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.
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.
There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).
But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio. If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February. The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April. Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.
Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.
The welcome reappearance of the sun over Bath recently may turn our thoughts to summer and festivals, and for seekers of jazz (fairly) nearby Cheltenham and Bath (hurrah, jazz is back in the programme) on the early and late May Bank Holidays certainly do the honours, not to mention Brecon celebrating 30 years in mid- August, but a quick survey of what’s coming up locally highlights the quality and range of the week by week options. World beating visitors there may be (and there certainly are), but our world beating local residents show no sign of slowing down so an illustrative round-up is in order, before flagging up who’s coming to visit.
In Bath, the longstanding residency of Wade Edwards‘ Jazzhouse Trio at St. James Wine Vaults continues, welcoming a stream of top quality guests. Fine local trumpeter Dan Reid is there on 1st May, on the 8th former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman and for many, one of the finest jazz musicians this country has produced, Jason Rebello visits with son George on drums and Somerset based Sam Crockatt on tenor who also has a national reputation. Another British jazz legend Art Themen returns to the Vaults on 12th June. An intermittent residency has emerged at The Fringe Bar in Bristol’s Clifton Village. ECM recording artist and global star Andy Sheppard has been appearing there regularly with a variety of line-ups including the much loved Pushy Doctors, a developing new quartet with guitarist Denny Illett and various one off hook- ups. He’s there on Thursdays 24th April, 15th May, 12th June and the 24th July. In between there’s a mix of really high quality local bands including James Morton, John Pearce and Dave Newton, Kevin Figes, Freight and many others. Thursdays are busy in Bristol with jazz at The Future Inn (now with a £5 cover charge but free parking thrown in) hosting a similarly strong line-up. George Cooper (on May 1st), Celestine Walcott Gordon, as seen on the Voice, Andy Hague, James Gardiner Bateman and Dave Newton Trio are there in May. In Bath the legendary Bell is doing its bit to showcase locally based bands with a wider reputation. Kevin Figes Quartet are there on June 8th with Freight featuring Craig Crofton and Bath based bass maestro Greg Cordez on July 7th. Earlier in June the groovier end of jazz gets its turn with the George Mabusa Band on 11th June and the peerless John Paul Gard with Jon Dalton on an annual visit from Los Angeles on 9th June. And there’s more, and more and more. Bristol blogger Jon Turney does a weekly round-up that reaches parts this taster can’t; it’s always worth checking our what he’s spotted if you’re heading out on a whim.
There are a few very notable visitors gracing venues nearby over the next couple of months. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart brings his Anticipating Ellington band to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday April 26th. The CD of this band was on many critics album of the year last year and its a cracking line-up. The following week, on Monday 28th, Mercury Prize nominated Led Bib land at The Bell. “Two saxes deliver raw energy and grit, the moodswings and slowdowns are tightly rehearsed and tunes are catchy” according to Mike Hobart in the FT . May 10th back at the Wiltshire Music Centre its pianist Niki Iles’ Printmakers with a band containing a who’s who of British contemporary jazz including Norma Winston, guitarist Mike Walker and that man Mark Lockheart again. Amongst a strong programme of local bands the BeBop Club has great London band visiting in Dave Manington’s Riff Raff in May and local man Nick Malcolm’s Quartet are there as part of a national tour in June.There’s action at Bristol’s Colston Hall too with Phronesis, the hottest trio ticket in town just now with their Scandinavian-British blend of complex but grooving jazz there on May 23rd and then late in June Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra for a celebration of Blue Notes 70th anniversary to the main hall.
This is an embarrassment of riches even without the festivals nearby. Cheltenham Festival on the first bank holiday covers the universe of jazz in tents, the town hall and small theatres. An astonishing line-up with something to make your mouth water whatever your favourite flavour. Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling will be hanging out with a re-united Loose Tubes and the hottest of New York young tyros trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to pick a few at random. Check out the programme. Brecon’s mid -August extravagnaza has a similar spread with some of the same names but plenty of individuality and eye catchingly Burt Baccharach headlining. Bath sounds a welcome, different note. It’s also smaller in scale but there’s a focussed weekend of gigs in the Guildhall and a cross-over finale in the abbey of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. It’s a welcome return.
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.
I seem to have taken January off from blogging though not from jazz. I caught the reliably fiery, funky and moving James Morton at St. James wine Vaults at the first gig of the year there, missed Johnny Bruce on trumpet there a couple of weeks later though. Compassionate Dictaorship swept through the BeBop club, happily Jon Turney enjoyed it as much as I did and said as much. I missed plenty at the BeBop subsequently, sadly including John Law’s trio who are simply sublime. Still, there’s plenty more to come in the month ahead and this week seems to be Bobby Wellins week in the Bath area. He was one third of the trio that appeared at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday (Brigitte Beraha and John Turville completed it) and he’s back at the Wine Vaults on Thursday to put the Jazzhouse Trio through their paces – I’ll be there. Just a bit further ahead, Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival – meejah presence seems to be reaching fever pitch, deservedly. I feel a preview coming on soon! But first, to enjoy Wellins week (obviously arranged especially for my birthday)
An impeccably dressed, elderly African gentleman walks slowly across the stage, nods at the bass player and drummer as he passes them and sits at the piano. He strokes a few chords, pauses and then plays a delicate almost classical, hymn like theme. The bass and drums join in, almost imperceptibly and the piece develops meditatively before petering out. The pianist then gradually works himself into another theme after a series of chords and arpegios. Yes, this is Abdullah Ibrahim and his trio at the climax of the Colston Hall Jazz Festival. For us this was an afternoon that had taken in a quick snatch of Andy Hague’s Quintet in full, post-bop, blazing flight; Get the Blessing (the regular quartet augmented by tombone, guitar and string quartet) playing their rocky,jazzy, zany, catchy, punkish music, Andy Sheppard’s tabla driven world-jazz quintet and a quick top up of James Morton’s Porkchop playing their full throated, get down, funky, sixties Blue Note jazz (with Pee Wee Ellis guesting, just in case you were not sure where their heart was).
Attending a live set of Abdullah Ibrahim’s trio set is an experience. Its as if you are invited to join him in quiet mediation. The bass and and drums wrap a protective blanket round his almost doodled themes. Only occasionally do they break into a canter. There is something very compelling about it. If you are not focused, or maybe the band not quite ‘on it’, the effect can be somnolent (the chap next to me certainly succumbed and snored gently for half the hour and a quarter set). Two years ago in Bath I was utterly transfixed by this trio. Last night, I didn’t connect quite as strongly. Me or them? Who knows.
What a brilliant festive occasion this was with galaxy of stars from several different universes. Get the Blessing delivered a great set with some intriguing additions. At one point with Adrian Utley on stage and ethereal vocals (from Tammy Payne), there was a hint of Portishead about proceedings. Bristol’s ‘very own’ Andy Sheppard had brought a great band with him (I secretly enjoyed John Paricelli and Arild Anderson more than Mr. S …. sorry!) playing some of his most recent material. As usual, the highlights of the day were unexpected moments; the sheer joie de vivre of James Morton playing Chicken with Pee Wee Ellis, Evind Aarset’s mad, wonky, effects laden intro to a tune in Andy S’s very mellow set – and the slightly stomach lurching effect of that spectacular new foyer and staircase at the Colston Hall.