Summer Delights and Autumn Preview Pt 2 – The Bell (Pushy Doctors and more…)

The Pushy Doctors, reliably entertaining and exciting by turns, seem like a fixture on the local scene, but not one you can take for granted. They appear for short bursts and then lie low for a bit, most often dictated by saxophonist Andy Sheppard‘s international touring schedule . What a delight to see them back at The Bell last week and it was still August (just) and quite summery (just).  They played like old friends taking up where they’d left off last time. Killer Joe established the classic jazz organ trio feel, bluesy stabs from Dan Moore‘s organ whipped along with a grin by Tony Orrell on drums. Then they spiralled off into a mix of pop tunes, re-worked classics and jazz burn-ups. Andy Sheppard’s extended circular breathing episode on My Favourite Things took on an almost trance like character as phrases looped, stacked and mutated: urgent, intense and reflective all at the same time. The showstopper, unwittingly, came from the crowd. Towards the end of a medley that began with Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the band stopped together on a beat, one of many artfully choreographed moments of drama. Inserted with perfect timing into the momentary silence came a loud voice, volume adjusted to be heard over the now absent band. “I know that tune, I just don’t know what its called.”  Gales of laughter ensued including from the band. It did seem to sum up something. The Pushy Doctors may play with a witty glint in the eye, but they are deadly serious and never fail to move as well as thrill and delight.

The Bell’s music programme is as eclectic as it is legendary. The jazz(y) strands are there, most often on Monday but always with a bit of twist and frequently featuring some of the more experimental or genre blending and bending touring bands. Keeping an eye on their listings is always worthwhile.  In September, Baritone pop up on the 5th. A gypsy jazz flavoured trio featuring Charlotte Ostafew of Dhakla fame on baritone. Later in the month, John Paul Gard, local king of the Hammond, joins forces with California based guitarist Jon Dalton.   There’s sure to be plenty more through the Autumn, so keep an eye.

 

Sam Crockatt, St. James Wine Vaults, Bath, Thursday 25th June

SamCrockatt_BlackboardIs 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. sam_crockatt

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.

Bristol, Bath and nearby – Preview of an Autumn feast of jazz

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.

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.

Craig Crofton & end of season at St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 12th December

It’s edging towards Festive season shutdown and reflections on the year time. Over at St. James Wine Vaults Craig Crofton got to bring the curtain down on the seventh year (count ’em!) of Jazz at the Vaults. My fuller write up has found its way onto the Jazzwise Magazine’s online breaking news ; more about the great session there.  Here, another salute to the great club night that’s been established by Wade Edwards and the regular Jazzhouse Trio of him, Trevor Davies and Vyv Hope Scott. Vyv was absent on Thursday, so was replaced for the evening by John Paul Gard who had the piano chair when the session first started; a welcome return visit.   What a great programme they put on. An early highlight of 2014 will be a first visit by guitar giant Jim Mullen in early February.  There’s a great team of supporters who help with the club and I’ve name checked them before, but the nights wouldn’t be the same without DJ Tony Clark. The tracks playing before and after are often tangential complements, compliments or comments on the music on stage and the angular, deadpan humour of the MC’ing always leavens the mix.  And so they head into the eighth year optimistically, Wade confirming that 2013 saw more visitors to the session than in any previous year. Here’s hoping he’s saying the same next year.

Lee Goodall, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 12th July

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.

The re-return of Art Themen, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday September 15th

The first gig of the the fifth year (count-em) of Jazz at the Vaults and the cellar bar at St. James welcomed now regular visitor Art Themen to commune with the house trio. This season John Paul Gard is occupying the piano chair and he brings another distinctive, fluent voice to the proceedings. Themen’s repertoire and style is familiar. The regular homage to Dexter Gordon (although it was late in the second set before Cheese Cake made an appearance) and honking boppish lines, apparently as natural as breathing to him were there. One of the delights of seeing players of this class regularly,  accompanied by a trio as responsive and open to a mood as this band , is that its rather like meeting up with an old friend knowing you are going to have a good evening but not quite sure what mood he’s going to be in. Sure, a few gags are bound to be trotted out (the slightly dodgy please buy CDs, expensive ex-wife) but there’s always the unexpected. So tonight the shadow of Sonny Rollins and a bit of Coltrane hovered more than alter ego Dexter Gordon. Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Up Jumped Spring’ delivered on soprano had Themen wailing and howling in almost vocalised, blurry runs of notes over the driving groove of the rhythm section. The ballad ‘I’ve never been in Love Before’ had the tenor sliding around the melody, using the full range of the instrument. DJ Tony Clark picked up on the mood playing vinatge sonny rollins trio recordings in the break, encouraging Themen to close the night with a tour de force playing four Rollins Blues in sequence before squeezing out anguished and growling lines in his solo (we spotted Sonny Moon for two, Blue Heaven and Tenor Madness but couldn’t name the fourth!).  So an intriguing performance by Themen showing a more angular, almost introspective side in the midst of burning bop standards. As ever this was a genuine group effort. It was a delight to see John Paul Gard in action. His solos were full of silvery runs and lightning etching out of the dense harmonies, punctuated by gritty blues phrasing, frequently evoking yelps of approval from the leaders Themen. This was an auspicious start to the season and the achievement by Wade Edwards of maintaining the momentum of the club into its fifth year was rightly lauded. An auspicious start to the season.