New Year Post 1: A word or two about Andy Sheppard

Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the  Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience.  First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music.  A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the  unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.

And why valedictory?  Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal.  Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion.  Its also made me a bit reflective.  The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.

Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol,  but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz.  Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro,  world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album),  made me want to listen again.  One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton  who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album

Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years.  And he’ll be back.  The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March.  It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect.  Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music.  Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with  the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.

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Summer Delights and Autumn Preview Pt 2 – The Bell (Pushy Doctors and more…)

The Pushy Doctors, reliably entertaining and exciting by turns, seem like a fixture on the local scene, but not one you can take for granted. They appear for short bursts and then lie low for a bit, most often dictated by saxophonist Andy Sheppard‘s international touring schedule . What a delight to see them back at The Bell last week and it was still August (just) and quite summery (just).  They played like old friends taking up where they’d left off last time. Killer Joe established the classic jazz organ trio feel, bluesy stabs from Dan Moore‘s organ whipped along with a grin by Tony Orrell on drums. Then they spiralled off into a mix of pop tunes, re-worked classics and jazz burn-ups. Andy Sheppard’s extended circular breathing episode on My Favourite Things took on an almost trance like character as phrases looped, stacked and mutated: urgent, intense and reflective all at the same time. The showstopper, unwittingly, came from the crowd. Towards the end of a medley that began with Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the band stopped together on a beat, one of many artfully choreographed moments of drama. Inserted with perfect timing into the momentary silence came a loud voice, volume adjusted to be heard over the now absent band. “I know that tune, I just don’t know what its called.”  Gales of laughter ensued including from the band. It did seem to sum up something. The Pushy Doctors may play with a witty glint in the eye, but they are deadly serious and never fail to move as well as thrill and delight.

The Bell’s music programme is as eclectic as it is legendary. The jazz(y) strands are there, most often on Monday but always with a bit of twist and frequently featuring some of the more experimental or genre blending and bending touring bands. Keeping an eye on their listings is always worthwhile.  In September, Baritone pop up on the 5th. A gypsy jazz flavoured trio featuring Charlotte Ostafew of Dhakla fame on baritone. Later in the month, John Paul Gard, local king of the Hammond, joins forces with California based guitarist Jon Dalton.   There’s sure to be plenty more through the Autumn, so keep an eye.

 

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.

 

 

Jazz is bursting out all over – Spring Preview : Local gigs Bristol and Bath , Cheltenham and Bath Festivals

With Easter and chocolate binges behind us, a scan of the live gig menu over the next couple months reveals a simple message; you won’t need to go far in Bristol and Bath to catch some outstanding jazz and music inspired by jazz.  There’s the obvious draw of two festivals in May (Cheltenham on the first bank holiday weekend and Bath around the second) of which more in a moment, but it would be a travesty not to notice the quality of what’s on offer week by week at regular sessions. Wade Edwards for example has excelled himself for the spring/ summer season at the fortnightly on a Thursday session at St. James’ Wine Vaults. The booker and occupier of the bass chair in the house trio has secured as a guest on the 16th April fabulous Bristol based Tenor Sax man,  Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley) and then the unique Bristol treasure vocalist Tammy Payne on the 30th April.  Through May and June the house band will go into overdrive with a Hall of Fame series of guests from the British straight-ahead jazz scene.  Don Weller, now in his 70s famously depped for Mike Brecker in Gil Evans Orchestra in the 80s and comes to the Vaults on 14th May. Dave Newton, winner of Best Pianist in the British Jazz awards on multiple occasions takes the piano chair for a trio session on the 28th and then in June, guitar legend Jim Mullen returns with vocalist Zoe Francis.  Regular sessions in Bristol have comparable depth.  Fringe Jazz, now firmly established on Wednesday at The Mall in Clifton, continues with regular appearances from Andy Sheppard who seems to be in the creative overdrive at the moment. The Fringe Jazz sessions feature him in variety of line-ups but the Pushy Doctors are regulars (27th May for instance) and hook-ups with Birmingham based phenomenon on trumpet and bass Percy Pursglove are always worth catching (15th April). In between there’s a great variety, Michelson Morley Jake McMurchie’s looping, live elctronica meets jazz improv (now) quartet featuring guitarist Dan Messore is there on 6th May. Check out the Thursday sessions at Future Inn, an increasingly varied and interesting programme featuring plenty of visitors as well as local bands. Pianist John Law is there on April 30th with a quartet playing material from his new album.  Friday’s see the longrunning BeBop Club continue with a first class programme.  And there are plenty of occasional treats. The Lantern at Colston Hall plays host to Polar Bear on 23rd April and Bill Laurence of Snarky Puppy on 28th May.  Keep your eyes peeled for shows by The Bristol Composers Collective. Their ‘Scratch and Sniff’ Orchestra has started popping up trying out new material by the local scene’s most adventurous spirits.  The next one is on Monday 13th April at The Fringe in Clifton Village. And what of those festivals?  Cheltenham Jazz Festival has evolved into a multi layered affair on the first bank holiday in May.  You can catch Van Morrison, Rumer, Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood fame, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Average White Band no less.  Another strand sees  Sun Ra Akestra, Joe Lovano with his Afrobeat project, Dave Douglas and Lee Konitz Quintet, John Scofield with rising star German pianist Pablo Held‘s Trio. Yet another sees a more contemporary European flavoured programme mainly at the Parabola Theatre starting with Phronesis, ending with the sublime Julian Arguelle’s Septet and touching a lot of bases in between. With talks, films, jam sessions, a big Sinatra celebration and a Gershwin one too with the inevitable presence of Gregory Porter and Claire Teal too,  it would be hard not indulge most aspects of a musical personality at this cover the bases,  full immersion now five day festival.  Bath Festival is showing signs of recovering its mojo.  After a few years of mysteriously thin programmes and now loss of long term Arts Council funding  (no doubt funding struggles and consequent competing priorities were all part of the challenge) the festival has worked with Serious to come up with a  lean  series of gigs that offer something distinctive for the ten day festival at the end of May. Serious’ specialisms in folk and world as well as adventurous jazz is evident. A two piano gig with Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock rounds off Rebello’s year long association with Wiltshire Music Centre. A strong improv thread sees Orphy Robinson’s Black Top making an appearance and American pianist/ iconoclast Matthew Shipp in duo with bass player Matthew Bisio.  By way of total contrast, American exponents of hot jazz, The Hot Sardines put in an appearance early in the festival and there are uncategorisable collaborations with Mike Westbrook bringing his Westbrook Blake to St. Mary’s Bathwick joined by Bath Camerata choir whilst Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) and drummer Tony Orrell renew an old association and perform an accompaniment to old silent film He Who Gets Slapped. The wildly, divergently creative duo will surely conjure up something magical.  The whole festival will come to a carnival like end with Hugh Masekela.

Jazz for the Summer in Bath and Bristol – Festivals, Residencies and Visitors.

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.

 

 

Winter into Spring: Highlights on your doorstep in Bath and Bristol.

With the lengthening days comes a diverse jazz flavoured choice of music in dozens of venues over the next few months in this corner of the South West. All the venues mentioned below have far more extensive programmes than are sketched out. Here are a few New Year tips and pointers to whet your appetite whatever your tastes run to.

Firstly, don’t let familiarity make you forget that a number of our local regulars have well deserved international reputations. Andy Sheppard has been making Bristol’s  Fringe Bar something of a home from home over the last year and he’s back there with a ‘Friends’ band and also the now firmly established favourites, The Pushy Doctors in January and February as well as opening Ian Storrer’s latest series at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday January 12th with an interesting looking new quartet.  Dave Newton kicks off the new season at Future Inns  in Bristol on Thursday 9th having reportedly finished the year in dazzling form. He’s back there again the  following week in the company of incendiary violinist John Pearce and the hard blowing James Morton. Ever inventive pianist John Law, feted almost more in Europe than at home, is out and about with a new project ‘Boink!’ A quartet making full use of electronic effects and improv as well Law’s artful compositions. Catch them at Burdall’s Yard in Bath in the 10th Jan and Bristol’s BeBop Club in February. Jason Rebello, former sideman for everyone from Wayne Shorter to Sting and Jeff Beck, is focussing more on jazz again these days and pops up in St. George’s, Bristol piano series in a two piano workout with rising start Ivo Neame on March 6th.

Secondly, don’t let unfamiliar names discourage you.  Between local, well connected rising stars on the national scene and open minded programming, there’s some truly dazzling talent passing through.  Local lad James Gardiner Bateman features in two bands in January. The first with young trumpeter Reuben Fowler at the BeBop club on 17th January. Reuben has recently released a widely and wildly acclaimed big band album and the visiting group has a phenomenal London based rhythm section. Gardiner Bateman’s second appearance sees another line-up featuring a different collection of the brightest young talent on the national scene at Future Inn on the 30th featuring Josh Arcoleo. Bass Player on that date Chris Hyson has just released an album of his own compositions performed by Kit Downes. Downes brings his own previously Mercury Prize nominated band, now expanded to a quintet,  to the Hen and Chicken on 9th February. A few other touring bands to take note of  are, at the Be Bop Club; Ant Law Quartet (hotly tipped guitarist) late January; in March Tori Freestone Trio (more established and really blossoming tenor player) and Vitor Pereira Quartet  (emerging Portugese star) and at Colston Hall Lantern in February,  Zara McFarlene (soul jazz songstress causing a real stir).

Thirdly, don’t underestimate or forget the quality of locally based musicians and their ever shifting combinations. Singer Emily Wright brings The Royals to The Bell in Bath on 27th January and Moonlight Saving Time, who have garnered plaudits and national radio air play over the last year, come to Burdall’s Yard at the end of March. John Paul Gard’s Pedalmania also visit  The Bell in January and the energy levels are sure to be high there for visits from the mighty Dakhla and The Fresh Dixie Project (not strictly local!) during February. Saxophonist Kevin Figes‘ adventurous Octet are at the BeBop Club in late February and James Morton and fiery trumpeter Jonny Bruce make sure Bath doesn’t miss out with visits to St. James Wine Vaults in January and February respectively to guest with the Jazzhouse Trio who are embarking on their eighth year hosting visiting soloists. . The regular programmes at Bath’s The Ring o Bells, Gascoyne Place, Bristol’s Cori Tap are reliably high quality as well all the venues already mentioned.

Fourthly, salute our enduring stars and support the gigs to keep them coming. Another coup for St. James Wine Vaults is the visit of guitar ace Jim Mullen in later February. Chris Biscoe, stalwart saxophone adventurer on the English scene for decades returns to the BeBop club in late March and international visitors include Norway’s contemplative but groovy pianist Tord Gustavesen and American singer and star Gregory Porter  at St. George’s on consecutive weeks in late March.

Four principles (catch locally based national and international stars, the next generation of  stars as they visit, the best of the local scene and national and international stars locally)  all of which can be honoured in one go at the 2nd Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival on the weekend of 7-9th March at Colston Hall, with an overlapping but different set of names. Check out the programme here.

Finally, music that is more experimental or freely improvised is becoming a bit more visible.  The Fringe Bar hosts a monthly session that is dedicated to free improvisation and Paul Dunmall visits on 30th January with a trio that features drummer Mark Sanders. Sanders also features in one the gigs sponsored by a new venture called Bristol New Music.  A  joint effort between Colston Hall, St. Georges, the Arnolfini, Spike Island,  ICIA at Bath University and others, the weekend of 21st – 23rd February sees a series of events involving artists and musicians some of which are gigs including Keith Tippett’s Octet at the Colston Hall and ECM recording artist, composer and pianist Christian Wallumrod at St. George’s.

The weather may be unpredictable, but it looks like we can rely on a steady supply of high quality live music.

Andy Sheppard and the Pushy Doctors, Get the Blessing – a week at The Bell

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 SheppardAndy 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.