Byron Wallen, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 26th January

byronwallenIt 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.





New Year Post 3: A few words about St. James Wine Vaults (Bath)

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.

My (still just about)New Year Jazz Honours

Just after the official New Years Honours were announced, London Jazz News’ word search of the list returned a big fat zero.  So no recognition this time by ‘her maj’ of services to jazz, or to humanity through the medium of jazz.  However, I had been musing over repeating my own version of ‘jazz new year’s honours’ – its turning out to a biennial affair – so here goes, all to briefly and better late than never.


This isn’t meant to be a music awards list ( Parliamentary Jazz Awards coming up if any one wants to put their votes in) or a best of list. I, very objectively and with a complete absence of bias, think about people who I’ve noticed making things happen (for jazz and lovers of) when they don’t have to.  That inevitably means its all quite local – otherwise I may not have noticed it – and generally something I’ve experienced directly or someone I’ve met.

So here we go ‘new year shout out to’

Wade Edwards  – Later this year the Jazz at the Vaults gig at St. James Wine Vaults in Bath will celebrate 10 years of unbroken gigs.   Wade gets a gig too as he’s the bass man in the house trio, but his energy and organising have meant its become a local institution with a big following.  Thanks Wade.

Ian Storrer –  Ian is a bit of an institution himself having run the Albert in Bedminster for years, but over the last couple of years, little by little,  the latest spot at The Hen and Chicken has become more and more established  until now we are getting a top class gig most months and sometimes more. January has been a bonanza.  He’s making it pay and the rest of us are the gainers.  Thanks Ian.

Craig Crofton  Another tireless, musician organiser. Has anyone checked just how many years the Canteen Jam Session has been going and Craig has been the front man and fair minded, business like organiser for a while now since Greg Cordez passed the baton on. Lets not forget also the huge family of performing blowers he’s grown with Mark Archer through the Blow Out Sax school.  Lots of people want to thank Craig.

Sebastian Scotney  A bit of different one. London jazz News got a deserved award in the parliamentary jazz Awards, but this is a personal ‘honours list’ and the eclectic community of bloggers as well as the amount of promotion and encouragement to musicians the site makes happen all gives me a warm glow. Its down to Seb and he doesn’t have to do it. Thanks Seb.

Honourable Mentions

It would be possible to reel out the same names every time I do this list, even if it is biennial. Maybe I should anyway.. there are weekly gigs going on, showcasing and promoting great music and these people don;t have to do it

Thanks Andy Hague at the BeBop (weekly on a Friday)

Thanks Jonathan Taylor at Fringe Jazz (now returned to The Fringe, weekly on Wednesday)

Thanks Steve Williams for Jazz at Future Inns (weekly on a  Thursday)

Thanks Joe Spibey for the Ring 0 Bells in Bath (weekly on a Sunday)

And there’s an implied thanks to all the people who’s names I don’t know who set the rooms up, do the sound, take the money.





October Moments: Another Barnes storming night at the Vaults and Andy Hague’s big birthday celebrated with a big band

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 Alan_Barnes_Press_Photo_XL01Moll 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 AndyHagueturned 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.

Double helpings of Rebello and an Edwards, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 9th July

IMG_1502“I’m showing off a bit tonight aren’t I?” said Jason with a rueful grin after a massive name drop in the course of naming the blistering latin tune with which the trio had opened the second set. The tune in question was Chick Corea’s Spain and if  you’re going to name drop, then it may as well be big.  So Rebello referred to the time he’d been out to Chick’s house (in Florida) for a jam.  In the first set, there’d been a reference to touring with Wayne Shorter in his 20s.  Nobody minded. They are reference points in the development of one UK’s foremost jazz musicians and its possible we’re blase about the frequency with which we get to hear him play locally.  It was certainly not his first visit to the Vaults and the second occasion on which he’d brought son George along on drums.  Resident bass man and organiser Wade Edwards had a deserved grin on his face as the sell out crowd squeezed in and just a bit of sweat on the brow as Rebello and Son put him through his paces.  Standing a couple of feet from the keyboard was a spine tingling experience as Rebello perceptibly went up through the gears during the first set. As he launched into Cantaloupe Island, the felt in the bones, expressed through the muscles earthy, funky groove with razor sharp timing was enough to make the blood fizz and he really let rip as   patterns spooled out and hooky riffs tweaked the ear over the cycling sequence. On other tunes like Sting’s La Belle Dame Sans Regrets or another Corea number You’re Everything, it was a fluid lyricism that emerged.   A sumptuous reading of Somewhere over the Rainbow reminded us of his ear for shifting and reworking harmony on the fly.  It wasn’t a one man show though.  IMG_1503George may have only just finished his GCSEs but there was a maturity and depth to the interplay with the keyboard. Some of the standout moments of the gig were the almost conversational exchanges of 4’s and 8s between keyboard and drums and repeatedly instinctive echoing and doubling of rhythmic flourishes and flexibility in the Jason’s soloing. They were at it again on Billy’s Bounce as a finale, fours bouncing back and forth between father and son, building to a great climax.  You have to hand it to Wade Edwards: his capacity to lure the best musicians around to the Vaults and keep them coming back means we are treated to nights like this –  a regular Thursday night at Jazz at the Vaults and  reliably exhilarating.

Iain Ballamy, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 8th January

Iain at the Vaults. pic from from Vaults Facebook page

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!

On Cooking and Fire risks; Tony Kofi at St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 13th November

tonykofiThe 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.