Fringe Jazz Notes – and a New York connection.

Fringe Jazz, the weekly gig in Clifton’s Fringe Bar that never seems to rest, is celebrating 5 years this Autumn.  They’ve moved out to the pub round the corner and back again in that time and Jon Taylor has put together the usual mouth watering programme to celebrate.   I’ve also detected an (admittedly tenuous) New York connection.

On a recent, all to brief, flit through New York, I sought out a CD store in a fairly shabby corner of lower Manhattan. The spray painted shutters and steps down to the the cellar downtown_gallerydid look a little un-promising. The Downtown Music Gallery does downtown_2have a reputation however, both stocking a huge selection of the free-er, scronkier end of improvised music and even hosting occasional gigs. Descending, I turned out to be the only customer at that time and got a quick guided tour of the stacks.   Imagine my surprise (and delight) when my eyes fell on some very familiar names in the first dunmallCDpile I looked at.   Right there in the middle, a Paul Dunmall trio album with Bristol lads Tony Orrell and Jim Barr.   Meanwhile, back at the fringe this very week (September 13), Paul Dunmall is in trio with Tony Orrell. It’s the mighty Percy Pursglove on bass this time.  Now there’s a New York connection.   That’s pretty representative of the quality of the Fringe’s programme (check out the full listings here). There’s a couple more I’ll flag.

On the 11th October, Martin Speake, Hans Koller, Calum Gourlay and Jeff Williams bring their Monk project to the bijou back room. This is a longstanding collaboration formed to play as many of Monk’s collaborations as possible and has been seen regularly at London’s Vortex club. London Jazz interviewed Gourlay about it. Speake is a creative veteran of the UK scene, last seen in Bristol with the legendary Bobo Stenson.  Koller also has a formidable CV and Brooklyn-ite Jeff Williams provides another New York connection, dividing his time between there and UK  and has a long history and huge reputation both sides of the pond.   15th November sees ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy return, this time with his unique duo with Norwegian button accordionist Stian Cartensen.  A Nordic rather than a New York connection, but a rare opportunity to catch this extraordinary collaboration.

Too many words are required to summarise the whole programme, but there are plenty more gems there with the best of our local scene well represented.   Let’s keep supporting the Fringe – and here’s to  five more years!

 

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Hans Koller Quartet/ Percy Pursglove Trio, Kings Place, Friday 4th March

Birmingham based Stoney Lane Records invaded London’s Kings Place with a Venn diagram of a double-bill on Friday and, as I happened to be town, the lure was irresistible. Pianist Hans Koller and  trumpeter –  bass player Percy Pursglove were the common factor between the two bands.  Pursglove’s trio was completed by Paul Clarvis, for once restricting his rhythmic alchemy to use of a conventional drum kit and Koller’s Quartet by a slice of New York, in the shape of drummer Jeff Williams and newly re-located to Birmingham, altoist John O’Gallagher.

The music was overlapping and contrasting as were the personnel. The trio were playing versions of music originally written by Pursglove as a choral and large jazz ensemble work, Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls. With long composed sections of smoothly unwinding melodic lines, shadowed by singing harmony and unexpected shifts, there was a reflective air to much of the short set of of four pieces, inspired by text or ideas from Anne Franck, Nelson Madela, Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin. Clarvis was a joy, often subtly nudging and colouring the implied rhythm of the trumpet’s lines, at others stepping forward and driving things along.  Pursglove alternated between trumpet and bass, keeping up a subtle dialogue with Koller on piano, the bass in particular weaving around the pianist’s thoughtful, fluid lines.

The quartet, playing a handful of Koller originals, exploring George Russell’s methods according to the leader, had a similarly melodic thread but with sharper edges, the phrases zig-zagging and swooping across the saxophone’s range. O’Gallagher and Williams’ partnership crackled as they pumped up the energy generating a grooving, anguished swing as the saxophonist explored, dissected and re-worked Koller’s pieces.   They brought a whiff of fierce, serious-minded New York style exploration to the hall, matching  Koller’s cerebral but thoroughly grounded, communicative approach.  They closed the set on a distorted almost bluesey shuffling groover leaving the audience wanting more.  ‘We’ve got another hard one’ said Koller.  We cheered.

A slice of Cheltenham: Arguelles, Scofield and M & M (and W)

Pic by jez matthews

Pic by jez matthews

Saving the best ’til last can be a bit a risky – will the reality bear the weight of expectation?  There were no worries on that score as Julian Arguelles‘ band, swelled to a septet at the behest of the Cheltenham  festival, delivered an exultant performance last Sunday to bring the curtain down on the sequence of gigs at the beautifully appointed Parabola Arts Centre. His core band of Sam Lassserson on bass, Kit Downes at the piano and James Maddren behind the kit were augmented by the bass clarinet and saxes of George CrowleyPercy Pursglove’s  trumpet and flugelhorn and the trombone of Kieran McCloud. IMG_1453There were so may moments to savour, with composer and arranger in chief Arguelles making full use of the expanded pallette. Fugue, gave us a typically thrilling one.  The central idea was a quintessential Arguelles theme – a mazy extended line that played straight could have had a classical, perhaps Iberian tinge to it, but in his hands had a gutsy swagger with the whiff of a New York cellar bar to it. By the time the layers had built up, there was a hue and cry to wake the dead.  Triality closed the hour and half set with a similar tumult. But even when the band were blazing, there was fiercely controlled intensity to everyone’s playing.  There were tender and more lyrical moments, ballads, individual flurries, including a segue from Percy Pursglove reminding us trumpeters do circular breathing too, that had the audience bug-eyed as he produced a sound from his trumpet that sound for all the world like a microphone in a hurricane.  And at the centre the sublime playing of Arguelles whose phrases flow and spiral, rising and falling in volume like a sigh and growling and grooving in an elemental way.  As Tony Dudley Evans reminded us, this is another voice first heard with Loose Tubes that has become a major  creative force.

That was a great end to a day at Cheltenham’s Jazz festival that had another very good year. Deep pockets are needed if you want to attend more than a few gigs so mine was a day trip on Sunday with the climax in the Parabola Theatre, dipping into a programme that started during the week and intensified over the week end (reviews of much it on Bristol 24/7 and London Jazz News from messrs Benjamin and Turney respectively including ‘Sax legend Saturday’ that saw appearances from Archie Shepp, Lee Konitz and Joe Lovano).   My Sunday started with the intriguing collaboration between fusion guitar legend John Scofield and young, making waves German Pablo Held Trio who showed the Montpellier Gardens audience why they have been getting excited reviews.  Grooves appeared out of swirling abstractions  Pablo Held built layers dissonant arpeggios and stabbing chords over fractured surging IMG_1450pulses from Jonas Burgwinkel on drums and Robert Landfermann on bass.  Somehow it fit seamlessly John Scofield’s guitar as he sometimes seemed to gouge short phrases and notes out with his unabashedly rocky sound, at others deliver silvery bursts of boppish runs thread through the trios accompaniment. At times they kicked into familiar bluesey riffs and they finished on a post- bop burn up on a standard whose title tantalisingly eluded me.  A dense, absorbing gig in stark contrast to Medeski, Martin and Wood who wowed the Big Top with there furious organ trio blend of rock, blues,  New Orleansy gospel. I picked up a fair bit of social media muttering from MMW aficionados about the second half of the gig with guest Jamie Cullum. It did have the air of a jam as they reached for Nature Boy and Caravan, the latter a natural victim for John Medeski’s howling synths and organ, but they gave every appearance of having a great time on stage and it was hard not to relax into it and enjoy from where I was sitting.

A thoroughly satisfying day of jazz immersion with the  festival vibe around the Montpellier Gardens hub and late night jam at Hotel du Vin irresistible. I’ll be back

Hotel Bristol with Andy Sheppard, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 25th January

These days the world may know Andy Sheppard principally through a series of collaborations on ECM, but in Bristol whilst due respect is paid to the international profile, there’s the regular local collaborations to delight, invariably showing us a different side. He’s to be seen at a near residency at Fringe Jazz with a rotating cast list, with the organ trio The Pushy Doctors playing just about anything with verve, passion and wry humour and now the delicious prospect of this quartet, Hotel Bristol. The full line-up is Andy, guitarist and Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival man Denny Ilet, uniquely (surely) bass and trumpet Percy Pursglove and drummer Dylan Howe. There have been relatively few appearances but the word has spread and Sunday night’s gig saw the room above the Hen and Chicken packed and a big grin on Ian Storrer’s face as his audience counter needed three digits.   And what a treat this band served up.2015-01-25 22.06.30

A bluesy theme, delivered by guitar and tenor in unison, every bent note and dragged beat locked together whilst bass and drums dug into the beat. Not too many notes, just an ‘in the bones’ feel. Delicious Ham and Eggs. Then an even quavered vibe with lilting guitar chords and a quintessential Andy Sheppard melody, joyous, breathy upper register hoots and interval leaps to make the heart leap.  Walk in the Park. It wasn’t all relaxed. A blistering boppish head gave way to incendiary soloing and Pursglove swapped bass for for flugelhorn horn. One of the exciting things about this band is that Sheppard has been writing for them and the carefully crafted themes with Sheppard’s well honed instinct for energy ramping stops and changes of pace provided a platform for some sizzling improvising all round. The second set started with an Illett composition All in Good time, with a flowing groove and a line that sounded like a carefully dissected and stretched out Blue Note theme, maximum value extracted from each phrase. Another joyous, grooving melody followed with hint of the Caribbean and had tenor and Pursglove’s flugelhorn blending again over the patter of Howe’s drums. Sighs, cheers and whoops all round.  Someone should record this band! Everyone should have a little taste of this.