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.
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 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.
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.
A consultation in progress
A return to the Greenbank for the Pushy Doctors was greeted with an easy familiarity by the assembled punters last night. Treasuring the exclusively local opportunities to see the doctors over the last six months or so, we’ve never had to wait too long for the next chance. The peer-less practitioners of their arts ensure the experience is always memorable . I’ve caught them a couple of times before, once in the same venue and then at The Bellin Bath. The material hasn’t really changed nor its arrangement, but that doesn’t mean they are just going through the motions. The ease with which they slipped into their examination of the repertoire (I’ll get bored of the medical puns soon) on this occasion suggested the regular gigs have added an extra dimension to the interactions. So no white coats last night, but Andy Sheppard was wearing s suit. “Have they been promoted” folk at the bar wondered.” Pushy Consultants now?”
Dr Dan Moore
There was something a bit different last night. Were they a touch more reflective? A bit jazzier? A vamp at the end of Killer Joe dropped to a whisper and a few of those breathy, soaring phrases that can only be Andy Sheppard were unleashed. Segues between tunes were a bit looser and freer before snapping back into a tight groove. ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ squeezed mine a bit harder than usual delivered as it was with tense emotional force. The encore Naima was almost angular delivered over another ‘just so right’ groove with Tony Orrell producing just the perfect accessory to shake (brought along for this moment?). Breathtaking stuff again with a different twist. I did pause to reflect on the fact we had all paid just £4 in this pub in the back streets of inner city Bristol to see world class jazz, that had been promoted mainly through word of mouth, tweet and facebook as far as I can tell. Count your blessings say I, and this lot are still a big life affirming one. Keep your ear and eyes to the networks (and facebook page) for the next one.
Dr. Tony Orrell
Dr. Andy Sheppard
The Bell in Bath’s Walcott Street is not a large pub. With the small stage taking up half the available width of the front bar area, even a modest crowd can make the place feel jammed. With a large one, as there was for the Pushy Doctor’s second visit here, it is absolutely rammed, and its not unknown for the roar of chatter to drown the band out. After the third number last night, Andy Sheppard drew breath and reminded the assembled hordes that talking and generally having fun was allowed. The Doctors had segued from a galloping Killer Joe, via a clattery melodic drum solo into a hooky modal piece through an organ interlude into a blazing latin groover. Andy could have reminded some folk that they could close their mouths (quite a few seemed to have dropped open). This band were on blazing form. Everything seems to have gone up a gear since I saw them last at the Greenbank. The pace is up, the grooves are springier and lighter (not that that seemed possible); Andy Sheppard seemed to be relishing surfing on the rolling momentum created by Tony Orrell’s drums. Dan Moore’s playing absolutely locked in but there were lots of darker chords and tones giving everything an edge. And there was a pride in the material; “My name’s Andy Sheppard and I love cheese”. There’s always a twist to remind you just how good they are though. ‘Baby Love’, the rousing closer modulated effortlessy through key change after key change just ramping up the excitement. ‘I only have eyes for you’ had a great, recurring stabbing rythmn to subvert it. Each pop tune interspersed with 1930’s cheese (aka standards). And the anthemic rendering of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love can break your heart’ brought a lump to this cheese lover’s throat. Occasionally the momentum and tension was almost unbearable. My other pair of ears was screaming ‘breathe, breathe’ as the long, held soprano note over the crescendo of drums and and organs at the end of Dear Prudence extended and extended (okay, strictly that circular technique is breathing). There’s a delicate balance between being playfully respectful towards material, delivering it seriously but with a smile (or beaming grin in Tony Orrel’s case) and being over ponderous, and sentimental. The Pushy Doctors have it down to a tee; impossible not to leave feeling enlivened and borne up by the occasion. They’ve been playing pretty relentlessy around the small pubs and clubs of Bristol and Bath these last few months. Catch them while you can is all I can say.
Whispers on facebook and a bit of texting were all the promotion that an Easter Sunday outing received for Andy Sheppard with this trio. They’ve caused a bit of stir over the last month or so popping up here and at the Cori Tap and reportedly raising the roofs of both. With Dan Moore on organ and Tony Orrell on drums(Tony’s also an old sparring partner of Andy’s from early days in Bristol) the line up has the appearance of a conventional organ trio and they certainly quacked like one at the start with Killer Joe getting the full on swinging groove Blue-note era treatment. But things began to subtly shift thereafter. Tunes segued into each other with a drum solo or hymn like passage from the organ. Another skipping hard bop groove but with a modal sounding coltranesque hook somehow morphed seamlessly into a Whitney Houston power ballad. At the start of the second set, a modal burn up developed, via trademark Sheppard sax pyrotechnics into Dear Prudence with a bass riff and groove that, as my second pair of ears observed, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Portishead album. A Neil Young ballad got the gospel treatment with soaring climax of a melodic and textured drum solo, keyboard and sax repeating the melody with increasing intensity (stand-out moment amongst many crackers of the evening). The delight in each others company of the three protagonists was there constantly and a sense that anything might happen. There was predictably powerful blowing from Andy Sheppard, but he was being driven on by Dan and Tony who were giving as good as they got and equally prepared to play at a whisper as one tune was blended into the next. This trio may be a bit undercover at the moment, but there’s nothing thrown together about the repertoire and there’s an already mature understanding between them. Watch out for when they break cover, although hopefully they’ll still find time to visit the back streets of Easton.
Jon Lloyd’s quintet started of with a whisper on Friday at the Be-Bop Club. Whispy phrases from the leaders soprano sax floating over washes of synthy chord’s from guitar and shimmers from the drums as a plaintive melody gradually emerged. Then Tony Orrell (depping for Asaf Sirkis) set up an insistent, driving rhythm on the cymbal, and John Law on piano developed a glorious solo, full of melodic surging runs and little rythmic repeated figures before the band subsided back into the slowly moving melody that they’d started with. There were similar ingredients in many of the tunes during an evening of increasingly absorbing music. One of the highlights for me was the dynamic interplay between drums and piano. Tony Orrell simply radiates engergy on drums even if all he is doing his just playing a swing feel on his ride cymbal – he seemed to follow every twist and turn of John Law’s playing especially.
Jon Lloyd started playing with John Law in the 90s when they both made a name for themselves playing free jazz, and some of that sense of freedom was evident in the structure of many his compositions, with lots of fspace for all the soloist to follow ideas. There was nevertheless a great sense of the band playing together. More than once lovely meditative solos from guitarist Rob Palmer rose on a swell from drums and piano that seem to happen spontaneously adding to the sense of drama. Another feature of the all original set was a distinctive sound with the shape of the tunes carefully constructed to give space to some great soloing not least from the leader himself whether on the more favoured soprano, or bass clarinet. For me though, the inspired and inspiring John Law quietly stole the show with a constant stream of melodic and rythmic invention from the piano both during solos and accompaniment, the laptop stashed by the piano providing a few more colours to blend into the sound at various points.