Quercus, St. George’s Bristol,Thursday 9th February

June Tabor started the performance at St. George’s by declaring “We are Quercus”, and then musing on the contradiction of the plural ‘we’ (herself, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren) and the singular Quercus. Well it’s simple June. Three peer-less musicians, one exquisitely blended sound.
The music was by turns dancing then meditative; brightly sparkling then dark and brooding.  The repertoire was their trademark eclectic confection, centred on the English folk tradition but touching the jazz standards book, breezing past Brazil and drawing on more contemporary folk and rock. And only ever sounding like this band. Tabor’s note bending slide between two pitches; a subtle harmonic inflection and ripple of notes from Warren on piano; a breathy, astringent phrase from Ballamy’s saxophone all suffused the most familiar
of melodies with a distinctive flavour.
Southern Sea launched the show, Tabor’s crystal clear sonority underpinned by simple piano chords with just a hint of rich colour and an artful modulation giving the sax enough to sweep and swell over to an emotional climax. Jobim’s Meditation, shifted the gears, The  Irish Girl injected an overtly folky pulse then Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice took on an irrestibile momentum with a gently rocking implied groove form Warren’s thickening and propulsive chords.
This rare live gig found the band airing material from their forthcoming second release on ECM and on this showing it will be a ‘must buy’. As the second set proceeded, the intensity peaked and readings of You Don’t Know What Love Is and Beating the Retreat evoked a rapturous response from the generous audience. We were rewarded with a take on Auld Lang Syne that seemed to breathe the personality of the band whilst honouring the original.

That voice and the lyrics were the centre of the evening, but Warren and Ballamy were  extraordinary. The piano accompaniment somehow contrived to maintain the simplicity
and openness that much of the music demanded whilst imbuing every chord and flourish with colours that evoked the mood. Ballamy’s sound is like no other and the restraint and occasional bursts of lyricsm were judged to perfection

This was a magical evening which, for all the pain and loss expressed in the lyrics, left this listener feeling uplifted, a bit more human and more alive.

‘Do not miss gigs’ – South West, Autumn Preview Pt 4

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.

April and May – Jazz in Bath and Bristol

A quick scan of what’s on over the next couple of months has persuaded me that pointing out a few mouth-watering prospects is more realistic than any attempt at an exhaustive overview.    Before getting too far with that, you really should keep a close eye on the weekly gigs at Bristol’s Be Bop Club, Fringe Jazz and Future Inns and Bath’s St. James Wine Vaults.  All are a mixture of touring and local bands, but the standard is uniformly high.  Hard not to mention Guess the Bleating (featuring three-quarters of Get the Blessing with addition of keys-man Dan Moore and drum legend Tony Orrell) on 18th May at the Fringe and Andy Sheppard‘s Hotel Bristol on 20th April at the same venue and here’s hoping you made it the launch today at the Colston Hall  of two (count ’em) albums by Kevin Figes, a quartet and and octet recording and promoting his label Pig Records, also home to fine recordings by Jim Blomfield, Cathy Jones and more to follow it seems. That assumes you weren’t lured by The Necks playing the organ in the main hall. See what I mean?  You can’t have too much great music, but still…

Here then, are those highlights.  There’s a Nordic Jazz theme to relish. Swedish pianist  Bobo Stenson  is in Bristol at Colston Hall’s Lantern with Martin Speake‘s Change of Heart Quartet.  Stenson, not heavily recorded under his own name, but to sublime effect when he has been, with a series of trio records on ECM, has been a sideman to sax players from Jan Garbarek to Charles Lloyd and his collaboration with Speake dates from a Cheltenham Festival gig in the early 2000s as an International Quartet that included Paul Motian on drums and Mick Hutton on bass. That line- up played a gig in Bristol at the QEH theatre to an audience of under twenty people (that included me). They subsequently recorded for ECM and its music from that album they’ll be playing, with two of the the crop of exceptional young British jazz players, Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums completing the quartet. In May, the Nordic action shifts to St. Georges with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen on the 12th.  Accompanied by Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang and a visuals show to boot,  expect plenty of electronics, sound-scapes and a unique experience.  The following week on 19th May,  legendary bass player Arild Anderson is there for an acoustic set with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith and Italian percussionist Paolo Vinaccia. This line-up has recorded two beautifully melodic and vibrant albums for ECM and this gig is part of a very short tour with only a few gigs in UK.

There’s more.   Tucked away at the top of London Road in Bath, Burdall’s Yard is Bath Spa’s performance space and on April 22nd hosts Sam Crockatt‘s Quartet.  If you want to hear what the some of the most in demand players on the Bristol scened sound like, let loose on a a bunch of artful structured, original jazz tunes by the saxophonist leader get yourself along to this one; Kit Downes on piano, James Maddren on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass.  Downes and Maddren will be back in Bristol in early June at Colston Hall’s Lantern (ok, its not May but this will be a great gig) this time with Julian Arguelles‘ band Tetra.  Arguelles is,for my money, one of the most distinctive composing and fluently lyrical improvising voices in British jazz over the last twenty years. Sam Lasserson is on bass for that one

Finally, that man Ian Storrer, promoter of jazz gigs in Bristol for a lot of years, has done it again.  Friday May 13th sees New York come to the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster in the shape of the Jonathan Kriesberg Quartet.  Kriesberg is one of the hottest guitarists  on the New York scene and his pianist Dave Kikoski has an eye popping CV that includes Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.  This is one not to miss.

A selection then,  from a large box of treats over the next few weeks, that’s without mentioning the jazz festival over at Cheltenham at the end of April with a incredible line up and something for everyone.

 

 

Vein with Dave Liebman, St. George’s Bristol, Thursday 4th December

It’s rather fun to arrive at a gig with only the vaguest intuition of what the music might sound like. I’ll confess I had only the faintest impression of what the trio Vein might be about (European jazz, maybe a bit left field?) but their guest Dave Liebman, ex-Miles sideman and a fully fledged innovator and adventurer in his own right,  was both a vote of confidence and a draw. And a hint that there might be a few exploratory abstractions in the music.   I panted into the hall almost late to find the respectable sized audience settling and the band having a team talk by the stage shuffling large piles of manuscript (not a completely free improv gig then).

Pianist Michael Arbenz started proceedings with rippling, florid arpeggios rolling up and down the piano and sketching out abstract sounding runs. Then gradually some familiar phrases poked through the layers of sound and by the time brother Florian Arbenz’s rustles and sizzles from the drums took shape and Thomas Lahn‘s bass was nudging things along with fragmentary phrases and pushes, Stella by Starlight was breezing along. Classic standards was not what I’d expected. With Liebman digging in, mining the harmony and stretching the range of the soprano it was a brush away the cobwebs opener. There were plenty of originals in the two sets. Florian Arbenz’s Climbing had  blizzards of notes from the sax, with calmer episodes punctuating grooving section.  Evolution did as it names suggests moving through racing swing and sinuous sax lines for its theme and creating little clearings for each of the quartet to feature. And then another classic standard, I loves You Porgy, with Liebman bending notes and sliding around the melody making it a fiercely emotional reading with the piano rippling around him.  The second set showcased a varied set of originals, mostly from a new release with Dave Liebman. Black Tortoise‘s dreamy melody floated on thick swirling harmony form the piano before the first of a number of dazzling melodic solos from Lahn on bass. Jamming in the Children’s Corner had a funky edge to it with spiky phrases from the sax outlining the theme before once again an imaginary spotlight seemed to swing from first one player to the next whilst the whole band seemed to solo. Clear Light was a delight with a tumbling rubato momentum maintained throughout and bewitching passage on a wooden whistle from Liebman.

What an absorbing evening’s music this was,  making what was superficially, stylistically familiar  sound somehow a collective and quirky effort. Sometimes they were a classic piano trio, or blazing quartet, then a contemporary trio of equals demolishing a theme, then a freewheeling  improvising unit. Mysteriously, I think this may have been one of  a few, if not their only date in UK on this trip. Well done St. George’s for lassooing them.

Bristol, Bath and nearby – Preview of an Autumn feast of jazz

There’s a simple message for lovers of live music  in the Bristol/ Bath area this Autumn (be it jazz tinged or the howling, red in tooth and claw variety you seek).  Whether you  habitually attend or catch an occasional, spur of the moment burst, there will something on very close by, whenever you seek it out. It will always be top quality, often world class and not infrequently in very intimate surroundings. Here’s a few places to keep an eye on. The regular club nights have eye -poppingly great programmes. Every Thursday you’ll need to decide how to split yourself. In Bristol, Jazz at Future Inns continues weekly with a  very classy programme of mainly  local players, including that man Dave Newton at least monthly, an on outing for Moonlight Saving Time in November and some interesting visitors. Look out for Dominic Marshall, young piano fiend now resident in Holland. Fringe Jazz is moving round the corner in Clifton to  The Mall and hosting Andy Sheppard in various line-ups at lease three time between October and mid November, with Ian Ballamy in between and rising stars, Dan Messore’s  Indigo Kid in November. In Bath fortnightly on Thursdays, Jazz at the Vaults continues, again with reliably excellent locals and stellar visitors (saxmen Tony Kofi in November and Simon Spillett in December for instance).  Sunday nights in Bath there’s a weekly programme at Gascoyne Place (catch the peerless John Paul Gard at least monthly here) and the Ring 0 Bells in Widcombe (multiple award winning pianist Dave Newton will be there 0n 26th October – intimate surroundings probably overstates the space for the band). More sporadic, Ian Storrer has programmed some mouth watering Sunday gigs at The Hen and Chicken in Bristol starting with the Jim Hart on vibes led Cloudmaker Trio on 28th September with more to follow before Christmas including Tim Richards Heptet and the experimental Lund Quartet. Every Friday The BeBop Club in Bristol continues to showcase the best of the local talent and visiting bands.  The rapturously received Tom Green Septet are back there in November and the critically lauded Laura Jurd Quartet are there in December and don’t miss Dakhla in early November if you can help it.  In Bath, keep an eye on Burdalls Yard, Bath Spa’s performance space. They’ve received a grant from Jazz Services/ PRS to support a jazz programme and have the impressive collection of tutors on the Uni’s jazz programme performing as BiggSound in October and the Philip Clouts Quartet in November.  Gigs at Bath’s Chapel Arts seem to pass under the radar sometime but here’s one not to miss: John Etheridge, bona fide legend who has performed with everyone including Dizyy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Stefan Grapelli appears solo and in duo with singer Kit Holmes on 26th October.  The more formal concert spaces have plenty on too.  Former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman who started his career touring with the legendary Wayne Shorter, pianist Jason Rebello begins a year long artist in residence stint at The Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradord on Avon by teaming up with Empirical, the now firmly up and come group of still young stars who were last seen in Bath supporting Branford Marsalis in the festival a couple of years ago. That’s on the 27th September.   The Autumn programme at St. George’s Bristol has a handful of fantastic gigs through the Autumn (programmer Phil Johnson waxes lyrical about it here) It kicks off with an intriguing spin off from international wave making Snarky Puppy, The Bill Laurence Project on 3rd October, includes Gilad Atzmon‘s Charlie Parker with strings re-working and Scots Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duo and culminates with the adventuorous Swiss Vein Trio with former Miles Davis sideman another genuine legend, saxophonist Dave Liebman.  Taking in even a fraction of what’s on will be a feast for the ears and of course this little round-up as ever by no means covers everything.  It promises to be another fine season.

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.

David Murray Infinity Quartet, St George’s Bristol, Wednesday 16th October

As a twenty something year old in the mid 70s, David Murray started a loft jazz space in New York called Studio Infinity, part of scene that was characterised by the sort of free jazz playing for which he’s now legendary (hard to improve on the All Music‘s biography description  of ‘slurred glissandi, indefinite pitches, ambiguous rhythms, and altissimo flights’). It’s surely not too fanciful to make a link between that venture and the quartet of the same name he brought to St. George’s. There was a whiff of a late night New York club about the band as they strolled on stage, had their respective pedigrees rehearsed by Murray (including winning this year’s Downbeat Poll for drummer Nasheet Waits) and launched in into ‘Sorrow Song’  a medium tempo swing tune over which Murry seemed to drape the melody with a big fat tenor sound, before reeling off into melodic lines that slid over and round the chord changes or ignored them all together as he squawked and honked before sliding  back to the tune. It’s a style he’s made his own. It gripped me when I first heard it on a record more than twenty years ago playing on a ballad and was powerfully reminded of it again last night as he drenched ‘Body and Soul’ with emotion, deconstructed the harmony and then left the rhythm section to continue. Whenever he was playing it was riveting.  The bass clarinet came out for one, Art Blakey like tune and provided the evening’s most compelling moment as he exploited the full range of the instrument, snapped and squawked intensely rhythmic phrases and departed on a low feeding back note reminiscent of Pharaoh Sanders exploitation of that technique. It’s impossible not to be moved by his playing. At its best it’s like being exposed to raw emotion.  Like all raw emotion it  feels a bit unstable at times and the band seemed a bit chaotic at times, with Murray and pianist Rod Williams constantly disappearing on mysterious errands out of the door at the back of the stage during and between tunes (Williams even missing the cue in to a tune at one point) and bass player Jaribu Shahid visibly and audibly explaining what should happen next as a flight of fancy or ambiguity of rhythm from Murray seemed to lose the pianist. More than one tune was rescued by thunderous drum solos by Waits. And then they would find their pace and as on ‘Obi’, a Butch Morris tune, the trio of Williams, Shahid and Waits delivered a sizzling post bop workout. Edgy, chaotic, exultant and never dull. The Infinity Quartet certainly blew any stray cobwebs out of St. George’s last night.