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.
Eyebrows crept a bit higher on foreheads, mouths opened slightly, maybe a few people leaned a bit further back in their seats. The impact of the opener in Phronesis’ first set at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday night was dramatic. 67,000 mph followed a typical pattern for the trio; ear snagging riffs with sharp changes of gears, scattered phrases from Ivo Neame on piano that accumulate into a blizzard of notes, a firestorm of percussion whipped up by Anton Eger on drums, Jaspar Hoiby standing between them, holding down a tricky bass figure with occasional embellishments and looking from one to the other, nodding appreciatively.
Hoiby’s slightly divergent banter between tunes relieved the tension a bit, and may even have been a bit too self-deprecating as he joked ‘all our tunes sound the same’. A Phronesis recipe there may be, but it’s designed to maximise the thrill factor in live performance. The volcanic momentum of Eger’s drumming was constantly arresting, delivered as often at a whisper or with a rattle as with full blooded battering. Silver Moon tiptoed round its jigsaw of melodic phrases and singing bass phrases before leaving space for Eger’s drum breaks, filled with space and brushing caresses of the cymbals. Stillness belied its name with accumulating clatter, what looked like a knife and fork pressed into service on the kit.
The trios reflexes and responsiveness to each other were razor sharp, raging solos frequently punctuated with little stops or momentary slackening of the intensity of pulse driving the music on. Neame’s playing seemed to get ever more fluid as the evening wore on, relentlessly percussive with dazzling slivery runs and then little oases of distorting lyricism, A Kite for Seamus a sublime synthesis of his rhythmic sensibility and shifting harmonies. Hoiby too delivered a singing, melodic solo on that piece.
This was one of just three UK gigs (for now) as they launch a new recording, Parallax. On this showing they are still on top form and surely one of the most thrilling live acts around. Sunday night at London’s Cadogan Hall is the official UK launch, but the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd at Wiltshire Music Centre were delighted with their early experience of the fire-works.
There was probably no collusion, but on the weekend of 10th to 12th June, Wiltshire Music Centre and Colston Hall have between them managed to arrange gigs by some the best, most exciting jazz musicians on the current scene (that’ll be UK, Europe or anywhere according to some).
Was Jazzwise magazine being a bit lurid when they described Phronesis as one of the most exciting bands on the planet? Their gig at Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10 June is one of only three opportunities in UK to find out on their current tour. They are promoting their release of a new album on Edition Records (their UK launch gig is at London’s Cadogan Hall on the Sunday). There’s no doubting the energy and exhilaration this trio generate when they play. Much of their music is built around Jaspar Hoiby‘s catchy bass riffs, frenetic rhythms from Anton Eger on drums and fragments of melody that bounce around the band, often as not, traced out by pianist Ivo Neame, but they move as an improvising unit and there is no telling where they’ll end up. Hailing from Denmark, Norway/Sweden and UK respectively they have an international reputation. What a way to start the weekend. Book here.
Having taken Saturday to recover, The Lantern, Colston Hall is the only place to be on Sunday 12th June. Saxophonist Julian Arguelles has been a singular and creative presence on the British Jazz Scene since playing with Loose Tubes in the 1980s. Last month he received a Parliamentary Jazz Award for his recording Let it Be with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and now he’s on tour with his quartet Tetra and what a band this is. Playing Arguelles’ compositions that are always deeply rooted in jazz, but constantly delight and surprise with flights of lyricism and echoes of music from all over the world, the band are all sublime musicians. Kit Downes on piano and James Maddren on drums are some of the most in demand payers around, Downes leading plenty of award winning projects of his own. Sam Lasserson is amongst the most exciting of the formdiable current crop of bass players. They too are touring on the back of an album, this one on Whirlwind and much praised by John Fordham in the Guardian. Book those tickets here
One of my personal pleasures of 2014 was writing a bit for London Jazz News (mainly CD reviews) and more occasionally Jazzwise (website and print). I have linked to most pieces on websites during the year but purely for my own ‘keeping track’ purposes there’s a few more recent ones here and below for archiving purposes, a few reviews that appeared in print in Jazzwise originally
Recent Reviews for London Jazz News
Archiving Jazzwise reviews
Festivals: Bristol Jazz and Blues, Manchester
Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival, Colston Hall, March 2014
Andy Sheppard’s delightful, contemplative duo set with John Paricelli was the perfect palette cleanser at the start of the 2nd Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival. Gently throbbing washes of looped guitar chords mingled with the tenor’s breathy sighs and hoots as crowds thronged the building. An early highlight was Alan Barnes and Howard Alden re-kindling a longstanding friendship, leading a quintet including Dave Newton and revelation on drums, Parisian Julie Saury. A duet of furiously twisting, intertwining boppish lines had the room whooping and It Might as Well be Spring producing fireworks all round, had them skipping out of the door. Roars of appreciation greeted young Georgian pianist Beka Gochiashvili’s thunderous post bop, dial set to 11. An improvised duet with drummer Justin Tyson, Chic Corea’s Blue Miles, then a lump in the throat rendition of a ballad, Yellow Leaves, showed us his capacity for emotional range. This is a name we will hear more of. “Every festival should have funk” declared legendary drummer Ziagboo Modeliste before his band grooved their way through a chunk of The Meters’ back catalogue. And if that wasn’t enough, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley orchestrated a Saturday evening party with plenty of audience participation and raucous blowing. The capacity crowd lapped it up. The premier of Interplay, Kate Williams and William Goodchild’s Ravel, Debussy and Satie meet Bill Evans project offered a sharp contrast on Sunday. Arrangements that wove the French Impressionist source materials into pieces with Williams’ more dynamic trio were the highlights of an occasionally becalmed set. Later, Indigo Kid were a delight. The melodic, quirky originals were carried beautifully by the just so blend of Iain Ballamy’s sax and Dan Messore’s distinctive guitar work before Get the Blessing took to the stage. Trademark bass hooks and crackling grooves were still there but edgier new material and increased live use of effects added menace and energy. Another enchanting duo set from Andy Sheppard, this time with the shirt fluttering, bacofoil rustling, wild creativity of Italian percussionist Michele Rabbia took us back to where we started. Whether plotting a path through the ticketed gigs or just hanging out, soaking up the continuous, best Bristol had to offer, free foyer programme and late night jams, this weekend was a sure-fire winner.
Manchester Jazz Festival, Various venues, July 2014
On the last Friday of Manchester’s ten-day Jazz festival, not even the blazing July sunshine could discourage the buzzing crowd from packing into the Thwaites Festival Pavilion in the city’s central Albert Square. Beats and Pieces’ two storming sets lured them in, delivered with a celebratory verve featuring nearly as many whoops and cheers from the stage as from the audience. Explosive riffs, switch back shifts of mood and tempo, exhilarating soloing whether from Patrick Hurley at the keys, Anton Hunter on the guitar or incendiary blowing from Sam Healey on alto, it was spine-tingling stuff. The creative hubbub of this Mancunian, award winning outfit seems to be incubating leaders and composers giving the festival a strong local strand. On Thursday Anton Hunter had premiered a festival commission and on Sunday afternoon Sam Healey put his new quartet through its paces. A set of originals, delivered with the same intensity and passion as his Friday night blowing revealed another emotional and thoughtful side to this accomplished young player. The week’s packed, diverse and international programme had included Aron Ghosh and The Bad Plus, both delivering as expected. A big feature of this festival is the spotlight that fresh talent gets. Jazz on 3’s ‘Introducing’ show launched the festival at Band on the Wall, Wednesday’s set from newly crowned Young Scottish Jazz Musician Jonathan Silks’ big band was another hit. Tuesday’s return for Adam Fairhall’s Imaginary Delta Project collaborating with author Jackie Kay was still inspiring excited comment at the weekend. There was something for everyone. The London Afrobeat Project’s drum and percussion heavy grooves were an invitation to end the week by dancing at Band on the Wall on Saturday night before Sunday’s final series of sets at the festival hub in the square wrapped up this exciting, distinctive festival.
Phronesis, Colston Hall Bristol, Friday 23rd May
A quick flex of the shoulder muscles, a business like glance across at Ivo Neame settling onto the piano stool that seemed to say ‘…right, where were we?’ and Jaspar Høiby launched into the off-kilter, hooky bass riff that introduces ‘Urban Control’. The urgent clatter of Anton Eger’s drums locked with the bass, a tiny repeated melodic fragment appeared and the trio span off into a fierce, jostling, jousting passage of improvisation led by Ivo Neame’s piano. Staccato bursts of chords punctuated the seething groove, picked up and hurled back by the rat-a-tat of the drums provoking more surging runs or percussive responses, Høiby’s driving bass carrying them all towards a crunching halt. The near capacity crowd were lapping up the locked step explosive interaction that the trio have made their speciality. There was no sign of the after effects of a day off in Bristol that Høiby gently rued, the energy and propulsive momentum never diminished, but there was a comfortable ease about them on-stage, born of relentless touring and nearly a decade tuning their responses to each other. The first of Anton Eger’s bravura drum workouts was over the closing section of ‘Behind Bars’, his long fringe falling over his eyes as the intensity of the hail of rhythms was greeted with roars approvals. There were more meditative moments. Arco bass and rippling piano introduced ‘Phraternal’ and space cleared for a more flowing, pastoral solo from Ivo Neame. Then a hint of a repeated bass figure, a nod from Hoiby and snap! They segued seamlessy into Nine Lives and a jigsaw, fragmentary riff with racing drums skittering around to sweep them off in another wave of energy. This was Phronesis on top form with another thrilling evening of their distinctive brand of contemporary jazz.
May has been been a rather special and musical month. Kicking off with the Cheltenham Festival and the long awaited much heralded return of Loose Tubes, now thoroughly reviewed and lauded (a couple of tasters here and here) local gigs have kept up the intensity. Jon Turney was gripped by the Hilliard Ensemble‘s Bath Festival visit with Jan Garbarek, a lovely account in LondonJazzNews. The exhilarating trio Phronesis touched down in Bristol late in the month for a great gig (preceded by an epic day, hanging out with Bristol musos by all accounts). My account of that will appear in Jazzwise in due course (the gig that is..), but they made waves wherever they played. Peter Bacon, as ever, captures the thrill from their Birmingham visit. That had been preceded by a frenetic week of quality from Printmakers in Bradford on Avon, Jazz at the Vaults in Bath and Riff Raff in Bristol. In between, there’s been plenty of listening and the opportunity to review two very different, but great new CDs for LondonJazz – very nice to get the chance. Tim Garland‘s Song to the North Sky showcases the breadth of his interests in a two CD set, one of his small band Lighthouse and the other with an orchestral string section (My review here). If that one draws on a career of music making, so too does Jake McMurchie‘s debut release with Michelson-Morley, Aether Drift. It’s been a long time coming, but worth the wait. Some of this material had its first airing at the Bristol Composers Collective, a reminder that their monthly below the radar gigs are well worth checking out. My review, again for London Jazz here. The annual workshop weekend, Play Jazz Weekend was sold out, intense and a lot of fun, I performed my usual tea making, sandwich ordering duties with a bit of accompanying singers thrown in – a separate post coming about that one. The connection between musicians and an extensive networks of courses and weekly workshops (a taste of just how many there are here) is worth musing on briefly. Rounding it all off with a visit to Ronnie Scott’s to hear the London Vocal Project was icing on the cake. If they start crowd-funding to make a recording of their ‘Jon Hendricks lyrics to Miles Ahead’ project, I’ll be first in line.
My listening and gig going over the last month has been a bit more active than this blog might imply, partly because some of the writing has been appearing elsewhere. A quick round-up then mainly for my benefit. In reverse order; Moonlight saving Time returned to the BeBop Club last Friday ( review on the Jazzwise site) . On that performance, their sophisticated blend of voice, instruments, groove and harmony is maturing still further and the album under development will have to move into the ‘eagerly awaited’ category.
I’ve been listening to some newly released albums and reviewing them for LondonJazzNews. Three crackers recently: Phronesis, Life to Everything, review here will undoubtedly get the pulse racing. The album is a live recording and they are coming to Colston Hall next month, I plan to be there. A real real treat for me was Julian Arguelles latest release Circularity, review here. His first album, Phaedrus, with almost the same stellar band, has been one of my favourites since I bought it 20 odd years ago – this one will join it on the desert island short list. A different album again, Zara McFarlane’s If You Knew Her, review here soul, gospelly groove and stripped back vocals with simple accompaniment – I can see why there have been so many flattering comparisons with a few legendary divas, Nina Simone among them.
A couple of weeks ago I popped into see Wiltshire’s Youth Jazz Orchestra showcasing the fruits of a day being put through their paces bye Steve Waterman. It was a great evening’s music. What great arranger he is and the band did his charts justice. It’s another too often unremarked bit of investment going on in our cultural life that the organizers don’t have to make (whoops for Mike Daniels then) – hopefully inspiring a few younger folk (and some were surely only just teenagers) . What a treat when local world class pianist Jason Rebello popped in to shred a few standards with Steve for everyone’s entertainment. Surely just a coincidence that son George was in the band! And finally, my review of the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival appears in the just out May edition of Jazzwise (thanks to the mag for asking me to do it) – you’ll have to pay to read that one for now, it’s reminded me again of what a great weekend that was.
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.