CD Round Up – Part 2: Pigs and ANt (Figes and Nowak)

The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.

kfwwFirstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records .  There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick  Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.time-being-front

There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back.  The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties.  The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets.    Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.

Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before andynowakthe summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since.  This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement.  First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony,  Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos.  Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November


Andy Nowak Trio, Fringe Jazz, Thursday 3rd July

AndyNowak_FringeAnyone who pays attention to the wider Bristol  music scene will know Andy Nowak  is a musician with eclectic tastes . He’s to be seen on the acoustic folk circuit, playing guitar and singing and he holds  the keyboard chair in the grooving Duval Project.  This outing at Fringe Jazz  for his determinedly jazz orientated trio was a prelude to a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign to fund a recording. ‘Thanks for listening to us practice’  he said with a wry smile as B7 Blues finished with a snappy flourish. For the Thursday night punters , the banter between the trio about the tricky time signature (7/4) and unusual key for a blues (B) was the only clue that the shuffling funky number was anything other than a familiar well worn part of the set. With a repertoire drawing on sources as diverse as Duran Duran (no… really!), Nick Drake and Joey Caldarazzo as well the standards book and the leader’s own compositions, there was plenty of variety to keep us hooked.   The rhythm team of Andy Tween and Spencer Brown on drums and bass are top drawer and made the odd metres, Brazilian grooves and pulsating swing that Andy threw at them sound effortless.  It was the playing of Andy Nowak however that held this gig together and made it just a bit special. There are elusive qualities that mark any player out. A Pianist’s touch on the keyboard, their feel for rhythm and swing, the instinct of when to play and what to play, all combine to create an individual sound. In Andy there’s a light but assertive touch, seductive sense of groove and an instinctive sense and feel for space. He never over plays. The sound of bop inspired jazz is never far away and there’s a delightful instinct for developing melodic and rhythmic ideas in his solos. It was most transparent on standards like It Could Happen to You, but originals like Bloodstone with its rich harmony and that Brazilian groover stimulated lovely fluid solos.  This is a very fine jazz piano trio and I for one would like to hear that album (although I must confess I think they could drop the Duran Duran cover). Keep an eye on the Kickstarter campaign here.

A quick footnote: This was another little triumph for the weekly session at The Fringe. They are going all through the summer. The July programme is here and I hear the August programme includes John Pearce with Dave Newton, Andy Sheppard’s intriguing quartet with Denny Illet and another consultation with the Pushy Doctors featuring that Andy Shepard bloke again.