The Cloudmakers touched down at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday bringing a healthy crowd out to experience the dense thickets of rhythm, mazy themes and explosive playing of the expanded trio. Vibes man and composer Jim Hart, drummer Dave Smith and getting to be a Hen and Chicken regular, Michael Janisch on bass are joined by Hannes Riepler on guitar and Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto and clarinet for their pretty extensive current tour.
This was music with a lot going on. Two in one began to seem like a theme. A piece combining elements of All the Things You Are and Ornithology had been preceded by Travelling Pulse Somewhere North of Ghana, built around a complex rythmn but referencing colder Nordic climes. The second set started with The Road for Ed a demented, wonky samba-like groove overlayed with a slow moving free-boppish theme. It spiralled off into urgent freeblowing with Hoang and then flipped back to the hurtling groove behind a blistering vibes workout.
Watching Janisch look first at Smith, then Hart with a quiet smile as rockets of rythmn seem to pass between them summed something about the gig up. They were individually and in combination electrifying, Hart sublimely fluid and inventive with Smith seeming to catch every accent and kick almost before it happened.
Hoang was a revelation. From unearthly squawks, honks and atmospheric squeals to percussive and dramatic blowing, Harts writing gave him plenty of action. Riepler was adding ghostly textures and atmosphere as often as digging in. It wasn’t all tumult. Golden‘s simple motif, emerging from a meditative Riepler introduction swelled to an anthemic climax. The gig closed with Back Home, full of yearning and shimmering atmosphere.
The quintet are individually top drawer players. Hart’s writing and their empathy meshes them into a formidable unit.
Andrew Bain may sound Scottish (he is) and may be listed as a teacher at Birmingham Conservatoire (he does teach there), but really, we discovered last night, he’s part of a very hot New York crew. Hen & Chicken punters got to hear them at the end of a 14 date run and it showed in the ease and freedom with which they explored Bain’s suite of seven original pieces.
Jon Irabagon (twice Downbeat critics poll winner) led the charge on Accompaniment, a loose rubato theme swept along by tumbling percussion from Bain, the droning bass of Whirlwind Records boss Michael Janisch and splashy piano from Jack DeJohnette and Cassandra Wilson sideman (amongst many others), George Colligan. The tumult built with Irabagon alternately keening and squalling then spinning out blizzards of lightning quick runs before handing the baton to Colligan. Practice showed us how rooted in rhythm they all were with a time shifting groove and preposterous mazy unison rendition of the theme by sax and piano. Colligan let rip with the first of several electrifying work-outs ,Bain and Janish exuberantly following every step, the drums instinctively connecting with accents and bass propelling the headlong frenzy. Responsibility alternated between a shuffling groove and driving swing for a blues, Janisch digging in to raise the temperature with his solo. Hope had a chiming repeated note to set the mood and Irabagon’s solo soared and swooped over a skirling rythmn. Hope got a little raucous too as there seemed to no holding the momentum of this band back.
Bain had created the outlines of the pieces for this band to work with, it was the four-way interaction that brought it all bursting to life. They moved in an out of free-er sections, grooved hard and burned on frequent bursts of racing swing, frequently switching between them with no apparent cues. This was a fabulous, exhilarating ride and the last section, Trust an appropriately rousing, hymn-like, emotional finale.
In between life, playing and listening to live music, there have been a few CD reviews for London Jazz News. What a treat that is, both the familiar and the fresh popping through the letter box (or occasionally into Dropbox). Here’s a round up of the recent crop (not all in March I hasten to add) a trio of quartets and a legend.
The New York Standards Quartet don’t just play standards. They reinvent, twist and stretch them – with love. Power of Ten marks ten years of the partnership of the core three Dave Berkman, Tim Armacost and Gene Jackson. The quartet is completed by Whirlwind boss Michael Janisch for this typically exuberant and addictive outing. My review for is here. Another Quartet, this time led by Loop Collective tenor-man Sam Crockatt had an all Brit
cast playing a crop of his lovingly crafted compositions on Mells Bells. It’s a mouth watering band with Kit Downes, James Maddren and Oli Hayhurst given the space to stretch out. Crockatt’s by turns muscular and tenderly lyrical approach mark this set out as an early 2016 highlight for me. The review is here. The band are on tour in April. Check Sam’s Website to see if you can make one of the gigs (you really should!). Maestro Charles Lloyd is unmistakable in any context he appears. I find him irresistible. His second outing on Blue Note since his return to the label last year, I Long To See You finds him and his regular band in the company of Bill Frisell, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and with guest appearances from Willie Nelson and Norah Jones no less. You’d be right to expect more than a tinge of country. There’s plenty to relish and quintessential Lloyd atmospherics – review here. Danish pianist Søren Gemmer’s release Lark completes the trio of quartets , albeit expanded for some tracks with guest Mads La Cour on trumpet – whose release Almuji last year kept finding its way back into my playlists. The review of Lark is here. Angular, sometimes astringent, arresting nordic jazz.
There’s been plenty of listening in September with with a steady flow of albums reviewed for London Jazz News offering a cross section of jazz. First up was One for Moll from Alan Barnes. The tone is set by the first track, the Barnes original Blue Note, a swinging funky groove in the spirit of the legendary record label. It’s a set bristling with great tunes, some of them standards, and committed straight ahead playing from a top drawer band assembled for the recording. It’s making my heart skip and putting a smile on my face with every listen. The full review is here. Alan Barnes comes to Bath’s Wine Vaults to play with the resident jazz House trio on October 22nd. From a different stable but no less passionate, comes Flow by Drifter. Edition Records boss Dave Stapleton persuaded Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila and Belgian saxophonist Nicolas Kummert to re-establish a partnerhsip that ended ten years ago after they shot to international fame in the early 2000s. The new band are recording powerful anthemic themes and hooky melodic pieces but its Tuomarila’s dazzling playing and Kummert’s passionate nuanced blowing that grab the ear. Full review here. Another sharp contrast was Michael Janisch‘s Paradigm Shift. Based around a live recording of a quintet of breathtaking quality at Pizza Express some four years ago now, the double CD set has the suite from which the album’s name comes, a set of Janisch originals traversing styles with wild punky thrash, free playing, electronics, hair raising grooves and moody textures all part of the brew and then a set on which the band really stretch out – seething contemporary jazz to match the best. The full review is here. Janisch is currently on an epic tour playing this material which arrives at Bristol’s Hen and Chicken on March 11th. Strikingly, these were all released on record labels started by the musicians, Woodville, Edition and Whirlwind respectively. Buy the albums in whatever format takes your fancy!
There is so much exciting music happening over the next two or three months, that a comprehensive overview of the Bristol/ Bath corner of the jazz planet would be a little overwhelming and occupy too much space. Instead, let’s dwell on a few fantastic programmes that local promoters have put together. First up, here’s why you should really be paying a few visits to the Hen and Chicken in Bristol on Sundays over the next couple of months. Ian Storrer’s series of promotions starts with Kevin Figes Octet on Sunday 13th September. Figes has been releasing a steady stream of original music for various ensembles over the last few years and this Octet, featuring two singers and two drummers as well as the leader’s saxophones spreads his pallette further. The following week, September 20th, a bit of a coup for Bristol, British pianist Barry Green brings a trio he recorded in New York 18 months ago with Americans, saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver. It’s a short tour also taking in Barcelona and London’s Ronnie Scotts and The Vortex. The Americans’ combined CVs include Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Craig Taborn, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel and this is a meeting of musical hearts and minds not to missed. Jumping forward to October 4th, there’s a more conventional line-up for celebrated pianist Kit Downes‘ new trio, but nothing conventional about the music. The new collaboration with Swedish bass player Peter Eldh and drummer James Maddren, is called The Enemy and these are perhaps three of Europe’s finest young (ish) improvising musicans. This will be another exciting ride. Whirlwind Records boss and bass payer Michael Janisch brings a another transatlantic collaboration on the 11th, his formidable sextet Paradigm Shift that includes Jason Yarde and Paul Booth on saxes as well as live electronic wizardry. The range and quality of this sequence of gigs is slightly boggling and it continues through to December. If you go to all those, you’ll have had a hard choice on Sunday 13th as Get the Blessing are launching their new album at the Colston Hall. But that’s just on Sundays. The weekly Fringe Jazz gig at The Mall in Clifton on Wednesdays would be a good focus of your mid-week attention. Jonathan Taylor has worked hard to establish this as a weekly gig and the roster is reliably top drawer and frequently world class. They kick off with local sax man Ben Waghorn‘s quartet on September 23rd, If you don’t see him very much locally, its because he’s in such demand elsewhere. Expect blistering post-bop jazz. Then a guitar theme kicks in (when its not more world beating saxophonists). Andy Sheppard‘s collaboration with guitarist John Paricelli was a highlight amongst many fantastic collaborations and the pair are at the Mall on the 30th. The following week another guitar legend, Jim Mullen appears with an organ trio. Then ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy appears, another unique British sax voice with an international reputation. Fringe Jazz regulars Dave Newton and John Pearce, Celestine and James Morton and Moscow Drug Club all put in an appearance then London based guitarist Maciek Pysz visits with the dazzling rhythm section of Yuri Gloubov and Asaf Sirkis followed by saxophonist Theo Travis’ quartet with the fantastic Mike Outram on guitar. This another wildly varied programme of incredible quality given a final twist on 25th November by the improvising trio of saxophonist Paul Dunmall, John Edwards and Mark Sanders.
These are not the only regular or top quality gigs over the next few months. Of course you should check out Bath’s St. James Wine Vaults (fortnightly on Thursdays) kicking of of with Art Themen on 10th September and drop in on regular Sunday sessions at The Ring o Bells in Widcombe or Gascoyne Place. Bristol’s BeBop Club continues every Friday (watch out for 50th birthday Big Band led by promoter Andy Hague)and there’s Jazz at Future Inns on Thursdays going from strength to strength. The bigger halls, St. Georges and Colston Hall both have eye catching gigs (not least Aaron Parks Trio on October 8th at St. Georges for anyone who wants see one of the hottest tickets in the new generation of American pianists). The strength of the programmes at the Hen and Chicken and The Mall are signs of a very healthy scene and, we hope audiences to match.
Invisible connections. That was the idea running through my head as I left this gig, a few personal but mostly there on stage to be discerned by all. The first connection: this gig started as the last one I went to, with unaccompanied bass setting out the stall (and it was the same bass by all accounts, Greg Cordez having loaned it for the evening). The flashing grin from the drummer was familiar too. We last saw Rudy Royston being surgically removed from the kit at the late night jam at Cheltenham Festival; he just loves to play! And he was endlessly playful throughout this gig. The rythmic connection was one of the threads that bound this quintet. It was palpable but not always obvious or direct. It would feel like there was a flow and groove, but no-one would be playing it, and playful Rudy would be cracking out a rhythm that sounded like it was from another tune with huge grin exchanged with Michael Janish on bass or Aruan Ortiz on piano. More often, one or other of this peerless apparently telepathically connected group would set things going with a stacatto riff or jerky pattern, soon to be joined by the rest jumping in the gaps or mysteriously doubling a phrase as it re-appeared in an unexpected place.
A solo piano passage preceded and introduced Monk’s ‘Ask Me Now’ that crystallised another dimension of this gig. Every chord Aruan Ortiz laid down had a delicious ambiguity about it; They sounded like major and minor at the same time. They led the ear in different directions simultaneously – will it resolve or is that the resting place? Each little run of notes had similar traits, not quite starting or ending somewhere safe. And through all that there was a ghost of a familiar melody, never quite stated openly. The acoustic in St. George’s was another instrument at this point and throughout the evening. The band were truly unplugged, not an amplifier in sight so the piano’s sound just hung in the air enhancing a meditative almost ethereal air. The band joined and Raynald Colom’s trumpet teased and played with the melody providing the quietest moment of an intense evening. That ethereal atmosphere was there all evening, even in more energetic number, something to do with the space and the way the band responded to it – this would have been an altogether different experience in a cellar bar.
Have I made this sound like a gig at which you had concentrate and do some work to get the payback of delight when a group of assured improvisers performs a high wire act and far from falling off create something special? Well you did have to concentrate and the payback was there. This band had Greg Osby in it as well as those younger turks. It had the sound of jazz well within the recognisable boundaries of bebop onwards; they even played a few standards, Jitterbug waltz was another. They stretched and teased with harmony, they stretched and teased with time and pulse. It was always there though and the invisible connection between them palpable. I want to listen again, one my signs of a connection made.
The New York Standards Quartet use words like deconstructed and unstandard to describe their approach to the standard jazz repertoire. That seemed about right as we listened to a discordant ostinato
NYSQ; photo Bob Woodburn
figure, doubled by the pianists left hand and the bass, providing a platform for the stretched out melody of How High the Moon before it morphed into racing swing for solos. Climatic moment built on climatic moment. Percussive, two handed rythmic episodes from David Berkman on piano were interspersed with fizzing runs that seemed to be exploring all the possibilities of the re-worked harmony. After another work out on Secret Love the adrenaline was well and truly flowing. The label on this band’s tin does sum up their turf. Using well loved and widely known material can be restrictive and formulaic but in the hands of this band it sounds like a liberation and you are hearing how they like to play. It is as good a summing up as you’ll hear of how jazz sounds like now , whose centre of gravity is the legacy of swinging, song based forms having absorbed all the harmonic and rythmic developments of the seventy odd years since be-bop was born in New York. But technical sophistication and intellectual mastery don’t set pulses racing on a gig and this one certainly did that. Much of it was to do with an electric connection between David Berkman and Gene Jackson on drums. Berkman simply boiled with energy, those rhythmic episodes always serving to drive up the excitement levels and Gene Jackson was a phenomenon. I’m not sure how one can be unobtrusive, restless propulsive and occasionally thunderous all at once but somehow they all seemed to apply (despite apparently playing though pain following an accident).
The band closed the first set with another illustration of the deconstruction approach; take one standard (all the things you are), alter the metre, apply hooky rythmic figure with angular harmony, spread melody over top adjusting as necessary, inject bursts of surging post bop swing according to taste. This time saxophonist Tim Armacost took soloing honours alongside another thunderous outpouring from Berkman with Armacost gently alluding to the famous Parker
David Berkman; photo Bob Woodburn
outro as they wound this one down. They seemed almost to chill out a bit in the second set with a mellower but no less intense collection including Desafinado and Blue in Green with a burn up on Giant Steps to close. Standards territory by definition is a commons, owned at some level by everyone perhaps with a special love of a particular interpretation, meaning the moment and the performance are even more defining. It should be no surprise, given their CVs (even the relatively youthful Michael Janisch has deserved formidable reputation) that for anyone who loves bop inspired jazz, this will on the gigs of the year list. I wonder if it will be on their list too – they didn’t seem to want to stop playing with Ian Storrer diplomatically easing them off stage despite shouts for more.