I’m still catching up with 2016’s recorded largesse as 2017 rolls on. These two excellent albums are wildly different but give a flavour of the diverse creativity honed and unleashed by now well established jazz programmes at top music colleges. Drummer Silk hails from Scotland originally but went to Birmingham, whilst pianist Dominic Marshall went to Leeds before migrating to Holland for further study.
Marshall’s latest recording Triolithic, released towards the end of last year, finds him reunited for half the dozen tracks with fellow Leeds alumni Sam Vicary on bass and Sam Gardner on drums. The rest are recorded with regular collaborator Jamie Peet on drums and Glenn Gaddum Jr on bass. There are plenty sources of inspiration blended into Marshall’s playing and writing but the lodestar is the blending of melodic lines, jazz drenched harmony, fluid improvising and the beats of hiphop. It’s territory he’s been exploring for a while, but this collection has the assured feel of an artist confident in his own voice. A liquid groove may never be far away but different atmosphere’s are conjured up with a playful hook from the synth on 80 Campbell Road, a dark modal work out on Deku Street with Jarret-like spiraling invention. Blue Lotus takes off with dazzling counterpoint. The pieces evolve and the developments suggest little stories. This is music that draws on influences and makes something fresh from them.
Jonthan Silk‘s Fragment is another set of original music, but using an altogether different palette. Silk has written for a big band augmented by a 13 piece string section. He’s put his studies with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider to good use creating sweeping, dynamic pieces. Some, like Introduction, Prelude, Reflection are very short setting us up for more prolonged development. After swelling strings, the trumpet entrance on Introduction is a catch the breath moment before Buchaille kicks in, layers build up and solos swoop over stabbing interjections from the ensemble. The title track Fragment is high octane, burning improv over a rocky clatter. Fool’s Paradise’s succession of episodes uses the full range of the the band building to a climax, the trumpet section soaring over a clamorous sax solo before calm descends. There’s some glorious playing from individuals and the whole ensemble. This is a notable achievement and too many strings to count added to the bow of Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records who put this one out.
If 2017’s crop of recordings produces many like these two, it will be a very good year.
February may be one too many months of winter, but as well as my birthday to brighten it up, there’s been plenty of great live and recorded jazz. Nailsea, just south of Bristol is hardly off the beaten track, but a small effort is required to search out the recently restored and managed by a trust Tithe Barn, now a focus for all sorts of creative pursuits including an occasional series of jazz gigs. When I spotted Dominic Marshall was their latest booking, the effort promised to be richly rewarded. His 2014 album Spirit Speech (reviewed here ) revealed a singular musician exploring territory deploying a fluent and expressive use of harmony and improvisation combined with rhythms, grooves and compositional ideas that echo the world of hip hop and beats. The live set with former college mates Sam Gardner on drums and Sam Vicary on bass (these two were in Bristol earlier in the month with the Wildflower Sextet) was in the same territory, but a largely new set of material. It was an absorbing two sets. The jigsaw like meshing of looping riffs and themes from the piano with bass and drums provided the building blocks for compositions that morphed from one mood to the next. The intensity was built as often through repetition and exploration of one of those elements as from more conventional soloing, although there were some dazzling workouts over cycling sequences, especially in the second set. It may not have been the Nailsea audience’s usual fare, but they recognised a good thing when they saw it and cheered the trio to the barn’s medieval rafters.
There’s been some enjoyable music in the speakers during February. Jacky Terrasson’s new release Take This on Impulse! has loads of great moments, my review for London Jazz is here . Having caught Vein at St. George’s back in December, their forthcoming album was a delicious prospect. Catching one of their live dates later in the year may not be easy (there are just a few spread around the country) but will be a real treat. The London Jazz News Review for that on is here. And now March is here and in these parts, half the area’s population of musicians will be hanging out at Bristol’s Colston Hall for the Jazz and Blues festival next weekend (6/7/8 March), helpfully previewed by Charley Dunlap on Listomania. See you there.
The Wildflower Sextet’s artfully twisted performance of Lester Left Town was still buzzing, ear-worm like, in my memory when I woke on Saturday morning to find London Jazz News had posted a review by Peter Jones of their album. He observes that at first hearing, many of the originals by leader and tenor man Matt Anderson could have come from the pen of the inspiration behind the music himself, the legend that is Wayne Shorter. The opener, J.G fitted that bill perfectly. After a rippling atmospheric blend of Alex Munk‘s guitar and Sam Leak‘s piano set the scene, it kicked into an insistent, driving swing with Laura Jurd‘s trumpet blending with Anderson’s warm toned tenor on a familiar/ not familiar melody. ‘Surely that’s from one those 60’s Blue Note albums after Shorter had left Art Blakey’s band?’. But no, it was an Anderson original. The idiom was nailed, but this is far more than a tribute band. They say they make music ‘inspired by’ Shorter and as they warmed up and the enthusiastic Be Bop club audience warmed to them, they really started stretching out. Firedance saw Jurd and Anderson swapping phrases and winding each other up before a deliciously melodic solo from Sam Leak wound its way through the harmony, all glancing boppish phrases, locked beautifully with the pulse from the rhythm unit of Sam Gardner on drums and Sam Vicary’s bass (a trio of Sams!). Things really seemed to lift off when they put on the cloak of the modern Shorter quartet and deconstructed Mahjong, a much looser open approach with each section of the tune explored at length punctuated by flurries of the familiar melody, Anderson and Jurd again soloing together. Sfumato (an Anderson original before you rush off to check the Shorter oeuvre) started of back in 60s Shorter territory, tenor and trumpet mingling and then Jurd stretched out, lithe melodic lines drawing the ear on, ramping up the energy, a great solo and the whole ensemble coalescing around a lurching off-kilter funky vamp as an outro. And then the teasing arrangement of Lester Left Town, speeding up and slowing down to keep us guessing and providing a roaring finale to a great evening. They may have been mining a rich legacy, but they were in no way slaves to it. They didn’t even play Wildflower. Go see them.