Ambleside Days – the last post

The bass was parked, music scattered, instruments abandoned to be collected later.  The musicians had left the stage. As we all left  Screen 2 at Zeffirellis for the last time in the four-day-fest, there was an inescapable sense of having witnessed something momentous.

I mused mid fest about the ‘recipe’, orchestrated by Derek Hook the festival director, of a pool of musicians combined and recombined over the four nights.  Saturday saw the sublime Printmakers playing opposite a trio of Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland and Joe Locke.  Sunday was billed as evening with Dave Holland, which turned out to be solo, quartet (Dave with Simcock- Mike WalkerNorma Winstone), trio (Dave with Nikki IlesJames Maddren), quartet (the trio plus Mike Walker) and then the ensemble flowered into a mini big band, the full cast list from the previous days with the addition of Nick Smart popping up on trumpet and flugel-horn.

What held the dizzying rotation together was that ‘contemporary music’ tag and the reference point and celebration of John Taylor.  There was a tricky to define but discernible sound, a particular use of harmony, musical choices about melody and space that gave the music identity.   It was a joyous and appropriate finale then for the mini big band to play  a couple of sections of Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Time Suite.  Holland, Stan Sulzmann and Norma Winstone were all on stage who played on the original Large and Small Ensembles recording with of course, John Taylor on piano. The final blast of Wheeler’s Foxy Trot also had the Holland-Taylor rhythm section on the original.  The Wheeler, Taylor legacy flavours so much of the music that these musicians play and it sounded like their natural habitat.

That was true even when they were playing standards or original material.   Added to that was a visible delight in each other’s presence.  Joe Locke’s quartet set had started with an angular arrangement of Autumn in New York and he was grinning delightedly at Asaf Sirkis as the drummer caught and embellished every rythmic fill.  Heads turned and eyes snapped sideways all weekend at moments of magic and hot interaction.  Mike Walker beamed slowly as Dave Holland’s solo on In Your Own Sweet Way worked its way to an intense climax in the quartet set with Winstone.  Holland visibly caught his breath and smiled as an exquisitely crafted line seemed to float from the piano and hang in the air during a Nikki Iles solo in their trio moment.

In amongst all the ‘for one night only’ configurations, The Printmakers reminded us how compelling a regular ensemble can be. Their take on Vince Mendoza’s Ambivalence was a hear-a-pin drop moment as the chanting motif faded away.   Mark Lockheart and Walker did their familiar but always enchanting evocation of a beach, the guitar providing swooping seagulls over the sax’s breathy shifting sands before the band slid into Nikki Iles’ Tideways. Walker’s scatological story telling threatened to become a stand-up routine before his own glorious, surely-nearly-a-standard-now Clockmakers made the stoniest heart swell.

We saw a lot of everyone in different line-ups.  Gwilym Simcock appeared every night and was dazzling in his range of expression from the faintest glazes of an open piano string to the tumult of Barber Blues that closed the trio set with Mike Walker and Joe Locke.   Mike Walker’s instinct for when not to play, conjure an unlikely growl or rumble from his guitar, let a fluid melodic line insinuate itself through a chord sequence or simply to rock out was a consistent delight every time he took the stage.  And what a treat to see and hear so much of Dave Holland. For all the virtuosity and command of his instrument, there was tingling thrill every time he settled into a groove and made the music pulse and glow.

Creating so many one-off line ups could have been a risk. As it was, there wasn’t a part that didn’t create special, exciting and moving moments. And the sum of all those parts? That word ‘momentous’ seems about right.

 

 

 

 

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Julian Arguelles’ Tetra, Vortex, Thursday 12th June

Tetra in full cry are something to behold.  Leader saxophonist Julian Arguelles may supply all the compositions, but the process of dismantling, reassembling and playing them with joyful zest is a group effort with, it seems,  pianist Kit Downes and drummer James Maddren not so much anticipating or responding to each other  as sharing a thought process and Sam Lasserson’s bass a constant lithe, propulsive thread in the mix.  They touched touched down at the Vortex on a tour playing material from their CD File 17-06-2016, 08 15 45released last year on Whirlwind Records alongside tunes from staging posts on Arguelles’ now lengthy career.

The gentle, elegiac From one JC to Another, singing gently stroked chords moving underneath breathy tenor phrases introduced the band and gave way to a quintessential Arguelles piece. Bulerias, consciously based on flamenco dance rhythms, had a theme in which the  saxophone’s spiralling phrases were thrillingly locked with the drums and punctuated by fragments of gutsy  riffs that dragged the ear back to jazz and blues. The leader’s solo was a characteristic surge and flow of undulating phrases, listening felt a bit like surfing on waves of adrenaline with the flowing lines sculpted into melodic phrases.  Lardy Dardy was a contrasting mood full of yearning and poetry.  Circularity, first recorded with John Taylor and Dave Holland was another, bubbling swaggering riff that dissolved into a series of  fizzing duo exchanges so that each member of the quartet had a dialogue.  It was riveting, greeted with roars of appreciation from the rapt Vortex crowd.    Phaedrus,  an even older tune, also first recorded with John Taylor, File 17-06-2016, 08 16 22was another reminder that  any material sounds freshly minted in this band’s hand no matter what its vintage. Its another urgent, flowing theme, ascending harmony building flurries of anticipation.  Arguelles unfurled layers and layers of fluid phrases, building intensity then it dissolved into spacious, exploratory phrases and chords as the piano took over.  Little, by little Downes, as he had done all evening,  assembled motifs and phrases, condensing the sound until glittering lines were flying in all directions.

Tetra seem to weave magic whenever they play and Thursday’s visit to the Vortex was no exception.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival Round -Up, April 30th & May 1st

Cheltenham Jazz Festival  just gets better. Uncertain sunshine and icy squalls couldn’t take the gloss off, although it may temporarily have driven a few punters out of the open air festival pitch in Montpellier Gardens. Capacity of the wallet and ability to absorb sublime music limited me to a couple of gigs on Saturday and delicious trio of them on Sunday, almost all of which have been reviewed by London Jazz News’ near wall to wall coverage , so brief impressions here.

Saturday

Having in recent years come across various alumni of either Birmingham, or Norway’s Trondheim Conservartoires, I thought it was about time I caught up with the Trondheim Jazz Exchange‘s now annual showcase of the current generation of students on Saturday lunchtime. Three ensembles, each a mixture of students from both institutions performed mainly original music seasoned with a few classics. The second drumless ensemble, performed a piece based around a haunting theme that emerged after much atmospherics, and the ethereal sound of Sondre Ferstad‘s harmonica. A sparse pulse from Ben Moorhead‘s bass anchored Simon Ovinge‘s Frisell-esque guitar solo, all lingering phrases and country-ish reverb.   Vittoria Mura‘s tenor completed the quartet that rather stole an absorbing show for me, sandwiched as they were between two very classy sets full of vim and explosive and exploratory playing.  An absorbing hour or so in the present that augered well for the future.

After a bit more dodging of showers, I was back in the Parabola Theatre for The Printmakers to show just why they’ve been nominated (again) for a Parliamentary Jazz Award.  After a few introductory riffles and sighs from the band, Breath Away developed a seemingly effortless headlong momentum, James Maddren on drums and Steve Watts‘ bass a master class in how to lock together and generate propulsive energy without filling all the space up. With Norman Winstone‘s vocal twisting around Mark Lockhart‘s sax it was glorious whilst being familiar.  Niki Iles‘ Tideaway had a ‘natural effects central’ intro with Winstone and Lockhart evoking breezes whilst Mike Walker supplied the seagulls from somewhere inside his guitar. His Clockmaker had the band flying and Maddren lighting a fire under them on a vamp out, no wonder Walker was grinning. They are surely one of our finest small groups, with a playful energy and restrained lyricism that enfolds the listener.

Sunday

It didn’t take long for the FDR Big Band to warm the cavernous Town Hall early on Sunday afternoon, playing Julian Arguelles‘ arrangements of South African Jazz, much of it penned by the exiles, like Chris Macgregor, Dudu Pukwana with whom he, brother Steve and Django Bates played. Those three were the guests with the big band. Arguelle’s arrangements were sublime, packaging up the irrepressibly joyous tunes and grooves for maximum impact and bouncing the melodies around the band, so they were like a massed choir.   The repertoire was largely that of the CD release Let It Be Told,  but this was a rare, possibly not to be repeated chance to see the live set. I for one left wondering how anything was going to come close for the rest of the day (or maybe the year).

Trumpeter Christian Scott provided a total contrast later in the afternoon on the smaller of the two tented stages, the Jazz Arena.  Tony Dudley Evans (who must have been getting quite a bit of exercise as he popped up introducing every band I saw), described Stretch Music as an embracing  different types and inspirations for music beyond classic jazz. That could have been a metaphor for the whole festival as I’d arrived there via the future  of North European jazz, the cream of English bands and a German big band playing South African music.  It was ironic then, that this set stretched the definition the least although it was no less thrilling for that. This was a new line-up for Scott, with alto Logan Richardson and pianist Tony Tixier joining Scott. As a result, there were just a couple of forays into stretch territory with pre-recorded loops, heavy beats, distorted twisting melodies and lots of effects producing ghostly hoots and keening screeches from the trumpet. Most of the set however was an exuberant, burning versions of some classics with Eye of the Hurricane, Equinox, a modal Donald Harrison piece that even had Scott quoting solos from So What before the tune suddenly veered off into a racing take on Miles Davis’ Dolores.  It was exhilarating stuff, Richardson showing just why he’s so lauded currently and TIxier on piano a revelation. The packed Jazz Arena crowd loved it.

My day ended with another contrast, back in the Parabola Theatre for a Sunday evening set IMG_0002.jpgwith Gioavanni Guidi‘s trio.  The intimate space could have been designed for a set like this.  The trio weave between quite simple themes, sometimes a tone poem, at others the most delicate of Bach – like decorated melodies, still others repeating growling motifs. There may be a hail of notes, sounding like they might be pouring from a bucket, or a single bell like tone allowed to fill the room. Joao Lobo shadowed and complemented every move with rustles, disruptive flurries of rhythm and moody squeals using what looked like random ‘objet trouves’.   A delightful set, ending with an encore of, getting its second airing of the day, the South African stomper, You aint gonna know me cos you think you me dedicated by a grinning Guidi to Claudio Ranieri.

There may be bigger festivals, there may be louder festivals, but the diverse programme and concentrated buzz of Cheltenham’s annual jazz feast is surely hard to beat.

 

 

 

Martin Speake/ Bobo Stenson, Colston Hall – Lantern, Tuesday 26th April

bobocolston2Bobo Stenson is a unique and quietly influential figure.  The Swedish pianist’s many sideman gigs with horn players have included  Jan Garbarek on some of the earliest ECM recordings and a series of Charles Lloyd releases. His distinctive, poetic sound and viscerally rhythmic  touch have most often been heard in recent years in the context of his own, telepathically sympathetic trio . His partnership with serial collaborator Martin Speake however, is an enduring one and he’s been coming to UK for short tours at regular, if not frequent intervals since their first hook-up, which led to an ECM recording with Paul Motion on drums finally released a decade ago now. The first gig  on the current tour at Colston Hall’s  Lantern was a thrilling demonstration of what is special about their collaboration.

The quartet was completed by Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums and not only was it the first gig of the tour, but also the first time the four had performed together. It meant one of the pleasures of the evening was watching the band begin to breathe together. Early in the first set a Speake original, with a simple pretty tune, provided a platform for Stenson to develop a fiercely driving solo and by the time they band were vamping out over the theme, Chaplin and Stenson were locked together with a little rhythmic kick they appeared to find together.  In the second set, Folk Song for Paul featured an extended introduction from the piano, the rhythmic pulse of the theme seeming just to condense from the atmosphere and a quintessential Stenson solo followed, full of rippling, melodic lines, hesitations and distortions of the time. James Maddren seemed to be inside his mind by this point, following every feint and flurry.

The gig had been billed as the quartet playing music from the ECM release Change of Heart. 2016-04-26 20.06.32It was nothing of the sort of course. Speake’s prolific composing output and insatiable musical curiosity meant that we were treated to a mixture of his finely crafted, frequently yearning and reflective compositions, a tune of literally medieval provencance,  arrangements of a Puccini theme (O mio babbino caro) and a Frederico Mompou compostion (Cancon is danse No. 6).  A dip into Charlie Parker’s oeuvre had Bobo deconstructing Be-bop on Charlie’s Wig and they closed on a wryly understated reading of Some Enchanted Evening.

Speake’s own sound has a distilled quality to it, crystal clear and solos developing extended ideas and occasionally erupting into passionate flurries and squeals of emotion.  Chaplin and Maddren may have been less to the fore in this gig, but they had their moments in the spotlight and the responsiveness of the band to each other breathed vital life into the set.

The expression of pleasure and joy through a slightly melancholy tinged reflectiveness is sometimes characterised as typically nordic, Swedish ‘vemod’. To my ears, there is something of this in Speake’s music.  Its better expressed through music than words (perhaps illustrated by the last sentence!) and was threaded through this performance.   Who better to play this with him than the Swedish master.  I  left uplifted and just a bit inspired.

They are on the second of a two night residency at London’s Vortex tonight, not to be missed if you are nearby.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Jazzy March Round up 3: CD Reviews NYSQ, Lloyd, Crockatt, Gemmer

In between life, playing and listening to live music, there have been a few CD reviews for London Jazz News.  What a treat that is, both the familiar and the fresh popping through the letter box (or occasionally into Dropbox). Here’s a round up of the recent crop (not all in March I hasten to add) a trio of quartets and a legend.

Power-of-10-Album-CoverThe New York Standards Quartet don’t just play standards.  They reinvent, twist and stretch them – with love.  Power of Ten marks ten years of the partnership of the core three Dave Berkman, Tim Armacost and Gene Jackson. The quartet is completed by Whirlwind boss Michael Janisch for this typically exuberant and addictive outing.  My review for is here.   Another Quartet, this time led by Loop Collective tenor-man Sam Crockatt had an all Brit CrockattMellsBells
cast playing a crop of his lovingly crafted compositions on Mells Bells. It’s a mouth watering band with Kit Downes, James Maddren and Oli Hayhurst given the space to stretch out.  Crockatt’s by turns muscular and tenderly lyrical approach mark this set out as an early 2016 highlight for me. The  review is here.  The band are on tour in April. Check Sam’s Website to see if you can make one of the gigs (you really should!).   Maestro Charles Lloyd is unmistakable in any context he appears.  Music-Review-Charles-Lloyd-amp-the-Marvels-1254x1254I find him irresistible.  His second outing on Blue Note since his return to the label last year, I Long To See You finds him and his regular band in the company of Bill Frisell, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and with guest appearances from Willie Nelson and Norah Jones no less. You’d be right to expect more than a tinge of country.  There’s plenty to relish SoreGemmerLarkand quintessential Lloyd atmospherics – review here. Danish pianist  Søren Gemmer’s  release Lark completes the trio of quartets , albeit expanded for some tracks with guest Mads La Cour on trumpet –  whose release Almuji last year kept finding its way back into my playlists. The review of Lark  is here. Angular, sometimes astringent, arresting nordic jazz.

 

A slice of Cheltenham: Arguelles, Scofield and M & M (and W)

Pic by jez matthews

Pic by jez matthews

Saving the best ’til last can be a bit a risky – will the reality bear the weight of expectation?  There were no worries on that score as Julian Arguelles‘ band, swelled to a septet at the behest of the Cheltenham  festival, delivered an exultant performance last Sunday to bring the curtain down on the sequence of gigs at the beautifully appointed Parabola Arts Centre. His core band of Sam Lassserson on bass, Kit Downes at the piano and James Maddren behind the kit were augmented by the bass clarinet and saxes of George CrowleyPercy Pursglove’s  trumpet and flugelhorn and the trombone of Kieran McCloud. IMG_1453There were so may moments to savour, with composer and arranger in chief Arguelles making full use of the expanded pallette. Fugue, gave us a typically thrilling one.  The central idea was a quintessential Arguelles theme – a mazy extended line that played straight could have had a classical, perhaps Iberian tinge to it, but in his hands had a gutsy swagger with the whiff of a New York cellar bar to it. By the time the layers had built up, there was a hue and cry to wake the dead.  Triality closed the hour and half set with a similar tumult. But even when the band were blazing, there was fiercely controlled intensity to everyone’s playing.  There were tender and more lyrical moments, ballads, individual flurries, including a segue from Percy Pursglove reminding us trumpeters do circular breathing too, that had the audience bug-eyed as he produced a sound from his trumpet that sound for all the world like a microphone in a hurricane.  And at the centre the sublime playing of Arguelles whose phrases flow and spiral, rising and falling in volume like a sigh and growling and grooving in an elemental way.  As Tony Dudley Evans reminded us, this is another voice first heard with Loose Tubes that has become a major  creative force.

That was a great end to a day at Cheltenham’s Jazz festival that had another very good year. Deep pockets are needed if you want to attend more than a few gigs so mine was a day trip on Sunday with the climax in the Parabola Theatre, dipping into a programme that started during the week and intensified over the week end (reviews of much it on Bristol 24/7 and London Jazz News from messrs Benjamin and Turney respectively including ‘Sax legend Saturday’ that saw appearances from Archie Shepp, Lee Konitz and Joe Lovano).   My Sunday started with the intriguing collaboration between fusion guitar legend John Scofield and young, making waves German Pablo Held Trio who showed the Montpellier Gardens audience why they have been getting excited reviews.  Grooves appeared out of swirling abstractions  Pablo Held built layers dissonant arpeggios and stabbing chords over fractured surging IMG_1450pulses from Jonas Burgwinkel on drums and Robert Landfermann on bass.  Somehow it fit seamlessly John Scofield’s guitar as he sometimes seemed to gouge short phrases and notes out with his unabashedly rocky sound, at others deliver silvery bursts of boppish runs thread through the trios accompaniment. At times they kicked into familiar bluesey riffs and they finished on a post- bop burn up on a standard whose title tantalisingly eluded me.  A dense, absorbing gig in stark contrast to Medeski, Martin and Wood who wowed the Big Top with there furious organ trio blend of rock, blues,  New Orleansy gospel. I picked up a fair bit of social media muttering from MMW aficionados about the second half of the gig with guest Jamie Cullum. It did have the air of a jam as they reached for Nature Boy and Caravan, the latter a natural victim for John Medeski’s howling synths and organ, but they gave every appearance of having a great time on stage and it was hard not to relax into it and enjoy from where I was sitting.

A thoroughly satisfying day of jazz immersion with the  festival vibe around the Montpellier Gardens hub and late night jam at Hotel du Vin irresistible. I’ll be back