A first visit to Fringe Jazz (or Clifton Village Jazz as it’s now known) at its new home at the Mall pub – round the corner and up the end of the street from its former home – was a chance to enjoy one of our finest saxophonists at close quarters.
Some words about the venue first. It is an agreeably rambling space in the basement, with lots of odd corners, but a central area where you sit right in front of the band. There’s an excellent bar in the same space, a keenly priced food menu, and no noise leakage from upstairs. No stage, as featured in the Fringe bar’s rather smaller room, and no piano, but a very nice ambience for jazz – definitely an addition to the city’s music venues that deserves to flourish.
A great place, then, to hear the master at work. Ballamy‘s music has been important to me for a long time – it was moving as well as exhilarating to see him step out front to take the first (soprano) solo at the Loose Tubes reunion gig at Cheltenham this year, as if the music had been waiting to come back to life all the intervening 20-plus years. Add recent gigs with his own expanded band Anorak XL at Cheltenham, a set with Dan Messore‘s splendid Indigo Kid at Bristol’s jazz festival, front line duty for Huw Warren‘s Dylan Thomas centenary project at Brecon this year (the day after another two hours of wonder from Loose Tubes), and regular appearances with Warren and June Tabor in the peerless Quercus and you still only cover some of his projects. He had a fiftieth birthday gig at Kings Place in London this year, another reminder that the Loose Tubes generation are now all professionals of long-standing, most of them with startlingly creative careers.
This wasn’t like any of those projects, though. Every now and then he likes to just get together with other good players and work through an evening of standards. Which is what we got on Thursday, aided by the well-developed understanding between one of the city’s best rhythm sections – Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass, and Mark Whitlam on drums.
These were very standard standards, and none the worse for that. The pleasure lies in hearing them taken to unexpected places, something Ballamy delights in. So in the first set, after a sumptuous I Fall in Love too Easily and a beautifully wistful Some Time Ago we had Autumn Leaves sounding more like a Bach prelude than you’d expect. I knew the fourth tune too, but failed to put a name to it, but there was no mistaking the openers in the second half – Naima, emerging slowly from a characteristically oblique intro, and Footprints, sounding amazingly fresh for a tune that is played by pretty much every quartet in the world.
That Wayne Shorter classic evoked Whitlam’s best solo of an evening when he played, it seemed, unusually well even by how own high standards – as did all three of the Bristol regulars. I assume it is as satisfying to play with Ballamy as it is to listen to him. That appealingly throaty, unassertive but always nimble tenor sound (no soprano tonight) took us on paths diverting-from-then-returning to these tunes that always sounded as if they had just been waiting for the right musician, and the right moment, to unfold.
And so it went for two further familiar pieces, whose names again didn’t leap to mind, and a closing It Might as Well be Spring. Everything treated with a kind of playful respect, no grandstanding from the leader, just thoughtful variations, and beautiful sound. An evening of delights, then, enhanced by a congenial new space.
Also a delight is a 2014 CD release I fetched home – a new set from Ballamy’s duo with the phenomenal accordion player Stian Carstensen, known as Little Radio. It offers an other way to enjoy standards, beginning with the title track, Muskrat Ramble. It’s on the Feral label but I can’t find anywhere you can buy it, so you’ll just have to catch Ballamy at another gig if you want to hear more like this.
Vocalist Victoria Klewin is at the Alma Tavern on Sunday night, with Jim Blomfield (piano), Greg Cordez (bass) and Eddie John (drums).
Gilad Atzman, with string quartet, at St George‘s on Thursday is a chance to hear probably the most convincing interpreter of Charlie Parker around just now – with a searing alto tone to match – in a setting that offsets his playing beautifully.
Mike Willox and Johnny Henderson offer a two keyboard extravaganza (el. piano and Hammond organ) at the Mall Pub in Clifton the same evening, while pianist Rob Barron plies the acoustic instrument at Future Inns. Just to add to the Thursday night competition for Bristol’s jazz punters, bassist Richard O’Brien leads an interesting funk-leaning quintet at the Coronation Tap – which is more or less within earshot of the Mall…
South West newcomer Damian Cook leads a quintet at the BeBop club on Friday. They say:
Another fine player who has moved to the south west is saxophonist Damian Cook, who is living in Bradford on Avon, although much of his work is still around London. A graduate of Leeds College, Damian won the BBC Big Band Outstanding Soloist Award in 2004. As well as pop band tours and West End theatre work Damian has been working with established names such as trumpeter Henry Lowther and up and coming trumpet star Freddie Gavita. He’s joined by Andy Hague – trumpet, Jim Blomfield – piano, a special guest appearance from bassist Riaan Vosloo and drummer Andy Tween for a set of hard-bop and beyond.
Alison Rayner‘s quartet, whose new CD is getting nice notices, make a rare Bristol appearance at the Hen and Chicken next Sunday, Oct 26. More on that next week.
Finally – a note on listings. The new, and nicely designed, Bristol247 website launched last week. It brings together contributions from its immediate predecessor, as well as BristolCulture and people from the late, lamented Venue. It should fill a real gap in the city (word is there’ll be a monthly print mag, too – worth looking out for). The site is a bit clunky at the moment, and I don’t find it all that easy to navigate, but when it beds down should be invaluable.
With that, and the fact that the listings in the Bristol Post’s weekend mag are a bit better of late, I’m thinking I have an excuse to drop this weekly listing here soon. One or two folk (mainly promoters) have said they find it useful, but it would feel more of a chore to maintain if it is duplicated elsewhere. (The Excellent Listomania in Bath catches most Bristol jazz gigs as well, incidentally).
That would give me time again to write the odd review or preview, which I’ve hardly been doing the last six months. But before I give up on the weekly list, do comment if you think anyone would miss it.
Gary Alesbrook‘s Duval project play for the University Jazz/Funk/Soul crowd at the Big Chill on Tuesday. Not so jazzy, but the duo of Seckou Keita on kora and Catrin Finch on harp at St George’s on Wednesday looks like a great prospect. There’s Afro-jazz from pianist Ibou Tall at the Canteen the same evening.
The mesmeric improvising of Australian piano trio The Necks – last seen in Bristol at a fine gig at St George’s – is on offer on Thursday night, this time at the Lantern, Colston Hall. Will they be good? Well, every show is completely improvised, so it depends on the inspiration of the moment. But their continuous, slow-building sets can be very rewarding.
Iain Ballamy is at the Mall in Clifton for Fringe Jazz the same evening, his tenor and soprano sax playing always a delight. He’ll be joined by the familiar Bristol team of Jim Blomfield, Will Harris and Mark Whitlam on piano, bass and drums.
Something very unusual at Future Inns, also on Thursday. They are putting on a celebration of Ivy Benson‘s all-female jazz orchestra, featuring several of her players. Much more detail on the venue website.
On Friday the BeBop club in Hotwells presents Empyreal a new (to me) quartet led by Julien Alenda on alto sax, with Dan Waldman, guitar, Pasquale Votino, bass, Paulo Adamo, drums. Gary Alesbrook‘s Duval Project make their second appearance of the week, at the Canteen.
ADD, Oct 13. Also need to mention a late addition to Colston Hall‘s programme – Andy Sheppard and Pee Wee Ellis playing together in the Lantern on Friday night, backed by Dan Moore’s trio, as part of the build up for the next Bristol jazz and blues festival, who’s programme launch arrives next month.
Finally, many of Bristol’s finest will be popping down to Shipham in Somerset on Saturday 18th, for the Swing Machine Jazz Orchestra‘s annual gig in the Village Hall. Sax player Edward Leaker leads, and has enlisted the likes of Andy Tweed, Ben Waghorn, Andy Hague, Andy Nowak, and a host of others for an evening of jazz and swing. More details and tickets here.
Quick update on the week:
Andy Sheppard and Denny Ilett’s quartet are play Fringe Jazz at the Mall, Clifton on Thursday, while pianist Andy Novak ‘s trio appear at Future Inns.
Friday – guitarist Nigel Price‘s organ trio call in at the BeBop club in the middle of a massive UK tour. Dave Perry trio (Perry on sax, Joe Allen, bass, Paul Wigens, drums) play an early evening set in Colston Hall foyer.
Bartoune (Charlotte Ostafew, baritone sax, Seb Gutiez, guitar, Tom Allen, bass, enliven the Coronation Tap on Sunday 12th.
haven’t managed to do the listing this week – might get to it on Weds…
meantime do check the links on blog home page to see for yourself what’s on :)
More soon, probably.
Definitely getting harder to keep track of everything at the moment…
So (deep breath).
Saturday – Jason Rebello and Empirical, Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon – rare opportunity to hear one of Brit jazz’s most accomplished groups.
Sunday – Cloudmakers Trio, Hen and Chicken – Jim Hart, vibes, Dave Smith, drums, Michael Janisch, bass (on great form with the amazing band he played with in Cardiff last week). Playing stuff from a new CD, which is reviewed by John Fordham here and previewed below. (CORRECTION: We’ll be hearing James Maddren on drums, always a welcome presence on stage).
Victoria Klewin sings at the Coronation Tap on Sunday evening, with Jim Blomfield, piano, Greg Cordez, bass and Eddie John, drums.
Monday has the regular free improvising session at the Fringe in Clifton (thanks for posting details in the comments), featuring Nick Malcolm, trumpet, and Hannah Marshall, cello
with Paul Anstey, double bass, and Bob Helson, drums
(Free admission with retiring collection – I love that, it sounds like a church service).
Monday also sees Claire Martin at Colston Hall’s Lantern, with cellos… which should be great. Also at the Lantern, on Wednesday, are Neil Cowley’s trio who I would love to hear… but have been tempted by Kathryn Tickell at St George’s that night.
The university Jazz/Funk/Soul society are back in action with a weekly jam session at The Big Chill Bar on Tuesdays.
Thursday sees the first session in the new venue for the sessions formerly run at the Fringe, now at the Mall pub in Clifton. It’s a bigger and better room, and will allow the audience to grow – which if all goes well will allow more ambitious bookings – look out for the great Iain Ballamy in a couple of weeks. First date there is high energy violinist John Pearce’s tribute to Charlie Parker. Andy Christie with singer Jane Christie perform at Future Inns the same evening. The Thursday jazz sets at the Gallimaufry on Gloucester Rd are in the hands of singer Celestine and friends.
Friday sees Bill Laurence, bring his piano trio – the core of band of the moment Snarky Puppy – with strings to St George’s, while trombonist Ian Bateman‘s quartet feature at the BeBop club.
I think that’s it. Venue links down the page. Please add any I’ve missed in the comments…
And… it gets busier. More to choose from than usual in Bristol in the next week or so, and a couple of tempting offerings not too far away, one in Cardiff, one in Bradford on Avon.
Bristol starts busy at the weekend, with Moscow Drug Club playing a date at the Alma (in the Theatre upstairs, not the bar) on Saturday night. Then on Sunday the Johnny Bruce- Denny Illett quintet are at the Canteen in the afternoon, with a session where Emily Wright and the Royals play for Bristol Swing Dancers (and anyone else who facies it) down at No 1 Harbourside a little later. They do have a new recording, too, but word is it may not be quite ready on Sunday. You know how it is…
Then on Tuesday there is a startlingly good band making their only out of London foray at Dempsey’s in Cardiff. It’s one of bassist Michael Janisch‘s many projects, a quintet called City of Poets led by French pianist Cedric Hanriot. The rest of the band, who have had a short tour in the US and are recording live at the Pizza Express in London on Monday for Janisch’s label, are US heavyweights, trumpeter Jason Palmer, drummer Clarence Penn and the world class saxophonist Donny McAslin, often seen with Dave Douglas.
On the other hand, Tuesday also sees a surprise session at the Fringe in Clifton – almost but not quite the last one before Jon Taylor’s enterprising gigs move to the Mall nearby – featuring ace guitarist Tony Remy. And Lulo Reinhardt offers guitar in the style that name calls to mind at Colston Hall‘s Lantern.
Thursday has hard choices. James Morton, on blistering form last week, leads his regular Thursday night session at the Gallimaufry on Gloucester Road. Bassist Tim Thornton‘s quartet are at the Coronation Tap with another great alto player, James Gardiner-Batemen. Johnny Bruce revisits the trumpet kings in the final Thursday Session at the current venue the at the Fringe, and ace guitarist Jerry Crozier-Cole is at Future Inns, with John Paul Gard on piano, Will Harris, bass and Eddie Johns, drums.
Friday at the Be-Bop Club features the fine local quartet Freight: Martin Jenkins, piano, Craig Crofton, sax, Greg Cordez, bass and Matt Brown, drums. Polar Bear are in Cardiff at the RWCMD that evening, incidentally.
Then next Saturday promises a special night at the lovely Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon. They have had the excellent idea to give SW resident Jason Rebello a residency, and his first date features Empirical, the all star quartet that is Nathaniel Facey, sax, Lewis Wright, vibes, Shaney Forbes, drums and Tom Farmer bass.
And since I’ve got to next weekend, also worth mentioning that the “literary music festival” Off The Page comes to the Arnolfini from Fri 26th- Sunday 28th, and looks well worth checking out. And on Sunday 26th, Ian Storror is presenting the Cloudmakers Trio at the Hen and Chicken – with the indefatigable (we trust) Michael Janisch heading out West again…
So if you make a fair proportion of these, there is basically a decent jazz festival’s worth of music to enjoy over the next ten days. Wishing good audiences all round…