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.

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James Gardiner Bateman/ Josh Arcoleo, Future Inn, Thursday 30th January

For the second time in a couple of weeks James Gardiner Bateman rounded up some pals, most of whom are mainly resident at the London end of the M4 and brought them along to a Bristol stage to huff, puff and serenade away any remaining new year cobwebs (more on the first outing here). This time the local jazzerati were out in force, swelling the already healthy numbers at the Future Inn’s lovely downstairs jazz space, the lure of the combination of  James, another local lad made very good, Josh Arcoleo and the the un- advertised but somehow known about local(ish) titan of jazz on piano Jason Rebello was irresistible.  jgb_futureinnThe energy levels started high with James and Josh ripping through the boppish theme of Tears Inside, absolutely in step before James leapt off into a blistering solo.  A marker was down. Gradually their distinctive personalities emerged. There was no concealing what an even more exciting player Josh Arcoleo has become since he played regularly around Bristol as a young tyro and protege of Pee Wee Ellis before taking the inevitable trip to London. Bemsha Swing, closing the first set, was wound up by his tenor sketching the familar melody out, stretching the time, sliding phrases through the cycling harmony injecting a fierce propulsive groove.  The second set went up a gear. Everytime the youthful rhythm section revved it up a bit more, Jason Rebello seemed to get more comfortable and more dazzling. On Strasbourg St. Denis , a Roy Hargrove funky groover, the chocks seemed to come away and overlapping riffs, locked hands blocked chord passages and sizzlingly groovy runs had everyone whooping. Drummer Ed Richardson (one of those London visitors) responded with a fabulously melodic solo whilst maintaining an uncompromising thumping groove . He did it again on the closer, a frenetic Rhythm Changes that also produced another explosive Rebello solo this time managing to channel and update the spirit of Herbie Hancock and Kenny Kirkland on blazing bop.  James had slowed it down for a ballad earlier and lured bass player Chris Hyson out of the shadows. There was no mistaking the all round quality of this band. They may have just been taking  a gallop through a few of Mr Gardiner Bateman’s favourite tunes, but the result was thrilling and will surely be on a few ‘best of the year lists’ if memories are still clear in eleven months time.  Appreciating and celebrating organisers and do-ers always gets my vote and as he did at the  BeBop Club a couple of weeks ago, James name checked organisers and door folk. This time its Steve Williams who has kept this free, weekly session going with an increasingly varied and high quality programme.  Next week sees Dave Newton there with a trio. The rest of the programme is here

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.

Jeff Williams, Green Note, Camden, London Jazz Festival, Wednesday 20th November

“That one was about airport security” said Jeff Williams as the band juddered to a halt. A spooky, stuttering swing had built to a frenzy, with Phil Robson’s guitar blurting zig-zagging runs in a wildly distorted synth voice whilst Williams lashed his drums. Airport Security; it all made sense. This quintet’s off-beat vibe reflect the oddities in everyday life that provide inspiration for the drummer leader’s compositions.  There’s no shouting, just a quiet intensity that draws the listener in before wrongfooting with a swerve or surprise burst of energy. Williams is all colour and nudging, no spelling out the obvious. The caress of his sticks makes the kit an orchestra. On Hermeto, named for the Brazilian composer, a rattle of the cymbal doubles the rhythm of the melody whilst a tap on the tom ghosts the guitar’s accompanying stabs and Sam Lasserson’s propulsive bass figure gets a helping prod from a click on the snare.  Wonky bossas, twisted calypsos, loose limbed swing; Williams’ writing, all sidelong glances at familiar forms gives this band plenty to work on. Josh Arcoleo’s tenor nods at absent from this year’s festival, Sonny Rollins, in fullness of tone and inventive routes through angular harmony.  Finn Peters, switching between alto and flute, repeatedly pulled out fiery impassioned solos.  Williams left the stage for ‘Lament’, a hold your breath, haunting hymn in memory of a gone too soon friend; he returned to Arcoleo taking the tune out with long notes and hoarse cries on tenor and whipped up a storm on the drums. Not so much a crescendo as a howl of anguish. A treasure of a group, a gem of a gig.

Whose band is it anyway? No Will Vinson, but Lochrane, Lasserson, Cawley, Maddren, Arcoleo, Gardner Bateman; Coronation Tap, Bristol, Monday 16th July

Lets not dwell on the strike in Spain that meant Will Vinson was unable to get to the Coronation Tap for this gig with a fantastic band. They made it and, as first Josh Arcoleo joined in late in the first set on tenor and then James Gardiner Bateman in the second on alto, if we thought about Will, it was him who was the object of sympathy for missing out, not us.  A gig in The Coronation Tap is an intense experience simply because of the proximity of the band (I hope I haven’t caught drummer James Maddren’s cold). Top class bands often feed off  the energy and response of an audience and that effect seemed to be amplified tonight adding to the intensity.  Lochrane, maestro on flute appeared to be directing proceedings in that he was providing the repertoire. They limbered up on a Billy Strayhorn composition UMMG, the straight ahead swing had a very contemporary feel as Maddren on drums started the evening as he meant to go on, keeping a surging pulse going whilst clattering and snapping all sorts of counter rhythms behind the theme and solos, earning the first of number of grinning sideways glances from bass player Sam Lasserson.  A longer flute (alto this time) was produced for the next tune, an attractive, grooving theme by Herbie Hancock called Tell Me a Bedtime Story, but it was when Tom Cawley took a solo in this tune that everything seemed to go up a gear. He was playing an impossibly  bijou Nord keyboard (we were sure the flutes were longer than lovely red thing), but one octave per hand seemed more than  enough to build a solo that start with funky little phrases that echoed the tune and developed into increasingly extended runs and rhythmic volleys, egged on by, and egging on Maddren on drums. Looking round the room it wasn’t just me; there were grins on a lot of faces and roars of approval when he relented. Josh Arcoleo joined to pump up the adrenaline still further on a Chick Corea’s Litha, a fiendish sounding theme that switched between a triplety feel and blazing furious swing throughout the tune. Just when we thought the varnish would peel from the ceiling and the excitement was at fever pitch, another bravura solo from Cawley took us over the edge with phrase building on phrase and a peak reached with a block chorded rythmic duel with the drums. Even the band were shaking their heads and grinning.  After that we needed a break just to start breathing again.

There was no contrived or forced virtuosity in this band. Just a bunch of London’s finest apparently having a great time mining the riches of jazz repertoire. Coltrane’s Straight Street and Clifford Brown’s Sandu were enough for the second set with the frontline now expanded to include Jame Gardiner Bateman.  Lochrane was on the shortest flute of the evening for the finale and the frontline were trading choruses just to show us that it wasn’t only players of short red keyboards that get everyone’s pulse racing.  What a great way to start the week.