fringe Jazz last week to catch the Jazz Defenders, an end of August treat in the reliably classy programme now firmly re-established in it’s original bijou back-room off Princess Victoria Street.  The quintet are animated and led by quicksilver and rhythmically electrifying pianist George Cooper and wear their Blue Note heart on their sleeve. The suite of originals, writing credit’s spread around the formidable band but invariably with Cooper’s guiding hand, take the classic sound as a launch pad rather than a restrictive template. The themes and hooks are reliably catchy, grooves unvaryingly tight and propulsive whether swinging or with a funky edge (the combination of Will Harris on bass and Matt Brown behind the kit is dynamite) and arrangments lovingly crafted so that the front-line of Nick Malcom on trumpet and Nick Dover on tenor frequently sound like one Horace Silver’s bands in full flight. The improvising is always edgy however, Cooper’s solos veering from delicious bluesey licks to sizzling modal work outs; Malcolm suddenly taking flight, surfing a polyrythmic surge from the drums firing off angular phrases; Dover finding surprising melodic paths through familiar sequences.  The Defenders are a collaboration of some of Bristol’s finest so the quality and freshness of the band should come as no surprise. A real treat nevertheless and lookout for an album due for release soon.

The Fringe has a packed Autumn programme of jaw dropping quality including ECM recordings artists, award winners by the legion but more importantly, fabulous music. Andy Sheppard is back for a regular visit with The Pushy Doctors on 14th September with Dave Newton‘s Trio, including Nat Steel on vibes in Early October.  In between West Coast based former Bristol resident Jon Dalton returns.  ON 19th October, Iain Ballamy is the guest followed the week after by the increasingly high profile funky alto of James Morton riding high on his well received album release The Kid.  The rosta of tourist in November includes the legendary Trevor Watts on 9th November with the contrasting moods of Josh Kemp the week before and Phil Robson‘s organ trio the week after.  Promoter Jon Taylor seems almost to defy gravity by putting on a programme of this quality in a tiny back room, but of course its regular paying audiences that make it possible, so we know what to do.

 

 

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

 

Never mind the width, feel the quality – Autumn Jazz coming up for Bristol and Bath

There is so much exciting music happening over the next two or three months, that a comprehensive overview of  the Bristol/ Bath corner of the jazz planet would be a little overwhelming and occupy too much space.  Instead, let’s dwell on a few fantastic programmes that local promoters have put together. First up, here’s why you should really be paying a few visits to the Hen and Chicken  in Bristol on Sundays over the next couple of months. Ian Storrer’s series of promotions starts with Kevin Figes Octet on Sunday 13th September. Figes has been releasing a steady stream of original  music for various ensembles over the last few years and this Octet, featuring two singers and two drummers as well as the leader’s saxophones spreads his pallette further.  The following week, September 20th, a bit of a coup for Bristol, British pianist Barry Green brings a trio he recorded  in New York 18 months ago with Americans, saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver. It’s a short tour also taking in Barcelona and London’s Ronnie Scotts and The Vortex. The Americans’ combined CVs include Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Craig Taborn, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel and this is a meeting of musical hearts and minds not to missed.  Jumping forward to October 4th, there’s a more conventional line-up for celebrated pianist Kit Downes‘ new trio, but nothing conventional about the music.  The new collaboration with Swedish bass player Peter Eldh and drummer James Maddren, is called The Enemy and these are perhaps three of Europe’s finest young (ish) improvising musicans.  This will be another exciting ride.   Whirlwind Records boss and bass payer Michael Janisch brings a another transatlantic collaboration on the 11th, his formidable sextet Paradigm Shift that includes Jason Yarde and Paul Booth on saxes as well as live electronic wizardry.  The range and quality of this sequence of gigs is slightly boggling and it continues through to December.   If you go to all those, you’ll have had a hard choice on Sunday 13th as Get the Blessing are launching their new album at the Colston Hall. But that’s just on Sundays.  The weekly Fringe Jazz gig at The Mall in Clifton on Wednesdays would be a good focus of your mid-week attention. Jonathan Taylor has worked hard to establish this as a weekly gig and the roster is reliably top drawer and frequently world class. They kick off with local sax man Ben Waghorn‘s quartet on September 23rd, If you don’t see him very much locally, its because he’s in such demand elsewhere. Expect blistering post-bop jazz. Then a guitar theme kicks in (when its not more world beating saxophonists). Andy Sheppard‘s collaboration with guitarist John Paricelli was a highlight amongst many fantastic collaborations and the pair are at the Mall on the 30th. The following week another guitar legend, Jim Mullen appears with an organ trio. Then ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy appears, another unique British sax voice with an international reputation. Fringe Jazz regulars Dave Newton and John Pearce, Celestine and James Morton and Moscow Drug Club all put in an appearance then London based guitarist Maciek Pysz visits with the dazzling rhythm section of Yuri Gloubov and Asaf Sirkis followed by saxophonist Theo Travis’ quartet with the fantastic Mike Outram on guitar.  This another wildly varied programme of incredible quality given a final twist on 25th November by the improvising trio of saxophonist Paul Dunmall, John Edwards and Mark Sanders.

These are not the only regular or top quality gigs over the next few months.   Of course you should check out Bath’s  St. James Wine Vaults (fortnightly on Thursdays) kicking of of with Art Themen on 10th September and drop in on regular Sunday sessions at The Ring o Bells in Widcombe or Gascoyne Place. Bristol’s BeBop Club continues every Friday (watch out for 50th birthday Big Band led by promoter Andy Hague)and there’s  Jazz at Future Inns on Thursdays  going from strength to strength.  The bigger halls, St. Georges and Colston Hall both have eye catching gigs (not least Aaron Parks Trio on October 8th at St. Georges for anyone who wants see one of the hottest tickets in the new generation of American pianists).  The strength of the programmes at the Hen and Chicken and The Mall are signs of a very healthy scene and, we hope audiences to match.

 

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.

Iain Ballamy, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 8th January

Iain at the Vaults. pic from from Vaults Facebook page

Iain at the Vaults. pic from from Vaults Facebook p

January has brought some icy blasts with it, so the warm caressing tone of Iain Ballamy’s sax was a ‘balm to the soul’ welcome as we stumbled down the stairs to the cellar bar and to a session that will surely soon be able to add ‘longest running’ to ‘top’ in the list of adjectives that describe the Wade Edwards’ house band plus guest, fortnightly gig. Ballamy has become a regular if not frequent visitor but whilst his guest sessions may lean on the standards jazz repertoire, they are deliciously unpredictable and to take him for granted would be a mistake. He’s an ECM recording artist (one of the most iconic jazz labels and home to Keith Jarrett amongst many others for nearly 40 years). He’s feted around Europe and appears in ambient elctronica ensembles, uncategorisable sublime jazz- folk crossovers, a burning contemporary jazz band the legendary Loose Tubes anarchic big band – the list goes on. You never quiet know what’s coming next, and the Jazz House Trio (Wade, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies) certainly didn’t as Iain decided on the spot what to play next and frequently how (instant arrangements either demonstrated or hurriedly whispered as they started).  It didn’t matter though. At the centre of it was Ballamy’s sound, sketching out whispy melodic lines with a crackly almost hoarse sound in the upper register that speaks straight to the heart. Desafindao welcomed us in, a gorgeous statement of the theme that had the packed in audience applauding as if it was a grandstanding solo. An extraordinary arrangement of East of the Sun had a single throbbing note under half the theme, building tension until they slid into an easy free-wheeling swing , but setting a mood that sent the band off in new thoughtful directions.  A Burt Baccharach classic, Wives and Lovers was an unexpected twist with a fluid out of time reading of the familiar tune preceding the breezy tempo established for the solos.  The ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ high wire act offered thrills and spills as Ballamy started the gorgeous Wayne Shorter ballad Myako  in a different key to the rest of the band. But after a blistering Out of Nowhere, time stood still as he made Autumn in New York completely his own.  This was a fantastic start to a new season at the Vaults. It’s a treasure of a gig with a house band that  welcomes artists of international stature like Iain Ballamy as well as the best of a top class scene in area. Its good to see that  Bath people know a good thing when they see it. Audiences are regularly healthy. Long may it remain so!