Once I had a Secret Love. Is it too whimsical to connect the title of a Jake McMurchie favourite to his now 30 year association with the sax? The thought popped into my head as he unfurled, unaccompanied, a viscerally grooving take on the Doris Day theme, artful phrasing, space and a stabbing little phrase upping the momentum as the rest of the quartet joined in. We didn’t really need any reminding of what a musical and inventive player Jake is, the solo that followed rammed it home nevertheless.
The love affair with the sax can’t have stayed secret for long once he started gigging and there were plenty of people who knew how good he was by the time Get The Blessing won the BBC awards in 2008 and the late Jack Massarik was asking ‘where’s he been?’ Sunday night’s gig had the feel of a reflective retrospective. The repertoire dipped into favourites from the past. Monk’s I Mean You, and the standard Paper Moon each got an outing. There were different vibes; a bit of the GTB back catalogue got an airing, Nick Drake’s Know was a mesmerizing opener, a vintage McMurchie tune Oranges and Melons was all delicate lyricism and plaintive soprano swoops following by a more bristling, darker brand new one, as yet untitled.
The recently minted quartet gave the music the energy and emotional charge it warranted. Riaan Vosloo on bass was a taut, propulsive force throughout, on occasion looping a riff until the intensity reached fever pitch. Matt Brown behind the kit never overpowered the sound but lit fires under the band throughout the gig, sometimes stoking the momentum relentlessly, at others laying down a trance like pulse or when the occasion demanded, swinging like mad. Dan Waldman’s guitar provided the perfect harmonic and melodic foil to the sax, finding by turns singing lines and then angular and divergent paths through the tunes.
If the retrospective drew on plenty of back catalogue, it sounded fresh and dynamic in the hands of this band. Lets hope there is plenty more to come from them.
I’ve had a bit of summer break from the blog as will be evident from the absence of posts, but there has been plenty of music, both recorded and live, to quicken the pulse and make the ears tingle, not to mention a few posts and reviews for other websites (Enrico Pieranunzi at Ronnie Scott’s, reviewed here, will likely be on the highlights of the year list). There have been a few regular gigs out here in the west that have kept going right through the summer and provided some highlights, this then is the first of a couple of posts about delights sampled and more to come in the Autumn programme. We popped into Fringe Jazz last week to catch the Jazz Defenders, an end of August treat in the reliably classy programme now firmly re-established in it’s original bijou back-room off Princess Victoria Street. The quintet are animated and led by quicksilver and rhythmically electrifying pianist George Cooper and wear their Blue Note heart on their sleeve. The suite of originals, writing credit’s spread around the formidable band but invariably with Cooper’s guiding hand, take the classic sound as a launch pad rather than a restrictive template. The themes and hooks are reliably catchy, grooves unvaryingly tight and propulsive whether swinging or with a funky edge (the combination of Will Harris on bass and Matt Brown behind the kit is dynamite) and arrangments lovingly crafted so that the front-line of Nick Malcom on trumpet and Nick Dover on tenor frequently sound like one Horace Silver’s bands in full flight. The improvising is always edgy however, Cooper’s solos veering from delicious bluesey licks to sizzling modal work outs; Malcolm suddenly taking flight, surfing a polyrythmic surge from the drums firing off angular phrases; Dover finding surprising melodic paths through familiar sequences. The Defenders are a collaboration of some of Bristol’s finest so the quality and freshness of the band should come as no surprise. A real treat nevertheless and lookout for an album due for release soon.
The Fringe has a packed Autumn programme of jaw dropping quality including ECM recordings artists, award winners by the legion but more importantly, fabulous music. Andy Sheppard is back for a regular visit with The Pushy Doctors on 14th September with Dave Newton‘s Trio, including Nat Steel on vibes in Early October. In between West Coast based former Bristol resident Jon Dalton returns. ON 19th October, Iain Ballamy is the guest followed the week after by the increasingly high profile funky alto of James Morton riding high on his well received album release The Kid. The rosta of tourist in November includes the legendary Trevor Watts on 9th November with the contrasting moods of Josh Kemp the week before and Phil Robson‘s organ trio the week after. Promoter Jon Taylor seems almost to defy gravity by putting on a programme of this quality in a tiny back room, but of course its regular paying audiences that make it possible, so we know what to do.
Nick Dover‘s gig at the BeBop club was billed as both a valedictory (he’s moving back to London soon) and a standards gig. But as we’ve seen before , playing standards for Nick is no complacent flip open the Real Book and see what happens routine. There’s a love affair with harmony, expressed with fluency and clarity in every solo and in the tweaking and adjustment of even the most familiar of classics. It brings a freshness and fizz of excitement alongside the enjoyment of well loved favorites. Whether giving Night and Day 7 beats to a bar, re-casting the harmony to Canteloupe Island giving it an extra edge or constantly modulating the theme of a classic standard, the occasional frown of concentration from bass-ist David Guy showed the rest of the band were kept on their toes. In pianist George Cooper, Nick Dover seems to have found a kindred spirit in a player who also relishes the structure and harmony of the classics and has drawn deep on the inspiration of the greats in the process of finding his own distinctive sound. There’s rhythmic liveliness to his playing as first he traces the harmony with shapely phrases and then accelerates with lightening runs and overlapping patterns. On East of the Sun and Everything I Love we got sizzling solos. It made perfect sense when during the interval he left us with Oscar Peterson over the PA. Cooper doesn’t sound like the legendary Canadian bop pianist, but there’s something of his rhythmic drive there and attention to the underlying harmony albeit with a thoroughly contemporary edge to lines he reels off. Nick Dover is no less steeped in the greats but with an equally developed sense of individuality. He’s got a gorgeous warm tone and has a knack of building solos that build and give an emotional lift as he finds melodic routes through that re-worked harmony. A standards gig? Yes. Predictable? Not for for a minute. Supported by the restless energy of Matt Brown on drums this was a fine quartet of Bristol based players. Local means quality. There’s another chance to prove that with a different selection of local players closing the BeBop’s summer season with a bang on Friday 13th (check out the listing here)