Magical musical moments a-plenty in the last month.

Note to self:  In amongst the hurly burly of ‘yet another thing’, jostling for attention or needing to be done, remember to stop and appreciate the moments of of magic. The mind can play tricks.  With non-musical pre-occupations distracting me (a lot) the last month or so, I’d been thinking live music had taken a back seat. Until I wrote a list

There were the ones that I actually wrote about: Chris Potter at Cheltenham Jazz Festival; London Vocal Project (LVP)‘s UK premiere of Miles Ahead; Bath Festival gigs (these for Jazzwise)Brad Mehdlau, Georgie Fame with Guy Barker Big Band and ‘Stormy‘, a one women theatre show about Lena Horne. Of that little crop Mehldau, and LVP still give me a physical tingle if I stop and think about it.

It seems we are never short of great live music at the moment for the local scene. We took in an outing of Andy Hague‘s Quintet.  As well as being a fine trumpeter and drummer, Andy is a prolific and inventive writer and arranger, making these gigs a bit of a roast for his band. It’s a good job they are all top drawer.  A scintillating arrangement of Ladies in Mercedes still glows in the memories and George Cooper in peak form (only depping mind) absolutely burning on an Andy tune inspired by Giant Steps.

We took in a double bill of Zoe Rahman and Jay Phelps at the Colston Hall’s Lantern stage. Rahman’s was a solo set at the piano and she was simply glowing.  A set of mainly originals with a sprinkling of other sources were vehicles for fiery improvisations.  Elbows, snaking glissandos, plucking and muting strings inside the piano, all were melded into fluid lines that ebbed and flowed, full of drama. Never far away was a meaty groove, sometimes implied, often explicit.  If we’ve seen less of her over the last two or three years on the live circuit, this is timely reminder that she must be one of our most assured and individual voices.   More!!   Jay Phelps band are also, individually, some of the busiest and hardest grooving musicians around. They let rip on a collection of Phelps originals inspired by a couple of years of globe trotting on his part. Sophisticated funk, latin grooves and soulful hip hop inflected themes were the order of the day.  Phelps made is mark as trumpeter as a very young man.   His writing for voice seemed to stretch his own vocal technique however.

As if all that wasn’t enough – catching a set of Alex Hutton stretching out on what sounded like a Bill Evans themed set at the Archduke (just on London’s southbank ) was a delight.  With Dave Whitford on bass and a drummer whose name I didn’t quite catch, they were nonchalently swinging like mad and Hutton reminding me what fine, lyrical improvise he is.

Maybe not such a quiet month then.   Wherever you are, it seems you may not be too far from some great live music.





Navigating the Jazz Bubble, More London Jazz Festival Wanderings

A few years worth of jazz festivals have taught me that it’s possible to overload my senses so that the remarkable can pass by in a blur. Sleeping through most of an eagerly anticipated Jim Hall gig stands as one such memory. Yesterday’s wanderings were planned with ‘less is more’ as a starting point (quantity not quality of course).  What a delightful, quirky meander it turned out to be with the wallet lighter by a mere £10 for tickets and a voluntary donation to sustain St. James Picadilly who have the best piano in London, according to Christine Allen who introduced Liam Noble’s lunch time solo gig. It’s a Fazioli concert grand (I wonder what happened to the Fazioli that used to be in Ronnie Scott’s).  Liam’s gig provided one of the day’s more random delightful moments. As he climbed inside the piano to pluck a few strings and rattle the piano, creating an abstract sound scape that was his setting for one of a cycle of Japanese poems on the theme of death (he does have an eye for the commercial has he pointed out), I wondered how he was creating more mechanical random noises that seemed to blend beautifully with what he was doing. It took a moment to realise we were hearing the city. We were in St James, Piccadilly and it was like, well, Piccadilly Circus out there. A revved scooter, a slamming door, a high pitched car horn seemed almost scripted. It was the city joining in – odd and delightful.  The mobile phone ring tone from a couple of rows in front didn’t work so well for me.

Later, a sample of the Jay Phelps Quartet was a delight on the free stage at Ray’s Jazz. He was at Ronnie’s the day before supporting Dee Dee Bridgwater, there Late Late last night, and supporting the David Murray Big Band with Macy Gray on Sunday at the Barbican.  No compromise on quality at Ray’s then and it looked like the programme had been strong all week.

That ticket was for the Con Cellar Bar. As my other pair of ears (back from a day working whilst I relaxed!) pointed out after we’d crowd surfed our way to our seat at the front of the postage stamp sized bar so that we were staring down the bell of Julian Arguelles’ sax, the contrast with the previous evening could hardly have been more extreme.  At the Festival Hall for Esperanza Spalding we’d been well back in the balcony. Distance between us? She was the size of a pin to the eye. Apart from the fact that the Con Bar would fit onto the Festival Hall stage several times over, had we been the same distance from Esperanza we’d surely have been arrested for invading her personal space.  I’m not sure of the economics of seeing so much world class music for so little outlay, but I ended the day feeling blessed.