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.



A week in Bath: Led Bib & Dan Reid

There must be plenty of gigs that offer as much contrast as these two, but perhaps not so many that share (just about) a  genre ‘label’.  Led Bib, rock-jazzers, as the website of their American record label Cuneiform has it, paid a visit to The Bell early in the week and Dan Reid, sweet toned local trumpeter put the Jazz House Trio through their paces at their regular Thursday night slot at St. James Wine Vaults with a set of classic standards.

Led Bib are celebrating a decade as band with this tour to promote their latest album The People in your Neighbourhood.  They were always tight, Liran Donin‘s bass riffs bounced off the walls delivered with a swagger and swing that echoed another Led in their prime , but there’s a confidence and a freedom about the way the twin sax attack of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan built solos, often with long keening notes and slow moving melodies in contrast to the racing pulse of Mark Holub‘s drums, that’s sounds like the fruit of a long association. They were happy to allow the blend to dissolve into colour and clatter with swirling wails from Toby McLaren‘s tortured Rhodes before snapping back into a vicious groove at the blink of an eye. It was exhilarating stuff, grins and whoops all around the room. Dan Reid by contrast was delving into the Great American Song book and a series of classic standards as a platform for melodic improvising. His cross between a trumpet and flugel horn meant the warm delicate tone was there throughout with bends and sighs embellishing attractive boppish soloing. DabREidThere was no ‘just reeling it out’.  There were twists to standard readings of tune with changes of feel and and tempo, but it was the simplicity of a heartfelt reading of ballad You Don’t Know What Love Is, and a breezy swinging account of Foggy Day that made this a thoroughly enjoyable gig. The guest’s style had a distinct,thoughtful personality that drew a similar response from the band.  From high energy rock with a jazz edge and mind set to  classic repertoire and sound its been a satisfying jazzy week in Bath.

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.

pReview: Seasonal warming, Sheppards and Blessings (from Wine Vaults to Bells)

Tis the season of good will and although you had to pay for your drinks, the wine vaults beneath St. James were a good place to begin the run in to Christmas with guest Art Themen closing a great Autumn Season for the resident Jazz House Trio last night.They were in fine swing too. Themen’s reliably entertaining (whether on the horn or with the banter) and its hard not to grin at all the Dexter Gordon quotes and hints and the plain,  no nonsense hard swinging set he delivers. We are almost getting blase about the quality of the parade of guests Wade Edwards has secured – he’s definitely in line for one my new honors again, especially with a programme next term that’s got Bobby Wellins and Jason Rebello on it before the end of February. But before then look over to The Bell. The Pushy Doctors are there on Monday.  There have been a number of Bristol outings recently and is there a smugness in the air, that you have to come to Bristol/ Bath area to see Andy Sheppard letting his hair down (hmmm… maybe that’s Dan Moore) in this particular trio?  They veer between incendiary post bop jazz, uber cheese delivered so seriously its genuinely moving and full on rollicking, rocking organ trio fun. Who knows what the repertoire will be but I expect to laugh, cry and whoop before the evening’s out. And as if that wasn’t blessing enough, we can get some more on Wednesday at the same venue. Get The Blessing are there with Clive Deamer back from Radiohead duties it’s rumoured. Influence spotting is a fun game with this lot, but when it comes down to it there are legion catchy, often rocky riffs and tunes, not much singing and a world class ensemble that have most critics scrabbling for superlatives. They fit right in with the uncategorisable creative British Jazz scene of the moment. And they are popping over from Bristol on Wednesday. It’d be a crime to miss it.

The return of Andy Sheppard and the Pushy Doctors, The Bell Inn, Bath, Wednesday August 22nd

They’re back. The first outing for six months for what the uninitiated might think is a classic jazz organ trio (sax, drums and organ player) but for those of us who’ve been excitedly following their all to infrequent forays  to various hostelries in the area (previous reports to be found elsewhere on this blog), its a dazzling genre busting swerve through surging post bop jazz, loving but radical surgery on rock and pop classics and angular, wryly humorous programming that never fails to have an audience begging for more. Lucky Bath, this latest burst of activity started at The Bell in Walcott Street last Wednesday.   They began as ever with a jazz classic Killer Joe, a staple of organ trios and bands who cherish swinging, bluesy, gospel inflected jazz. But as they tore into Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, the sound was a more flat out modal jazz and Andy Sheppard’s furious arpeggios, squeals and honks on tenor reminded us that, as with many tenor players, perhaps a first love was John Coltrane, an impression re-inforced when, after an excursion via a Pink Floyd tune, Sheppard launched into Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice with drummer Tony Orrell doubling the distinctive rhythmic hooks of the theme.  Their layoff as a band was enforced by musical projects elsewhere that in each case could hardly be more removed from this. Andy Sheppard, a genuinely world class musician and ECM recording artist last seen in Bath at the Festival with the whisperingly quiet, exquisite Trio Libero; Dan Moore on the organ seems to tour with a bewildering array of bands but country -soul band  Phantom Limb are really attracting attention with their latest release. Tony Orrell has a long history of collaborations most recently with conductor Charles Hazelwood.  Pushy Doctors then gives another side to all of them free rein, but the quality will out no matter the context. Andy Sheppard some how builds solos that first make you say wow, then raise the hairs on the neck, and then raises everything a notch – if you don’t feel the surges of excitement you should get some one to check you still have a pulse. But this a trio and the sound, as well as that burning sax and swirling growling organ, is built round clever arrangements and rhythm. And Tony Orrell is the beating heart of it. Not always obviously, he managed to play a rock ballad later in the second set without playing an obvious back beat once. But the pulse and the groove is always there. The joins between songs are frequently hilarious.  I’ve previously called them segues, but on reflection they are more like crunching musical handbrake turns.  After more coltrane-esque fireworks on My Favourite Things, an uptempo swing in 3/4, they ended it by picking up and beating out a slower 4/4 pulse before switching to Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love. The second set finished by going from what sounded like Back Street Betty with a New Orleans funk groove, to Baby Love and on into What a Wonderful World, finishing on the phrase I love You. Priceless. Yes you laugh, but you whoop as well. You might chuckle at a song choice, but you’ll be moved as well. How can you not skip home afterwards. Its life affirming stuff.