Note to self: In amongst the hurly burly of ‘yet another thing’, jostling for attention or needing to be done, remember to stop and appreciate the moments of of magic. The mind can play tricks. With non-musical pre-occupations distracting me (a lot) the last month or so, I’d been thinking live music had taken a back seat. Until I wrote a list
There were the ones that I actually wrote about: Chris Potter at Cheltenham Jazz Festival; London Vocal Project (LVP)‘s UK premiere of Miles Ahead; Bath Festival gigs (these for Jazzwise) – Brad Mehdlau, Georgie Fame with Guy Barker Big Band and ‘Stormy‘, a one women theatre show about Lena Horne. Of that little crop Mehldau, and LVP still give me a physical tingle if I stop and think about it.
It seems we are never short of great live music at the moment for the local scene. We took in an outing of Andy Hague‘s Quintet. As well as being a fine trumpeter and drummer, Andy is a prolific and inventive writer and arranger, making these gigs a bit of a roast for his band. It’s a good job they are all top drawer. A scintillating arrangement of Ladies in Mercedes still glows in the memories and George Cooper in peak form (only depping mind) absolutely burning on an Andy tune inspired by Giant Steps.
We took in a double bill of Zoe Rahman and Jay Phelps at the Colston Hall’s Lantern stage. Rahman’s was a solo set at the piano and she was simply glowing. A set of mainly originals with a sprinkling of other sources were vehicles for fiery improvisations. Elbows, snaking glissandos, plucking and muting strings inside the piano, all were melded into fluid lines that ebbed and flowed, full of drama. Never far away was a meaty groove, sometimes implied, often explicit. If we’ve seen less of her over the last two or three years on the live circuit, this is timely reminder that she must be one of our most assured and individual voices. More!! Jay Phelps band are also, individually, some of the busiest and hardest grooving musicians around. They let rip on a collection of Phelps originals inspired by a couple of years of globe trotting on his part. Sophisticated funk, latin grooves and soulful hip hop inflected themes were the order of the day. Phelps made is mark as trumpeter as a very young man. His writing for voice seemed to stretch his own vocal technique however.
As if all that wasn’t enough – catching a set of Alex Hutton stretching out on what sounded like a Bill Evans themed set at the Archduke (just on London’s southbank ) was a delight. With Dave Whitford on bass and a drummer whose name I didn’t quite catch, they were nonchalently swinging like mad and Hutton reminding me what fine, lyrical improvise he is.
Maybe not such a quiet month then. Wherever you are, it seems you may not be too far from some great live music.
There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).
But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio. If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February. The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April. Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.
Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.
Exuberant, heart-felt, life affirming; the presence and impact of Zoe Rahman’s band is what I left with yesterday afternoon. No need to scoop up the merchandise in my case as I’ve been enjoying the Kindred Spirits CD, but a few hardened gig goers were spotted handing over the folding stuff to their own surprise (you know who you are!). The quality of the band and the musical territory should have been no surprise – the blending of her own Bengali/ English/ Irish cultural inheritance is well trailed and evident in the material on the CD from with much of the repertoire in the gig was drawn; arrangements of melodies by Rabindranath Tagore, traditional Irish Melodies and her own originals. From the first rhythmic push of the McCoy Tyner -ish left hand chords that launched ‘Down to Earth’ and the urgent rolling entrance of Gene Calderazzo’s drums, welcomed with big grin from Zoe, the energy was through the roof. The band live and present added a whole other dimension. It wasn’t just me who leaned forward on my seat. There’s something dance like about the themes on the driving trio numbers . Modal sounding tunes with tricky rhythms and meters underneath them. It all feels totally natural and joyful. A thread through the gig was the combination of piano and drums with the propulsive bass playing of Davide Mantovani. Friday 13th, a composition by Zoe’s one time teacher Joanne Brackeen, had the bass and the left hand doubling a little figure payed against monkish phrases and a stop start scatter gun momentum gave a little window into where the jazz instincts lie, added to by the openers in the second set with more rhythmic interplay, crashing block chords and fizzing runs from the right hand. I wanted to hear more from the trio. Not that the sections with Idris Rahman on clarinet and tenor weren’t equally compelling. The lyrical, lament like ballads and swirling Bengali melodies took us to different places interspersed with disarmingly frank, personal and playful banter from the leader. The whoops and shouts for more at the end were more than the usual end of gig rituals. We had all felt it.