Phronesis, Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10th June

Eyebrows crept a bit higher on foreheads, mouths opened slightly, maybe a few people leaned a bit further back in their seats.  The impact of  the opener in Phronesis’ first set at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday night was dramatic.  67,000 mph  followed a typical pattern for the trio; ear snagging riffs with sharp changes of gears, scattered phrases from Ivo Neame on piano that accumulate into a blizzard of notes, a firestorm of percussion whipped up by Anton Eger on drums, Jaspar Hoiby standing between them, holding down a tricky bass figure with occasional embellishments and looking from one to the other, nodding appreciatively. 2016-06-10 19.05.06

Hoiby’s slightly divergent  banter between tunes relieved the tension a bit, and may even have been a bit too self-deprecating as he joked ‘all our tunes sound the same’.  A Phronesis recipe there may be, but it’s designed to maximise the thrill factor in live performance.  The volcanic momentum of Eger’s drumming was constantly arresting, delivered as often at a whisper or with a rattle as with full blooded battering. Silver Moon tiptoed round its jigsaw of melodic phrases and singing bass phrases before leaving space for  Eger’s drum breaks, filled with space and brushing caresses of the cymbals. Stillness belied its name with accumulating clatter, what looked like a knife and fork pressed into service on the kit.

The trios reflexes and responsiveness to each other were razor sharp, raging solos frequently punctuated with little stops or momentary slackening of the intensity of pulse driving the music on. Neame’s playing seemed to get ever more fluid as the evening wore on, relentlessly percussive with dazzling slivery runs and then little oases of distorting lyricism, A Kite for Seamus a sublime synthesis of his rhythmic sensibility and shifting harmonies.  Hoiby too delivered a singing, melodic solo on that piece.

This was one of just three UK gigs (for now) as they launch a new recording, Parallax.  On this showing they are still on top form and surely one of the most thrilling live acts around. Sunday night at London’s Cadogan Hall is the official UK launch, but the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd at Wiltshire Music Centre were delighted with their early experience of the fire-works.

 

Jazz local and national; Riff Raff in Sheffield – What a difference a grant makes?

The back room of a pub, something ear tweakingly interesting leaking out of the PA as a respectable sized crowd gathered , settling amongst a mis-matched jumble of chairs and tables. It was the Lescar in the backstreets of Sheffield, but could have been almost anywhere. It was my first visit. In Sheffield for non-jazz reasons serendipitously on a Wednesday, I nipped along.  It felt like visiting a distant branch of an extended family. The Lescar’s back room hosts a well established weekly session programmed and promoted by the energetic and discerning Jez Matthews with  a crew of willing volunteers making it all happen on the night (Jez’s energy had taken him off to the Copenhagen jazz festival on this particular evening).  The gig turned out to be the penultimate date of Dave Mannington’s Riff Raff  tour . I’d caught them early on in May  at the BeBop Club in Bristol so knew I was in for a treat.

Riff Raff are a band of band leaders. With Ivo Neame in the piano chair, squeezing in this leg of Riff Raff’s tour before dashing of to continue Phronesis’ relentless international schedule,  and Tim Giles on drums this is no ordinary rhythm section . Tom Challenger, Rob Updegraff and Brigitte Beraha complete the band and Mannington has a premier league outfit to negotiate his complex compositions. They unfold, rarely doubling back on themselves, exploring different styles and with references from around the globe, but a soaring melody or electric atmosphere is never far way. The impact of touring and playing the material was evident as the evening wore on. The already riveting music seemed to have  grown and relaxed and deepened since Bristol. Early on, their cover of Bjork’s Anchor had everyone sighing as an extended  climax built behind Brigitte Beraha’s swooping vocals with the whole band blending beautifully. Ivo Neame’s intro to Catch Me the Moon was even more expansive and edgy, and a spacy cadenza from Rob Updegraff emerged to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.  There was new material with Iliad having the whole band glued to their charts for the epic, adventurous piece. What a treat.

Like many others, this club hosts local and regional bands with a fair sprinkling of national tours that are often  subsidized by a  grant, this visit of Riff Raff being no exception.  Occasional infusions of small amounts of cash from grant schemes also helps build a club’s programme and an expectant audience and the Lescar has been a beneficiary in the last year.  This visit took place just as the controversy got going over Jazz Services failure to secure  guaranteed three year funding from the Arts Council (the unfolding story captured by Peter Bacon here). They of course have been one of the main conduits for these small grants. Through all the anguish (and a certain amount of restrained claim and counter claim) one message has been clear. Promoters and musicians know the  value of the grant schemes that support touring and small promoters.  My lovely, uplifting evening was a little cameo of the difference quite a modest investment can make to the development of new music, the development of the artists themselves and on the other side, the  ability to invest enough to develop a sustainable programme for a small venue.  It seems like a good return to me.

 

 

 

Printmakers, classic jazz and Riff Raff – a week in the west.

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

It’s been quite a week for visitors to this corner of the west country. Last Saturday The Printmakers blew into The Wiltshire Music Centre and dazzled with their class. My account of that one found its way onto the Jazzwise site (here). Then on Thursday two more London based musicians popped up at St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Jim Mullen had such a good time playing with the host Jazz House Trio when he was down a couple of months ago, the word is he insisted on coming back to accompany singer Zoe Francis on her date at this gig that’s fast approaching local institution status. The instinctively grooving partnership of Wade Edwards on bass and Trevor Davies on drums is surely one of the things that keeps guests returning with enthusiasm,

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

their ever alert responsiveness make them the perfect hosts, no matter what the guests bring to play.  On Thursday it was a set of classic standards drawing on Ellington, Billie Holiday, Mel Torme and more. The mood was set by Francis’ clear toned, relaxed delivery: personal, but with fidelity to the swinging groove of originals or, as with Prelude to a Kiss and Swing Low, re-casting them as a crisp bossa. Jim Mullen was a delight. His solos were at once familiar, staying firmly within the language of bop, but still fresh and engaging. His instinct for creating melodic phrases and when to accelerate or hang back was a constant thrill. There was an added little frisson at the delicacy and intimacy of this performance  knowing just how raucous he can be in other settings, something we were reminded of by  DJ Tony Clark as he mischievously played an old Mullen recording the moment the band stopped that sounded for all the world like Freedom Jazz Dance performed by Led Zeppelin complete with rock vocals.

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Dave Manington’s Riff Raff at the BeBop Club

An equally sharp, but engaging contrast to the classic jazz of the Wine Vaults set was served up by Dave Manington’s Riff Raff on Friday night at Bristol’s BeBop Club. It was set of  almost all originals from the bass player leader’s pen, bang up to date with pieces that draw on influences from everywhere (modern classical, any number of national cultural sources as well as jazz) and wrap them in evolving compositions with shifting time signatures and insistent polyrhythmic grooves from the ever inventive Tim Giles on drums.  Brigitte Beraha‘s vocals were sometimes wordless, faultless in negotiating the angular melody and wild interval leaps on the opener Agile; sometimes delivering her lyrics penned to Manninton’s melody on tunes like the gorgeous Catch me the Moon. That was preceded by a spacious, moody intro from Ivo Neame on piano from which the singing, melancholic harmony gradually emerged. There was plenty of energetic and fiery soloing, Tom Challenger on tenor providing a hooting, rhythmic highlight of a solo on the second tune of the night (I missed the title!) The one cover was Bjork’s Anchor replete with lingering plaintive chords from Ivo Neame’s accordion and effect laden washes from Rob Updegraaf‘s guitar.  This was music to engage the head as well as the heart and made me want to listen again to peel back some of those layers.

It’s been a great week and there’s no let up. Jon Turney as ever has laid out the riches  on offer over the next week in Bristol and that’s with out dipping into the jazzy bits of the Bath Festival Programme next weekend  Bring it on and see you at Phronesis on Friday at the Colston Hall.

Jean Toussaint, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 6th April

JT4 at the Hen and Chicken

JT4 at the Hen and Chicken

Jean Toussaint, born in St. Thomas on the US Virgin Islands, launched into the Sonny Rollins classic  for the encore raucously demanded by the sizeable crowd at the Hen and Chicken. On the last night of their national tour, why not go out on a carnival atmosphere?  Was there a glint in his eye as he explicitly quoted the master’s solo on the original recording to launch his own final blast of the evening? If so,  that glint

Photo by Bob Woodburn

Photo by Bob Woodburn

seemed to have been there all night. These guys were having fun. Drawing mainly on repertoire from the quartet’s current release Tate Song, plenty of bases were touched with ‘blistering’ barely doing justice to the intensity of the the driving swing of the opener Mood Mode or the more even but driving feel of Vista, the latter one of a couple of tunes penned by pianist Andrew McCormackMulgrew, with a stately rubato theme, dissolved into a scuttling, chaotic, anguished, free, collective blast. It had the feel of raw emotion, a moving tribute to a friend gone to soon. More ruminative and  out and out ballad were tributes to daughter and son My Dear ruby,  and Tate’s Song  respectively.

What dazzled was the sheer energy and freedom with which the band collectively dismantled, warped and fired up all these tunes in different directions and with different moods.  Toussaint’s playing was consistently impassioned , sticking fairly closely to the language and sounds of pieces that had the harmonically static feel of modal jazz with short bursts of dense shifting passages.  Meanwhile, the interaction of McCormack and drummer Shaney Forbes  in particular swirled around him, trading phrases, building layer up on layer of surging rhythm sprinkled with spikey chords. There were explosive solos from the piano, lightening runs overlapping and ramping up the energy and excitement, or spikey motifs flicked between Toussiant’s tenor and McCormack.  Larry Bartley on bass anchored  much of this, but he too cut loose with an arco work out over an insistent piano riff on the intro to Vista and really dug in on the closer Tunnel Vision in a duel with the tenor.  The Gloucestershire Echo declared Toussaint a genius in their report of  the Cheltenham gig in this tour. Even the man himself may think that’s going a bit too far, but this was unquestionably exhilarating stuff with a band that would surely raise the roof wherever they go.

 

 

 

 

Winter into Spring: Highlights on your doorstep in Bath and Bristol.

With the lengthening days comes a diverse jazz flavoured choice of music in dozens of venues over the next few months in this corner of the South West. All the venues mentioned below have far more extensive programmes than are sketched out. Here are a few New Year tips and pointers to whet your appetite whatever your tastes run to.

Firstly, don’t let familiarity make you forget that a number of our local regulars have well deserved international reputations. Andy Sheppard has been making Bristol’s  Fringe Bar something of a home from home over the last year and he’s back there with a ‘Friends’ band and also the now firmly established favourites, The Pushy Doctors in January and February as well as opening Ian Storrer’s latest series at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday January 12th with an interesting looking new quartet.  Dave Newton kicks off the new season at Future Inns  in Bristol on Thursday 9th having reportedly finished the year in dazzling form. He’s back there again the  following week in the company of incendiary violinist John Pearce and the hard blowing James Morton. Ever inventive pianist John Law, feted almost more in Europe than at home, is out and about with a new project ‘Boink!’ A quartet making full use of electronic effects and improv as well Law’s artful compositions. Catch them at Burdall’s Yard in Bath in the 10th Jan and Bristol’s BeBop Club in February. Jason Rebello, former sideman for everyone from Wayne Shorter to Sting and Jeff Beck, is focussing more on jazz again these days and pops up in St. George’s, Bristol piano series in a two piano workout with rising start Ivo Neame on March 6th.

Secondly, don’t let unfamiliar names discourage you.  Between local, well connected rising stars on the national scene and open minded programming, there’s some truly dazzling talent passing through.  Local lad James Gardiner Bateman features in two bands in January. The first with young trumpeter Reuben Fowler at the BeBop club on 17th January. Reuben has recently released a widely and wildly acclaimed big band album and the visiting group has a phenomenal London based rhythm section. Gardiner Bateman’s second appearance sees another line-up featuring a different collection of the brightest young talent on the national scene at Future Inn on the 30th featuring Josh Arcoleo. Bass Player on that date Chris Hyson has just released an album of his own compositions performed by Kit Downes. Downes brings his own previously Mercury Prize nominated band, now expanded to a quintet,  to the Hen and Chicken on 9th February. A few other touring bands to take note of  are, at the Be Bop Club; Ant Law Quartet (hotly tipped guitarist) late January; in March Tori Freestone Trio (more established and really blossoming tenor player) and Vitor Pereira Quartet  (emerging Portugese star) and at Colston Hall Lantern in February,  Zara McFarlene (soul jazz songstress causing a real stir).

Thirdly, don’t underestimate or forget the quality of locally based musicians and their ever shifting combinations. Singer Emily Wright brings The Royals to The Bell in Bath on 27th January and Moonlight Saving Time, who have garnered plaudits and national radio air play over the last year, come to Burdall’s Yard at the end of March. John Paul Gard’s Pedalmania also visit  The Bell in January and the energy levels are sure to be high there for visits from the mighty Dakhla and The Fresh Dixie Project (not strictly local!) during February. Saxophonist Kevin Figes‘ adventurous Octet are at the BeBop Club in late February and James Morton and fiery trumpeter Jonny Bruce make sure Bath doesn’t miss out with visits to St. James Wine Vaults in January and February respectively to guest with the Jazzhouse Trio who are embarking on their eighth year hosting visiting soloists. . The regular programmes at Bath’s The Ring o Bells, Gascoyne Place, Bristol’s Cori Tap are reliably high quality as well all the venues already mentioned.

Fourthly, salute our enduring stars and support the gigs to keep them coming. Another coup for St. James Wine Vaults is the visit of guitar ace Jim Mullen in later February. Chris Biscoe, stalwart saxophone adventurer on the English scene for decades returns to the BeBop club in late March and international visitors include Norway’s contemplative but groovy pianist Tord Gustavesen and American singer and star Gregory Porter  at St. George’s on consecutive weeks in late March.

Four principles (catch locally based national and international stars, the next generation of  stars as they visit, the best of the local scene and national and international stars locally)  all of which can be honoured in one go at the 2nd Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival on the weekend of 7-9th March at Colston Hall, with an overlapping but different set of names. Check out the programme here.

Finally, music that is more experimental or freely improvised is becoming a bit more visible.  The Fringe Bar hosts a monthly session that is dedicated to free improvisation and Paul Dunmall visits on 30th January with a trio that features drummer Mark Sanders. Sanders also features in one the gigs sponsored by a new venture called Bristol New Music.  A  joint effort between Colston Hall, St. Georges, the Arnolfini, Spike Island,  ICIA at Bath University and others, the weekend of 21st – 23rd February sees a series of events involving artists and musicians some of which are gigs including Keith Tippett’s Octet at the Colston Hall and ECM recording artist, composer and pianist Christian Wallumrod at St. George’s.

The weather may be unpredictable, but it looks like we can rely on a steady supply of high quality live music.

The Ivo Neame Quintet, Hen and Chicken, Bristol, Sunday 15th September

Pic Tim Dickeson 1

Pic Tim Dickeson

There was something about the way Jim Hart took his jacket off that seemed to say ‘right, now we are really getting down to business’. The band launched into ‘Bird Brain’ and it was clear why the metaphoric rolling up of sleeves was necessary. Lightening fragments of boppish phrases were fired off at odd intervals, frequently doubled by the well prepared Hart and Tori Freestone on tenor cutting across stuttering rythmns from the locked bass and drums of Jaspar Hoiby and Dale Hamblett. It was adrenalin rush stuff and, as he did on several occasions during the evening, Jim Hart worked some magic  that despite the frenetic action from the band , steadily built the intensity and excitement even further during his solo.  There was much to admire about this gig.  Ivo Neame’s writing is complex, multi layered and detailed. There’s plenty to grab the attention first time round and lots to return to on repeated listens (yup, we bought the CD), a wonky groove and ear tweaking melodic fragments are never far away but they appear and fade creating different moods. The playing of each of these fine musicians was uniformly dazzling.  The standouts on this evening were for me the ensemble and some individual moments of brain melting brilliance. As the compositions ebbed and flowed, the band managed the trick of sounding like they were playing freely, casually throwing in improvised phrases here, barking staccato rhythms there; the fact that many of the phrase were doubled or harmonised signalled it was often anything but casual. This was a high wire act with everyone playing their part.

It wasn’t a completely even performance. Bird Brain in the first set really turned the heat up after “American Jesus’ and and the attractive ‘Moonbathing’ had prepared us for the range of textures in the sound. Ivo Neame seemed to really lift off in ‘Owl of Me’ in the second set, his solo one of those breathtaking moments; flurries of phrases and abstract chords overlapping until a strong melodic logic appeared like mist parting and dazzling runs and crescendos carried us along.  Jim Hart supplied yet another in the closer ‘Yatra’ repeated figures bringing out the latin character and whirlwind  riffs knocking the breath out of us. ‘He’s ***** brilliant’ someone whispered in my ear at the climax. Nicely put.   What a great start to Ian Storrer’s season at the Hen and Chicken. It wasn’t just me. Jon Turney lapped it up too. There’s more to come with the quality looking equally high. Full details of the season here

Kairos 4tet, Future Inn, Sunday May 2nd

Kairos 4tet returned to the Future Inn stage on Sunday with the electrifying rhythm section of  Ivo Neame , Jasper Hoiby and Jon Scott behind leader Adam Waldmann.  This is an exciting band, flexing their improvisational muscles a bit more than I recall the last time I saw them with a slightly different line-up, playing a brace of compositions from the pen of the leader with some distinctive qualities. Lots of cyclical pattern like melodic fragments over urgent often lopsided grooves from bass and drums, the piano  doubling some elements playing complementary, rippling arpeggios against others. There were frequent shifts of pace within tunes and different episodes; repeats of a theme separating solos.  The boggling technical facility of Hoiby on the bass meant he was doubling the snakey theme of Me and you 100 degrees and the folky riffing hook of Statement of Intent. These were all setting the scene for some powerful soloing. Neame on piano nearly stole the show on a couple of occasions. On the blazing opener Russel’s Resurgence,  fragementary flurries of notes, and dissonant stabs gradually built to a storming post-bop like work out, Jon Scott on drums and Hoiby exchanging broad grins as they drove him on and the result greeted delightedly by the audience. He did it again in more lyrical and emotional vein on the balladic Simpler Times.  After switching to tenor Waldmann sinuous keening lines had me melting (and putting me in mind of one of my favourites Julian Arguelles who I’d missed at the Cheltenham festival).  A lovely gig and I was persuaded to listen again by buying the CD.