The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.
Firstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records . There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.
There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back. The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties. The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets. Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.
Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before the summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since. This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement. First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony, Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos. Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November
Returning from the bar after the interval, clutching my pint and still reflecting on the complex, layered pieces we’d heard in the first set from Tommy Andrews‘ Quintet, I found the respectably sized BeBop Club audience peering at densely typed photocopied sheets as the band settled back in at the front of the room. ‘Its the programme notes’ was the response to my bemused enquiry. Surely a first, certainly at the BeBop but for me anywhere at a jazz gig, to have the detailed inspiration and interpretation of themes, moods, shifts in metre and key and compositional devices of the music we are about to hear set out for us in a detailed hand-out. A gulp of Doom Bar and I found myself charmed by the seriousness and ambition. An extended suite of related, through composed pieces (for that was what was in prospect) is certainly an idea that surely goes back at least to Ellington in jazz (although I’m not sure he ever handed out detailed programme notes)
The Galilean Suite then is a suite of seven pieces that run together, using the inspiration of the discovery of four of Jupiter’s moons by Galileo and the Greek myths associated with the names by which those moons have been known (for the curious, read more). What we heard was uniformly complex and detailed, but the attempt to paint musical pictures using all the resources of the band and improvisational imagination of these fine players was really compelling. Strong melodic fragments came and went against different textures and rhythms. Sometimes there were driving rocky grooves, at others more lilting, still others glorious ballads. Europa started with a perfectly judged sighing melody from Andrews’ alto before first Dave Mannington on bass and then Nick Costley White on guitar pulled out really affecting solos. There were climatic and thunderous passages with everyone locked and blowing furiously. Rick Simpson‘s piano was variously holding down angular grooves and then inserting rich harmonies before he let loose with dynamic, building solo on the Outro a real highlight. Lloyd Haines, depping for Dave Hamblett, gave a bravura performance. This passage of just over half an hour was worth coming out for on its own, a real calling card of a writing and performing talent to watch.
For the rest of the gig, the quintet’s recent release the The Crux was the source of the material. It mostly shares the attention to mood and texture and multi staged construction of the suite, all played with a freedom and ease that was genuinely engaging. In the end I didn’t need the explanations and route map to enjoy what I was hearing, but it was fun!
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.