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Bristol jazz week, Jul 26

July 26, 2014

Slight summer lull in progress but there are still some worthwhile jazz goings on.

The superb John Law has a date at Future Inns on Thursday.






He’s a South West resident but tours extensively so we don’t see him in Bristol that often. This is an impromptu trio with two of the best locals, Greg Cordez and Andy Tween on bass and drums, so it’ll be interesting to see what they play: standards, or some of Law’s apparently endless supply of beautiful compositions. Some of both, I hope. Either way, John Law in a nice room, on a decent piano, is always a first rate night’s music. Simply one of the best jazz piano players, anywhere.

The same evening in Clifton at the Fringe you can hear another fine new trio, Perdato, featuring Percy Pursglove Bass and Trumpet (and brilliant on both), Dan Moore – Keyboards, and the man for whom the word irrepressible was invented, Tony Orrell on Drums.

And that’s all I know about this time in the way of notable jazz. There’s lots of interesting stuff at the Canteen through the week, much of it with jazz somewhere in the mix, though, so have a look at their listings if you’re likely to be in the neighbourhood. Also worth noting that the Bristol Proms are on all week at the Old Vic, and feature some of the  most enterprising presentations of the year of music regarded as “classical”.

There’s also a rash of good gigs the week after, in the run up to Brecon wouldn’t  you know. They start with a good catch by Ian Storror who has booked an interesting bunch of touring Americans for a night at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday Aug 3. More on that next week, but details here now if you need them.


Bristol jazz week, 20 July

July 20, 2014

If you want some music to round off HarbourFest weekend, then James Morton and friends will oblige at the Alma tonight (Sunday).

Wednesday night there’s a welcome chance to hear Sophie Stockham‘s ambitious new band  Sefrial at the Canteen. Their debut gig at Colston Hall a little while ago was excellent, so it’ll be interesting to hear how they are developing. Great line-up, described thus:

Dakhla’s alto saxophonist Sophie Stockham’s new project featuring Jake McMurchie on tenor sax, Joe Wilkins on guitar, Greg Cordez on bass and Matt Brown on drums. This inventive new project performs music with an eclectic range of influences including The Tin Hat trio, avant-rockist composer John Zorn and post-boogaloo experimentalists Medeski, Martin & Wood.

(LATE CORRECTION – this one’s been postponed as of Weds p.m. Sophie S and friends will play a regular set instead.)

Pianist Mike Willox‘s trio play The Fringe in Clifton Thursday evening, and Gary Alesbrook’s Duval Project are at Future Inns. Their Facebook page is promising a three piece string section  so the stage will be quite crowded.

That’s all I have this week, but Festival season in full swing now elswehere. Loads of interesting music at Womad this coming weekend, as ever. If you fancy something smaller, the Village Pump folk festival in Trowbridge the same weekend looks fun, too. Also just a few weeks now until Brecon Jazz Festival (Aug 8-10) with a pretty special 30th anniversary programme. More on that soon.

P. S. SERIOUS OMISSION above! Mike Westbrook’s Big Band play Barnfield Theatre Exeter Friday. Definitely worth a trip.




On the circuit – Gent Jazz Festival, Jul 10-12

July 15, 2014

Two hours out of St Pancras takes you to Brussels: another half hour and you’ll reach Gent, an extraordinary corner of old Europe. Time it right and there’s a jazz festival as a bonus. It is a relatively recent addition to the European summer circuit – ten years old I think – but is superbly organised and a popular place to call on the great Summer migration of improvising musicians. Bands we saw had played, or were about to, at festivals in Istanbul, Sussex, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Rotterdam and more…

This one is on a neat site

a short walk from the city centre, Bsc8Xh5IEAECRFjwith one large venue (seats a couple of thousand at a guess) under canvas, in the modern steel-framed style, and one small one which has a slightly more left-field stuff. Note to Cheltenham, the music is more or less continuous but the stages never play at the same time, which works when everything runs to the minute. The big space has 3 well-operated video cameras running throughout, plus giant video screens and excellent image mixing – lots of close-ups come near to giving you some of what you can see in a jazz club in a performance space much, much larger: good use of technology there.

A punter’s life is simple here. You buy a day ticket, or not, and once you’re in there’s a unified token system for food (basic, acceptable) and drink (Belgian beer, Jacob’s Creek, trying to make an impression in Europe). The music gets going late in the afternoon so you can spend the day marvelling at historic Gent – the art museum is recommended – or just ambling along the waterways, then listen until midnight. A few notes, from memory on who we heard.

We got in on Thursday in time to hear a little of Zara MacFarlane on the small stage, then Bobby McFerrin in the big top. MacFarlane, in a short set, impressed as a great talent as singer and songwriter. How rare that is. She had a fine band, too, especially in Peter Edwards on piano, and is working really hard to do something more interesting than become the slickly soulful vocalist she could obviously manage very easily.

McFerrin side-stepped that many years ago, although he deploys slickness and soulfulness when it suits. The soulfulness was certainly much in evidence in his current spiritual-leaning set. This was Americana for the twenty-first century – Bill Frisell would have fitted right in. You expect McFerrin to be effortlessly brilliant, but we were blown away by the quality of the band, with two (sometimes three) guitars, violin, pedal steel, piano, bass, all serving his strong concept, and additional vocals from daughter Madison and occasionally the drummer. The vocals blended seamlessly, as familial singers will, and the whole thing – which drew perhaps the biggest crowd of our festival sampling – was enjoyably beautiful. They even managed to make exhausted vehicles like “In His Hands” sound reasonably good.

Here they are in Vienne doing the same set.

They were followed by master-of-groove drummer Manu Katché, fronting a quartet with Richard Bona on bass, Belgian pianist Eric Legnini, and Stefano Di Battista (think an Italian David Sanborn) on alto and soprano saxes. This was fun too, but in a festival-friendly and mostly forgettable sort of way. There is something a little wearisome about hearing musicians – virtuosi all – who seem so pleased with themselves while doing absolutely nothing unexpected at any point.

Here’s their full set from a few days before, also in Vienne.

Friday began with a snatch of trumpeter Avishai Cohen‘s trio Triveni (not to be confused with the bass player of the same name) with Nasheet Waits on drums, Yoni Zelknick on bass. Wow, that sounded good – must come back for more later.

Then Tigran, the Armenian piano prodigy. There have been many good reports, but this was a disappointment. There were some striking moments, especially from vocalist Areni, and evocative touches of folk tunes, also a good deal of bombast and pointless ear-bashing (this is a festival that gives out earplugs). It sounded oddly like the work of someone whose formative influence was a stash of Canterbury scene prog-rock instrumental albums, filtered through an Armenian sensibility. Hard to figure what all the fuss was about, and there was quite a lot of fuss.

A startling contrast hustling back to the small stage for the next set from Cohen (bands there play three half hour sets, in the gaps left by main stage set-up.) The trio were a revelation. The trumpeter’s inspirations include all the old greats, including Ellington, but especially Mingus, Coleman and Cherry. The free-bopping, freewheeling result was blindingly good, with a superb confidence of tone and execution, and an intense inventiveness that did honour to those models, especially Coleman and Cherry. Following their example also demands a certain kind of freedom from the rhythm section and Zelnick and Waits created exactly the right feel. Waits feature at the end of this second set was one of the great moments of the weekend, but the whole set shone. The third go a bit later on was almost as good. A truly great trio, and the recording bought as a souvenir is every bit as good. Here they are in action (Pic courtesy of great Dutch jazz photographer Maurits van Hout, who has extensive Gent galleries here).

Triveni (by Avishai Cohen) live at Gent Jazz 2014Then an ambitious set from a Belgian outfit trading as Taxi Wars. This was a vocal-led song set, all the songs serving a complex narrative which was hard to follow even though most were in English. Pretty good to listen to, though, with songwriter Tom Barman (really) coming across like a Belgian Tom Waits, and some strong, punkish saxophone from Robin Verheyen.

The final full set of the day was from Ibrahim Maalouf, another great trumpeter, but this was another over-loud and rather predictable affair, deploying large forces to relatively little effect (lead trumpeter with three more trumpeters for emphasis but no other horns for contrast is an odd set-up). Pretty tired, and weary ears by now, so ambled back to hotel while this one was still trucking on… He’s a great player, but the setting was pretty dull.

Which goes to show that modern jazz festivals leave you having to choose days with care. Saturday, third day of a three-day ticket, had the other main reasons to be there, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Dave Holland’s Prism. They were preceded by Mehliana, the Brad Mehldau- Mark Guiliana duo doing their keyboards and beats thing. This was interesting, at times exhilarating, but the constraints it imposes on the performers are stronger than you appreciate at first when Brad has four keyboards at his disposal (Moog, Rhodes, Prophet and Steinway). He spends a lot of time playing bass lines on the mini moog and a top line on one of the other keyboards, with the Prophet also furnishing retro electronic texture somewhat like a 1980s film score. Guiliana has some electronics as well, but mainly sticks to his kit and his astonishing facility for beats. He does sound like a human drum machine in the end, though, so after you have got over marvelling that he can play what he plays at all, the musical effect is to flatten things out compared with a more jazz-oriented player whose attititude to time is far more flexible (Nasheet Waits came to mind!). In a festival when it sometimes sounded as if beats are taking over jazz, this was the nearest that came to seeming a viable development but its limitations were apparent over the course of the set. The first hour or so was absorbing enough, but in the last half hour there was a distinct feeling that we had heard everything the duo could do with this set-up and they were casting around for ideas and not really finding any new ones.

Then a complete contrast with Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. A nineteen piece big band, sound balanced to perfection, with a huge helping of interesting new music. This would be a highlight of any festival. The bulk of the set was an uninterrupted performance of Argue’s Brooklyn Babylon lasting an hour or so, and it is an extraordinary work, an unflagging stream of invention and brilliant orchestration. This is clearly what the leader was put on the planet to do and it was a privilege to hear it performed live. The band were flawless and there were notable solo contributions from Erica von Kleist on alto and Jason Palmer on trumpet, among many others. A few days on, it still seems like one of the most remarkable concerts of the year. Can’t help feeling that if a composer identified as “classical” produced a new work of this scale and ambition, so successfully realised, it would be treated as huge news. Argue isn’t benefitting from that, but his reputation will surely be much bigger before long.

That would have been a great way to finish, but we still had Dave Holland’s Prism to follow. BsYKe-vCAAAnjq0

They were their excellent selves, as all the recent reviews attest (a nice one here from Mike Collins at Ronnie Scott’s the week before). Kevin Eubanks guitar was jaw-droppingly good, but the whole band have been honed by touring into a unit to match any I can think of. The day began sadly with news of the death of Charlie Haden, adding a special poignancy to the bass feature that opens Holland’s threnody for his late wife, The Empty Chair. “This one’s for Charlie”, he said. It was a sombre moment that cast into sharper relief a set otherwise filled with the sheer delight the best jazz exponents in full flow can evoke.

Another day ticket for Sunday would have allowed us to catch Joshua Redman and more, but that was more than enough music. Time to wander round some more cathedrals before leaving. A visit to Gent any time is recommended, but mid-July is pretty good time to choose.



(other photo credits – Visit Gent and Dirk Sabbe)

Bristol jazz week, 14 July, (and RIP Charlie Haden)

July 14, 2014

A late list this week as I’ve been away, so, in haste -

Guitarist Neil Smith leads a quartet including Craig Crofton (sax), Dan Moore (keys) and Matt Brown (drums) at the Canteen on Wednesday, and the Jazz Reggae sessions enliven the same venue on Thursday.

Thursday has a great prospect at The Fringe in Clifton as guitarist Tony Remy joins James Morton‘s band for the evening. That was him throwing off the amazing, Hendrixesque guitar solos with Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley at the Bristol Jazz Festival back in March…

The excellent saxophonist Ben Waghorn brings his quintet to Future Inns the same evening, and Kevin Figes duo play at No 1 Harbourside.

That’s all I have in Bristol. The Marlborough jazz festival at the weekend is an easy visit from here, though. Details of that one here.


Finally, nothing to do with current events locally, but any jazz blog should note Charlie Haden’s passing a few days ago. Is it really five years since his triumphant appearance with the Liberation Music Orchestra at Ornette’s Meltdown on the South Bank, and his duo with Coleman the following evening? Apparently it is. I heard him live a few times before that astonishing weekend – with Old and New Dreams long ago, with the LMO on an earlier London visit, with Quartet West, in trio with Geri Allen and Paul Motian. Every one was an evening to treasure.

Here’s why…

Bristol jazz week, 5 July

July 5, 2014

A week of mainly Bristol regulars as we settle into Summer.

First Sunday of the month brings Julian Alenda‘s Jazz rendezvous to the Fringe in Clifton from 4.00 pm. The impressively talented guitarist Dan Messore joins them this month.

James Morton is at the Coronation Tap on Tuesday and the excellent Freight play the Canteen on Wednesday evening (They’re also at the Bell in Bath on Monday).

Pianist Mike Willox is at the Canteen on Thursday, with Jake McMurchie, Jon Short and Matt Brown. The competing attractions that night are violinist John Pearce with the Dave Newton band at the Fringe and singer Tammy Payne with Denny Ilett down at Future Inns.

By the way, I don’t know the story, but if you were hoping to catch legendary guitarist Larry Carlton in Bristol next Saturday the gig has been cancelled, according to the venue’s website.

Never mind I’ll be in Gent that day to hear Brad Mehldau, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Dave Holland’s Prism, which ought to make for an agreeable weekend!

That’s all I got. Additions in the comments, if you have any?

Lincoln Centre Orchestra – weekend afterthoughts

June 29, 2014

We had a great time at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra concert at Colston Hall on Thursday. As Mike Collins says, it was a real event – and it drew an impressive crowd. I heard a guy afterwards preparing to drive back to Lyme Regis, so some obviously came a long way for the sights and sounds of this 15-piece, and its leader. No surprise, as Wynton Marsalis must be the best known serious jazz player on the planet (except maybe Diana Krall…) but good to see.

It’s a fine band, full of individually brilliant players, and this tour’s focus on the Blue Note repertoire gives them plenty of great tunes to play. Other reviewers have filed good reports.

And yet, a few reservations have crept in since the gig. Not that it wasn’t good. But, judged by the highest standard, it somehow wasn’t that great, for me. And there is a standing invitation to hold them to that standard  in the LCJO/Serious’s use of a promotional line from the Telegraph: “the finest big band in the world”.

They’re really not. Possibly the finest repertoire big band around, though my vote there would go to the Mingus Big Band or the San Francisco Jazz collective (medium sized band). They are expert practitioners of a demanding art, but they aren’t, you know, adding to it. That perhaps isn’t the intention, and the whole point of the LJCO, I guess, is that the USA should support one proper orchestra that treats classic jazz at the highest level, and keeps it before audiences.

OK, fine. So they are never going to aspire to the heights of big bands offering newly created music. They simply aren’t competing with the likes of Loose Tubes, fresh in the mind from Cheltenham, or the ensembles animated by, say, Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs, Mike Westbrook, Carla Bley, Maria Schneider, or Darcy James Argue, still less Muhal Richard Abrams, David Murray or Oliver Lake…   (I could go on).

But even as expert recreators, their choices are a little conservative. We were never likely to hear anything from Blue Note recording artists like Sam Rivers or Andrew Hill – who both at times also ran amazing big bands, incidentally – (though to be fair they closed their Bristol set with quite a chewy piece from Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs). That isn’t necessarily a problem, either, as there are great swathes of Blue Note Stuff to draw on aside from those. But it did mean we basically had an evening of hard bop – Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Messengers‘ era Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Dexter Gordon, and a big helping of Horace Silver as a mark of his demise the previous week.

That is always great to hear, and is only a problem because it is quintessentially small group music. It is then a challenge for an arranger for big band to add anything. Sometimes making additional musical forces available can put small group music in a whole new light – Dave Holland’s big band recordings are a notable example. Not sure that happened here. The arrangements came from quite a few members of the band, and most were quite ordinary, as is the LCJO’s instrumentation (no tuba, no oboe or bassoon, no guitar, certainly no electronics…). The Horace Silver tunes fared best, I reckon. It would be fascinating to hear an entire big band set devoted to his work, though not sure who should do the arrangements.

If this is more than nit-picking – and maybe it’s not – I guess I mean that what the evening lacked was a sense of roaming a little wider through the jazz landscape, and coming up with a few surprises. The reaosn that doesn’t happen was perhaps betrayed by a remark of the leader’s. Commenting on the disappearance, fifty years on,  of anyone who cares about disputes over the relative merits of gospelly hard bop versus cool jazz, he said (quoting from memory) “now we just play all music, without any regard for style”. Now that is striking to hear because it sounds to me like a man in denial of how deep he has sunk into one furrow. It is, in truth, exactly what Wynton does not do. If anything, he can take any earlier jazz style and make it sound like Wynton Marsalis swinging. And anything later than hard bop seems to leave him a bit at sea these days, his early career excursions into Milesian freebop territory notwithstanding.

Perhaps the bottom line is that Marsalis and his home institution suit each other. And he is still an astonishing player – the five-piece that took the stage instead of an orchestral encore blew in some welcome gusts of spontaneity. Long may the LCJO continue, if not as the best big band in the world then as a top ensemble spreading the jazz message. But could the US possibly fund a complementary effort, please? Jason Moran is now artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center. Give that man an orchestra, I say!

Bristol jazz week – Jun 29

June 28, 2014

Really liking the sound of Namvula, Zambian singer – not jazz, (tagged on soundcloud as “afro-folk”) but has a hell of a groove. She’s putting the hours in, with a set at the Canteen on Sunday afternoon, then the Tobacco Factory in the evening, and another at the Bell in Bath on Monday evening. Sample here.

Dancers will want to note the Swing Night with the Paper Moon Band at No 1 Harbourside on Sunday, starting at 6.00 pm.


Monday has the monthly free music session at the Fringe in Clifton, with special guests guitarist Mark Lawrence and the brilliant Dominic Lash on bass alongside regulars Mark Langford and Bob Helson. (I reviewed Lash’s recent album here, incidentally.)

Mark Lawrence again at the Canteen on Wednesday, in guitar trio mode this time.

The reliably enjoyable Dakhla have a date in Bath on Wednesday, at The Nest. Details here. How about a gig in Bristol soon, folks?

Thursday is the big night, as ever, though no Wynton Marsalis this week…

The reborn sessions at Future inns celebrate their 1st anniversary on Thursday – that year went fast – with the excellent Freight, featuring  Craig Crofton, tenor and soprano saxes, Martin Jenkins, piano, Greg Cordez, double bass, and Matt Brown, drums.

The Fringe the same evening has pianist Andy Novak’s trio.

And James Morton and friends are at the Old Duke.

Finally, I hear there’s a new jam session starting up at the ace cafe Tart on the Gloucester Rd Promenade in Bishopston. Free entry, starting at 8.00 pm, with drinks and tapas available – come to listen or to play with the house rhythm section. First go is this Friday, July 4. Worth checking out while the BeBop club are on their summer break…



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