Keith Jarrett Trio, Royal Festival Hall, Wednesday 27th July

This trio have released so much of their music on CD (17 albums worth apparently) often live recordings, that you can take them for granted. Of course the performance is flawless; of course the interplay and communication seem telepathic (this is a long and successful marriage). In fact barely a word was spoken, so naming of tunes was down to our own radars. We did about as well as all the newspaper reviewers ( In Your Own Sweet Way, Basin Street Blues, Slow-ish pop tune sounding number, Sandu, ballad I didn’t know but apparently ‘What now my love. Second set, Bop-be, Yesterdays, When Will the Blues Leave; four encores – God Bless the Child, ballad, blues, When I fall in Love). I don’t see many gigs where the player’s sound is so familiar. Like many lovers of the piano in jazz, this trio has been a constant soundtrack to life (for pushing twenty years for me).  On this evening a couple of things stood out to my ears. The first was how increasingly classical Jarrett’s touch sounds sometimes; there were exquisitely rendered intros and lullaby like ballads where the simplest of single note lines were singing and hanging in the air. Then, in contrast, the blues was never far way, always a strong part of his playing but particularly present this evening whether on a blues form or lace through the improvisation on the standards.  The first set was unquestionably low – key, almost introspective (my other pair of ears experienced it as a bit flat). The energy ramped up in the second set by the time they were playing Ornette Coleman’s When will the Blues Leave they really seemed to be cutting loose. Jarrett’s rocky take on God Bless the Child makes it hard not to grin and dance along.  The man seemed in form to me. The characteristic blizzards of notes fused together into long melodic lines that were utterly compelling. Like the best gigs, I’m still recalling some of those moments now a couple of days later. To paraphrase Jack de Johnette’s words as he appealed for no photos, I took the music home with me.  Having read a few of the other reviews now Guardian, London Jazz, Evening Standard, I see there are plenty of different or opposite responses, so for the record, another of my impressions was how good I thought the sound was.

A glimpse of the Future and other delights

I’m intending to pop to Future Inn tonight to see Tim Whitehead and am excited by the prospect. A not loudly feted, but unfailingly passionate and creative tenor player of the generation of lyrical and thoughtful players (and a few incendiary ones as well) that emerged in the late 80s and 90s ( Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart, that Sheppard chap, Courtney Pine to name a few).  I am struck by the quality of the Future Inns programme this Autumn and the fact that it’s slightly less ‘classy but conservative’ to quote Jon Turney than when it started and a bit more up and coming, world beating, varied and adventurous. So I’ve missed John Parecelli and Kit Downes (doh!) – will miss Phronesis (damn), but Robert Mitchell, Killer Shrimp and others are coming so the quality is assured. But Future hasn’t cornered the market this Autumn. The be-Bop Club programme looks good with the best of Bristol as ever (Nick Malcom, James Gardner Bateman, Andy Hague ) in the programme but some stellar visitors as well – Simon Spillet, Damon Brown coming soon for instance.  Up at the Cori tap a wildly funky super group (led by Gary Aylsbrook) is doing a two night residency from tomorrow and in October you can catch James Morton there, Jim Mullen’s Organ Trio and much more. Bristol is certainly well supplied this Autumn (and I haven’t mentioned St. George’s or Colston Hall or started on Bath…).

Martial Solal Trio, Bath Festival, The Pavilion, Sunday May 30th

I confess: I didn’t know the music of Martial Solal before I went to this gig.  There’s no excuse really. A tiny amount of googling reveals both his reputation and accomplishments. He moved to paris in 1949 and joined a music scene energised by a visit by Charlie Parker, he played with Django Rheinhardt and so many others. So his history is woven into the development of this music. He wrote the music for Godard’s film A bout de souffle – enough to make a film buff breathless (sic). The way he strode onto stage belied his 82 years. When he struck the first few chords (and he does strike the piano!), the game of ‘sounds like’ takes on a different hue when you consider he was a contemporary of all those comparisons. So, is there something of Monk in those descending runs, jabbed chords and solos that develop motifs more than melodic lines, of Bill Evans in the richly harmonised passages embellishing the statement of themes? Perhaps, but more than anything, I don’t think I’ve heard anything quite like this and  comparisons only say is  here is someone steeped in the sounds and rhythms of post war jazz, but extraordinarily his own man. The material is standards (Caravan, My One and Only Love, Tea for Two, Green Dolphin Street, Cherokee),  the treatment is anything but. The other remarkable actors in this drama were the brothers Moutin (Francois on bass and Louis on drums). They gave every appearance of thinking with Solal so that their interventions and accompaniment stopped, started and rushed of in new directions as if the trio were the perfect three legged race competitors on a randomly changing obstacle course. Each piece would start with a rumble in the bass, a florrid arpeggio or two, dissonant stabbed chords that turned into a vamp if the fancy struck – a familar phrase would appear, hinting at the standard that was being dismantled in front of us, then perhaps they would launch into a straight walking, grooving turn round the changes with Solal excercising his very contemporary jazz chops. On other occasions, odd phrases provided the material for more flourishes and embellishments before selecting another one to play with, sometimes stretching the time, stopping and starting, sometimes grooving away. And Martial can get down with the kids – a seriously mangled Cherokee in the encore appeared to morph into a funky version of So What. This was extraordinary stuff and Solal was the imperious, imposing, creative force driving it. The Moutin brothers were breathtaking in the responsiveness and fluency. What an evening!

Eric Vloeimans Fugimundi Trio, Bath Festival, Pavilion, Sunday 30th May

This first set of another festival double bill had a definite twinkle in its eye. Trumpeter Vloeimans set the tone by drawing our attention to his silver shoes (as opposed to clogs) and asserting that in Holland, heterosexual men wear pink trousers, all before an exquisite, pure toned note had issued from his trumpet. The first sounds were scuffles on the guitar and wiffles from the trumpet with a few abstract chords from the piano thrown in. I had no idea what to expect from this trio so was wondering if we were in for an hour of spontaneous abstraction but no, a beautiful melody appeared through the mist with the trumpet sounding like a flute and a gentle rocking pulse developed. This band were having such fun together and listening intently. It was like watching three mates jam together chasing ideas almost before they’d appeared from one or other partner, but make no mistake: the level of musicianship was supreme and the genres sampled varied. So after the floaty, lightly anthemic opener, we had a tango like workout, followed by a sort of jazz soul groove tune. Guitarist Anton Goudsmit sounding by turns like a stripped down country – esque player (pace Bill Frisell) and then a muted rock ‘axe hero’ in between hip, contemporary jazz solos.  There was a fair bit of capering from Vloeimans, jokily inviting us to think about the boundaries between pop and jazz before stepping back playing a heart stopping hymn like lament. This tune, Joel, seemed to have everyone on their edge of their seats. They left the stage to thunderous applause. We were hugely entertained, there were times when, substituting pianist Harmen Fraanje for an accordion, I could imaging them in a town square somewhere in Europe and others where the stage of jazz festival was the only place they could be, such was the interplay and imagination on display. What a great gig, the sort you leave feeling just a bit more alive.

John Taylor/ Julian Lourau’s Quartet Saigon, Bath Festival, The Pavilion, Sunday 30th May

This double bill started with my second solo piano set of the last 24 hours, this time from John Taylor playing without Kenny Wheeler who has injured his hand. For me this set was a joy: John Taylor, unwrapped, distilled, exposed without distractions. For an unashamed fan like me all that I love about his music was on display. From the first simple tracing of the melody of the Kenny Wheeler composition Consolation, supported by typically sonorous chords and subtle shifting of voicings (the pun/ irony of the title duly spelt out for us in the announcing!) to the fiercely two handed rhythmic interpretation of another Wheeler tune with which he closed (Everyone’s Song but my own), the full range of John Taylor’s sound and ideas were on display. I hear a quiet, joyful, exuberance in this music and it is distinctively his voice that is heard. Today there was a surpising amount of bluesey, gospel like phrases juxtaposed with his more familiar lush jazzy sound. I’m not sure he was even at the top of his game this afternoon, but the spirit was there and felt by most in the audience. Like most music, there is a taste or preference dimension – I’m reporting as a fan, I think some of my friends were less enthralled.

No such equivocation over Julian Lourau’s band though, I didn’t speak to anyone who wasn’t saying “wow” afterwards. The tunes were all written either by leader and saxophonist Lourau or by the pianist Laurent Coq. Strong  melodies more European than bop flavoured jazz, varied rythmic feels that switched several times within a single piece gave each compostions a slightly epic feeling. Fast intricate passages were doubled by the sax and piano really upping the excitement quotient and some dramatic soloing from Lourau and Coq in particular were all gripping. There was a bit of showmanship from Lourau on a piece inspired by haiti, as he turned the sax into a percussion instrument by resting the bell on the mic and generating a furious percussion storm on the keys. This was a bit of a live tour de force and had us all whooping for more. Well done Bath for reminding us of the richness of the European jazz scene. More to come tonight with a Dutch trio and another frenchman, Martial Solal.

Andy Hague’s Text Messengers, Be-Bop Club, Friday 7th May

Trumpeter and drummer Andy Hague’s composing and arranging skills are a very badly kept secret in these parts, showcased as they are in his long standing quintet, occasional big band and a host of other fleeting projects. But it bears repeating (and broadcasting): skillful writing and arranging can define and meld a band together and that’s what Andy achieved again with this fantastic line-up (Andy on trumpet, Alan Barnes alto, Ben Waghorn tenor and rhythm section to die for of Scott Hammond, Thad Kelly and Jim Blomfield).  Self deprecating, jokey titles and names are also a Hague stock in trade (I ‘m sure I’ve an album of his on my shelves called Portrait of the Artist as an old git!). This one told us to expect Art Blakey-like sounds and we were not disappointed, the  jokiness belied the seriousness and respect that the band gave the material. Closely harmonised themes, catchy horn riffs behind solos, even a few shout choruses  cueing up drum solos. It was great fun and the standards repertoire in the first set evoked some lovely controlled soloing all round, spiced up with the Alan Barnes stand up routine between tunes. The introduction of a few Hague originals and slightly unusual material (Freddie Hubbard’s Jodo for instance  – a bit of a modal workout) seemed to light a bit of a fire under everyone and the blowing got more impassioned and the temperature in the room seemed to go up a few degrees during the second set. Alan Barnes really seemed to let go on Hands Up, a Hague penned New Orleans like shuffle – real hairs on the neck stuff. For me, the stand out moments were still some the more tender, beautifully arranged,  statements of themes such as Corcovado in the second set, and the thoughtful fluent soloing it evoked. Apparently the project was conceived for the Swanage Jazz Festival in July, so the punters there are in for a treat if this gig was anything to go by.

Borrowed Ears: Pee Wee Ellis, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 18th March

Distractions and busy-ness have kept me away from live gigs and blogging of late. But Pee Wee Ellis, the late James Brown’s legendary sideman, in the intimate and impeccably jazzily louche surroundings of the Wine Vaults was surely irresistible. Others thought so too. Curses! It was sold out, so this review comes to you through borrowed ears.

Presence. Groove – damn that swings. Energy. Qualities, hard to pin down, but they just seem to ooze out of the man. A nod, a final grin from Pee Wee, and the band were into There Is No Greater Love  with an unforced swinging pulse that had everyone in the room unable to stop themselves from nodding or tapping along. This set the scene for two sets of standards with the obligatory Pee Wee penned ‘Chicken’ to finish – the only out and out funky tune of the night. As Pee Wee said, growling into the microphone at the end, this was a jaaaazz gig.  We see quite a bit of Pee Wee around here. There’s a lot of guesting and sitting in, so its easy to be a bit blase. But a gig like this reminds us why he’s got near legend status. There were no stylistic envelopes being pushed in terms of repertoire or the content of solos, but the emotional force and melodic power of his playing was reminiscent of Sonny Rollins live in the way the actual material seemed to cease to matter .

The Jazz House Trio (Wade, Vyv and Trevor) rose to the occasion again, sitting up a bit straighter, digging a bit deeper and this one had really pulled the crowds in. The Vaults were bulging (and chatting loudly at the back!). There were even signs of a bit of rehearsing with some neat endings and unexpected modulations. Another triumph for the vaults then, lets hope a few of the unfamiliar faces come again now they’ve tried it. As my borrowed ears said of the evening – what’s not to like? This was a real jaaazz gig