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Bristol jazz week – 25 June

June 25, 2019
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May not manage any gigs this week, as there’s a theatre festival that will get most of my attention. (This one, if you’re interested). Hence, I suppose, giving way to the impulse to see three in quick succession last week. First up were The Schmoozenbergs at the Wardrobe Theatre last Thursday. They were launching a CD, and it was a pleasure to see this talented lot – who’ve formerly stuck mostly to old standards – enjoying showing off some of their own music. It’s distinctly modern (there are bass solos, for instance) but retains all the charm when music generally seemed more, what? Good natured is the term, I think. Another happy bunch of locals who are well worth investigating.

Then an even bigger bunch of locals, in the shape of the massive Clifton Symphony orchestra in their now annual jazz-meets-classical event overseen by William Goodchild.

There were quality partners this year – Dakhla Brass in the first half and Gareth Lockrane and friends in the second – and plenty of fine playing. Like most jazz/classical mixes it had its drawbacks, with a general smoothing out of the music. Add an unfriendly acoustic in Clifton Cathedral that drowned much of the detail that’s essential to enjoying good music and I was left wondering how much fun the enthusiastic audience of Cliftonites would have if they actually stumbled across a classy all-out jazz gig instead of this slightly stilted imitation. Do try some our regular weekly jazz venues folks – you might like them! (For a more sympathetic review, see here).

Lastly to Bath for the another in Nod Knowles’ series at Widcombe Social Club, with the Scottish-Dutch collaboration Lolanders finishing the UK leg of their little tour in splendid form. Great to see pipes virtuoso Fraser Fifield down here, and playing so very well.

So, theatre festival or not, there’s plenty more to come musically this week, as detailed by Tony Benjamin here. If I had time for another three, it would be Dunmall/Gallagher at the Fringe, Orphic at Future Inns and Greg Cordez at El Rincon. I’ve writen about all of these folks on here at one time or another, and can recommend their current work. Well, I guess the shows at the Theatre are pretty short, some to think of it…





Bristol jazz week – 18 June

June 18, 2019

An impressive variety of stuff around town this week, as usual. All the details from Tony Benjamin here.

The classical/jazz meeting in Clifton on Saturday is probably the most unusual offering. It is the latest in an annual series, and features William Goodchild and the 70-piece Bristol Symphony Orchestra. The two halves will feature arrangements of music by this year’s collaborators, Bristol’s Dakhla Brass and flautist Gareth Lockrane. Dahkla are orchestral thinkers already, so it’ll be intriguing to hear their pieces opened out like this, and Lockrane has a notable recent big band record to draw on. I last heard him with Eddie Parker’s Debussy project, and he’s a simply extraordinary musician.

The guitar pairing at Future Inns on Thursday ought to be pretty special as well. There’s an informative interview with both the front line players – Nigel Price and the Prague-based Libor Smoldas – at LondonJazz.

Finally, since this note usually appears after the week is under way, try and get to Bath next Monday for the latest in Nod Knowles enterprising series of gigs at Widcombe Social club. It features the Scottish-Netherlands collaborative ensemble Lolanders, who introduce themselves below. Fraser Fifield, the pipes player, hasn’t been down this way for a while, I think – I recall a striking set at Brecon a fair few years ago now – but his presence augurs well for a memorable evening.



Bristol jazz week – 11 June

June 11, 2019

Here’s the run-down on every possible kind of gig this week from Tony Benjamin. The BeBop club are on their summer break now, but there’s still plenty to choose from. There’s even a new venue – the Den Dockside in Prince Street. They have a date for Jim Blomfield’s excellent trio, whose fascinating CD I reviewed the other day for LondonJazz.

Speaking of new venues, it was delightful to hear great jazz early on Saturday afternoon, when Tori Freestone’s trio graced the new glass room at St George’s. I’ll say more about her and the trio another time, as they’re coming back to Bristol in July (24th at the Fringe) but note now that they are very well worth hearing live. It’s not set down anywhere I can find, but the word is that this was the first of a series of jazz events in the space. Hope that’s right, as it’s an excellent setting, and just right for this kind of thing.

With that and the jam-packed gig for Iain Ballamy’s quartet in Bath the following evening, the weekend was a reminder just how well off we often are for world class music in Bristol and round about. Mike Collins has that one covered for you here – as he says, a superb band who are still developing. And all but one locally based, so we get to hear them more than anywhere else.

Distributed delights – Bristol (&Bath, Cardiff) jazz week.

June 3, 2019

As I write I’m listening to Tori Freestone’s fine new trio release on Whirlwind records (so can you here). They’re one of several fine ensembles in the region this week, and probably the one most likely to be overlooked, as they play in the small space at St George’s on Saturday at the unjazzy hour of 1.30. Seems a great idea to me – you get to hear a nice gig, and Saturday evening is still free. It’ll be interesting to see if it catches on. Anyhow, a very good way to start. I’ve recommended this trio before: here’s why. Give them a listen, do.

That said, there’s lots of other good things round and about, as Tony Benjamin details here. I’m on for Alex Hitchcock’s quintet at the Fringe on Wednesday. Could also easily be tempted by several out of Bristol gigs. Iain Ballamy’s brilliant quartet return to Widcombe Social Club in Bath on Sunday night. And there are a few more in Cardiff as part of the mini-festival at the music college mentioned in the last post. Standouts there include the wonderful, unclassifiable Snowpoet on Thursday, the always brilliant Huw Warren playing duos with Jovino Santos Neto on Saturday evening, and Rebecca Nash popping over from Bristol to lead Atlas on Sunday afternoon. They have good graduates, do the RWCMD…


Feeling festive…

May 30, 2019

When the jazz obsession first grew on me, I’d have loved the profusion of festivals we have now. In those days, there was one a year, if you were lucky. (This is why I still have a complete set of programmes somewhere for the Bracknell Jazz Festival: sad man, but it was pretty much the only event like it in the country when it began in the late 1970s.)

Nowadays, pretty well everywhere has a jazz fest of some sort, large or small. I just missed the Stroud festival last weekend in its entirety. This review makes it sound great, but I don’t mind. One has to be selective now. And I’m even a bit less keen on the whole idea. Festivals are great for sampling new players, but I guess now I prefer to listen to one or two things in a day, then digest, rather than do a whole succession of gigs.

When you do feel festive, we’re pretty well served in these parts. Bath’s jazz weekend has  faded away, but Bristol’s festival is still going, though loaded with debt  (do support their current crowdfunder), Cheltenham prospers. Brecon is sort of going again in August, though not able to offer the kind of line-ups we used to enjoy. And there’s a mini-festival next week in Cardiff, at the Royal Welsh College that has some excellent things on offer. (Programme here).

Later in the year, Teignmouth – which always used to holds its festival so it clashed with the vast affair in London in November, is moving to October this year, with a line-up promised soon. The Llandudno festival, up in North Wales is solidly programmed with excellent UK players, and in a lovely place, too, and definitely deserves a repeat visit one year. I’m sure I’ve missed others that are reachable from Bristol, – Swansea has one now too, I think – but that’ll do to be going on with.




Bristol Jazz week – 28 May

May 28, 2019
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A couple of interesting excursions last week. Steve Williamson (sorry, “The Steve Williamson Experience”) at a rather thinly-populated St Georges on Thursday was ambitious, and as he intended showcased a band full of promising youngsters. The string trio who opened were especially striking, offering gorgeous arrangements of Joe Henderson, Ornette – Lonely Woman sounds amazing on violin – Monk and one of Max Roach’s pieces for string quartet. They don’t sound like anyone else and I’d love to hear them do more.

Williamson confirmed that he is a notable post-Coltrane sax stylist. The programme referred to his “lifelong study of harmonics”. No idea what that’s about really. If it means harmony, that pretty well any jazz musician. If harmonics on the tenor sax, it doesn’t show in his playing, which is contemporary in a fairly familiar way, if more angular than most. He uses prepared sounds on a laptop as well as bass, drums and a string quartet to realise some ambitous writing. Not all of it worked, but enough did to keep the interest up. And for all the care in the arranging, the sax rather dominates the proceedings, with the old Steve Coleman influence still discernible. In fact the whole set had an AACM flavour, with the writing leaning toward Henry Threadgill at times.

Then a first visit on Sunday night to the Old Vic’s Weston Studio to hear Jonathan Gee lead a quartet completed by three Italian players. The band didn’t quite lift off until well into the (lengthy) first set: Gee’s arrangements of Beatles tunes weren’t adding to them. we felt; a couple of pieces by the bass player Giuseppe Bassi, and alto saxist Gaetano Partipilo worked better. The studio is a great venue, though, and has an excellent piano so long may it find space for jazz. It’s so nice not to be in the back room of a pub for a small gig sometimes, even if it does cost a bit more.

There are plenty more of those (small gigs) this week, as well as a few larger ones. All the details you could possibly want from Tony Benjamin, as usual.

Bristol jazz week – May 21

May 21, 2019

Off the jazz track, but a great evening from Martin Simpson at the Ear Trumpet folk club on Sunday – a wonderful guitar player with some fine songs. Looking ahead, there’s a clash of the jazz heavyweights on Thursday when Kamasi Washington and Steve Williamson play dates in Bristol.

Washington, the latest saviour of jazz according to some, will draw a crowd, but I’m going for Williamson – himself once hailed as a jazz saviour way back in the 1980s.

Jazz doesn’t need saving, but he’s had an interesting career since, managing the unusual combination of being influential but also somewhat elusive. There aren’t really any Youtube samples to point you toward and he hasn’t recorded any of his own stuff for quite a while, though a useful feature in JazzWise last month indicates that he might do so soon.

His initial inspiration was pretty clearly Steve Coleman – who remains a stunningly creative force in the music – but he has since woven in many other ingredients. He is also devoted to mentoring young players, as befits someone who came up with the Jazz Warriors, and his current tour features a talented young bass and drum pair and a string quartet who have brought glowing reports from earlier gigs in London, Manchester and Birmingham.

Mike Hobart’s four star review in the FT has some choice bits.

Williamson’s compositions, like his playing, fuse chunks of jazz history with a depth and detail that few match. Here they were brought confidently to life by a sparse double bass and drum rhythm section — both of college student age — and the equally youthful string quartet StringTing. Williamson was the featured soloist throughout, prowling the stage while warm angular lines, chromatic turns and the occasional blues-laced lick tumbled out of his tenor sax.

The opening feature for a trio drawn from the string players sounds pretty great, too:

They opened with Joe Henderson’s harmonically awkward “Inner Urge”, played Ornette Coleman’s plangent “Lonely Woman” in full, and a devious re-making of Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” unpicked the original while leaving its essence intact.

Plenty of tickets left, and St George’s will be a good space for this ensemble.

If that’s gig of the week, there’s plenty of other music on other nights, as well as a packed programme for Stroud’s own jazz festival at the weekend – all detailed by Tony Benjamin here.