James Gardiner Bateman/ Josh Arcoleo, Future Inn, Thursday 30th January

For the second time in a couple of weeks James Gardiner Bateman rounded up some pals, most of whom are mainly resident at the London end of the M4 and brought them along to a Bristol stage to huff, puff and serenade away any remaining new year cobwebs (more on the first outing here). This time the local jazzerati were out in force, swelling the already healthy numbers at the Future Inn’s lovely downstairs jazz space, the lure of the combination of  James, another local lad made very good, Josh Arcoleo and the the un- advertised but somehow known about local(ish) titan of jazz on piano Jason Rebello was irresistible.  jgb_futureinnThe energy levels started high with James and Josh ripping through the boppish theme of Tears Inside, absolutely in step before James leapt off into a blistering solo.  A marker was down. Gradually their distinctive personalities emerged. There was no concealing what an even more exciting player Josh Arcoleo has become since he played regularly around Bristol as a young tyro and protege of Pee Wee Ellis before taking the inevitable trip to London. Bemsha Swing, closing the first set, was wound up by his tenor sketching the familar melody out, stretching the time, sliding phrases through the cycling harmony injecting a fierce propulsive groove.  The second set went up a gear. Everytime the youthful rhythm section revved it up a bit more, Jason Rebello seemed to get more comfortable and more dazzling. On Strasbourg St. Denis , a Roy Hargrove funky groover, the chocks seemed to come away and overlapping riffs, locked hands blocked chord passages and sizzlingly groovy runs had everyone whooping. Drummer Ed Richardson (one of those London visitors) responded with a fabulously melodic solo whilst maintaining an uncompromising thumping groove . He did it again on the closer, a frenetic Rhythm Changes that also produced another explosive Rebello solo this time managing to channel and update the spirit of Herbie Hancock and Kenny Kirkland on blazing bop.  James had slowed it down for a ballad earlier and lured bass player Chris Hyson out of the shadows. There was no mistaking the all round quality of this band. They may have just been taking  a gallop through a few of Mr Gardiner Bateman’s favourite tunes, but the result was thrilling and will surely be on a few ‘best of the year lists’ if memories are still clear in eleven months time.  Appreciating and celebrating organisers and do-ers always gets my vote and as he did at the  BeBop Club a couple of weeks ago, James name checked organisers and door folk. This time its Steve Williams who has kept this free, weekly session going with an increasingly varied and high quality programme.  Next week sees Dave Newton there with a trio. The rest of the programme is here

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Blowing the Blues away – Pushy Doctors and James Gardiner Bateman, Fringe/ BeBop Club 16th/ 17th January

January jazz continued with a blast last week. My round-up of the Pushy Doctors and Reuben Fowler/ James Gardiner Bateman Quintet is up on the Jazzwise website ‘breaking news’ section so I’ll just add a few random thoughts here.  I hadn’t seen the Pushy Doctors for a while and they were on sizzling form. Perhaps the regular slot at Fringe Jazz encourages adventurousness (not that they were ever coy), but they seemed even more playful and experimental than ever. An exquisite, representative  moment was after a merely typically scorching soprano sax workout on My Favourite Things,  the mood somehow transformed into a low intense pulse and the theme of In a Silent Way suddenly emerged. They all seemed startled, especially Andy Sheppard who’d played it! “We’re in a different world now… help!” he muttered. That improvising stuff is dangerous. The cavalry rushed in with the surging groove and they were off again. They are unfailingly exhilarating.   There were plenty of thrills at the BeBop.  Reuben Fowler down from London for what seemed to be a college re-union with Bristol’s own James Gardiner Bateman in the form of a roaring gig – happily to a packed house.  The college in question is Royal Academy which seems to have set up production line supplying our national scene with breathtaking and matured talent. Reuben won the Kenny Wheeler prize, part of which involved releasing an album on Edition Records. With some additional funding he recorded a big band and the results “Between the Shadows’  I’ve been listening to non-stop since I picked a copy up at the gig (I did pay for it as well). As it happened, the big band were playing the material live the following night at Kings Place in London. The pianist, Matt Robinson was down on Friday with Dave Hamblett on drums and Andrew Robb on bass. They were all on great form, with two sets of standard/ classic tunes and a couple of originals but played with passion, energy and fire to rival anyone I’ll warrant. There were the most delicate of moments from a duo on The Nearness of You between Fowler’s flugel horn and the piano, full blooded no holds barred blowing from James on Tears in Inside and just a glimpse of the new music to come from the pens of Matt Robinson and Reuben Fowler.  Surely these guys are going to entertaining, thrilling and moving us for a good few years to come.

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.

Will Vinson – Take 2 at the Cori Tap, Bristol, Tuesday 23rd July

It felt the same (hot, sweaty and packed), it smelt the same (let’s not go there), it even looked a bit the same (James Maddren in the corner, a red Nord keyboard facing him, James Gardner Bateman organising, hovering nervously and warming his horn up to join in late on in the evening). But there was one big difference from almost exactly a year ago.  No unforseen delays, no Spanish air controller strikes, Will Vinson was in the house. Anticipation was high. Had any of the band been taken ill, there were at least a handful of able deps for each in the audience,  one or two with international reputations of their own.  As James (Gardner Bateman) stepped up to sit in on the last number ‘ The End of The Love affair’, I’m sure Will said something like ‘let’s not go too mad (with the speed)’ , so presumably the burning tempo he counted in is what passes for a stroll in the park in New York. As he and James traded first whole choruses or more, and gradually worked down to fours, the lightening runs, boppish riffs, squeals, squawks and swoops mounted up and I think the visitor almost broke sweat. It was blood fizzing, adrenaline rush stuff from both, but it was all to clear why Will is getting plenty of work in New York from world beating band leaders. There’s a smoothness of phrase and easy clarity of articulation at the most blazing of tempos that hints at the technical facility, but the warmth of tone and swing feel carries an emotional charge that’s special. It really came through in the second set as a floating, straight feel under ‘All or Nothing at All’ allowed space for some soaring lines before a segue into a heart stopping reading of Henry Mancini’s ‘Dreamsville’ had everyone sighing. The first set had rolled in on the triplety African feel of keyboard meister Sam Crowe’s composition ‘Bad Science’ and rolled out on another triplet flavoured composition ‘Cherry Time’ this time one of Will’s.  Both drew fine solos form Calum Gourlay on bass and gave James Maddren plenty of opportunities to tease and disrupt with all the implied metres buried there. Somehow the first set felt like a streching of limbs and settling in of the band, they really caught fire after the break culminating in that furious work out to close. What a treat for the sardines in the Cori Tap – three cheers to James Gardner Bateman for reprising the booking and not even the ’10 year’ storms of the previous evening could conspire to deny us again.

Whose band is it anyway? No Will Vinson, but Lochrane, Lasserson, Cawley, Maddren, Arcoleo, Gardner Bateman; Coronation Tap, Bristol, Monday 16th July

Lets not dwell on the strike in Spain that meant Will Vinson was unable to get to the Coronation Tap for this gig with a fantastic band. They made it and, as first Josh Arcoleo joined in late in the first set on tenor and then James Gardiner Bateman in the second on alto, if we thought about Will, it was him who was the object of sympathy for missing out, not us.  A gig in The Coronation Tap is an intense experience simply because of the proximity of the band (I hope I haven’t caught drummer James Maddren’s cold). Top class bands often feed off  the energy and response of an audience and that effect seemed to be amplified tonight adding to the intensity.  Lochrane, maestro on flute appeared to be directing proceedings in that he was providing the repertoire. They limbered up on a Billy Strayhorn composition UMMG, the straight ahead swing had a very contemporary feel as Maddren on drums started the evening as he meant to go on, keeping a surging pulse going whilst clattering and snapping all sorts of counter rhythms behind the theme and solos, earning the first of number of grinning sideways glances from bass player Sam Lasserson.  A longer flute (alto this time) was produced for the next tune, an attractive, grooving theme by Herbie Hancock called Tell Me a Bedtime Story, but it was when Tom Cawley took a solo in this tune that everything seemed to go up a gear. He was playing an impossibly  bijou Nord keyboard (we were sure the flutes were longer than lovely red thing), but one octave per hand seemed more than  enough to build a solo that start with funky little phrases that echoed the tune and developed into increasingly extended runs and rhythmic volleys, egged on by, and egging on Maddren on drums. Looking round the room it wasn’t just me; there were grins on a lot of faces and roars of approval when he relented. Josh Arcoleo joined to pump up the adrenaline still further on a Chick Corea’s Litha, a fiendish sounding theme that switched between a triplety feel and blazing furious swing throughout the tune. Just when we thought the varnish would peel from the ceiling and the excitement was at fever pitch, another bravura solo from Cawley took us over the edge with phrase building on phrase and a peak reached with a block chorded rythmic duel with the drums. Even the band were shaking their heads and grinning.  After that we needed a break just to start breathing again.

There was no contrived or forced virtuosity in this band. Just a bunch of London’s finest apparently having a great time mining the riches of jazz repertoire. Coltrane’s Straight Street and Clifford Brown’s Sandu were enough for the second set with the frontline now expanded to include Jame Gardiner Bateman.  Lochrane was on the shortest flute of the evening for the finale and the frontline were trading choruses just to show us that it wasn’t only players of short red keyboards that get everyone’s pulse racing.  What a great way to start the week.

All-in-one-Helmet, Future Inns, Bristol, Sunday 19th December

Last Sunday was the last Future Inn gig of the year and appearing between complimentary mince pies and a free raffle of Ian Storrer’s surplus CDs were All-in-one- Helmet.

All in one Helmet with the very special guest

They won the of ‘battle of the young jazz bands’ competition earlier in the year and this gig was part of their prize. That said, they were worthy of the slot competition or no competition. Jame Gardiner-bateman has been well known in Bristol for a few years, ripping it up with the other James (Morton) at many a jam session and appearing in numerous funky line-up including Dennis Rollins’ band. This band shows a very different side to him.  The line up of alto, trumpet, bass and drums might create a certain expectation of the style of music and sure enough towards the end of the first set they set about and Ornette Coleman blues with gusto. But there’s much more to this genuinely young band (several members still undergraduates at London colleges, James Maddren on drums a recent graduate and already making a name for himself). They started with a loose, swinging up tempo number with a melody full twists and turns, sudden leaps through dissonant intervals and then segued into a stately hymn like tune which had rich, warm harmonic sound to it.

Freddie Gavita on trumpet really caught my ear. His soloing hints at a mischevious angular approach. He favoured those odd interval leaps and dissonant runs on the more up tempo tunes but played at almost a whisper on some of the more balladic tunes. His playing particularly made me think of ‘Magic Triangle’, a Dave Douglas line up of a few years ago. His arranging and composing added spice as well: the first set ended with a riotous arrangement of ‘In the Mood’

The second set saw the ‘very special guest’ aka Andy Shepard join the band on some more of their tunes and a Dewey Redman tune that he had taught them earlier in the day and so the slow cooking of another fine gig reached a climax (eeek – sorry for the slightly overdone metaphor there).

This marked the end of the first full year of the club at the Future Inn and it’s worth pausing to remember the quality and range of the programme there’s been over the last 12 months. Hat’s off to Ian Storrer I say and the invisible support of the Future Inn management that makes it possible. Let’s hope 2011 is a good one for the club, January’s proramme is looking pretty tasty (Ivo Neame, Stan Sulzman with Jim Mullen, Phil Robson with mark Turner, Mike westbrook, Mick Hutton) – bring it on!