John Law’s Congregation, BeBop Club, Friday 17th February

John Law is a man in constant motion.  On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas img_2103from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums  he popped up with a band he called Boink!,  three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape.  The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar.  There was a sense of them all now fully  integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.

The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band.  An early stand-out was And Them.  It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s  electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a img_2104rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at  Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax.   I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum.  Each of the quartet had moments like this.  On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck.  They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high.  A vintage night at the BeBop  Club




February Round Up: Greens & Barnes, Chirimoya, John Law New Congregation

Amidst a busy few weeks, mandatory infusions of live jazz have kept me going. Three episodes offered different delights.  Two Greens (Barry and Dave) and Alan Barnes formed an impromptu trio on a Friday night at London’s Vortex Club. This was a balm to the soul gig.  Pianist Barry and bass legend Dave are not blood relations, but they’ve had a close musical relationship over years, recording a delightful duo album of mainly Alex Wilder tunes a few years back (check here ).  A ripple of a piano chord and an abstract flutter from Barnes, a perfectly placed harmonic or sonorous pedal note from the bass was all it took to launch some tunes as another lesser known gem from the standards book unfolded. The trio format gave them all plenty of space and freedom for playful interchange and fluent, emotional expression. A Friday night treat.

Dropping into Bristol’s Alma Tavern on a Sunday night for a set by Chirimoya had a different, no less enjoyable flavour. Singer and percussionist Tammy Payne has put together a band and repertoire that re-makes the most unlikely source material with a pulsing latin/ Brazilian vibe. Its great fun and beautifully balanced.  What do you need for a storming latin groove? Well Ruth Hammond‘s left hand on the keys, Matt Jones on drums and a few well judged stabbed chords from Ruth’s right hand. Tammy’s vocals, a Bristol treasure since the eighties and Smith and Mighty, glide over the groove with Beyonce, Bronski Beat, Jimi Hendrix all offering up repertoire. They started with a taught grooving Round Midnight and Gary Aylesbrook‘s liquid, melodic lines on trumpet sketching out the familiar theme.  Great fun.

I wrote about John Law’s New Congregation ahead of their BeBop Club gig and the event didn’t disappoint. Word was out and The Bear’s back room was packed, standing room only at the back. The musical territory was the same as the album even if more than half the tunes were not, there’s a continuing flow of new tunes from the leader’s pen. What stood out even more than on the album was the strength of the melodic hooks. Rythmically dense and complex the music may be, but the peer-less musicians, (Laurie Lowe on drums and Yuri Goloubev on bass are surely hard to top as rhythm section) negotiated it at will and played beautifully and freely.  Sam Crockatt on tenor was outstanding, never overplaying, his developing phrases and hooks glowed and took flight, delivered with a rough edged warm tone.  Another Friday night treat.

Pre/review: John Law’s New Congregation, These Skies in Which We Rust

Law_RustThese skies in which we rust, the latest release by the prolific and unfailingly creative pianist John Law, takes it’s title from a phrase in a poem by Law’s daughter Holly.  He’s taking the repertoire on tour, starting tonight at Bristol’s BeBop Club and, with a London launch next week at Pizza Express, a quick review of the album and preview of the gigs is timely.

Tapping a range of sources for inspiration is a thread throughout this double CD offering. Contemporary rhythms and grooves from the world of dance and machine generated music, transmuted into an acoustic piano trio setting, underpin many of the layered, frequently odd-meter  motifs and melodic hooks that loop and evolve.  Law  cites Radiohead’s music as informing his choices and there’s no escaping the pervasive influence of classic music, both in the fluid lyricism of Law’s playing and appearing explicitly in the title track with a sample from Brahm’s Requiem setting the scene. There are plenty of  changes of atmosphere from the stomping, tense Seven Ate Nine to the limpid delicacy of I Hold My Soul To The Wind.

If rhythm and locked, looping sections are at the heart of many of the compositions, the life and energy is breathed into them by the formidable line-up. The bass chair is occupied by long-time collaborator Yuri Goloubev delivering singing, flowing lines and Laurie Lowe on drums is all taut energy and electrifying propulsion.   The trio is augmented by Josh Arcoleo‘s tenor on four tracks, producing soaring sometimes hoarse throated cries and keening multi phonic wails,  at others burning gritty solos. . Through it all, whenever space clears for soloing, Law’s flowing  lines, instinct for building tension melodically as well rhythmically, lift the music and deliver an emotional charge.

This is a listen again (and again) album and for the tour, Law has assembled a shifting cast of the finest musicians in the land to work it over.   Tonight in Bristol, Goloubev is on bass but the incomparable Dave Hamblett is on drums and the feisty Sam Crockatt, who has himself just released a very fine album (my review is here) is on tenor.  On other dates, Lloyd Haines pops up on drums and bass duties are split between Ashley-John Long, James Agg and Oli Hayhurst.   Whatever the line-up, this will be an exciting live experience and wherever you are there’s probably a date somewhere close. Check the itinerary here.

Jazz is bursting out all over – Spring Preview : Local gigs Bristol and Bath , Cheltenham and Bath Festivals

With Easter and chocolate binges behind us, a scan of the live gig menu over the next couple months reveals a simple message; you won’t need to go far in Bristol and Bath to catch some outstanding jazz and music inspired by jazz.  There’s the obvious draw of two festivals in May (Cheltenham on the first bank holiday weekend and Bath around the second) of which more in a moment, but it would be a travesty not to notice the quality of what’s on offer week by week at regular sessions. Wade Edwards for example has excelled himself for the spring/ summer season at the fortnightly on a Thursday session at St. James’ Wine Vaults. The booker and occupier of the bass chair in the house trio has secured as a guest on the 16th April fabulous Bristol based Tenor Sax man,  Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley) and then the unique Bristol treasure vocalist Tammy Payne on the 30th April.  Through May and June the house band will go into overdrive with a Hall of Fame series of guests from the British straight-ahead jazz scene.  Don Weller, now in his 70s famously depped for Mike Brecker in Gil Evans Orchestra in the 80s and comes to the Vaults on 14th May. Dave Newton, winner of Best Pianist in the British Jazz awards on multiple occasions takes the piano chair for a trio session on the 28th and then in June, guitar legend Jim Mullen returns with vocalist Zoe Francis.  Regular sessions in Bristol have comparable depth.  Fringe Jazz, now firmly established on Wednesday at The Mall in Clifton, continues with regular appearances from Andy Sheppard who seems to be in the creative overdrive at the moment. The Fringe Jazz sessions feature him in variety of line-ups but the Pushy Doctors are regulars (27th May for instance) and hook-ups with Birmingham based phenomenon on trumpet and bass Percy Pursglove are always worth catching (15th April). In between there’s a great variety, Michelson Morley Jake McMurchie’s looping, live elctronica meets jazz improv (now) quartet featuring guitarist Dan Messore is there on 6th May. Check out the Thursday sessions at Future Inn, an increasingly varied and interesting programme featuring plenty of visitors as well as local bands. Pianist John Law is there on April 30th with a quartet playing material from his new album.  Friday’s see the longrunning BeBop Club continue with a first class programme.  And there are plenty of occasional treats. The Lantern at Colston Hall plays host to Polar Bear on 23rd April and Bill Laurence of Snarky Puppy on 28th May.  Keep your eyes peeled for shows by The Bristol Composers Collective. Their ‘Scratch and Sniff’ Orchestra has started popping up trying out new material by the local scene’s most adventurous spirits.  The next one is on Monday 13th April at The Fringe in Clifton Village. And what of those festivals?  Cheltenham Jazz Festival has evolved into a multi layered affair on the first bank holiday in May.  You can catch Van Morrison, Rumer, Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood fame, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Average White Band no less.  Another strand sees  Sun Ra Akestra, Joe Lovano with his Afrobeat project, Dave Douglas and Lee Konitz Quintet, John Scofield with rising star German pianist Pablo Held‘s Trio. Yet another sees a more contemporary European flavoured programme mainly at the Parabola Theatre starting with Phronesis, ending with the sublime Julian Arguelle’s Septet and touching a lot of bases in between. With talks, films, jam sessions, a big Sinatra celebration and a Gershwin one too with the inevitable presence of Gregory Porter and Claire Teal too,  it would be hard not indulge most aspects of a musical personality at this cover the bases,  full immersion now five day festival.  Bath Festival is showing signs of recovering its mojo.  After a few years of mysteriously thin programmes and now loss of long term Arts Council funding  (no doubt funding struggles and consequent competing priorities were all part of the challenge) the festival has worked with Serious to come up with a  lean  series of gigs that offer something distinctive for the ten day festival at the end of May. Serious’ specialisms in folk and world as well as adventurous jazz is evident. A two piano gig with Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock rounds off Rebello’s year long association with Wiltshire Music Centre. A strong improv thread sees Orphy Robinson’s Black Top making an appearance and American pianist/ iconoclast Matthew Shipp in duo with bass player Matthew Bisio.  By way of total contrast, American exponents of hot jazz, The Hot Sardines put in an appearance early in the festival and there are uncategorisable collaborations with Mike Westbrook bringing his Westbrook Blake to St. Mary’s Bathwick joined by Bath Camerata choir whilst Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) and drummer Tony Orrell renew an old association and perform an accompaniment to old silent film He Who Gets Slapped. The wildly, divergently creative duo will surely conjure up something magical.  The whole festival will come to a carnival like end with Hugh Masekela.

John Law’s Boink! Burdall’s Yard, Bath, Friday 10th January

I reviewed this gig for Listomania – brilliant listings site run by Charley Dunlapp – they arranged the ticket and it is of course posted there as well.

“Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind.” declaimed John Law’s recorded voice.  The apparently nonsensical words, but flowing rhythm of Samuel Beckett’s short story Lessness continued to bubble away as the liveJohn Law established first a groovy ostinato figure with his left hand using a Rhodes like organ sound, then added a jaunty flowing melody supported by Jon Lloyd’s soprano saxophone and stroked, distorted chords from the guitar of Rob Palmer. Mesmerizing visuals flowed across a screen behind the band, manipulated by Patrick Dunn as the interactions between the band members ebbed and flowed.  Boink! Were getting into their stride in their second set at Bath Spa University’s performance space in Burdall’s Yard.

For anyone familiar with the leader’s dazzling virtuosity and fluent creativity at the piano, most often at the centre of an acoustic jazz trio in recent years, Boink! is a sharp change of gear.  Billed by Law as his electronic project, the vibe, in between episodes of ambient washes of synths and meditative phrases from saxes, is rolling grooves with a rocky edge and deceptive twists layered with resonant, quirky and frequently beautiful melody. Drummer Lloyd Haines was unflaggingly inventive in embellishing and morphing the looping phrases, often in odd time signatures.  It was all underpinned by Law’s insistent left hand, sometimes providing throbbing metronomic pulses, sometimes more overtly funky phrases and occasionally more jazzy walking bass lines.  Jon Lloyd’s bass clarinet frequently doubled or shadowed the phrases adding a darker edge and nodding at Miles Davis’ early electric era.

There was excitement and energy thought-out both sets, supplied by some fiery soloing. On ‘When Planets Collide’ Lloyd’s soprano sax built phrase upon phrase over a crescendo of guitar and drums as the band responded to his emotional playing; on ‘Lessness’ Law really let rip, reeling out rippling runs and flowing melodic lines; on ‘So fast so Good’ Lloyd Haines provided one of the most compelling moments of the evening, received enthusiastically by the respectable crowd, with a drum solo that seemed to combine all the elements of the racing theme with a percussion like kit solo on top.

The project showed its newness at times, with moments of hesitancy and anxious instructions barked from the driving seat by composer Law as the band negotiated the shifts and changes of the almost all original pieces,  but there was plenty here to revel in. The three students from Bath Spa who got to join the band briefly in the first set certainly showed their mettle. The band have a forthcoming national tour that will surely loosen things up. They are at the BeBop Club in Bristol in February as part of that tour.

This emerging series of gigs at Burdall’s Yard is certainly proving a welcome addition to the Bath scene,  bringing really top class musicians to  town.

Winter into Spring: Highlights on your doorstep in Bath and Bristol.

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.

Threeways Trio (Law, Arguelles, Goloubev), Holburne Museum, Bath, Thursday 6th September

In a large chilly room in Bath there’s a 9ft Steinway. The chill is not because of approaching Autumn, but a carefully controlled atmosphere to ensure the preservation of the Gainsborough portraits staring down from every wall. The Steinway was used by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the 1930s for rehearsal and performance. The Holburne Museum was an exceptional setting for a jazz gig last week and three exceptional musicians were billed.  John Law, Julian Arguelles and Yuri Goloubev are virtuosi on their respective instruments of piano, sax and bass, but what has always drawn me to their music, and to this slightly below the radar gig, is the tremendous emotional force of their playing.  Julian Arguelles has a breathy warm, utterly distinctive tone on tenor. He combines this with phrasing that deploys by turns, long hanging notes and surging flurries of notes with the dynamics beautifully shaped often giving a haunting plaintive feel to his improvising; he can quickly switch to honking bluesy phrases by contrast. John Law’s playing has similar qualities; he makes full use of both hands but somehow, although he plays a lot of notes, it never feels cluttered.  The anticipation of this gig was about what material they would play and the sparks the interaction might generate. This was trailed as jazz meets classical influence and was overt in much of the material. An arrangement of a Bizet duet for the trio; of Dido’s lament by Purcell; Mozart’s Requiem, Yuri Goloubev’s bass sounding for all the world like a violin used as an introduction to Don’t Explain; the chord sequence of Round Midnight given a sort of baroque treatment before the statement of the familiar theme. Many of the originals were given momentum by dense patterns of arpeggios and broken chords from the piano with slow moving melodies on the sax giving a feel not unlike the neo-romanticism of Michael Nyman. Without fail, the passionate lyrical soloing from Julian Arguelles inspired by these compositions was riveting as the accompaniment thinned out and left more space . Occasionally John Law turned the wick up a bit and the samba like Lift me Up had a typically exhilarating flowing solo from him.  I think this may have been only the second outing for this trio playing carefully written and constructed music. Perhaps no surprise then that the written sections felt a little less natural and relaxed than the improvising, but these are world class musicians and this trio is one to watch if it pops up again.