CD Round Up – Part 2: Pigs and ANt (Figes and Nowak)

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.

kfwwFirstly 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.time-being-front

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 andynowakthe 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

Summer delights and Autumn preview pt 1: Fringe Jazz

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.

 

 

Greg Cordez Quintet, BeBop Club, Friday 27th march

Greg-Cordez-1Eight Minutes and Twenty Three Seconds is the time it takes light to travel from the sun to earth and the inspiration for a typical  Greg Cordez composition. In the hands of his formidable quintet,  it built steadily last night  from Jim Blomfield‘s simple, fragile, piano opening to a roaring, all hands on deck climax, before subsiding suddenly to a whisper.  The emotional punch was powerful, a pattern they’d followed most of the evening with bass player leader Cordez’s pieces developing an inexorable momentum over march-like, rocky pulses overlayed with themes that declared themselves steadily, given space to breath and take hold as first one soloist and then the next developed and expanded them.   This band debuted over two years ago at the BeBop and since then the repertoire has evolved into mainly originals with an album due for release soon on the New York based Ninety and Nine record label.  Tenor man Jake McMurchie‘s regular foil Nick Malcolm was absent from the line-up that recorded the album, with  Nick Dover stepping in forming a twin tenor frontline for the evening. The two horns blended beautifully, now stating another of Cordez’s compelling melodic fragments, now offering contrasting developments of the looping sequences, Jake’s throaty, warm sound swooping and crying, Nick offering an edgier sound and probing harmonic embellishments, no less emotionally laden.  The only tunes not from the leaders’ pen were by American bassist Todd Sickafoose.  Blood Orange’s hooky theme over a snappy groove set Jim Blomfield up for a blistering solo with a Rhodes sound, shimmering clouds of notes scattered between wild percussive episodes. The twin tenors came in with a shout chorus cum backing riff and suddenly everyone was blowing, Mark Whitlam‘s drumming goading theme on. It was thrilling stuff.   Later, after the Eight Minutes and Twenty Three seconds of ever brightening sunlight, another Blomfield workout, this time solo piano, segued the band into the sumptuous ballad Camilla Rose, before 1000 Paper Cranes traced another arc to end the gig, from simple chiming phrase on piano underpinned by a bass figure through swelling, building, melody and impassioned blowing back to that chiming phrase. On this showing the album, Paper Crane will be well worth catching. Meanwhile you can get some previews from Greg’s website.

Nick Dover Quartet, Be Bop Club, Friday 6th June

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)

Bristol Composers Collective go Ensemble, Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol, Monday 11th November

What a stroke of inspiration: The packed stage (was it eleven or twelve of the collective up there?), instruments stilled, reduced to a choir with just composer Dan Messore’s Metheney-esque guitar quietly etching out the hymn like melody of ‘Passing Vision’ underneath layers of vocal harmony. After an action packed evening it was a magical way to close.

A relatively new venture, the Composers Collective have held three or four sessions previously, performing short sets of one or the other of the gradually expanding membership’s original music.  Making music and working together is the priority. Self promotion and publicity have come a poor second. This was my first taster of what is emerging having found out about a couple of previous sessions after they happened and this one proved rather special.  For the occasion the pattern had changed a bit and the rough rules seemed to be: select your band/ ensemble for the occasion from the members (newly launched website tells us who most of them are), write/ arrange original music for them, preferably rehearse, definitely perform.  Given the quality of players and writers on that list it’s a recipe for something special, the prospect of a few under rehearsed rough edges only adding to the high wire act thrills and so it proved to be with no holding back on the complexity and drama of the writing.

The second half of the evening featured the collective as an ‘orchestra’ with a small string section (double bass, cello, violin) as well as the full rythmn section (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards) and a frontline shuffling all manner of reed instruments and flutes and judicious use of effects. A simple flowing motif on guitar pegged by a sparse bass riff introduced Will Harris’ Damp Squib  before a gorgeous pallete of sound coloured a soaring melody that launched an impassioned

The collective dig into Will Harris' 'Damp Squib'

The collective dig into Will Harris’ ‘Damp Squib’

solo from Jake McMurchie on tenor.  Jim Blomfield stripped the ensemble back to a mere six piece but he certainly made them work. If this wardrobe had any doors, they’d have been kicked open by his ‘Pregnant Pause’. Odd time fragments and riffs played variously and separately by Kevin Figes on baritone, Nick Dover on tenor, McMurchie now switched to soprano until a crackling funky groove gradually merged and locked into a rocking pulse with a few handbrake turns between solos and switches to solo riffs before screeching to a halt with a tumbling riff from the keyboard. That raised the roof before Dan Messore’s ‘Passing Vision’ charmed us out of the door.

The first half had been a short set from ‘the slightly more established’ Kevin Figes Octet (two rehearsals and one previous performance apparently) with double drums including Mark Whitlam who was a fixture for the evening, double vocals from Emily Wright and Cathy Jones as well as a more regular front-line and rhythm section. ‘Loft Space’ had an epic feel to it with a slower section all rousing melody and jazzy prog rock anthem  before the angular grooves and fiery soloing kicked in.

If all that emerged from this collective was nights like this giving the creative muscles of the group the opportunity to work out and experiment, then it will surely have been worth it. What a delight it was just to listen and watch. But keep an eye on this.  Put such a rich mix of talent and creativity together and who knows what surprises and new directions will emerge. If the word spreads much more, the Wardrobe may need an extension. The next session is January, the website is www.bristolcomposerscollective.co.uk/ and there’s a twitter feed @BristolNewSound.

Nick Dover, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 3rd October

Who we choose as our heroes reveals something about ourselves. As Nick Dover introduced a set of tunes chosen for their association with various of his inspirations and heroes from 50 or more years of recent jazz history, no matter how effortless the warm toned phrases from his tenor sounded, there was no mistaking the care with which even familiar standards had been arranged and the strong melodic sense he brings to improvisation whilst hugging the rich harmonic progressions close.  The inspirations, from 50’s cool school tenor man Warne Marsh, via guitarist John Scofield, and trumpeter Tom Harrell to Mark Turner are not necessarily household names, but the standards repertoire they’ve shared (East of the Sun, I fall in Love too Easily, You Stepped out of a Dream, I Loves You Porgy) meant the regular audience at the Vaults had some familiar hooks to draw them in. And it didn’t take long for them to be completely absorbed.

A twist to the structure here, a tweak to the  familiar chord progression there had the the effect of making the familiar sound fresh and the mystery of the meeting  of jazz minds (the house band of Vyv Hope Scott, Wade Edwards and Trevor Davies had only met guest Nick earlier that evening) worked its charm. Nick’s improvising somehow makes the shifting harmony ring even as attractive fresh melodies appear and on plenty of occasions he built up a head of steam with repeated phrases and climatic moments. Its always a delight and special when a visiting musician’s approach brings out a less familiar side of the house band, a sure sign there’s magic in the air.   The repeated pedal note under sections of the the harmony in Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Where or When’ had  Vyv spinning out simple arpeggios building tension; I loves you Porgy cast more as a rocky gospel tune tugged him away from familiar bebop territory and let his soulful side rip. The racing even quavers of their take on ‘All or Nothing at All’ had Trevor Davies on drums clattering and revving up the energy without anyone really noticing he was doing it, one of his distinctive and skills.  This was a treat. A fine, thoughtful, composing and improvising musician whose evident joy in the results was impossible not to share and another fabulous response from the ever reliable Jazz House Trio.  The forthcoming programme promises more thrills with James Gardiner Bateman and then Jake McMurchie coming soon. They’ll ask something different of the house band and you’d be daft to miss the chance to see the response.