An August week in the west – Part 1 : The Session in town

The Session_H&ChI’m not sure I can remember the last time I was at  jazz gig that wrapped up with a sing-a-long, but trumpeter Steve Lands was irresistible as he declaimed the verses and egged on the cheerfully dis-inhibited crowd for the responses and chorus of L’il Liza Jane.  It was the encore and the packed Hen and Chicken had been thoroughly won over by two blistering sets from the return of the New Orleans based band last Sunday. The trio of pianist Andrew McGowan, bass player Jason Weaver and saxophonist James Partridge (on Baritone for the evening) have been constants in the line-ups that have visited over the last year. This visit saw Willie Green III powering the quintet from the drum chair.  It was two sets that covered plenty of bases.  They launched with dense contemporary jazz, drifting horn hooks over spikey bass and percussion figures and urgent swing and furious blowing from Lands and Partridge on Sitting Bull Beckons.  Newly minted originals, Andrew’s Blues, Steve’s Samba, Andrew’s 6/8 thing showed their skill in taking familiar jazz materials and forms, twisting them and opening them up for fluid improvising.   A howling, squealing bleak solo from Lands over the chiming piano chords of a Partridge penned ballad was a stand-out moment of the first set – no surprise that the trumpeter is an increasingly in demand player.  Partridge was formidable all evening. Whenever he stepped up the emotional temperature went up, whether blowing flurries of notes or letting long notes and a delicious tone from the baritone sax carry his thoughts.  As the gig went on, the dynamism and fluency  of Weaver’s bass playing shone through and by the time the inevitable second line groove kicked in on  one of his originals, the band were steaming and the smiles broad all round.   A band of mainly New Orleans natives who all met on the Crescent City’s scene, they bring an exuberance and desire to connect which is infectious and once again it wowed the near capacity crowd at the Hen and Chicken.   Another side of their generosity and musicianship was on display the following evening when they showed up at the regular fortnightly jam session at The Canteen.  The occasion was captured beautifully here by Tony Benjamin, who is once again chronicling much what’s interesting and exciting in Bristol on the Bristol 24/7 site.

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Not quite The Session but still cooking, BeBop Club, Bristol, Friday 12th June

The audience, packed into The Bear’s back room like sardines, appeared all to be holding their breath as James Partridge wove an impassioned, growling baritone sax  phrase through the changes of Duke Ellington’s Solitude. It was mid-way through the second set of a fizzing quintet gig. If the band wasn’t quite the one billed, the jazz was still top drawer.  Friday’s gig at the BeBop Club was another great example of airlines conspiring to disrupt a gig, only to be defeated by the magic of new musical alliances formed at a moment’s notice (it’s happened before in Bristol).  Hotly anticipated doesn’t quite cover the buzz around the return of the The Session. The New Orleans based band of young and already feted musicians wowed Bristol audiences last summer, including a hastily scheduled appearance at the BeBop Club in August.  Their heady brew of hard swinging jazz, visceral New Orleans grooves and bang-up-to-date harmonic sensibility set the jazz grapevine buzzing and they are back this summer with a sprinkling of gigs and a residency at  Musicfest Aberystwyth Big Band & Jazz Course

Friday was the inaugural gig, back at the BeBop,  and the audience created a New Orleans – like atmosphere in temperature and humidity in the tiny club room  with late arrivers disappointed and waiting their turn to cram in at the back.   But bad weather back in the Crescent City meant that flights were delayed, so that only bass player Jason Weaver, pianist Andrew McGowan and ex-pat Englishman, saxophonist James Partridge were there on Friday, with hot young drummer Charles Burchell and trumpeter Steve Lands stranded the other side of the pond. The three who made it were in safe hands however. It’s a fairly badly kept secret that BeBop Club maestro Andy Hague has assembled a collection of charts and arrangements of near library proportions over the years, mining the repertoire of classic Blue Note era writers onwards as well as artful arrangements of standards. He’s also a very fine trumpeter. A quick call to local drummer Mark Whitlam who’s fast acquiring a national reputation in a variety of ensembles and a cracking quintet was assembled, with a repertoire covering Ellis Marsalis grooving New Orleans standards, irresistibly swinging fare from the pens of Tad Dameron, Bob Brookmeyer, Wayne Shorter and a sprinkling of classics from Ellington and the standards book.  The magic emerged as the newly formed quintet explored the material together. The Session’s instinct for drama appeared as backing for solos sometimes dropped to minimal, giving them space to breath and build; Andy Hague reminded us (if we needed it) what a fine improviser he is, with solos on flugelhorn particularly, full of elegant phrases and warm toned flurries over Weaver’s driving, propulsive bass lines; Andrew McGowan’s angular and scattered phrases on piano accumulated to build exciting solos and a standout trio reading of the ballad I Want to Talk About You was greeted with roars of approval.  With Bristol forming more regular links with New Orleans, this is a collaboration it would be great to see again.  For Bristolians keen to see the The Session in full, they should be at the Hen and Chicken in early August.

New Orleans pops up in Bristol: The Session, BeBop Club, Tuesday 5th August

There was no kidnapping involved as far as we know, but after an Ian Storrer promoted gig at The Hen and Chicken for New Orleans based quintet The Session, whose members have been touring Europe with The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a two day lull in touring became a shopping trip and playing break with a visit to the regular Canteen jam session on Monday and this pop-up gig at the BeBop club engineered by Ian and Andy Hague. Impromptu gig it may have been, but  as Ashlin Parker pointed his trumpet at the ceiling one last time and with an ear piecing blast led the quintet into a down-home New Orleans stomp, there was no doubt it was a roaring, joyous success of an evening.  The TheSession@TheBeBoptheatrics of leading the horn section off in procession (temporarily boosted by Bristol resident Julian Alenda for the last number) was only slightly undermined by the difficult they had squeezing between the rows of chairs to get out.  The word of social media campaign to conjure up an audience at 24 hours notice had resulted in jam packed room at The Bear (shh… don’t tell ‘ealth and safety).   And what a gig it was.  A bubbling bass figure from Jason Weaver, given rocket boosters by occasional Christian Scott sideman Charles Burchell on drums, then Parker, himself a regular in Ellis Marsalis’ band,  and tenor man James Partridge eased into Horace Silver’s Doodlin. It was effortless, intensely grooving  and hair tinglingly thrilling.  They mined familiar resources to the full, the impassioned blowing of Parker and Partridge rousing whoops and cheers every time. More complex original material (Untitled Numbers one and two!) introduced a different dimension, a flowing harmonically angular piece by pianist Andrew McGowan and a stately ballad by Jason Weaver drawing out meditative and lament like solos.  There was no keeping the sheer exuberance and energy down for long though and the second set surfed to its stomping conclusion via a freshly minted funky groover in honour of temporary surrogate tour manager Ian Storrer.  The band were off to Cardiff the next day, but for the dispersing crowd it was hard to believe they were going to have more fun than this.