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.
Gig-bookers have conspired this week to remind us (well, me at least) how much Bristol nurtured talent has been leavening the UK scene over the last few years. The gigs in question were last Sunday’s Moonlight Saving Time gig (here) and Thursday’s at Future Inn with pianist Rebecca Nash and her new band Atlas. The link? As I settled into my seat and meditative flurries from the piano ushered in Lokum, I remember being impressed by a band at the BeBop Club, several years ago now, with Rebecca on keys, Emily Wright and Will Harris (from Moonlight Saving Time) and was Nick Malcolm in that band? Either way he was another link between Thursday and Sunday, appearing in both bands this week. Rebecca is not resident in Bristol anymore and Nick only part-time, but they have all, separately, been quietly building a growing reputation nationally .
Atlas also includes the formidable Chris Mapp on bass and Matt Fisher on drums. Fisher and Nash’s association dates back to college days and their complementary styles were an exquisite thread around which this early outing for a new project turned. The leader’s compositions are eclectic in inspiration. Lokum had an even, rocky pulse, Leonard Cohen’s You Know Who You Are got a re-working, Grace experimented with electronic textures and synthy washes whilst Dreamer developed a delicious groove and a hooky melody. Nash let solo’s build. Shapely motif’s and darting half-thoughts of runs gradually accumulated until flurries of melodic lines fused together. It was fluent and emotional playing. Matt Fisher and Chris Mapp followed every move, Fisher in particular picking up on implied grooves and accents to build an often irresistible pulse. When Nick Malcolm let fly with a typically inventive solo the temperature really began to build. A thoroughly contemporary quartet then, with the composer leader happily fusing all sorts of references and styles into her distinctive pieces. Add them to the ‘ones to watch list’.
A cycling sequence of ringing chords, sax and trumpet in full flight, wordless vocals weaving in, out and over, an effortless groove from the bass and churning drums building the excitement: it was an exhilarating musical tumult as Views reached a climax towards the end of Moonlight Saving Time’s first set of the Bristol launch of their album Meeting at Night. The Bristol based band have been getting deserved exposure, including national radio play, since the official release in the autumn and the Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was packed for the first gig of the 2016 season.
The band’s distinctive sound is a potent brew of jazzily melodic, gliding lines with occasional folk-like inflections; artfully crafted shifting harmony; never over-stated but propulsive and snappy grooves. The arrangements make the most of the cocktail of timbres and pitch in the line-up. This is a collective enterprise. Emily Wright’s clear toned, supple vocals were frequently in the foreground carrying lyrics, invariably personal and reflective, but then became another instrument blending beautifully with Nick Malcolm’s. trumpet in wordless swoops and flights. The jigsaw of rhythms and harmony from Dale Hambridge on keys, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam behind the kit locked it all together.
In this band of leaders and composers there was plenty of scope for individual personalities to make their presence felt. After the flowing grooves of Clouds, Silence is Here breathed more easily and Dale Hambridge gave his expressive, fluent touch at the piano full rein. On this and the playful, joyfully lilting Arthur’s Dance Nick Malcolm flung out by turns lyrical and biting trumpet solos adding citric zest to the sophisticated palette of sound. There were ‘just so’ changes of pace and mood that caught the attention, like leaving Will Harris’ bass to state a groove, imply a melody and a chord all at once whilst letting the space breath – little moments of magic
If the regular ensemble have visibly developed an easy confidence over the last three years or so, the addition of saxophonist Jason Yarde for the evening seemed to step everything up a gear. From his first solo on Clouds, the forceful, fluid exploration of the harmony; song like declamatory phrases and then burning intensity as momentum built, all served to get everyone grinning and nodding. The rest of the band responded in kind. This would have a great gig without the addition of Yarde, as it was it made for a real treat to start the year. Moonlight Saving Time are going from strength to strength.
It’s taken a while. Bass player Greg Cordez had the tracks recorded a year ago we were hearing, having herded the frighteningly busy team of Jake McMurchie (tenor sax), Nick Malcom (trumpet), Jim Blomfield (piano) and Mark Whitlam (drums) into the studio. The occasional teaser has appeared on his website but now Paper Crane is released on Ninety and Nine records and the artefact is here, the CD cover artfully designed to look like it might have been recovered from a batch of a 1000 Paper Cranes and the quintet were at The Hen and Chicken on Sunday to launch it.
But first that CD: If an un-rushed build-up to the release was a deliberate strategy to stoke tension and anticipation, it mirrors much of the music on the compelling recording. A throbbing, repeated bass note launches Real and Imagined, Brown Bear begins with a lightly stepping repeating motif, piano and bass spelling it out, 8’23” with chiming piano chords, Black Bear arrives through clattering percussion and an insistent piano note. Each time, layers accrete and momentum builds as the piano binds things to together and the horns conjure affecting, slow moving melody lines. No need to rush. As these pieces reach their climax there’s a powerful emotional charge. There’s plenty of scope for soloing to grow out of the ensemble playing. Shcrodinger vs Cat with a thumping rock vibe and Up Quark with its rolling, propulsive momentum really build up a head of steam. Ballad November is a lyrical song, Malcolm’s keening trumpet sculpting beautiful lines over the cycling harmony. There’s a coherent musical vision running through the set, providing a frame for these formidable musicians to really sing and stretch.
If the recorded music draws the listener in and holds them, the live experience added another dimension. As carefully constructed as these compositions are, the repeated figures and riffs and driving grooves seemed to liberate McMurchie and Malcom further, Brown Bear stimulating a volcanic solo from McMurchie and Malcolm really letting fly on Blood Orange, a rare imported tune. Blomfield cut loose on 8’23” spiralling off into a solo piano interlude now rhapsodic now an eruption of two fisted rhythm, exploiting all the piano’s quirks.
They launched this music in style with a few ‘new’ ones from the Cordez pen whetting our appetite for more recorded output to come. No need to rush. The steady evolution will be compulsory viewing. Cordez himself supplied one the moments of the evening as he and Blomfield played All That Is as a duo, the bass channeling Charlie Haden with a sonorous melody and singing harmony from the piano.
A delight of an album, a fabulous gig.
Its a couple of years now since bass player, and general making things happen man Greg Cordez debuted his quintet at the BeBop club. Since then the band has been making occasional appearances locally and their set list has been evolving. As well as organising a series of jam sessions over the years, an email from Greg was the stimulus for getting the Bristol Composers Collective going. A series of bands have released CDs since that include music (and musicians) first trialled at the collective’s more or less regular monthly gigs (Michelson Morley, Kevin Figes’ Octet to name two) . Now Greg looks to be next in line. With the same line-up still in place from that first gig, bristling with creativity (Jim Blomfield on keys, Mark Whitlam on drums, Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Jake McMurchie on sax) Greg has managed to align their busy diaries for long enough to record an album of his compositions which is near release. We know this because he’s been sneaking out a preview reel with a fun graphic and a taster track with slightly mysteriously accompanying footage from the Apollo 17 landing. I’ve not heard a release date, but the album is coming soon and it sounds like it’ll be tasty when it arrives.
The welcome reappearance of the sun over Bath recently may turn our thoughts to summer and festivals, and for seekers of jazz (fairly) nearby Cheltenham and Bath (hurrah, jazz is back in the programme) on the early and late May Bank Holidays certainly do the honours, not to mention Brecon celebrating 30 years in mid- August, but a quick survey of what’s coming up locally highlights the quality and range of the week by week options. World beating visitors there may be (and there certainly are), but our world beating local residents show no sign of slowing down so an illustrative round-up is in order, before flagging up who’s coming to visit.
In Bath, the longstanding residency of Wade Edwards‘ Jazzhouse Trio at St. James Wine Vaults continues, welcoming a stream of top quality guests. Fine local trumpeter Dan Reid is there on 1st May, on the 8th former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman and for many, one of the finest jazz musicians this country has produced, Jason Rebello visits with son George on drums and Somerset based Sam Crockatt on tenor who also has a national reputation. Another British jazz legend Art Themen returns to the Vaults on 12th June. An intermittent residency has emerged at The Fringe Bar in Bristol’s Clifton Village. ECM recording artist and global star Andy Sheppard has been appearing there regularly with a variety of line-ups including the much loved Pushy Doctors, a developing new quartet with guitarist Denny Illett and various one off hook- ups. He’s there on Thursdays 24th April, 15th May, 12th June and the 24th July. In between there’s a mix of really high quality local bands including James Morton, John Pearce and Dave Newton, Kevin Figes, Freight and many others. Thursdays are busy in Bristol with jazz at The Future Inn (now with a £5 cover charge but free parking thrown in) hosting a similarly strong line-up. George Cooper (on May 1st), Celestine Walcott Gordon, as seen on the Voice, Andy Hague, James Gardiner Bateman and Dave Newton Trio are there in May. In Bath the legendary Bell is doing its bit to showcase locally based bands with a wider reputation. Kevin Figes Quartet are there on June 8th with Freight featuring Craig Crofton and Bath based bass maestro Greg Cordez on July 7th. Earlier in June the groovier end of jazz gets its turn with the George Mabusa Band on 11th June and the peerless John Paul Gard with Jon Dalton on an annual visit from Los Angeles on 9th June. And there’s more, and more and more. Bristol blogger Jon Turney does a weekly round-up that reaches parts this taster can’t; it’s always worth checking our what he’s spotted if you’re heading out on a whim.
There are a few very notable visitors gracing venues nearby over the next couple of months. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart brings his Anticipating Ellington band to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday April 26th. The CD of this band was on many critics album of the year last year and its a cracking line-up. The following week, on Monday 28th, Mercury Prize nominated Led Bib land at The Bell. “Two saxes deliver raw energy and grit, the moodswings and slowdowns are tightly rehearsed and tunes are catchy” according to Mike Hobart in the FT . May 10th back at the Wiltshire Music Centre its pianist Niki Iles’ Printmakers with a band containing a who’s who of British contemporary jazz including Norma Winston, guitarist Mike Walker and that man Mark Lockheart again. Amongst a strong programme of local bands the BeBop Club has great London band visiting in Dave Manington’s Riff Raff in May and local man Nick Malcolm’s Quartet are there as part of a national tour in June.There’s action at Bristol’s Colston Hall too with Phronesis, the hottest trio ticket in town just now with their Scandinavian-British blend of complex but grooving jazz there on May 23rd and then late in June Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra for a celebration of Blue Notes 70th anniversary to the main hall.
This is an embarrassment of riches even without the festivals nearby. Cheltenham Festival on the first bank holiday covers the universe of jazz in tents, the town hall and small theatres. An astonishing line-up with something to make your mouth water whatever your favourite flavour. Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling will be hanging out with a re-united Loose Tubes and the hottest of New York young tyros trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to pick a few at random. Check out the programme. Brecon’s mid -August extravagnaza has a similar spread with some of the same names but plenty of individuality and eye catchingly Burt Baccharach headlining. Bath sounds a welcome, different note. It’s also smaller in scale but there’s a focussed weekend of gigs in the Guildhall and a cross-over finale in the abbey of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. It’s a welcome return.
Another troupe of the London scene were criss-crossing the west this week and stopped in Bristol on a Thursday night. This time it was a quintet led by key board player Dan Wood and Fringe Jazz the port of call. I stopped by for the first set , breaking a long , rain-swept journey back to Bath. The band had been to St. Ives earlier in the week and managed to get in and out between road closures due to flooding, so Bristol narrowly avoided jazz deprivation by reason of deluge. The mercurial genius of Thelonius Monk was the focus. The repertoire was exclusively his tunes and the bands performance gave full rein to the spikey-ness and rhythm shuffling angularity of his style. There was no scope for lapses of concentration here as the front line of Nick Malcolm on trumpet and George Crowley hit every displaced phrase together and drum and bass fills completed jigsaw like themes. Dan Wood’s choice of Fender Rhodes as weapon of choice gave the Monkish stabs and rhythmical driving comping on the opener Jackie-ing a different slightly unexpected twist. The intensity loosened as the set wore on. On a duo version of Panonnica Nick Malcolm let rip on trumpet rendering the beautiful melody with by turns the sweetest warmest of tones and then whines and sighs and sliding notes. As George Crowley really dug into Think of One, Ollie Brice on bass and Simon Roth seemed to be trying to make him think of anything but one, clattering out counter rhythms and skittering patterns that made the head spin. By the time Roth launched into a rolling rattling, staccato stabs drum solo on We See he’d nearly stolen the show with restless, inventive drumming that off-set and enlivened everything. Dan Wood’s conception of Monk with this band stays close to the originator’s swinging vibe making it an engrossing set and his playing was full of the clusters, stabs and rapid runs so characteristic of Monk’s own playing albeit given an individual flourish and recast with the Rhodes’ voice. I went away humming a couple of those themes as the jazz folk lore around the Monk legend says I should and with a ‘note to self’ somewhere to be sure to catch this lot again if I get the chance.