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10 singers improvise at St Stephens

April 21, 2018

This performance tonight, following a workshop, looks very tempting. Some excellent singers involved. (NB: sounds like it might be part of Bristol New Music, but isn’t).


More details here.



Gig of the week – Martin Speake/Ethan Iverson, April 26

April 20, 2018

With thoughts starting to turn to the treats of Cheltenham Jazz Festival, I reckon this gig the week before at St George’s hasn’t had the attention it deserves. I was explaining the other day how much I’ve enjoyed altoist Martin Speake’s work over the years. He really is one of the best UK players. He connected with Ethan Iverson years back – in one of the pianist’s side projects from the renowned trio that was then his main outlet. John Fordham reviewed their duo 2004 duo CD warmly, suggesting that “Iverson’s powers are probably better revealed in these bare surroundings than they are in the Bad Plus”.

Now they’ve got back together in a quartet – a format Speake famously used with another great keyboard exponent, Bobo Stenson, and Paul Motian. This one features everyone’s favourite young drummer, James Maddren and bass player Fred Thomas, and pays tribute to other greats, including John Taylor, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker. There’s a tune dedicated to Ed Blackwell, too. It’s not the first (there are others by John Stevens, Joe Lovano, Craig Harris and probably more) but that’s always a good way to put a drummer on their mettle. Maddren rises to the occasion, as you can see from this video made at the Vortex last year.

In fact, there’s a whole bunch of videos from that evening, sampling a range of moods from solidly bluesy…

to quietly beautiful.

They recorded a terrific studio set last year, too, which you can listen to on Bandcamp. It’s one of the nicest things I’ve heard this year.

Reputation alone would have me making a beeline for this gig, but you need not rely on that as there’s all this hard evidence this will be one of the best things to hit town this year. The other dates on their tour feature rather smaller venues than St. George’s, I think. It’d be great to see them pull a decent crowd to hear Iverson get acquainted with their lovely new Steinway.


Bristol jazz week – 16 April

April 16, 2018

Great to see the refurbished main room at the Hen and Chicken last night (other works – surprise! – still in progress). It makes it a really nice space for jazz, a fitting reward for Ian Storror’s efforts these past years. As he said, the now uncarpeted floor makes the sound brighter, and the piano certainly seems to come across better. Julian Siegel, whose quartet were the debut performers, played unamplified on saxes and bass clarinet and sounded amazing. No time for a full review but this was a stunning evening’s playing from a superbly integrated foursome who make a quartet seem the perfect vehicle for unified musical expression even when all four members are playing their backsides off.

Good way to start the week, but there are amazements to come, too. Here’s Tony Benjamin’s box of delights, nice and early this week. Bristol new music week brings gigs from Evan Parker and Keith Tippett, and Fringe favourite Paul Dunmall should pack them in on Wednesday. Tippett’s gig, incidentally combines an improvised duet set with Matthew Bourne with a showing for his splendid, rarely seen, Octet – their latest suite, the Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogan, premiered at Colston Hall a couple of years back, and produced a particularly fine CD showcasing Keith’s outstanding Ellington and Mingus influenced composition and arranging skills.

(Update: this one is now showing as cancelled on the Colston website, so hopes that the composer was recovered from his recent health problems appear to have been premature. Get well soon Keith!)

Tony’s got it covered otherwise, but a couple of additions. Future Inns, continuing their enterprising booking policy, have an interesting date for drummer and composer Jim Bashford’s quartet  on Thursday. I don’t know his stuff, but here’s the blurb:

Released on LEO Records 2017, CENTRELINE THEORY is the first recorded offering from British composer and drummer Jim Bashford and his group CONSTRUCTION. The music is based on the journey of life and work, with particular reference to Jim’s exploration of the relationship between martial arts and music, both in theory and practice. Compositional elements are woven together with the spontaneous aspect of group improvisation, to release a taut and evocative musical interplay within the ensemble. 

Tim Harries – bass,
Hilmar Jensson – guitar,
Robin Fincker – tenor sax.

More here.

Also worth noting is a special jazzy tribute to folk hero Nick Drake at St Georges the same evening. It features arrangements by Nick Smart, who has recruited a remarkable bunch of people to play them – not surprisingly as he’s head of jazz at London’s Royal Academy, and runs what’s probably the leading postgrad course in the country. Those appearing include Bristol’s Will Harris and Emily Wright, along with  the likes of Kit Downes, John Parricelli, saxophonists James Allsopp and James Gardiner-Bateman,  and drummer Tim Giles. The Lochrian String Quartet will be on the same stage. I don’t know much about Drake’s songs, although the lovely River Man has become a jazz standard in the last decade, but this all looks pretty good to me.



Bristol jazz this week, 9 April

April 9, 2018

Here’s Tony Benjamin’s preview of all that’s going on. His headliner is the Julian Siegel date I previewed separately the other day.

There’s another noteworthy gig he mentions, too, though. Alex Hitchcock’s quintet, appearing at Future Inns on Thursday, is by all accounts a red hot ensemble. The leader on sax is joined  by James Copus on trumpet and flugelhorn, Will Barry – who some will recall from Jasper Hoiby’s excellent Fellow Creatures at last year’s Jazz Festival – on piano, Joe Downard on bass and Jay Davis on drums.

Their press release says they “have drawn inspiration from artists as distinctive as Kneebody, to Ambrose Akinmusire to Django Bates”, which sounds promising. Their sample video is pretty persuasive too.

It’s hard to keep track of all the talented new players who emerge in London, but this band is also notable because three of them – including the leader – are also in bass player Will Harris’s “London” quintet – recently featured at the Fringe. Jon Taylor was sufficiently taken with that effort to rebook them immediately, so definitely looks like these are players to watch.

Oh, and you can check out the quintet’s new EP on bandcamp.

Gig of the week – Julian Siegel quartet

April 8, 2018

I single this one out for lots of reasons. Saxophone (and occasional bass clarinet) heavyweight Julian Siegel is a man for long-term musical relationships (see Partisans) and it’s a pleasure to see that his quartet retains the same line-up after all these years. A pleasure enhanced because the other three are also favourite exponents of piano (Liam Noble), bass (Oli Hayhurst) and drums (Gene Calderazzo).

Anticipation is increased by the fact that it’s seven years since their last recording, (reviewed here) and four since they were last heard in these parts (I think) at Cheltenham in 2014 – a set I reviewed here.

The new set alluded to there has now finally been recorded, and released (as Vista), and reports are extremely good, as here. So four players at the top of their game, who will be three dates into a short 8-stop tour when they stop by at the Hen and Chicken – newly refurbished – on Sunday.

There’s a live session on Radio 3’s Jazz Now on Monday 9th t check iuyt if you want a preview of what it will sound like. Meantime, here they are last year at the European showcase Jazzahead.


John Law’s Re-creations, Fringe jazz, 4 April

April 5, 2018
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Yet a another world class show at the Fringe. I wrote warmly about this appealing quartet last September. A second sampling last night confirmed that they provide superb entertainment. Some of the set landmarks repeated from that earlier outing,  a Monk tune in each half for instance. The second, Well, You Needn’t, sounded distinctly like Don Pullen’s old crowd-pleaser Big Alice, as my other pair of ears noted – in the spirit of this splendid version, though not quite as long!

Monk is always welcome. So is the supremely eclectic policy that governs this band – play anything you want, from Rossini to Radiohead, as long as it has a damn good tune. OK, Imagine doesn’t really – it’s pretty dull – but everyone knows it and in these hands it grows into something more interesting. Flirting even more dangerously with outright cheesiness, Norwegian Wood – a tune I’m mildly allergic to – becomes this quartet’s answer to ‘Trane’s treatment of My Favourite Things, with Sam Crockatt fashioning a wonderfully abstract intro, then boosted into the stratosphere on soprano sax by the roaring rhythm section.

That was the first set closer. Even more epic was their finale, an exuberant re-creation of Summertime. An extended high-energy piano excursion from the leader, matched moment-to-moment by the James Agg’s supple bass, evoked a thrillingly intense response on tenor from Crockatt. Volume was a problem by now, sadly, rising too far in a small room to be quite as enjoyable as the rest of the set, but everything else about the gig was pure pleasure, including the customary rendition of Mungo Jerry’s Summertime as a footnote to the Gershwin. We succumbed to a self-imposed 11 p.m. curfew for reasons, so there was an encore we missed, but left well-satisfied.

Bristol jazz week – 2 April

April 2, 2018

Blimey,  there’s a lot on this week – as detailed lovingly by Tony Benjamin here. I’d forgotten about Gregory Porter at Colston Hall (already sold out). Never mind, we heard him on his first visit to Bristol at St George’s – a much better venue to appreciate that voice.

Tempted by Julia Biel at the Lantern on Thursday, though. That had also passed me by, which is tricky as I’d planned to catch Salena Godden’s poetry gig at Arnolfini. Wait, I see that’s sold out, too. Their book club must be in a smaller space than I’d realised.

Off now to book for John Law at the Fringe on Wednesday, a venue that also sells out pretty often these days. I dunno, all this planning ahead for jazz goes against the grain, somehow… Even had to book to see him last time he was billed at the BeBop club, but that one got snowed off, so it’ll be good to see this quartet in Bristol’s other favourite weekly slot. The CD they released a while back is enormous fun, and live they are even better.