Ambleside Days – the first post

After two evenings of the Ambleside Days ‘Contemporary Music Festival’, it’s quite hard to contain the excitement at what’s still to come. What we’ve already experienced has been quite breathtaking.  For four nights at Zeffirellis in Ambleside, a shifting roster of musicians have assembled to play music that has as its touchstone  an ‘exciting beauty’, to use the words of Derek Hook, animateur of this near magical happening. There’s an overt dedication to the memory of John Taylor; some of his compositions have already been lovingly re-interpreted.  More than this though, there’s a shared sensibility and reverence for allowing arcing, melodic lines to sing; open rich harmony to swell and ring; dancing, fizzing rhythms to animate and most of all an open-ness and receptiveness between musicians that creates drama and excitement on the fly.

On the first evening the Ambleside Quintet took the stage: Stan Sulzman, Mike Walker, Asaf Sirkis, Dave Holland and Gwilym Simcock. On the second they were distilled to Simcock, Holland and Walker, before Joe Locke’s Quartet took the stage with Simcock and Sirkis joined by Daryl Hall on bass. They briefly expanded to a quintet with Tim Garland guesting.

There are already so many glowing moments, the most compelling have been freighted with emotion as well as dazzling spontaneity.  On the first evening, Gwyilm Simcock segued from an angular Asaf Sirkis piece via a swirling, abstract improvisation that condensed into a pusating groove to launch Stan Suzmann’s Choo Choo.  Mike Walker seduced us all evening with solos that eddied, flowed and soared.  The trio of Simcock – Holland – Walker held the room spellbound whether with a sumptuous solo rendition of Everyone’s Song But My Own by Simcock, an electrifying, joyous solo from Dave Holland on I Should Care or a riotous take on Solar with a playful collective improv as an intro set off by a clang of the strings from Walker, chased by Holland with a big grin.  The Quartet set from Joe Locke was full of vitality and feeling, a dedication to Bobby Hutcherson Make Me Feel Like Its Raining another special moment.

The setting, the pool of musicians as well as performances from world class, established ensembles , is proving to be the perfect recipe for creating a unforgettable tribute to John Taylor and perhaps glimpses of future collaborations.  There’s more to come with The Printmakers taking the stage tonight and another set from a  permutation of that pool of musicians, this time Locke, Garland and Simcock.  Tomorrow, its an audience with Dave Holland and whoever he calls up to join him.

 

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Barry Green/ Stan Sulzmann, Vortex, Friday 22nd April

It was a routine Friday night at the Vortex, and the music was routinely out of the ordinary. Barry Green has had a semi-regular slot there with a variety of guests and this time he was joined by jazz national treasure Stan Sulzmann.  The tenor silenced the room with a few exploratory hoots and phrases to start the gig.  Then, with a flurry, a slide and a slither, a sinuous melodic line hinted at I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and suddenly everyone was playing. Tim Giles on drums somehow played off not quite stated rhythmic feints from the piano and Steve Watts’ loping bass line created momentum with subtle nudges and pushes.  It was magical stuff.

This may not be a regular band, but they know each other of old. Tim Giles’ debut recording at age of 14 with the Hungry Ants had Steve Watts on bass, Giles has been playing with Green since the pianist’s college days and Watts has been a bass player of choice for just about everyone since the days of Loose Tubes. The long acquaintance and pleasure in each other’s company was tangible from the off.

They continued with a nod to John Taylor playing first his tune Ambleside  and then How Deep is the Ocean, played frequently by Taylor. Ambleside’s soaring, spiralling melody evoked lyrical solos all round, before Sulzmann really took off on the standard. Long, melodic ideas just swept us along over a racing pulse from the band, extended single notes stretching over the tune’s form, the intensity suddenly relieved by cascades of notes.  Everyone responded.  After a grooving arrangement of You’ll Never Get to Heaven, Green pulled out a fiery solo on Kenny Wheeler’s Old Time. Glittering runs were punctuated by fiercely percussive episodes, the interaction with Giles on drums electrifying.

It was smiles and whoops all round as the familiar sprang surprises and a top drawer quartet had some fun.  Just an average Friday at the Vortex then.