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Bristol (and Bath!) jazz week

May 16, 2015

Here are Tony Benjamin‘s jazz highlights for the coming week, with thanks as usual. It is officially in the following week, but the Bath offerings he features run on to Hugh Masekela on Bank Holiday Monday, which is always a show worth catching too.

May 18-24

So – what time’s the last train from Bath? Very late, actually, and thus no excuse for anyone to miss a jazzy treat or two from this year’s Bath International Music Festival. A personal highlight would be Mike Westbrook reviving his spine-tingling suite setting William Blake’s poetry to his brilliant music (Saturday 23), with vocalists Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton, but the dazzling virtuosity of Matthew Shipp’s piano (Saturday 23) and Orphy Robinson’s vibraphone (Sunday 24) will beckon strongly too. The Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford On Avon is also hosting an entertaining double piano Bath Festival event (Wednesday 20) featuring Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock, strong and stylish players both.

Another annual celebration hits the Bebop Club (Friday 22) when the illustrious tutors from the Play Jazz Weekend school (also held at Wiltshire Music Centre) let their collective hair down, with visitors Brigitte Beraha (vocal) and Steve Waterman (trumpet) joining a gaggle of more familiar names for what will be a lively one-off gig.

On Tuesday (19) The Cube sees the unclassifiable folk/jazz/world trio Yorkston/Thorne/Kahn perform their mainly improvised treatments of Jamie Yorkston’s songs, with Lamb bassist John Thorne always a rewarding player to catch. Pianist Andy Christie’s quartet play his compositions and arrangements at Canteen (Wednesday 20) on the same night as Fringe favourite John Pearce joins his violin to Gary Alesbrook’s trumpet for a film-themed quintet set. Thursday (21) is busy, as always, with saxophonist Sophie Stockham’s impressive post-rock project Sefrial at Future Inn, Victoria Klewin’s swing’n’soul outfit Truetones at the Coronation Tap and the irrepressible James Morton’s Groove Den at The Gallimaufry. James turns up again on Friday 22 at No 1 Harbourside for what will probably be an appropriately funky late-night set on the waterfront.


And a PS from me – review of the Westbrook Blake from four years ago. Do I want to hear again? Yes. Yes I do!

Percy Pursglove and Perdato, The Mall, Clifton, May 13

May 15, 2015

How likely is it that one of the best bassists around is also one of the most interesting trumpet players? It’s no longer a daft question –  the answer seems to be very likely, in the person of the Birmingham-based player Percy Pursglove. Well, he came from a musical family  and makes light of it, saying simply “I’m fortunate that I have different ways of accessing the music.”

In some contexts he sticks to one or the other, as heard in a great band at Cheltenham where his trumpet and flugelhorn work helped fill out Julian Arguelles enhanced ensemble to marvellous effect. On Wednesday at the Mall, a trio set for Fringe Jazz saw him deliver big helpings of both.

With Dan Moore on electric piano and Tony Orrell on drums this was Perdato, or The Pushy Doctors with Pursglove as locum for Andy Sheppard. That meant a different selection of tunes, and fewer playful treatments of pop songs (though there was a funky Tennessee Waltz), but the same projection of general joy in music-making. Tony Orrell reminds me of Al Foster in the delight he takes in just working his kit, and gave just the right, driving urgency to the opener, Joe Lovano’s bluesy Fort Worth. The next selection, Dudu Pukwana’s Hug Pine, proved we were in for an evening of fine tunes, and Keith Jarrett’s Spiral Dance immediately following confirmed it. We visited South Africa a couple more times in the course of the evening, and there was a touch of Ellington (Perdido, Perdato? Yes, well…) and a beautiful Kenny Wheeler song I hadn’t heard before – always a bonus, that

Pursglove found just the right touch for each one, whether on trumpet, flugelhorn, or bass – which after the first couple of pieces he kept his arm round casually while playing the horns. He has technique to spare on both instruments, but that isn’t the point. Everything he does is intensely musical, and the result for this relatively casual gig was one of the most consistently enjoyable musical evenings I’ve heard at the Mall. It was enjoyed, alas, by relatively few of us – perhaps due to a clash elsewhere in the city. I do hope he comes back. If he does, anyone who missed this one, know that it is not one to pass up twice.

More theatrics? Yes please (sometimes).

May 12, 2015

I enjoy watching jazz musicians at work, but after the first few hundred times one can see others might want something more from their musical outing. There’s some justice in the charge that jazzers nowadays don’t care much about presentation. Maybe that began out of a feeling that this is Serious Music, that should command attention on its own terms (agreed). Or perhaps it is just that the technical level of the playing in most bands, and the added demand of trying to produce fresh improvisation, doesn’t leave much creative energy left over for anything apart from the occasional comment between numbers. But it doesn’t do anything to draw in audiences who aren’t already jazz-hungry.

So concerts where someone has made the extra effort are welcome. They also raise new questions about what to do. A couple of recent examples in the same week offer a few clues.

First up, the Surnatural Orchestra at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. (My review here, and another here). This full-scale French big band have a rich, complex, repertoire. They perform it in an intensely theatrical way, the personnel in constant motion around the stage, often dancing or gyrating on the spot while playing, gesturing to one another, and generally projecting a sense of having a good time. The whole thing is brought off very skillfully, and seems perfectly integrated with the music. As someone said afterwards, after an hour and a quarter, we felt that we’d both heard some great new music and got to meet all the players personally.

This could only come from a big band who work together more than economics usually permits, so I imagine will remain more admired than emulated. It was still very refreshing to see. It enhanced the music without getting in the way.

Contrast the second attempt at theatrics: Roberto Fonseca’s solo concert at St George’s at the end of the week (Review on Bristol247 here). This time, the theatrics worked less well. It wasn’t really clear what they were aiming for. Fonseca took to a stage accessorised with a few bits and pieces of furniture from, as it might be, his living room. A radio played Cuban music, some of which related to things he played himself. He removed items, including his hat, from the fridge. He lay on the sofa and browsed a newspaper in between numbers. Then got up, went back to the keyboards, and carried on.

All of this fell rather flat. He mentioned more than once that his concert was going to be “crazy”, confirming that if you have to tell people you’re doing something crazy, you aren’t doing it. The music was (mostly) fine – he is a great player. But these interruptions and interjections didn’t do much for it. In fact, they detracted. A solo concert, well-programmed can have a dramatic arc of its own. This one didn’t. It was a succession of bits and pieces, quite a few of which overstayed their welcome.

So two performances that were music led, but with a theatrical overlay. Both presented by people who had little to say in English – a bit of an affectation in Surnatural’s case as at least one member is British. I don’t know how much theatre experience went into their show, but it totally worked. Fonseca’s didn’t, I guess, because being a brilliant musician doesn’t necessarily go with having any idea how to present in this way. There are so many inspired theatre-makers these days – certainly down our way in Bristol – it is easy to take highly developed theatrical skills and performance for granted. I guess musicians who want to get into this area should seek out people who have put the work in to develop those skills, and work with them, not do it themselves. That gets into a whole new realm of financial and logistic demands, but there must be scope for some collaborations in this vein that don’t bankrupt venues? I don’t mean music theatre, which is another thing again – just some thought to add theatrical elements in a way that compliments and complements the music.

Bristol jazz week – May 10

May 10, 2015

A reminder that you can find a day-by-day jazz listing now at

Notable gigs this coming week include Percy Pursglove‘s trio Perdato at the Mall on Wednesday. If you don’t know Pursglove, he is a remarkable doubly skilled player on bass and trumpet, recently seen in astounding form on the latter in Julian Arguelles’ group at Cheltenham.  Not many people do circular breathing on the trumpet. He’s also wonderfully musical, with a style on the plummier flugelhorn that reminded me of Kenny Wheeler.

There’s competition that night, though, with Ian Storror trying a new venue a tiny bit down the A38 for visiting Spanish alto sax star Perico Sambeat. Full details here.

Thursday sees a visit to Future Inns from singer Irene Serra and her band isq, part of a CD launch tour that recently sold out the Pizza Express in London. More about the band and music samples here.

The great Don Weller is at St James’ Wine Vaults in Bath the same night.

Finally, guitarist Andrew Button brings the The Button Band to the BeBop club on Friday, with another strong visiting line-up. I think the sessions at the Bear have suffered from clashing dates a bit the last couple of weeks (first Cheltenham jazz fest, then Roberto Fonseca at St Georges), so it’d be good to see the place full for that one.

Want more? Then head for Cardiff on Saturday when the peerless pianist John Taylor has a welcome date at the RWCMDpart of a mini-festival that also features Get the Blessing on Sat and Darius Brubeck‘s group on Sunday.

PS. Tony Benjamin suggests even more gigs to try and fit in this week – viz:

The misleadingly named Invisible Orchestra (there’s actually an unmissable 32 of them) comes to Thekla (Sunday 17). Formed as a one-off project in Nottingham the band has grown into a touring proposition complete with string quartet, a massive brass section and powerful rhythm and percussion, playing smartly-arranged Latin, jazz, Afrobeat and other grooves. A more local fusion project – The Feelgood Experiment – plays their hip-hop/jazz/gospel crossover at Canteen on Wednesday 13,  having gone down well at the Gallimaufry in the past, a venue due to be rocked by James Morton’s weekly Groove Den (Thursday 14), and the remarkably-voiced soul-jazz singer/songwriter Lady Nade will be launching a new single at the Folk House (Friday 15) with guitarist Seb Gutiez and Dan Everett’s bass.

PPS. If you’re contemplating the Groove Den, check the Canteen website as they are having a refit just now and it wasn’t finished last time I walked past the joint…

Recent(ish) jazz CD releases reviewed

May 6, 2015

I haven’t noted my CD reviews here for many months, but have got back into the habit of doing them more often just lately. Yes you could retrieve all these by visiting LondonJazzNews and searching, but you aren’t going to do that are you? So here’s a catch-up list for anyone interested, and for my own archive. Earliest first.

Nick Malcolm Quartet – Beyond These Voices

Wolfgang Muthspiel, Larry Grenadier, Brian Blade – Driftwood 

Vijay Iyer – Mutations

Partisans – Swamp

Jason Moran – All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller

Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock – Whispering of the Stars

Jim Dvorak/Paul Dunmall/Mark Sanders/Chris Mapp – Cherry Pickin’

Rita Marcotulli & Luciano Biondini – La Strada Invisibile

Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee

Streetworks – Unfurled

Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille – Song for a New Decade

Tore Brunborg – Slow Snow

Julian Argüelles & Frankfurt Radio Big Band – Let it Be Told (pick of the bunch)

A new jazz listing for Bristol

May 6, 2015

Bath has its own listing site – Listomania – which has been going now for quite a while. It is easier to navigate than Bristol’s more recent offering Bristol247. What’s more, it happens to be run by someone who knows and loves jazz, so the jazz listings are, shall we say, particularly comprehensive.

Listomania Bristol launched last week – and the jazz representation is just as good. Go to the site, select music, and you will see listings organised by day, and a set of categories you can click. If, perish the thought, you were interested in jazz and nothing else, that currently brings up more than 80 dates, something over half the total listed. That may not be a proportional representation but it’s jolly useful for those who favour this particular minority sport.

Go here to see what I mean.

The Bath site also has excellent reviews, and the new one will too in due course. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Bristol jazz week – May 3

May 2, 2015

News just in: Jazz sage Tony Benjamin‘s unmissable weekly guide to jazz gigs in Bristol seems to have been squeezed out of Bristol247 (though he’ll still do monthly previews – one each for jazz, folk, world music).

So for now, at least, his weekly recommendations will appear here in full, with thanks.

And now I must dash off to `Cheltenham again…

Jazz week: May 4-10

After the annual feeding frenzy that is Cheltenham Jazz – and of course there’s still Monday 4 with Neil Cowley Trio, Hackney Colliery Band and the big Gershwin tribute with Laura Mvula and Gregory Porter among the featured vocalists – it’s nice to have a more measured week’s jazz diet to digest at our leisure. It’s an eclectic menu, too, starting at The Fringe @ The Mall with Jake McMurchie’s Michelson Morley. Both Dan Messore’s probing guitar and Jake’s exploratory tenor sax use a boggling array of effects pedals to create shifting electronic textures and distinctive sound contrasts making this a fascinating contemporary project.

If you missed the Hackney Colliers at Cheltenham you can catch them at The Fleece (Thursday 7) where their ‘Balkan ska goes to New Orleans’ groove sound will be part of a very dance friendly Fiesta Bombarda evening. Subtler stuff will be featured at Future Inn that night, however, when Andy Hague’s Double Standards Quartet runs through some of his imaginative arrangements of classic tunes. The band includes George Cooper (piano), Dave Guy (bass) and Paolo Adamo (drums) and you can also catch them the next day (Friday 8) at the Colston Hall foyer ‘drive time’ session.

Vocalist Cathy Jones has one of the region’s best voices for Brazilian style jazz and her Balança band is a great showcase for it. It’s the full quartet line-up for their appearance at The Bebop (Friday 8), with Tristram Cox (guitar) and Sam Tomkins (percussion) complemented by Kevin Figes playing alto sax and flute, the latter a definite added treat. Contrasting vocal styles will be on offer at the Tobacco Factory (Sunday 10), however, when shameless diva Joanna Swan gives her full-throated attention to  rearranged show tunes and more with her quartet including long-time musical foil Nick Pullen on guitar.

Gig of the week, however, will be at St George’s when Roberto SOLO Fonsecas one-man show allows the former Buena Vista pianist to spread himself out across a few keyboards, loop pedals and what-not without the distraction of his usual sprawling Afro-Cuban ensemble. Check out this video for an idea of past solo shows.


Add from me: agree about gig of the week but there’s another close contender in Vula Viel‘s date at the Canteen on Wednesday: featuring African percussion from the leader along with the excellent George Crowley on Sax, and other fine people. Details here.


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