If blog posts have been a little sporadic over the last couple of months, listening and gig attendance has not. A quick look back over the shoulder is in order. I fancy we recall impressions and how it felt to be present rather than details when it comes to recalling live gigs at distance. A couple stand out in sharp relief. Pianist Bruce Barth touched down at the Hen and Chicken early in March, a world class performer (a CV that includeds Mingus Big Band AND Tony Bennett!) , he’d not been seen in Bristol for 18 years he said. It was an evening of blistering straight-ahead trio jazz. The tingle of excitement is still there. We did wonder if the newly donated grand piano was going to last the evening given the energy Barth devoted to testing it out.
March also saw the 2017 edition of Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival. Jon Turney’s summary for London Jazz captures the thrill and buzz. I am still thrilled by Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures. The original themes and grooves are all engaging and absorbing, the afterglow that has remained is the unbridled gust of energy and joie de vivre with which the band played. Singling out the dual horns of Laura Jurd’s trumpet and Mark Lockheart’s sax seems a little invidious given the importance of the collective vibe, but their interplay and individual soloing lifted the roof a inch or two more off its moorings. To play with such freedom and togetherness on complex material marks this band out as something special. They went on to record a live album at the end of the tour of which this gig was a part. Put me down for a copy!
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.
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.
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