Nick Dover/Malcolm Edmonstone Quintet, The Fringe, Wednesday 18th October

It’s a great gag. The presence of the tenor man Nick (Dover), pianist Malcolm (Edmonstone) AND trumpeter Nick Malcolm on the stage allowed Malcolm (EdmonstoneIMG_2573) to try and persuade us the band was called Nick Malcolm Nick Malcolm (so good they named it twice). The real story was the music and the playing of course. This was the sort of happening in which The Fringe seems to specialise. A meeting of players who sound like an established band, look like one, but appear to only pop up at The Fringe. Prime Suspect:  ‘The Management’. Of course, sometimes the happenings become an established band and this one threatens to. It was their third appearance at the club, the line-up completed by the inconveniently named Matt Brown on drums and Will Harris on bass. Names aside, its probably harder to find a better rhythm section in these parts.

The theme of Broadway, Britain and Brazil, assayed by Edmonstone,  held as they played All the Things You Are, Iain Ballamy’s Strawberries and and an Ivan Lins piece.  It wasn’t so clear where Coltrane’s Cousin Mary  fitted, but who cares – they were roaring by that stage.  The Jerome Kern opener flowered as they each explored the familiar harmony and spiraled off in their own distinctive directions.  Edmonstone was an extraordinary presence, as he was in each tune, alert to every feint and flurry and spontaneously re-arranging the harmony and accompaniment in response. More than once, Will Harris’ or Nick Malcom’s eyes widened as he spurred and prodded them on.  In the Ivan Lins piece he picked up a phrase from Malcolm and wove a two handed counterpoint development of it round Malcolm’s own sinuously evolving line.  Was there particular electricity between the restlessly inventive Dover and Edmonstone?  They do go back a long way. Edmonstone grinned and burst into applause after Dover’s first solo on ‘All the Things You Are‘. Cousin Mary closed the first set, Matt Brown’s boiling rhythms erupting into solo spot to match the intensity cooked up in the rest of the band’s solos.

This evening was cut short for me by the shivers of the seasonal cold, but reports were that the second set was even better (of course).  It may soon be time for this formidable line-up to be seen beyond the confines of the Fringe. Until then, be sure to catch them next time they pop up.

 

 

 

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Entropi, BeBop Club, Friday 6th October

A gale force blast of sax and trumpet pinned my ears back as I poked my head round the door of the BeBop club last night.  I don’t think it was a comment on my late arrival; the band where in the middle of an unstructured collective workout. My tardiness aside, venturing out on an inhospitable Friday was richly rewarded.  Entropi, led by alto player Dee Byrne have just released their second album, Moment Frozen and had touched down at the BeBop in the middle of a tour.  They sounded like a band who’ve played together a lot and Dee Byrne’s writing  like it’s been refined, the gold dust extracted and then refined again.  There was variety,  with pieces as likely to take off into one of those free excursions as groove over a jagged riff.

Entropi’s is a formidable line-up with most of the band leading projects of their own.  Andre Canniere on trumpet was at the club earlier in the year.  Rebecca Nash on keys, a Bristol native is well know here but well established on the national scene. Regular bass player Ollie Brice, a former Bath resident, was unavailable but it was hard to imagine a better dep than Will Harris. Matt Fisher on drums was dazzling with the flow of ideas and articulation of grooves.

The hubbub that had greeted me soon subsided and they were on to the next piece Cold Light of Day. It was cued in by an Will Harris’ expansive  bass solo that condensed to a cycling tone poem, creating palpable tension and anticipation in the room.  The band took up the rolling pulse and Canniere built an intense solo, shading between dark flurries and long arcing, austerely lyrical lines before passing the baton to Byrne.  The band goaded her on with snappy riffs.  The collective imaginations unpacked a lot of ideas from the deceptively simple source material. It was the pattern for the evening. Stelliferous Era got an evocative and thoughtful intro from Rebecca Nash, making the most of the sparkling Fender sounds from the Nord before Fisher lit fires and stoked the energy from behind the kit under a series of fine solos.  It’s Time bustled along and Leap of Faith’s stabbing riffs grabbed the attention.  There was a slightly dark, angular turn to much of the music.

It was all delivered with confidence, commitment and authority. There’s something special about this band.  Well worth the trip down to Bristol’s longest running club, now well into its third decade.

 

 

CD Round Up – Part 2: Pigs and ANt (Figes and Nowak)

The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.

kfwwFirstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records .  There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick  Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.time-being-front

There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back.  The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties.  The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets.    Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.

Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before andynowakthe summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since.  This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement.  First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony,  Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos.  Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November

Summer delights and Autumn preview pt 1: Fringe Jazz

I’ve had a bit of summer break from the blog as will be evident from the absence of posts, but there has been plenty of music, both recorded and live, to quicken the pulse and make the ears tingle, not to mention a few posts and reviews for other websites (Enrico Pieranunzi at Ronnie Scott’s, reviewed here, will likely be on the highlights of the year list).  There have been a few regular gigs out here in the west that have kept going right through the summer and provided some highlights, this then is the first of a couple of posts about delights sampled and more to come in the Autumn programme. We popped into Fringe Jazz last week to catch the Jazz Defenders, an end of August treat in the reliably classy programme now firmly re-established in it’s original bijou back-room off Princess Victoria Street.  The quintet are animated and led by quicksilver and rhythmically electrifying pianist George Cooper and wear their Blue Note heart on their sleeve. The suite of originals, writing credit’s spread around the formidable band but invariably with Cooper’s guiding hand, take the classic sound as a launch pad rather than a restrictive template. The themes and hooks are reliably catchy, grooves unvaryingly tight and propulsive whether swinging or with a funky edge (the combination of Will Harris on bass and Matt Brown behind the kit is dynamite) and arrangments lovingly crafted so that the front-line of Nick Malcom on trumpet and Nick Dover on tenor frequently sound like one Horace Silver’s bands in full flight. The improvising is always edgy however, Cooper’s solos veering from delicious bluesey licks to sizzling modal work outs; Malcolm suddenly taking flight, surfing a polyrythmic surge from the drums firing off angular phrases; Dover finding surprising melodic paths through familiar sequences.  The Defenders are a collaboration of some of Bristol’s finest so the quality and freshness of the band should come as no surprise. A real treat nevertheless and lookout for an album due for release soon.

The Fringe has a packed Autumn programme of jaw dropping quality including ECM recordings artists, award winners by the legion but more importantly, fabulous music. Andy Sheppard is back for a regular visit with The Pushy Doctors on 14th September with Dave Newton‘s Trio, including Nat Steel on vibes in Early October.  In between West Coast based former Bristol resident Jon Dalton returns.  ON 19th October, Iain Ballamy is the guest followed the week after by the increasingly high profile funky alto of James Morton riding high on his well received album release The Kid.  The rosta of tourist in November includes the legendary Trevor Watts on 9th November with the contrasting moods of Josh Kemp the week before and Phil Robson‘s organ trio the week after.  Promoter Jon Taylor seems almost to defy gravity by putting on a programme of this quality in a tiny back room, but of course its regular paying audiences that make it possible, so we know what to do.

 

 

Michelson Morley & Eyebrow, Wardrobe Theatre, Sunday 17th July

Michelson Morley are approaching the end of a tour playing music from the just released, tour de force Strange Courage and played a home-town launch gig last night, before heading up to London for a launch at the Vortex tonight.  What a treat is in store for that London audience.

The recording Strange Courage is, whilst audibly from the same stable as the excellent mmorleyscouragedebut release Aether Drift (reviewed here), an even more powerful and compelling experience. It’s a cocktail of effects; atmospheres concocted in the moment with electronics; quietly looping motifs; thumping, distorted, headsplitting riffs; jaunty melodic themes with a jagged edge. Leader and composer Jake McMurchie‘s sax is at the centre of the action . The original trio is now augmented by guitarist Dan Messore, joining Will Harris on bass and drummer Mark Whitlam.  He brings another dimension, thickening the sound with textures and effects as well echoing and countering melodies and unleashing occasional crunching chords. If the album is an assured, gripping group performance, the live show is an even more pulsating ride.

The music seemed to seep up through the stage at the start of the set as eerie effects, clatters and howls emerged, apparently un-related to the conventional sounds expected from the instruments on the stage. Tamer as Prey offered plaintive melodic hooks that distorted and changed shape over the an insistent throb. Ammageddon nodded to its mis-spelt name in the churning rocky riff before the The Last Of Me Will Wait set up an attractive little groove and McMurchie’s warm tenor sound ebbed and flowed. They dissolved into more ghostly washes as a prelude for  the catchy looping bass riff of There Are No Perfect Waves, a delicate phrase then alternated with another crunching power riff and blistering solos. It was a dramatic, exciting performance enhanced by evocative visuals provided by Cornwall based film maker Jo Mayes, always another turn or twist around the corner. They played out to whooping applause with the rocker Rice Rage.

The first, shorter set was by the peer-less Eyebrow. McMurchie acknowledged the inspiration of the approach of the duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens , their sparse, looping and layered improvisations are as riveting conjured live as on CD. Wigens place was ably filled at the last minute by Mark Whitlam due to illness but they still evoked the magic of the recent release Garden City to the delight of the audience filling the Wardrobe Theatre’s fabulous new home.

The two sets were a celebration of some of the more creative and imaginative music that has been brewing gently in Bristol over recent years and now, happily getting wider recognition.

 

Moonlight Saving Time with Jason Yarde, Hen & Chicken, Sunday 10th January

A cycling sequence of ringing chords, sax and trumpet in full flight, wordless vocals weaving in, out and over, an effortless groove from the bass and churning drums building the excitement: it was an exhilarating musical tumult as Views reached a climax towards the end of Moonlight Saving Time’s first set of the Bristol launch of their album Meeting at Night. The Bristol based band have been getting deserved exposure, including national radio play, since the official release in the autumn and the Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was packed for the first gig of the 2016 season.

The band’s distinctive sound is a potent brew of jazzily melodic, gliding lines with occasional folk-like inflections; artfully crafted shifting harmony; never over-stated but propulsive and snappy grooves. The arrangements make the most of the cocktail of timbres and pitch in the line-up. This is a collective enterprise.  Emily Wright’s clear toned, supple vocals were frequently in the foreground carrying  lyrics, invariably personal and reflective, but then became another instrument blending beautifully with Nick Malcolm’s. trumpet in wordless swoops and flights.  The jigsaw of rhythms and harmony from Dale Hambridge on keys, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam behind the kit locked it all together.

In this band of leaders and composers there was plenty of scope for individual personalities to make their presence felt.  After the flowing grooves of Clouds, Silence is Here breathed more easily and Dale Hambridge gave his expressive, fluent touch at the piano full rein. On this and the playful, joyfully lilting  Arthur’s Dance Nick Malcolm flung out by turns lyrical and biting trumpet solos adding citric zest to the sophisticated palette of sound.  There were ‘just so’ changes of pace and mood that caught the attention, like leaving Will Harris’ bass to state a groove, imply a melody and a chord all at once whilst letting the space breath – little moments of magic

If the regular ensemble have visibly developed an easy confidence over the last three years or so, the addition of saxophonist Jason Yarde for the evening seemed to step everything up a gear. From his first solo on Clouds, the forceful, fluid exploration of the harmony; song like declamatory phrases and then burning intensity as momentum built, all served to get everyone grinning and nodding. The rest of the band responded in kind. This would have a great gig without the addition of Yarde, as it was it made for a real treat to start the year.  Moonlight Saving Time are going from strength to strength.

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