Quercus, St. George’s Bristol,Thursday 9th February

June Tabor started the performance at St. George’s by declaring “We are Quercus”, and then musing on the contradiction of the plural ‘we’ (herself, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren) and the singular Quercus. Well it’s simple June. Three peer-less musicians, one exquisitely blended sound.
The music was by turns dancing then meditative; brightly sparkling then dark and brooding.  The repertoire was their trademark eclectic confection, centred on the English folk tradition but touching the jazz standards book, breezing past Brazil and drawing on more contemporary folk and rock. And only ever sounding like this band. Tabor’s note bending slide between two pitches; a subtle harmonic inflection and ripple of notes from Warren on piano; a breathy, astringent phrase from Ballamy’s saxophone all suffused the most familiar
of melodies with a distinctive flavour.
Southern Sea launched the show, Tabor’s crystal clear sonority underpinned by simple piano chords with just a hint of rich colour and an artful modulation giving the sax enough to sweep and swell over to an emotional climax. Jobim’s Meditation, shifted the gears, The  Irish Girl injected an overtly folky pulse then Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice took on an irrestibile momentum with a gently rocking implied groove form Warren’s thickening and propulsive chords.
This rare live gig found the band airing material from their forthcoming second release on ECM and on this showing it will be a ‘must buy’. As the second set proceeded, the intensity peaked and readings of You Don’t Know What Love Is and Beating the Retreat evoked a rapturous response from the generous audience. We were rewarded with a take on Auld Lang Syne that seemed to breathe the personality of the band whilst honouring the original.

That voice and the lyrics were the centre of the evening, but Warren and Ballamy were  extraordinary. The piano accompaniment somehow contrived to maintain the simplicity
and openness that much of the music demanded whilst imbuing every chord and flourish with colours that evoked the mood. Ballamy’s sound is like no other and the restraint and occasional bursts of lyricsm were judged to perfection

This was a magical evening which, for all the pain and loss expressed in the lyrics, left this listener feeling uplifted, a bit more human and more alive.

2013, my gigs and listens

There’s a distinct pleasure in recalling and re-living some of the most thrilling moments of live music lodged in the memory.  Here goes, as I  join in with the welter of  lists and round ups of the year.  My CD picks are a bit more random, as they include recordings I have come across this year, although not necessarily released in 2013.  As ever, it’s reflective only of my own sampling of the impossible to absorb panoply of choice, both live and recorded, constrained of course by time, finances and the vagaries of life.

Live Music

Jason Rebello – he never really went away, but it’s a delight to see him out and about more regularly. Never mind the extraordinary talent on the British scene, he still stands out. Two gigs: Trio at St. James Wine vaults with son George on drums (review here); quartet, again at St’ James Wine Vaults, with Iain Ballamy no less (review here)

Julian Arguelles at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol with his quartet (review here); I’m still getting a warm glow when I think of it.

Cassandra Wilson at Ronnie Scotts; the intimate atmosphere heightened the thrill, she is unique (review here)

Love Supreme Festival: Snarky Puppy just will not permit anything less than total enjoyment; grab you by the throat uproarious fun; Terence Blanchard the opening phrases of Magnetic I can still conjure up; Brandford Marsalis it was his band but what I remember is the excitement Joey Calderazzo‘s solo generated as they launched into The Mighty Sword. (round up of the festival  here and here)

and finally three gigs that captured my imagination beyond already high expectation

Mike Gibbs Ensemble celebrating Gil Evans (note to self, must get the CD, available on Whirlwind as ‘plus 12’) – occasionally forgot to breath when I wasn’t chuckling at a Gibbs anecdote or shaking my head – big band arrangements of Ornette Coleman anyone? Reuben James a tantalisingly short piano trio set just dazzled me. There’s a special magic about his touch and feel – he’s young, so hopefully there’ll be plenty more chances to catch him. Both of these were at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

And late in the year Corey Mwamba Trio at Burdall’s Yard in Bath. Constant invention, surprises and delights (review here)

Recorded Music

The main criterion here is CDs that I’ve come by this year that seem to get stuck in the CD player or head phones – I just keep wanting to listen to them.

Be Still – Dave Douglas released in 2012. Hymns and folk songs plus a smattering of originals; The title track is utterly transporting every time, beautiful, lyrical melodic playing throughout.

Quercus – June Tabor/ Iain Ballamy/ Huw Warren More folky fare, this trio are something special and June Tabor is surely a national treasure

Swept Away – Marc Johnson/ Elaine Elias  Straight ahead (ish) jazz on ECM! A set of mainly originals just gloriously delivered with Joe Lovano on a good few adding the icing on the cake. Yum

MirrorsKenny Wheeler/ London Vocal Project mainly Kenny’s settings of Stevie Smith poetry with Pete Churchill’s amazing London Vocal Project and a good proportion of Nikki Iles’ Printmakers making up the band. What’s not to love?

Magnetic – Terence Blanchard On lots of critics’ lists but I can only agree, it’s a great album. Contemporary, small group jazz at its best.

First Hello to Last Goodbye – trio red Another 2012 release I think, but I spent a lot of early 2013 listening to it. A quirky project from scottish drummer Tom Bancroft with Tom Cawley on piano and swede Per Zanussi on bass. There’s a reason Tom Cawley is a regular in the Ronnie Scott’s house band; for my money one of the most creative players in this sort of band on the British scene. Perhaps less visible thnan some however. This trio popped up at the London Jazz Festival (missed it sadly)

and also getting a lot of plays: Birds – Marius Neset;  Concert in the Amazon – Jeff Williams; Ground Rush – Julian Arguelles Trio (released 2010.. but new to me); In Full View – Julia Hulsmann Quartet; and it’d be rude not include a Keith Jarrett album, this year’s much heralded trio release Somewhere was well up to their sublime standard.