Jean Toussaint, Roots and Herbs/ Art Blakey Project, Wiltshire Music Centre, Saturday 8th October

jeantThe gospel and blues fuelled, grooving and swinging jazz of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers has an enduring appeal as well as endless potential for updating and absorbing into more contemporary styles.  George Cooper’s Jazz Defenders are a great local example of that, as they have been reminding us recently.  If you wanted a live taste, 25 years after Blakey’s death,  of the repertoire and energy of the original band who better to lead, than an alumnus of the great man’s touring band that was an ever evolving school for talent.  Jean Toussaint, a graduate from the mid-eighties incarnation, brought his Roots and Herbs project to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday with a line-up to die for and a pad of Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons tunes to set the the most resistant pulse racing.

They launched in with Wayne Shorter’s Roots and Herbs (of course).  With Andrew McCormack on piano, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Dennis Rollins on trombone joining Toussaint, this was an all-star line-up that guaranteed fireworks when it came to the blowing.  In the spirit of Blakey, one of Toussaint’s own students Will Theaksly took the drum chair and proved to be no passanger. Bass player Daniel Casimir  took the first solo however and showed why he won the vote at this year’s Musicians Company awards. A perfectly paced solo, playing with space so that groove and momentum just oozed out had the band whooping. He repeated the feat in Blues March at the end of the set as the band dropped out and a long space somehow left the air pulsating. The faint tap of a grinning Toussaint’s shoe was hardly necessary to bring the the band roaring back in.  There were plenty of other moments of drama and poetry.  The racing swing of The Summit saw Andrew McCormack unwind a dazzling solo, skittering runs and driving left hand chords nodding at more fireworks to come.  The sheer attack and inventiveness of Byron Wallen was riveting every time he stepped up to the microphone.   McCormack again, on the gentler waltz Sleeping Dancer Sleep On (Shorter again) conjured more magic as he brought the tune in with evocative sketching of the harmony, then took it out again with fluid melodic flights during his solo. This was a prelude to a barnstorming unaccompanied intro to Moanin of visceral blues, swelling gospel and excursions via more dissonant neo-classical clusters before the classic theme emerged. Toussaint himself really let fly on this one reminding us, as he had all evening,  of how to develop a foot stomping solo. He has been touring this project for the last year or so drawing on  a large pool of players and just occasionally the ‘come together for the occasion’ nature of the band showed, but the quality and verve of these players was more than equal to the challenge. A great reminder of the energy and inspiration of the Blakey band.


‘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.

Phronesis, Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10th June

Eyebrows crept a bit higher on foreheads, mouths opened slightly, maybe a few people leaned a bit further back in their seats.  The impact of  the opener in Phronesis’ first set at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday night was dramatic.  67,000 mph  followed a typical pattern for the trio; ear snagging riffs with sharp changes of gears, scattered phrases from Ivo Neame on piano that accumulate into a blizzard of notes, a firestorm of percussion whipped up by Anton Eger on drums, Jaspar Hoiby standing between them, holding down a tricky bass figure with occasional embellishments and looking from one to the other, nodding appreciatively. 2016-06-10 19.05.06

Hoiby’s slightly divergent  banter between tunes relieved the tension a bit, and may even have been a bit too self-deprecating as he joked ‘all our tunes sound the same’.  A Phronesis recipe there may be, but it’s designed to maximise the thrill factor in live performance.  The volcanic momentum of Eger’s drumming was constantly arresting, delivered as often at a whisper or with a rattle as with full blooded battering. Silver Moon tiptoed round its jigsaw of melodic phrases and singing bass phrases before leaving space for  Eger’s drum breaks, filled with space and brushing caresses of the cymbals. Stillness belied its name with accumulating clatter, what looked like a knife and fork pressed into service on the kit.

The trios reflexes and responsiveness to each other were razor sharp, raging solos frequently punctuated with little stops or momentary slackening of the intensity of pulse driving the music on. Neame’s playing seemed to get ever more fluid as the evening wore on, relentlessly percussive with dazzling slivery runs and then little oases of distorting lyricism, A Kite for Seamus a sublime synthesis of his rhythmic sensibility and shifting harmonies.  Hoiby too delivered a singing, melodic solo on that piece.

This was one of just three UK gigs (for now) as they launch a new recording, Parallax.  On this showing they are still on top form and surely one of the most thrilling live acts around. Sunday night at London’s Cadogan Hall is the official UK launch, but the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd at Wiltshire Music Centre were delighted with their early experience of the fire-works.


Bristol/ Bath – Phronesis and Tetra, a weekend of treats

There was probably no collusion, but on the weekend of 10th to 12th June,  Wiltshire Music Centre and Colston Hall have between them managed to arrange  gigs by some the best, most exciting jazz musicians on the current scene (that’ll be UK, Europe or anywhere according to some).

Was Jazzwise magazine  being a bit lurid when they described Phronesis as one of the most exciting bands on the planet?  Their gig at Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10 June is one of only three opportunities in UK to find out on their current tour.  They are promoting their release of a new album on Edition Records (their  UK launch gig is at London’s Cadogan Hall on the Sunday). There’s no doubting the energy and exhilaration this trio generate when they play.  Much of their music is built around Jaspar Hoiby‘s catchy bass riffs, frenetic rhythms from Anton Eger on drums and fragments of melody that bounce around the band, often as not, traced out by pianist Ivo Neame, but they move as an improvising unit and there is no telling where they’ll end up. Hailing from Denmark, Norway/Sweden and UK respectively they have an international reputation.  What a way to start the weekend.  Book here.

Having taken Saturday to recover, The Lantern, Colston Hall is the only place to be on Sunday 12th June. Saxophonist  Julian Arguelles has been a singular and creative presence on the British Jazz Scene since playing with Loose Tubes in the 1980s.  Last month he received a Parliamentary Jazz Award for his recording Let it Be with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and now he’s on tour with his quartet Tetra and what a band this is. Playing Arguelles’ compositions that are always deeply rooted in jazz, but constantly delight and surprise with flights of lyricism and echoes of music from all over the world, the band are all sublime musicians. Kit Downes on piano and James Maddren on drums are some of the most in demand payers around, Downes leading plenty of award winning projects of his own. Sam Lasserson  is amongst the most exciting of the formdiable current crop of bass players.   They too are touring on the back of an album, this one on Whirlwind and much praised by John Fordham in the Guardian. Book those tickets here

Bristol, Bath and nearby – Preview of an Autumn feast of jazz

There’s a simple message for lovers of live music  in the Bristol/ Bath area this Autumn (be it jazz tinged or the howling, red in tooth and claw variety you seek).  Whether you  habitually attend or catch an occasional, spur of the moment burst, there will something on very close by, whenever you seek it out. It will always be top quality, often world class and not infrequently in very intimate surroundings. Here’s a few places to keep an eye on. The regular club nights have eye -poppingly great programmes. Every Thursday you’ll need to decide how to split yourself. In Bristol, Jazz at Future Inns continues weekly with a  very classy programme of mainly  local players, including that man Dave Newton at least monthly, an on outing for Moonlight Saving Time in November and some interesting visitors. Look out for Dominic Marshall, young piano fiend now resident in Holland. Fringe Jazz is moving round the corner in Clifton to  The Mall and hosting Andy Sheppard in various line-ups at lease three time between October and mid November, with Ian Ballamy in between and rising stars, Dan Messore’s  Indigo Kid in November. In Bath fortnightly on Thursdays, Jazz at the Vaults continues, again with reliably excellent locals and stellar visitors (saxmen Tony Kofi in November and Simon Spillett in December for instance).  Sunday nights in Bath there’s a weekly programme at Gascoyne Place (catch the peerless John Paul Gard at least monthly here) and the Ring 0 Bells in Widcombe (multiple award winning pianist Dave Newton will be there 0n 26th October – intimate surroundings probably overstates the space for the band). More sporadic, Ian Storrer has programmed some mouth watering Sunday gigs at The Hen and Chicken in Bristol starting with the Jim Hart on vibes led Cloudmaker Trio on 28th September with more to follow before Christmas including Tim Richards Heptet and the experimental Lund Quartet. Every Friday The BeBop Club in Bristol continues to showcase the best of the local talent and visiting bands.  The rapturously received Tom Green Septet are back there in November and the critically lauded Laura Jurd Quartet are there in December and don’t miss Dakhla in early November if you can help it.  In Bath, keep an eye on Burdalls Yard, Bath Spa’s performance space. They’ve received a grant from Jazz Services/ PRS to support a jazz programme and have the impressive collection of tutors on the Uni’s jazz programme performing as BiggSound in October and the Philip Clouts Quartet in November.  Gigs at Bath’s Chapel Arts seem to pass under the radar sometime but here’s one not to miss: John Etheridge, bona fide legend who has performed with everyone including Dizyy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Stefan Grapelli appears solo and in duo with singer Kit Holmes on 26th October.  The more formal concert spaces have plenty on too.  Former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman who started his career touring with the legendary Wayne Shorter, pianist Jason Rebello begins a year long artist in residence stint at The Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradord on Avon by teaming up with Empirical, the now firmly up and come group of still young stars who were last seen in Bath supporting Branford Marsalis in the festival a couple of years ago. That’s on the 27th September.   The Autumn programme at St. George’s Bristol has a handful of fantastic gigs through the Autumn (programmer Phil Johnson waxes lyrical about it here) It kicks off with an intriguing spin off from international wave making Snarky Puppy, The Bill Laurence Project on 3rd October, includes Gilad Atzmon‘s Charlie Parker with strings re-working and Scots Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duo and culminates with the adventuorous Swiss Vein Trio with former Miles Davis sideman another genuine legend, saxophonist Dave Liebman.  Taking in even a fraction of what’s on will be a feast for the ears and of course this little round-up as ever by no means covers everything.  It promises to be another fine season.

Printmakers, classic jazz and Riff Raff – a week in the west.

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

Printmakers at Wiltshire Music Centre

It’s been quite a week for visitors to this corner of the west country. Last Saturday The Printmakers blew into The Wiltshire Music Centre and dazzled with their class. My account of that one found its way onto the Jazzwise site (here). Then on Thursday two more London based musicians popped up at St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Jim Mullen had such a good time playing with the host Jazz House Trio when he was down a couple of months ago, the word is he insisted on coming back to accompany singer Zoe Francis on her date at this gig that’s fast approaching local institution status. The instinctively grooving partnership of Wade Edwards on bass and Trevor Davies on drums is surely one of the things that keeps guests returning with enthusiasm,

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

Zoe Francis at St. James Wine Vaults

their ever alert responsiveness make them the perfect hosts, no matter what the guests bring to play.  On Thursday it was a set of classic standards drawing on Ellington, Billie Holiday, Mel Torme and more. The mood was set by Francis’ clear toned, relaxed delivery: personal, but with fidelity to the swinging groove of originals or, as with Prelude to a Kiss and Swing Low, re-casting them as a crisp bossa. Jim Mullen was a delight. His solos were at once familiar, staying firmly within the language of bop, but still fresh and engaging. His instinct for creating melodic phrases and when to accelerate or hang back was a constant thrill. There was an added little frisson at the delicacy and intimacy of this performance  knowing just how raucous he can be in other settings, something we were reminded of by  DJ Tony Clark as he mischievously played an old Mullen recording the moment the band stopped that sounded for all the world like Freedom Jazz Dance performed by Led Zeppelin complete with rock vocals.


Dave Manington’s Riff Raff at the BeBop Club

An equally sharp, but engaging contrast to the classic jazz of the Wine Vaults set was served up by Dave Manington’s Riff Raff on Friday night at Bristol’s BeBop Club. It was set of  almost all originals from the bass player leader’s pen, bang up to date with pieces that draw on influences from everywhere (modern classical, any number of national cultural sources as well as jazz) and wrap them in evolving compositions with shifting time signatures and insistent polyrhythmic grooves from the ever inventive Tim Giles on drums.  Brigitte Beraha‘s vocals were sometimes wordless, faultless in negotiating the angular melody and wild interval leaps on the opener Agile; sometimes delivering her lyrics penned to Manninton’s melody on tunes like the gorgeous Catch me the Moon. That was preceded by a spacious, moody intro from Ivo Neame on piano from which the singing, melancholic harmony gradually emerged. There was plenty of energetic and fiery soloing, Tom Challenger on tenor providing a hooting, rhythmic highlight of a solo on the second tune of the night (I missed the title!) The one cover was Bjork’s Anchor replete with lingering plaintive chords from Ivo Neame’s accordion and effect laden washes from Rob Updegraaf‘s guitar.  This was music to engage the head as well as the heart and made me want to listen again to peel back some of those layers.

It’s been a great week and there’s no let up. Jon Turney as ever has laid out the riches  on offer over the next week in Bristol and that’s with out dipping into the jazzy bits of the Bath Festival Programme next weekend  Bring it on and see you at Phronesis on Friday at the Colston Hall.

Ellington in Anticipation, Saturday 26th April, Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-upon-Avon

Ant_Ell_WMCFragments of a familiar melody appeared and then evaporated at the end of a piece that was all insistent, chattering rhythms from different sections of the septet, overlayed by flowing melodic lines and fiery soloing from the consistently exciting Finn Peters on alto  and peerless, always individual Liam Noble on piano; “… ahh, its Caravan..” . Composer, arranger, saxophonist and leader Mark Lockheart  confirmed it for us with a wry smile and “that started life as ..” a phrase used more than once in the evening.

Ellington in Anticipation is transparently born out of Lockheart’s lifelong immersion in, love of and intensely personal response to the music of one of the twentieth centuries greatest composers and bandleaders. The success of  his own re-imagining of many of the classics and the performance of them  by a fantastic band as well as originals inspired by the master has been widely recognised. The CD topped many critics ‘best of 2013’ lists and they are short listed for a Parliamentary Jazz Award. The chance to catch a live performance at the Wiltshire Music Centre was one not be missed, a decision shared by a healthy audience on the night. The new sound system there and investment in managing the lively acoustic of the hall has really paid off with a really good balance and presence everywhere in the hall that makes gigs like this a great prospect.

Having launched the evening with It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing re  – worked with a rolling African flavoured groove under it and that desconstruction of Caravan, the eclectic references continued. Satin Doll became Jungle Lady with more urgent rhythms in an endless flow from Seb Rochford‘s deceptively minimal kit and James Allsopp‘s clarinet solo upping the excitement levels. Come Sunday slowed the pace, the hymn-like vibe there but with as many folk like inflections as gospelly ones in Lockheart’s reading of the familiar melody.   The arranging was unfailing inventive and evocative. Viola player Magrit Hasler was frequently given lines that doubled the piano’s right hand or Allsopp’s bass clarinet locked with Tom Herbert‘s propulsive bass creating unususal textures and sounds that  nevertheless somehow conjured up the atmosphere of the Ellington Orchestra.

If at the halfway mark we were savouring the beautiful music but were wishing they’d just let rip a bit more, this was a line-up of some of the most creative and incendiary improvisers on the current scene after all, then in the second set they certainly stretched out. A dazzling exchange between Mark Lockheart and Finn Peters over a driving riff was viscerally exciting; Liam Noble’s solo piano introduction to Lockheart’s composition Beautiful Man was packed with rhythmic and melodic ideas explored and developed with alternating cascades of notes and two fisted percussive playing.

This was an evening of music making of the highest order, unquestionably a celebration of Ellington’s music and influence. If he’d been there he’d surely have been elbowing Liam Noble out of the way to get stuck in.