Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.
Michelson Morley are approaching the end of a tour playing music from the just released, tour de force Strange Courage and played a home-town launch gig last night, before heading up to London for a launch at the Vortex tonight. What a treat is in store for that London audience.
The recording Strange Courage is, whilst audibly from the same stable as the excellent debut release Aether Drift (reviewed here), an even more powerful and compelling experience. It’s a cocktail of effects; atmospheres concocted in the moment with electronics; quietly looping motifs; thumping, distorted, headsplitting riffs; jaunty melodic themes with a jagged edge. Leader and composer Jake McMurchie‘s sax is at the centre of the action . The original trio is now augmented by guitarist Dan Messore, joining Will Harris on bass and drummer Mark Whitlam. He brings another dimension, thickening the sound with textures and effects as well echoing and countering melodies and unleashing occasional crunching chords. If the album is an assured, gripping group performance, the live show is an even more pulsating ride.
The music seemed to seep up through the stage at the start of the set as eerie effects, clatters and howls emerged, apparently un-related to the conventional sounds expected from the instruments on the stage. Tamer as Prey offered plaintive melodic hooks that distorted and changed shape over the an insistent throb. Ammageddon nodded to its mis-spelt name in the churning rocky riff before the The Last Of Me Will Wait set up an attractive little groove and McMurchie’s warm tenor sound ebbed and flowed. They dissolved into more ghostly washes as a prelude for the catchy looping bass riff of There Are No Perfect Waves, a delicate phrase then alternated with another crunching power riff and blistering solos. It was a dramatic, exciting performance enhanced by evocative visuals provided by Cornwall based film maker Jo Mayes, always another turn or twist around the corner. They played out to whooping applause with the rocker Rice Rage.
The first, shorter set was by the peer-less Eyebrow. McMurchie acknowledged the inspiration of the approach of the duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens , their sparse, looping and layered improvisations are as riveting conjured live as on CD. Wigens place was ably filled at the last minute by Mark Whitlam due to illness but they still evoked the magic of the recent release Garden City to the delight of the audience filling the Wardrobe Theatre’s fabulous new home.
The two sets were a celebration of some of the more creative and imaginative music that has been brewing gently in Bristol over recent years and now, happily getting wider recognition.
It’s March – it must be time for the Jazz and Blues Festival in Bristol. It may only be the fourth edition, 2103 saw the inaugural festival, but it’s established itself fast as a fixture in the calendar. So the weekend before Easter found me pretty much living at the Colston Hall together with a big chunk of the area’s jazz folk. There are a few people I confess I’ve seen just four times in the last four years… yup, in more or less the same spot in the Colston Hall foyer.
There are now plenty of reviews and round-ups around. Mine for Jazzwise (with more to come in the magazine) , Jon Turney for London Jazznews and Charley Dunlapp for Listomania. There were many great moments with highlights in all those reviews but, as I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen, you could have a fantastic jazz festival just sitting in the foyer, surrounded by a steady throng of thousands and lapping up the phenomenal programme on the free stage, punctuated by DJ Tony Clark’s well chosen atmosphere building selections.
Get The Blessing predictably ensured there was no room to move on Saturday tea-time with an energetic set for the home town crowd. GTB’s Jake McMurchie was possibly the busiest of the the quartet over the weekend with performances in at least two or three other bands including the big band that played behind Pee Ellis and Fred Wesley re-visiting their jazz roots on Sunday afternoon. Have we mentioned Ruth Hammond’s Bari solo on a bouncing groover in that gig? It had Pee Wee grinning as well as the crowd whooping. Exiting that gig we were captured by another free-stage moment with Pete Judge and Paul Wigens ambient electronica and groove duo transfixing the packed foyer. Saturday had seen Kevin Figes quartet whetting the the appetite for his double release of a quartet album and an octet album on his own Pig Records later in April. Another electrifying moment was provided by expanding his line-up to included two vocalists (Cathy Jones and Emily Wright) tenor and trumpet and delivering an impressionistic closely scripted interpretation of birdsong. The festival , through its headliners, was also catering to a broad church with the bluesey half of the Jazz and Blues festival well catered for.
This has evolved into a wrap around celebration of music and coming together of people of all ages and musical predilections. Three cheers (or more) for the team that work year round to make it happen.
What week we had at The Bell in Bath. Monday’s visit by the Pushy Doctors was followed Get the Blessing on Wednesday and my breathless anticipation turned out not to be over heated. Charley Dunlapp’s breathless appreciation of both the Doctors and the bestowers of blessings sums it all up. Gag of the week has to be Jim Barr welcoming back Radiohead’s touring drummer from his ‘apprenticeship with Radio Shack’. Musical moment of the week would be selected from a very long list of nominations. One would be GTBs American Meccano, shorn of Robert Wyatt’s vocal and tweeting birds in the live show, but somehow the quartet manage to make the anthem like hook sound like its being delivered by a massed choir and orchestra – it makes my heart flutter everytime. Both bands are regular visitors so the repertoire is familiar. The Doctor’s set list may even have been nearly identical to their last visit in the summer, but they never sound quite the same and they get more free and playful every time we see them. Andy Sheppard was on fine form. In his other bands playing so quietly that you can hear the clatter of the keys above his breath is regularly deployed effect – doing it in the Bell in contrast to some of the more furious organ trio numbers in the loud and shouty Bell was riveting (and provided one of the week’s more bizzare moments as one somewhat ‘out of it’ punter was inspired to lurch in front of the tiny stage and declaim loudly his sorrow at the passing of Ravi Shankar). The drummers of both bands provided more of the nominations for musical moments (no cheap jokes about drummers and musicians on the blog!). Tony Orrell, endlessly inventive and diversionary is surely behind some of the more mindblowing segues and arrangements (that switch from My favourite Things to Saving all my Love for instance!) and often seems to nudge the trio of into extended codas and unexpected grooves. The electricity between Jim Barr and Clive Deamer is the pulsing heart over which the layers of intrigue and invention provided by Pete Judge and Jake McMurchie define GTBs sound. Seeing both both bands side by side, contrasting as they are, made a couple of simple truths clear. Their music is carefully and skillfully constructed, but what makes them both such an exciting and moving experience live is the empathy and understanding in the group and the sense that the unexpected can and does happen; they’re all fantastic improvisers.
Live jazz music is alive and well on our patch of the south west of England. There are of course a few caveats to that; venues and gigs come and go, audiences evaporate, musicians struggle to make a living. But still week in week out there are dozens of live gigs both big and small, big bands are rehearsing, jam sessions, workshops and short courses are attended. In slightly sentimental moments, I think about how much this adds to our collective life. There’s the direct enjoyment (mostly!) of either playing or listening, but lets acknowledge the simple connections between people that are formed or reinforced by these happenings (friendships, shared experiences and more) that I think enriches our lives.
Almost without exception this is all very local and happens because an individual or a small group make it happen, usually without any particular financial reward beyond covered costs. So here goes with my New Year’s Honours that reflect my own slightly idiosyncratic, crooked path through the jazz scene on the Bristol, Bath and environs patch and salutes ‘those that make it happen’.
Gigs in Bath: All hail Wade Edwards for jazz at the Vaults and now 5 years of a regular club at the Wine Vaults (and to Neil the landlord for supporting it). Also in Bath don’t forget the Sunday sessions at the Ring-o-Bells booked by Joe Spibey and supported by the pub. Other restaurant gigs, long time ‘putters on’ of jazz when they don’t have to – Green Park Brasserie and Gascoyne Place. (Up and comers: look out for gigs at Market supported enthusiastically by manager Ashley)
Gigs in Bristol: So much going on here, I’m bound not to mention stuff but the criterion is what I know of so, thinking of people, a loud whoop for the Be Bop Club and Andy Hague (now entering its 22nd year?), but also now firmly established on the local scene The Coronation Tap and the The Greenbank as venues including jazz in their vaied programmes due to the commitment of managers. A new gig this year at the Rose of Denmark, a distinctive programme booked by Pete Judge. Sadly this year Future Inns stopped supporting Ian Storrer’s series of Jazz gigs, but never a man to put off by a mere lack of a venue Ian has continued to bring world class music to the city – its looking promising for 2012 with more scheduled at the Colston Hall2. Venues seem a slightly different category, but it would seem odd not mention St. Georges Bristol and a hugely varied programme booked by Phil Johnson on their behalf. Similarly the Wiltshire Music Centre at Bradford on Avon through Artistic Director Keith Nimmo.
Miscellaneous music making:
Jam Sessions – still weekly, alternating between the Canteen and harbourside on a Monday night (how long has this thing been going on) and I’m not sure who the energizers are but I suspect a combination of Greg Cordez, John Blakely and regular drum host Trevor Davies (and of course the forebearance of the management). At the Greenbank monthly still under the banner of East Bristol Jazz Club and lovingly sustained by Simon Greening, Walter Dirks and Nick Langston.
And the workshops, oh the workshops! So many, interspersed with weekends and and termly performances/ parties. Surely the most public friendly and rocking ‘end of term gig’ is the Blow out Sax School’s termly Blow Out ( Mark Archer and Craig Crofton are the animateaurs), but the Bristol Jazz Workshops (that man Hague again), and Bradford on Avon’s Jazz Factory (MD Mike Daniels, but an impressive cast list of tutors and voluntary committee ) and the spin off Play Jazz weekend (organized and run by Rachel Kerry) are no less well supported and impressive.
Big Bands could probably take up a blog on their own: so many of them of them faithfully supported and voluntarily run. Here’s a few I’ve come across this year in the area – GBH. two DS Big Bands one in Bristol one in Trowbridge, Big R Big Band, and of course the unique Bristol Reggae Orchestra (MD Norma Daykin).
I know I’ve missed people and am blissfully unaware of other great gigs and happenings, but just the ones of which I’m aware make we want to salute all this energy and music making: happy new year folks.
Last week’s bestowal of taut, bass led riffy blessings at the 100 club still retains a warming glow in the memory (no excuse really, just been rather slow catching up on the blog). The Get the Blessing experience is one of distilled pleasures and surprises; an intoxicating blend comprising blasts of raw, tight rocky grooves, sudden switches of mood, quietly demented, angular improvising often supplemented by judicious use of electronics, tender shapely melodies and swelling anthems over thunderous crescendos of drums. All delivered in neat parcels of 5 minutes or so. There’s always more to them than meets the eye (and ear). The opportunity for a surprising twist and mischievous feint is rarely missed, frequently evoking grins of delight from the audience at the 100 club. Enduring images are a young women leaning across a table to explain one of bass player Jim Barr’s off beat jokes to her visibly puzzled friend; a delighted, head back laugh from another punter as a screaming crescendo of trumpet effects and scribbled phrases switches suddenly to a quiet, elegantly stated melody; Pete Judge and Jake McMurchie, eyes locked, building the tension, relishing the space in the music and exchanging gradually intensifying phrases over Clive Deamer and Jim Barr’s hissing off-centre riff. Ivan Hewett in the daily Telegraph wanted them to let rip a bit more; certainly, the 5 minute parcels always seem to leave you wanting more – maybe that’s the point. There certainly plenty of cheers for more at the end on this evening.
Pete Judge brought his collection of trumpets (pocket, flugel horn and regular), a bag of tunes and seasoning of repartee to the Vaults this week to charm and move by turns the assembled punters. This was no ‘reel out the standards and flex the bop-based jazz muscles session’ however, and Pete’s imagination and personality shaped the way the Jazz House Trio responded in a way that not all guests do. This became a group gig with the band playing together more than a soloist showcase.
The second set started with and Anouar Brahem piece, Astrakhan Cafe, a chant like north african flavoured melody that invited Trevor on drums to become a percussionist in a duet: he responded beautifully using his hands on the drums. Don Cherry’s Art Deco followed with a quirky free intro morphing into the theme’s cheeky, playful swing. By the time they played a standard (Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments) the band were responding to Pete’s use of space, rythmn and melodic phrases more than volume to create intensity and tension. Vyv’s solo began with one hand tracing angular single note phrases and Trevor and Wade didn’t rush to fill the space, creating a tense moody vibe that stayed throughout the piece. This set had a real personality about it and Jazz House Trio demonstrated once again what a versatile bunch they are. Those who came expecting pyrotechnics or the rocky sound of Get the Blessing may have been taken by surprise, but I left feeling blessed nevertheless; a lovely set… what WAS that Welsh hymn they played?