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.
Is cause and effect operating here? Is the opportunity to guest with a house trio at a long standing jazz gig, playing to appreciative audiences in the ‘could-have-been-designed-for- the- purpose’ cellar bar beneath St. James, behind the migration of increasing numbers of top flight musicians to this part of the west country? Possibly a little fanciful. A programme that included Iain Ballamy, Dave Newton, Jason Rebello would look pretty strong for a club anywhere. Lucky Bath that they are all locally resident and have appeared since January (or soon will – Jason is next up on July 9th). That’s not to mention the steady supply of locally sourced talent and out of town visitors. This week it was the turn of fairly recently arrived to the area Sam Crockatt, member of London based Loop Collective and sporting an impressive CV despite his relative youth.
A couple of phrases, reeled off as the band dug into Secret Love, was enough to hear just why he attracts admiring comments and turns of the head wherever he plays. There’s a fullness of tone and easy fluency of phrase that instantly conjures up the great tradition of tenor players from Sonny Rollins through Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson. But there’s a distinctive contemporary edge as well. A propulsive kick from the snare of JazzHouse trio’s drummer Trevor Davies and Crockatt was off, burning through the standard’s harmony with a deceptively relaxed ease, but rhythmically inventive and with a blistering sense of groove. The repertoire nodded towards classics and heroes with Softly as the Morning Sunrise, East of the Sun, Dexter Gordan’s Soy Califa, Henderson’s Recordame and some classic Ellington, Isfahan and riotous A Train. The playing was uncliched and full of fire. The regular trio, as ever, were a great foil. Returning for the evening, the original house pianist, John Paul Gard showed us why he is in constant demand. He’s able to colour and float over the music as well as dig in behind soloists and formed a tight knit unit with bassist Wade Edwards and drummer Davies. Crockatt, is popping up all over the local area in various ensembles and any that include him should come highly recommended on this showing.
Busyness, life and writing for other blogs and publications have restricted posting here of late, but here are a few little gems, re-visited or discovered, that it would be wrong not to log.
In no particular order
1. Bath Festival’s Party in the City: We loved hearing Craig Crofton’s sax echoing of the Abbey as we approached Blow-out Sax’s gaffe below North Parade by the River – they’d set up a little stage outside for the night and were competing with the legendary Gas Giants (Tony Orrell with Will Gregory) in Parade Gardens. That was before we hung out at Green Park Brasserie watching Guy Harrap’s band groove away with a youthful George Rebello on drums and his dad (Jason) roady-ing for him… and sitting in on the odd number.
2. Don Weller @ Jazz at the Vaults: He may be in his mid-70s, but he’s still got his mojo and Don Weller was well and truly cooking after a couple of sets with the house trio. Seeing him sparking off Vyv Hope Scott on piano was a thrill to watch. What a treasure this gig is. How many years and counting? 7 or 8 I’m sure. Dave Newton is the next guest (28th May) followed by Jim Mullen and Zoe Francis
3. Frome Jazz Club:This Pheonix has had a few risings, but we caught the first of the latest re-ignitions at the the end of April with John Law dazzling a healthy crowd at the Grain Barge in Frome. Inevitable sitters in (Sam Crockett, Iain Ballamy, Nick Sorensen) and May’s gig was Iain Ballamy. It may be a bit below the radar, but its reliably classy – Keith Harrison Broniski is animateur in chief and has form. He was behind the long running Nunney Jazz Cafe back in the day. Frome’s dynamism is quite a badly kept secret now with John Harris writing fairly regularly in the Guardian about it and their ‘flat pack democracy’. But the jazz is cooking!
4. Scratch and Sniff Orchestra: More DIY. Bristol Composers Collective have morphed into a different shape. There have been two performances this year at the Fringe in Bristol’s Clifton Village. I caught the last one after the collective spent an afternoon rehearsing charts from Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley), Jim Blomfield (himself, Kevin Figes’ bands and….) Will Harris (Moonlight Saving, Michelson Morley and … ) Kevin Figes (himself.. 4tet, 8et, 4sided triangle) augmented by half of Dakhla for blowing power. This was a major treat. Jake’s ‘The one before the first‘ is still with me in the impact of layers of horns and shifts in harmony. Kevin’s writing is unfailingly imaginative and Jim’s brimming with energy. Will seems to have groove and momentum sewn into his musical presence. Great stuff -the fruits of this collaboration, direct or indirect, will pop up somewhere around Bristol or further afield for sure.
5. Play Jazz Weekend : This annual happening has just finished. A pop up Jazz School I’ve written about before but another great weekend was had this year with an instant musical community, learning thrills (and spills) and the tenth time Rachel Kerry has organised it. A milestone worth celebrating.
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.
There’s a simple message for lovers of live music in the Bristol/ Bath area this Autumn (be it jazz tinged or the howling, red in tooth and claw variety you seek). Whether you habitually attend or catch an occasional, spur of the moment burst, there will something on very close by, whenever you seek it out. It will always be top quality, often world class and not infrequently in very intimate surroundings. Here’s a few places to keep an eye on. The regular club nights have eye -poppingly great programmes. Every Thursday you’ll need to decide how to split yourself. In Bristol, Jazz at Future Inns continues weekly with a very classy programme of mainly local players, including that man Dave Newton at least monthly, an on outing for Moonlight Saving Time in November and some interesting visitors. Look out for Dominic Marshall, young piano fiend now resident in Holland. Fringe Jazz is moving round the corner in Clifton to The Mall and hosting Andy Sheppard in various line-ups at lease three time between October and mid November, with Ian Ballamy in between and rising stars, Dan Messore’s Indigo Kid in November. In Bath fortnightly on Thursdays, Jazz at the Vaults continues, again with reliably excellent locals and stellar visitors (saxmen Tony Kofi in November and Simon Spillett in December for instance). Sunday nights in Bath there’s a weekly programme at Gascoyne Place (catch the peerless John Paul Gard at least monthly here) and the Ring 0 Bells in Widcombe (multiple award winning pianist Dave Newton will be there 0n 26th October – intimate surroundings probably overstates the space for the band). More sporadic, Ian Storrer has programmed some mouth watering Sunday gigs at The Hen and Chicken in Bristol starting with the Jim Hart on vibes led Cloudmaker Trio on 28th September with more to follow before Christmas including Tim Richards Heptet and the experimental Lund Quartet. Every Friday The BeBop Club in Bristol continues to showcase the best of the local talent and visiting bands. The rapturously received Tom Green Septet are back there in November and the critically lauded Laura Jurd Quartet are there in December and don’t miss Dakhla in early November if you can help it. In Bath, keep an eye on Burdalls Yard, Bath Spa’s performance space. They’ve received a grant from Jazz Services/ PRS to support a jazz programme and have the impressive collection of tutors on the Uni’s jazz programme performing as BiggSound in October and the Philip Clouts Quartet in November. Gigs at Bath’s Chapel Arts seem to pass under the radar sometime but here’s one not to miss: John Etheridge, bona fide legend who has performed with everyone including Dizyy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Stefan Grapelli appears solo and in duo with singer Kit Holmes on 26th October. The more formal concert spaces have plenty on too. Former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman who started his career touring with the legendary Wayne Shorter, pianist Jason Rebello begins a year long artist in residence stint at The Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradord on Avon by teaming up with Empirical, the now firmly up and come group of still young stars who were last seen in Bath supporting Branford Marsalis in the festival a couple of years ago. That’s on the 27th September. The Autumn programme at St. George’s Bristol has a handful of fantastic gigs through the Autumn (programmer Phil Johnson waxes lyrical about it here) It kicks off with an intriguing spin off from international wave making Snarky Puppy, The Bill Laurence Project on 3rd October, includes Gilad Atzmon‘s Charlie Parker with strings re-working and Scots Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duo and culminates with the adventuorous Swiss Vein Trio with former Miles Davis sideman another genuine legend, saxophonist Dave Liebman. Taking in even a fraction of what’s on will be a feast for the ears and of course this little round-up as ever by no means covers everything. It promises to be another fine season.
There is a feast of jazz of all varieties and vintage to be sampled over the next couple of months in the Bath and Bristol area with a few intriguing, mainly co-incidental threads. The first has to do with the influential Tomorrows Warriors. They emerged in the late eighties in London as the Jazz Warriors and were sustained as an idea and incubator for talent by bass player Gary Crosby. The roll call of players who have made their mark on the British scene graduating from the varous incarnations of this band is lengthy; Courtney Pine, Andrew McCormark and Jason Yarde all performed in Bath at the festival back in May for instance. Tony Kofi, who has forged an international reputation, launched Bath’s Jazz at the Vaults sessions at St. James Wine Vaults in style the other week. Byron Wallen, another Warriors graduate with an international reputation returns to the Vaults on October 18th having loved his previous visit there. Meanwhile, the Lively Up Festival comes to Bristol. Its a traveling series of events celebrating 50 years since Jamaican independence and produced by the Tomorrow’s Warriors team. The latest spin-off of Tomorrows Warriors, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra performs at St. Georges Bristol on the 10th October performing music composed and inspired by the late Joe Harriot. They’ll be supported by the Bristol Reggae Orchestra, a phenomenal community music orchestra. It’ll be a great night. A second strong thread this Autumn is the quality of the other contemporary British jazzers visiting the area. If they’ll forgive the age reference, I’ve spotted at least three generations! Art Themen, tenor sax man supreme and Brit jazz scene living legend who started out jamming with Alexis Korner in the London blues scene of the sixties and inspired by Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins is back for another visit to Jazz at the Vaults in December. Bristol’s BeBop Club has fantastic programme this Autumn and two I’ll pick out for the the succeeding generations are Kate Williams on the 5th October, long established London based pianist and composer who brings a top notch quartet in a modern, straight ahead vein; a little sample on youtube here . Saxophonist Trish Clowes visits the club on the 12th, representing my third generation. Both her debut and recently released second album have caused quite a stir, blending genres and influences whilst retaining real improvisational flair. Although not a Brit, it would be odd not to mention the visit of American pianist Fred Hersch to Bristol on Thursday. Its a solo performance so his mastery of the instrument and take on the jazz canon will be on uncluttered display. Maybe not a household name, he’s definitely a giant and an influence on many current players (his former pupils include Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus). The final thread to pull on is the richness and quality of the local scene. Many of the players are themselves genuine stars. So regular gigs in Bath include the already mentioned Jazz at the Vaults (guitarist Denny Illett on the 4th Cotober, and be sure to check out Jake McMurchie of Get the Blessing on 29th October as well); Sunday evenings at the Ring o Bells are reliably first class and include occasional slots for Dave Newton and John Laws, that’s if you haven’t been lured by the programme at Gascoyne Place. In Bristol, in addition to the BeBop Club and St. Georges there’s a wealth of regular gigs indluding at Colston Hall Foyer (early evening and free), quirky, genre busting programmes at The Rose of Denmark in Hotwells and El Rincon in Southville programmed by Pete Judge (also of Get the Blessing) and notably a new session starting at the Fringe Bar in Clifton every Thursday from the 4th; Staring with the incendiary pairing of Andy Shepppard and James Morton this week and continuing with a weekly programme which includes a few slots of the Pushy Doctors who raised the roof at the Bell recently. What an embarrassment of riches. The main challenge will be deciding what to go to.
The last of the season’s Jazz at the Vaults gigs saw Lee Goodall cross the bridge from Newport (which season was in some doubt as the reliably witty host, DJ Tony Clark referred to its re-naming as the ‘early autumn’ season). On keys for the evening was John Paul Gard, standing in for the house trios regular Vyv Hope Scott. It was this pairing that gave the evening added zest, John and Lee having recently recorded together and knowing each other well. Lee is a multi instrumentalist and composer of beautiful music but alto and standards was the menu for the night, selected from a long list plucked from his pocket at various intervals. Lee’s playing has an instant emotional impact. The warm alto tone and phrasing of themes, hanging back back on the beat and sketching out of a familiar tune never fails to make me catch my breath, whether on ballads (Sonny gets Blue, a gentle latin version of Soul Eyes) or more uptempo swings (Solar, Cherokee). There is constant rhythmic invention too:Lee’s also a great drummer and has a way of playing phrases at the end of sections that seem to hurl you into the next bit of the tune with a notch up the excitement register
But it was the jousting and interplay with John Paul that gradually gave the evening a particular identity. The blues is never far way in both players language. John Paul’s love for gosepelly progressions and re-configured blues progressions provided some stand out moments. As Lee ratcheted up the intensity on Mercy Mercy Mercy you could hear why Van Morrison hired him. A rousing finish to the year for the Wine Vaults with Trevor Davies and Wade Edwards in the rhythm section reminding us why so many top class players want to return for a gig here. Toni Kofi, another top drawer sax player will be along in September so there should be plenty of life in this regular session when it returns in the real Autumn.