Ambleside Days – the last post

The bass was parked, music scattered, instruments abandoned to be collected later.  The musicians had left the stage. As we all left  Screen 2 at Zeffirellis for the last time in the four-day-fest, there was an inescapable sense of having witnessed something momentous.

I mused mid fest about the ‘recipe’, orchestrated by Derek Hook the festival director, of a pool of musicians combined and recombined over the four nights.  Saturday saw the sublime Printmakers playing opposite a trio of Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland and Joe Locke.  Sunday was billed as evening with Dave Holland, which turned out to be solo, quartet (Dave with Simcock- Mike WalkerNorma Winstone), trio (Dave with Nikki IlesJames Maddren), quartet (the trio plus Mike Walker) and then the ensemble flowered into a mini big band, the full cast list from the previous days with the addition of Nick Smart popping up on trumpet and flugel-horn.

What held the dizzying rotation together was that ‘contemporary music’ tag and the reference point and celebration of John Taylor.  There was a tricky to define but discernible sound, a particular use of harmony, musical choices about melody and space that gave the music identity.   It was a joyous and appropriate finale then for the mini big band to play  a couple of sections of Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Time Suite.  Holland, Stan Sulzmann and Norma Winstone were all on stage who played on the original Large and Small Ensembles recording with of course, John Taylor on piano. The final blast of Wheeler’s Foxy Trot also had the Holland-Taylor rhythm section on the original.  The Wheeler, Taylor legacy flavours so much of the music that these musicians play and it sounded like their natural habitat.

That was true even when they were playing standards or original material.   Added to that was a visible delight in each other’s presence.  Joe Locke’s quartet set had started with an angular arrangement of Autumn in New York and he was grinning delightedly at Asaf Sirkis as the drummer caught and embellished every rythmic fill.  Heads turned and eyes snapped sideways all weekend at moments of magic and hot interaction.  Mike Walker beamed slowly as Dave Holland’s solo on In Your Own Sweet Way worked its way to an intense climax in the quartet set with Winstone.  Holland visibly caught his breath and smiled as an exquisitely crafted line seemed to float from the piano and hang in the air during a Nikki Iles solo in their trio moment.

In amongst all the ‘for one night only’ configurations, The Printmakers reminded us how compelling a regular ensemble can be. Their take on Vince Mendoza’s Ambivalence was a hear-a-pin drop moment as the chanting motif faded away.   Mark Lockheart and Walker did their familiar but always enchanting evocation of a beach, the guitar providing swooping seagulls over the sax’s breathy shifting sands before the band slid into Nikki Iles’ Tideways. Walker’s scatological story telling threatened to become a stand-up routine before his own glorious, surely-nearly-a-standard-now Clockmakers made the stoniest heart swell.

We saw a lot of everyone in different line-ups.  Gwilym Simcock appeared every night and was dazzling in his range of expression from the faintest glazes of an open piano string to the tumult of Barber Blues that closed the trio set with Mike Walker and Joe Locke.   Mike Walker’s instinct for when not to play, conjure an unlikely growl or rumble from his guitar, let a fluid melodic line insinuate itself through a chord sequence or simply to rock out was a consistent delight every time he took the stage.  And what a treat to see and hear so much of Dave Holland. For all the virtuosity and command of his instrument, there was tingling thrill every time he settled into a groove and made the music pulse and glow.

Creating so many one-off line ups could have been a risk. As it was, there wasn’t a part that didn’t create special, exciting and moving moments. And the sum of all those parts? That word ‘momentous’ seems about right.

 

 

 

 

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‘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.

A Feast of Jazz for Bristol and Bath coming your way

There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting  really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and  already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).

But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio.  If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February.  The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April.  Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.

Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.

Positively the last list of 2014: My live and recorded highlights

I think the first review of the year I saw was definitely early December, so I’m surely near the curfew for this.  But this is mostly a personal idiosyncratic review of the year based entirely on what I happened to have listened to, and live moments I’ve happened upon. One criterion (the only?) for inclusion is  being moved or excited beyond the norm, definitely a very personal response.

Recorded Music

I have an old fashioned 6 CD changer in the living room, so a good starting point is what gets stuck in that during the year

I see that these three are still in there despite a fairly heavy turnover.

Joy in spite of Everything, Stefano Bollani  – title captures the spirit of the album

Circularity, Julian Arguelles – super group playing Arguelles’ sublime compositions

Present Joys, Dave Douglas and Uri Caine – what is it with Dave Douglas and hymns?  Be Still was on my fave list last year

Popping up repeatedly on the iPod playlists and somehow  never getting replaced (limited space means more turnover!) these gems

Under the Moon, Blue Eyed Hawk – Chaos Collective luminaries collaborating on uncategorisable collection. Great listening

Songs to The North Sky, Tim Garland – A double CD seeming to sum up the breadth of the mighty Garland’s writing and playing

Weaving the Spell, Busnoys – Does what is says on the tin (er… CD cover) for me. Quirky trio led by vibes man Martin Pyne

Live in Hamburg (72), Keith Jarrett – a reminder, if needed, of the unbridled, dazzling energy of the trio with Motian and Haden as well as moments of breathtaking tenderness ( I admit I can take or leave Jarrett’s soprano sax sounding like wounded animal episodes)

There are so many more great albums, but these are the ones that seem to have kept coming back to this year. Two I haven’t heard (so much music, so little time) but mean to seek out:  Michael Wollny (see below for reasons),  Jason Moran, Elegy to Waller – on the basis that looking at Peter Bacon’s Festive Fifty Fifty, tow of my top faves are in his top three and the third is Jason.. maybe I should check it out!

Live Music

Is it a cliché to say what a privilege it is to see so much amazing music live?  Excuse me if so, but saying wow, whooping and explicitly acknowledging now and then seems only proper.

Just a few fabulous gigs then..

Charles Lloyd in the London Jazz Festival (the DVD of the film Arrows into Infinity would be on the recorded list as well if it was a CD!) – entrancing and uplifting.  My thoughts at the time here

Kit Downes Quintet at the Hen & Chicken, one of a few fantastic gigs there this year, but this was a standout – My thoughts at the time here

Michael Wollny Trio Brecon Festival.  Ok, first time I’d seen them live. Blown away doesn’t quite cover it – impressions here

Dave Holland’s – Prism – Ronnie Scott’s.  Just simply (although not very), groovily (very), sublime. My thoughts at the time here

And of course, for anyone who was there, these get on the highlights of the year – not one but two Loose Tubes gigs (for me) first at Cheltenham, then at Brecon again.

Moments within gigs sometime burn even brighter in the memory. Here are a few.

An ordinary Friday with another out of the ordinary local line-up at the BeBop club (this time Andy Hague’s Quintet) with 2014 British Jazz Award winner Dave Newton in the piano chair. Dave Newton’s trio feature, Alice in Wonderland, had me holding my breath but the moment Will Harris’  bass entered, so perfectly judged is still making me tingle.

A Sunday lunchtime at Ronnie Scott’s with the London Vocal Project. Pete Churchill just returned from New York working with Jon Hendricks on lyrics for Miles Ahead, has just recounted the latest episode. The first performance, the first words out of Anita Wardell‘s mouth ‘If you would know what beauty is’. The frisson is still there.

Involuntary weeping can be misunderstood at a gig I guess.  The opening chords of Nikki Iles‘  Hush, as the Royal Academy Big Band burst into life at their London Jazz Festival gig playing Nikki’s arrangement, in that moment was near overwhelming. I think I got away with it though.

Top that 2015

May (the jazz be with you) – my round up

May has been been a  rather special and musical month. Kicking off with the Cheltenham Festival and the long awaited much heralded return of Loose Tubes, now thoroughly reviewed and lauded (a couple of tasters here and here) local gigs have kept up the intensity.  Jon Turney was gripped by the Hilliard Ensemble‘s Bath Festival visit with Jan Garbarek, a lovely account in LondonJazzNews. The exhilarating trio Phronesis touched down in Bristol late in the month for a great gig (preceded by an epic day, hanging out with Bristol musos by all accounts). My account of that will appear in Jazzwise in due course (the gig that is..), but they made waves wherever they played. Peter Bacon, as ever, captures the thrill from their Birmingham visit.  That had been preceded by a frenetic week  of quality from Printmakers in Bradford on Avon, Jazz at the Vaults in Bath and Riff Raff in Bristol.  In between, there’s been plenty of listening and the opportunity to review two very different, but  great new CDs for LondonJazz – very nice to get the chance.  Tim Garland‘s Song to the North Sky tgnsshowcases the breadth of his interests in a two CD set, one of his small band Lighthouse and the other with an orchestral string section (My review here).  If that one draws on a career of music making, so too does Jake McMurchie‘s debut release with Michelson-Morley, Aether Drift. It’s been a long time coming, but worth the wait. Some of this material had its first airing at the Bristol Composers Collective, a reminder that their monthly below the radar gigs are well worth checking out.  My MichelsonMorley-CD-Digipack-coverreview, again for London Jazz here. The annual workshop weekend, Play Jazz Weekend was sold out, intense and a lot of fun, I performed my usual tea making, sandwich ordering duties with a bit of accompanying singers thrown in – a separate post coming about that one. The connection between musicians and an extensive networks of courses and weekly workshops (a taste of just how many there are  here) is worth musing on briefly.   Rounding it all off with a visit to Ronnie Scott’s to hear the London Vocal Project was icing on the cake.  If they start crowd-funding to make a recording of their ‘Jon Hendricks lyrics to Miles Ahead’ project, I’ll be first in line.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival contrasts: Jeff Williams, Sunday May 6th; Lighthouse, Monday May 7th

Jeff Williams, American drummer and part time Londoner with a CV that stretches back to the 70s and includes stints with Stan Getz and Dave Liebman was at Cheltenham with his New York Quartet. This seemed like a deliciously contrasting gig to the earlier John Taylor one when we booked the tickets and to Lighthouse the following day which whilst back on mainly European territory seemed like another flavour again (Gwylim Simock’s piano meets Tim Garland’s sax to joust with percussionist Asaf Sirkis). If we’d had to lay bets as to which gigs we’d be humming the tunes to as we skipped down the street afterwards, I’m not sure it would be have been Jeff Williams’ group. The slightly smokey atmosphere on stage might have drifted on with the band from the streets of New York and Jeff’s trilby and shades seemed like a slightly tongue in cheek nod to the urban vibe. The alto sax, trumpet, bass and drums delivered a series of catchy themes, some more angular, some boppish with changes of pace and stops and starts a-plenty. Fez had an arabic souk hint to it and it was trumpet player Duane Eubanks’ Purple Blue and Red that we were humming as we left.  Its the approach of the band that’s stayed with me. They frequently seemed to stop and listen to each other so that there was often only one or two instruments playing – it didn’t seemed to matter, just added to the sense of a joint exploration of some ideas. Jeff Williams has assembled a group of sympathetic voyagers. His drumming is like this, as striking and interesting for what he’s not playing as what he is, even when he’s playing time you can feel the pulse more in what he’s not playing.

Lighthouse by contrast play a lot. There’s plenty of words like breathtaking and dazzling in the press to describe this trio, all richly deserved. Whether its the exuberant vibe and rich harmony wrapped around the simple pentatonic scale of the Hang drum, the slightly bonkers frenetic clubby rhythm of  Ibiza scene inspired Space Junk, the excursions into folky pastoral jazz ballads or thunderous soloing on pieces based on flamenco like grooves, its quite simply exhilarating. Tim Garland and Gwylim Simcock lock seamlessly on intricate themes with Sirkis grinning delightedly following them through every rhythmic swerve. The virtuosity was unforced, I sat back, tapped my foot (there was no dancing in the seating for sardines) and whooped as the pyrotechnics proceeded. We weren’t humming many of the themes after this one, but I was musing on another little insight of the festival; that Gwylim Simcock has a funky left hand. For all the torrent of notes and lyrical lines, he was very funky.

What January Blues?

If you live in the Bristol/ Bath area, it might seem we are getting too much of a good thing! There are loads of cracking gigs coming up with a fair sprinkling of the world class. So Tim Garland and Gwilym Simcock come to St. George’s on the 15th with Asaf Sirkis ( listings here ). If you in Bath and can’t make it over, get down St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Art Themen is there with the house trio (only a fiver). Julian Arguelles is in town with his trio on the 29th – St. George’s again, swiftly followed by Martin Speake with Bobo Stenson on Feb 13th ( see my post “In praise of Bobo”).. see you there! As if that wasn’t enough, the Bebop club programme really is storming. Not all household names, but believe me the quality is high. A few I’m drooling over: Barry Green on the 30th (here for more … very whacky website), Plastic Chandeliers (16th) – Bristol’s young but already up generation, in February (27th) Ben Waghorn and in March (13th), the sublime Jonathan Taylor in trio playing the compositions of Michel Petrucciani.

And there’s plenty more out there. No excuse for ears that aren’t thoroughly warmed.