It took just a couple of notes from Byron Wallen‘s trumpet to infuse the Wine Vault’s atmosphere with a crackle of excitement on Thursday night. He led the band into Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom, an easily swinging groove with a bluesey theme; a quintessential sixties Blue Note vibe. The visitor unfurled a blistering solo, gracefully shaped phrases following the arc of the harmony and little accelerations and flurries of notes building the excitement. By the time he’d finished, bass man and the Vaults’ impressario Wade Edwards was grinning like a cheshire cat. We all were.
This was Wallen’s second visit to share the stage with the house trio. The last (here), several years ago now, still glows in my memory. Then as now, there was plenty of engaging chat and a reminder from DJ Tony Clark in his introduction of the weight and length of the trumpeter’s CV. This time the theme was trumpet heroes and we got a slew of classics associated with various legends and music firmly rooted in classic jazz. Orthinology was for Fats Navarro, Sky Dive for Freddie Hubbard, Tom Cat for Lee Morgan and Budo for Miles. In between a sprinkling of Wallen originals added another flavour to the mix, his artfully constructed pieces always having a twist or darker tone to them.The Little Giant, for Booker Little, was a lilting waltz with bitter-sweet harmony and an angular rhythmic hook to nudge the band in different directions. It also occasioned the name drop of the evening as Wallen recounted hanging out with the legendary Charles Lloyd after a gig and asking him about Little, with whom Lloyd had been at school and apparently, according to the sax man, ‘showed him the blues’. We got some jazz history as well as scintillating music. Home Truth got an airing as it it did on Wallen’s previous visit, a dark, brooding ballad with echoes of the music of Kenny Wheeler.
Every time the trumpet spoke, there was an easy fluency and energy that fired the house band up and brought new sounds out of them. As soon as Vyv Hope Scott launched into his piano solo on the opening Lotus Blossom he’d found a slight different more open sound compared to the familiar muscular swing of the trio’s warm up number You and the Night and the Music, the gear shift somehow cued by Wallen’s exploratory playing. It’s a testament to the quality and flexibility of the house trio that they respond readily to the sound of their varied guests. Deep into the second set Wallen called You Don’t Know What Love Is and brought the house down with a keening, emotional reading of the standard.
This was top drawer jazz from an A list name in British jazz. Let’s hope he’s return is even quicker next time.
Anniversaries are little way markers really. The real sweat, inspiration and commitment is expended on the journey, not in the moment we pause to note the distance traveled. They are a welcome reminder and a prompt to salute (again) the achievements however. It really is ten years now since Wade Edwards started the Jazz at the Vaults sessions. Tomorrows gig with Art Themen joining the house trio marks the anniversary. The legendary sax man was one of the first guests from out of the area and he’s been back a few times since. Vyv Hope Scott‘s ever fluent, muscular swing at the keys and Trevor Davies‘ responsive, subtle and rock-steady groove on the drums have formed a formed a formidable and flexible unit, with Edwards on bass, to accompany the now huge roster of guests who’ve paid a visit.There are plenty of stand-outs. The combined force of Jason Rebello and Iain Ballamy remains one of mine, I’m sure many would cite the visit of Pee Wee Ellis and poignantly the late great Bobby Wellins.
So happy anniversary to the team at the Vaults and Wade in particular. A heart-felt thankyou from this jazz lover. The tenth anniversary season looks like a steady stream of treats. Byron Wallen follows Themen on 26th January, Karen Sharp on 9th February, Winston Rollins on the 23rd and Josh Arcoleo on 9th March.
Alan Barnes? He’s not bad, but after half an hour his playing does your head in – at least that the verdict of Barnes’ daughter Moll as related by the man himself, introducing the tune he wrote for her. It was more than half an hour into the first set and the signs were that the audience in a packed St. James Wine Vaults didn’t entirely share the verdict, judging by the whoops, cheers and sighs greeting the swerve through Barnes’ huge repertoire. There’d been plenty of overt Charlie Parker references and a blistering take of The Song is You (“… lets the get the fast one out of the way to show we can..” quipped Barnes), but a stand-out was an enchanting reading of Alice in Wonderland all wispy phrases and oblique phrasing demanding attention in a less overt way. It was another bravura performance for what has become a regular visit from Barnes to the Vaults. The energy seemed to flow back and forth between audience and band. With guests of Barnes’ quality, the regular house trio of Wade Edwards, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies always seem to find something extra and different as they rise to the occasion. Jazz at the Vaults may be in its tenth year, but the longevity seems to consolidating the popularity of the fortnightly slot – long may it continue!
Earlier in the month, Andy Hague, trumpeter, drummer, BeBop Club head cook and newly turned 50 year old, celebrated his own longevity with a birthday bash in the shape of a Big Band assembled for the occasion performing his charts. Some were freshly minted, some dusted down crackers and a few re-worked old ones. Manic Molluscs started with a workout from long-time sparring partner Jim Blomfield on piano and a gutsy tenor solo from Jake McMurchie. There was a big turn-out to cheer on a band of Bristol’s finest and Andy’s Friday Night at the BeBop Club gave them a chance to get whooping with a fiery solo from Ben Waghorn on the crisply swinging hard bop vibe. There were stylistic nods in all sorts of directions and the assembled talent did Andy proud. There’s not just life in the old dog, he might just be hitting his stride on this showing.
I’m not sure how Tony Clark got away with it. As he led the whoops and cheers at the end of another great evening in the cellar beneath St. James, the resident DJ and compère for the Jazz at the Vaults sessions assayed a wisecrack about the guest soloist, suggesting he was improving with age like a vintage wine. Roger Beaujolais, who must surely have fielded a few dreadful jokes about his name in his time, let it go and didn’t appear to notice or mind the reference to his age. Perhaps it was the warmth of the reception from the packed cellar or maybe Tony’s winning grin, either way he wielded the mallets one last time and led the band through Yesterdays (the standard) to finish only the second ever gig with a vibes player in Jazz at the Vaults’ now nine year history. That encore summed up the evening. The slight wow in the chiming sound of the vibes contrasting with percussive chords from Vyv Hope Scott before the mallets became a blur as Beaujolais swang like a demon, stretching and buffetting the shape of the old standard with a blistering solo. He spurred Vyv on to produce another volcanic solo, possibly his most adventurous of the night as his characteristic bluesey workouts morphed into more abstract tumults of notes. It was a fiery end to a great evening that had taken in plenty of standards as well as some of the guest’s originals, all delivered with the same energy. The House rhythm section were on form as ever and Trevor Davies was called on to bounce fours, eights and drum solos off the band on several occasions, Beaujolais nodding his approval at his invention and grooves that always seem to manage to hint at the tune or structure of the piece. Success is breeding success at the moment for the Wine Vaults with this gig ending the season on high before they restart in September with returning legend Art Themen. There’s a full programme booked for the Autumn to launch the tenth year including, so its rumoured, another Brit Jazz luminary, Henry Lowther.
Iain at the Vaults. pic from from Vaults Facebook p
January has brought some icy blasts with it, so the warm caressing tone of Iain Ballamy’s sax was a ‘balm to the soul’ welcome as we stumbled down the stairs to the cellar bar and to a session that will surely soon be able to add ‘longest running’ to ‘top’ in the list of adjectives that describe the Wade Edwards’ house band plus guest, fortnightly gig. Ballamy has become a regular if not frequent visitor but whilst his guest sessions may lean on the standards jazz repertoire, they are deliciously unpredictable and to take him for granted would be a mistake. He’s an ECM recording artist (one of the most iconic jazz labels and home to Keith Jarrett amongst many others for nearly 40 years). He’s feted around Europe and appears in ambient elctronica ensembles, uncategorisable sublime jazz- folk crossovers, a burning contemporary jazz band the legendary Loose Tubes anarchic big band – the list goes on. You never quiet know what’s coming next, and the Jazz House Trio (Wade, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies) certainly didn’t as Iain decided on the spot what to play next and frequently how (instant arrangements either demonstrated or hurriedly whispered as they started). It didn’t matter though. At the centre of it was Ballamy’s sound, sketching out whispy melodic lines with a crackly almost hoarse sound in the upper register that speaks straight to the heart. Desafindao welcomed us in, a gorgeous statement of the theme that had the packed in audience applauding as if it was a grandstanding solo. An extraordinary arrangement of East of the Sun had a single throbbing note under half the theme, building tension until they slid into an easy free-wheeling swing , but setting a mood that sent the band off in new thoughtful directions. A Burt Baccharach classic, Wives and Lovers was an unexpected twist with a fluid out of time reading of the familiar tune preceding the breezy tempo established for the solos. The ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ high wire act offered thrills and spills as Ballamy started the gorgeous Wayne Shorter ballad Myako in a different key to the rest of the band. But after a blistering Out of Nowhere, time stood still as he made Autumn in New York completely his own. This was a fantastic start to a new season at the Vaults. It’s a treasure of a gig with a house band that welcomes artists of international stature like Iain Ballamy as well as the best of a top class scene in area. Its good to see that Bath people know a good thing when they see it. Audiences are regularly healthy. Long may it remain so!
The distress was clearly visible on the door guardian’s face as first yet another punter was turned away and then a couple more shooed of the stairs down to the the cellar bar. “Its a fire risk” was the explanation. Hard blowing sax man Tony Kofi was the cause. His visit, a hotly anticipated return, had sold out and there was no squeezing any more sardines in. The show didn’t disappoint. The energy was high from the start as Kofi, a renowned interpreter of Thelonius Monk’s music, kicked off with Boo Boos Birthday, but he seemed to loosen up and demand even more from the trio as the evening wore. He is a gritty, assertive player able to draw on every bit of the jazz tradition – he’s played and recorded with legends, studied at the legendary Berklee College, ranged across styles from sessions with iconoclast Ornette Coleman to the the South African grooves of Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya. On this showing his heart is in earthily swinging jazz and he hurls himself into solos: it gets a strong, excited response from an audience and they lapped it up at the Wine Vaults. If the house trio of Wade Edwards on bass , Trevor Davies on drums and Vyv Hope-Scott at the piano were nervous at the demands made on them, they didn’ t show it as the visitor pulled out tunes by his heroes, mentors and inspirations which if in classic driving jazz idiom, weren’t all standards. Flowers for a Lady by George Adams had a twisting boppish theme but opened out into a vigorous blowing sequence, reaching a climax with an extended repeated phrase prolonged by a bout of circular breathing. There were tunes by George Coleman, Ellington, Chick Corea’s Bud Powell and of course, more Thelonius Monk. There was plent of michevious quoting as well. Phrases from Charlie Parker’s Little Sued Shoes appeared in a vamp at the end of Wayne Shorter’s Voyager, Bye Bye Blackbird popped out in a George Coleman tune. By the time a closing Blue Monk appeared, the driving grooves had everyone’s pulse racing and the trio were motoring. Vyv routinely delivers driving, muscular swing from the keyboard to the delight of regulars, but an extra gear was demanded by this gig and a finely tuned pair of ears as Kofi took off in different directions and led them into into repeating sections to riff at the end of tunes with no more than a nod and a leading note. There were quieter, tender moments with the sax sometimes given a clarinettish edge by swooping and sliding notes. This was an exciting evening’s music with the ‘visitor joins house band’ formula delivering another winner.
Two gigs, on the face of it with not much in common bookended a week in Bath’s jazz scene. As a solo on ‘Just one of those things’ by Jamie Cullum’s saxophonist Tom Richards was greeted by full throated screams and roars by the near capacity crowd at the Forum just over a week ago, I was forced to reflect that I’m pretty sure I’d never heard quite such a reception for what was a blistering bop solo with plenty of contemporary twists. Just over a week later, and if the punters from just one row of seats at The Forum had re-convened at St. James Wine Vaults for trumpeter Nick Malcolm’s guest spot with the regular Jazz House Trio, they may well have packed the place out. As it was, the very decent turn out were loudly appreciative of another blistering bop solo (even if they weren’t screaming at the top of their voices), as Nick posted a bravura work out on the changes of ‘Confirmation’ backed only by Trevor Davies’ racing, sympathetic accompaniment on drums before the theme appeared to bring in a poised piano and drums. From one of the city’s largest venues to one of the smallest, young (ish! both thirty something) visitors thrilled their audiences supported by absolutely steaming bands.
The Jamie Cullum experience is a full on, two hour tour de force, and was keenly anticipated by a buzzing crowd even before the first crashed chord and gravelly toned vocal ramped up the excitement. There were plenty of crowd participation moments on funky or rock orientated groovers with the personality and stage presence of the bundle of energy that is the leader keeping it all moving. But make no mistake. At the core is deadly serious musician. Whether he’s beat-boxing to get a groove going, whipping up a deliciously danceable percussion storm with his hands using the piano as a enormous kit (“not yet” he had to say to those in the crowd who wanted to join in ” this is harder than it looks”) or caressing a few chords and singing, just him and the piano, what made it compelling was that voice and turn on sixpence, tight playing and endlessly fluent improvisation and soloing from him and his band of still relatively recent conservatoire jazz programme graduates. They may be young, but they are hot and Cullum acknowledged and applauded them at every turn. There’s a jazz musician’s appreciation of the group vibe even when it’s a rocking one chord work out. And he has a way with re-working a standard. ‘Love for Sale’ was a dark rocky lament as he jumped around the auditorium declaiming the lyric; that take on ‘Just one those things’ was free wheeling even whilst it was swinging fiercely.
The space was smaller and the voice that of Nick Malcolm’s trumpet, but there was no less a sense of adventure down at the Wine Vaults a week later. Nick, now resident in London, is well known on the Bristol/ Bath scene having had a couple lengthy spells living here and is gaining increasing recognition nationally for his own projects as well as his playing with others, a national tour is coming up soon to promote an album. His own bands move easily between more conventionally structured tunes and quite free playing and the spirit of that was in the air as endings dissolved into a call and response type conclusion or a looser vamp. As ever, a different personality in the lead evoked a different response from the band and as a meditative reading of ‘You don’t know what love is’ by Nick stretched and remoulded the familiar melody, Vyv Hope Scott on piano responded in kind with unresolved phrase and long melodic lines that gathered momentum before he handed the soloing duties back to Nick.
Live thrills are alive and well in Bath it seems , whether your taste is big or small.