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Disinterested recommendations

May 20, 2018

A confession: now and again I urge attendance at a gig here because I’m going, and I’d like there to be a decent crowd. The audience for the various weekly jazz gigs in Bristol isn’t huge. Nor is the readership of this little blog (discounting a recent, puzzling rise in hits from the USA – hello, mysterious American readers!)  Still, a few more listeners  sometimes turn a routine gig into one with real atmosphere.

However – recent domestic complications (good ones: not relevant here) mean I won’t manage any of the gigs I’m about to mention. So here are some disinterested recommendations, of things I’ll be sorry to see pass me by.

First up is trumpeter Loz Speyer’s Inner Space quintet at the BeBop club on Friday. Been looking forward to that one for a while as they don’t tour very often, play in the post-Ornette freebop vein (with some township vibes here and there) more convincingly than most other people ever manage, and have a superb line-up (two saxes – Chris Biscoe & Rachel Musson – & the redoubtable Olie Brice on bass. I loved their latest CD, too. The chance to hear them live is one not to miss. I will, sadly, but you don’t have to.

Ditto for Ed Jones at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday next (May 27). He’s been one of our leading saxophone voices now for decades, always puts in a convincingly gritty effort, and has a fine new recording to show off. Bound to be a great night.

Also wistful about Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita at Bath Festival on Tuesday – harp and kora such a great combination, and this duo’s recordings are magical.

Then there’s the Stroud jazz festival, next Friday through Sunday, with an excellent line-up at the less posh end of the Cotswolds: Ivo Neame’s brilliant quintet are a major draw, but quite a few excellent Bristol outfits are popping up the M5 – Dakhla Brass, who don’t play nearly enough dates, Andy Novak’s trio, Eyebrow (of whom more anon), Feelgood Experiment, and the Tom Waits project that goes out as Swordfish Trombone. Add a score of other bands from Cheltenham and round about Gloucester and it is an impressively programmed weekend in a very nice town – which I confidently anticipate missing in its entirety. Ah well, next year, definitely!


Matt Anderson Quartet – Future Inns, 17 May

May 18, 2018
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“And, we have lift-off.” So I noted down half-way through the third tune of the gig. Not that the two openers weren’t good. This was a very accomplished quartet – led by an up and coming sax player and composer. Two of them, Mark Whitlam on drums and ace pianist John Turville, were playing the music on stage for the first time. With players of this calibre, this isn’t a problem. The second number, October Ending, already saw a strong sax solo matched by a flowing contribution from the pianist.

By number three, though, the soulful Nordic Blues (think The Bridge if you want a clue to the composer’s inspiration) they were definitely a band. Bassist Will Harris, an Anderson regular, furnished an impeccable intro and the others dug in as if they’d known it for years. It’s a great piece, reminiscent of some of Kit Downes’ early compositions for his trio. Like Anderson’s other work it’s tuneful – and I like tuneful, most of the time – but also very thoughtfully put together.

Another, longer, bass intro later on Let the Ayes Have It, was a highlight. Will’s sound seems to get bigger every time he plays these days, and it’s an instrument that is often more arresting live than on CD . The leader was unfailingly interesting – his manner is low-key and his sax tone is untheatrical, somewhere in Mark Turner’s neck of the woods, but like Turner there is real improvisational flair, shown off to good effect on the mildly minatory ballad It’s Later than you Think. Turville was his splendid self, throughout, and Mark Whitlam energised this new music with consummate professionalism.

The standard of writing meant that I’d be happy to hear any of the pieces again – not always the case with talented young players eager to perform their own stuff. And they are sure to develop as the quartet carries on from this first night of a tour. They’ll be back in the neighbourhood in August for a gig at the Fringe, and the return visit is one to look forward to.

Meantime, the CD, Rambling – released in a week or so – features a different (excellent) pianist and drummer and expands the band to a septet on five of the ten tracks, allowing Anderson to include parts for trumpet, trombone and guitar. These ensemble arrangements work really well, but I guess we won’t hear them live because, economics. Still, Nick Malcolm at his most Kenny Wheelerish really shines on trumpet on several numbers. The Fringe gig is billed as the quartet, but it’d be great to hear him with this band live, too…




Bristol jazz this week – 14 May

May 14, 2018

Lots of stuff going on – in Bristol and, as Tony Benjamin highlights in the Bristol247 preview, in Bath. The Bath Festival doesn’t reach the jazz heights that is used to, but there are several gigs that might be worth a look East.

Personally I’ll be overdosing on theatre this week, courtesy of Bristol’s now biennial MayFest. But must still try and make it to Future Inns on Thursday to catch Matt Anderson’s quartet. The sax-playing leader another in the seemingly inexhaustible supply of accomplished players graduating from the Master’s course at the Royal Academy in London, and is joined by fellow Academy alumnus Will Harris on bass, Mark Whitlam on drums and the wonderful John Turville on piano.

They sound fluent and engaging, as this sample from a new recording released next week makes clear.

It’s Anderson’s second release and follows his award of the Dankworth prize for composition last year, for this very tune. There’ll be an album launch at the Vortex a few days later, but Bristol gets in early with this one.

Slightly spoiled of Bristol

May 12, 2018
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Didn’t book on time to get a ticket for Art Themen at the Fringe this week – a shame, judging by the sample from that gig posted on youtube.

Still, there were good things to be heard at both of our other main weekly venues – courtesy of players who are perhaps less familiar. Caught the second set by Dom Franks “Strayhorn” quartet at Future Inns on Thursday. They made a rewarding CD last year (reviewed here) with a Cheltenham-related cover design from Banksy.


That featured the superbly creative pianist John Law’s current young hotshot rhythm section – James Agg on bass and Billy Weir on drums, with John guesting on a few tracks. Live we got him for the whole lot, so this was pretty powerful line-up for a week-night club gig. The leader writes nice pieces, and plays excellent tenor and soprano. Left me wishing I’d got there earlier.

Then a full evening of pianist Andy Novak at the BeBop club on Friday. His excellent trio – with Al Swainger on bass and Matt Fisher on drums – are a well-bedded in trio, with two recordings under their belt. Live they present a nicely judged mix of thoroughly satisfying originals and well-chosen standards. That gives a range including tributes to Novak influences from Oscar Peterson to Captain Beefheart (the latter, closing set one, a particular highlight), impressionistic compositions (Rain in Bristol) and just regular standards (Skylark). An impressive evening, and definitely worth making an effort to hear as they continue their tour for the next month or so.

So two first rate sessions, both with er, modest audiences, sadly. I’d ascribe that to post-Cheltenham jazz fatigue if Art hadn’t filled the Fringe so readily (still small, but a full house is a full house). Truth is, we in Bristol are a little bit spoiled at the moment for first rate local(ish) musicians. I guess that’s a good problem to have, for punters, if not for players or venues…

Bristol jazz week – May 7

May 7, 2018

Somehow, while keeping up with the Cheltenham Jazz Festival for Jazzwise, Tony Benjamin has managed to compile and post a preview of all this week’s gigs in Bristol, so here it is. Art Themen was one of the nicest gigs at the Fringe last year, so great to see him making a return visit on Wednesday.

Speaking of Cheltenham, I’ve a couple of reviews posted at LondonJazz – of Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan, and Jason Moran here – and Christian McBride’s big band here. Pics there from John Watson. Thanks John! A huge, hot weekend, and the most crowded I’ve ever seen the city on festival weekend, with music spilling out all over. Great stuff.

George Crowley and friends, BeBop Club, May 4

May 7, 2018

You can tell something about a jazzer by the company they keep. Hence all those mini-features in the jazz mags that resort to lists of people-the-musician-has-played-with. I don’t criticise.  I do it too. Words for music are hard and it’s much easier just to invoke other people who make good noises than to describe what the subject actually does.

Perhaps you can learn more from the composers someone chooses to sample on an impromptu gig, though. The thought comes courtesy of this superb evening at the BeBop club. Impromptu because George Crowley’s tour was booked for Friday, but guitarist Rob Luft was diverted to the posher margins of the Cheltenham jazz fest the same evening (Supper club gig: £65 a head – so even if the food is top notch I assume the fee is a bit higher).

But the show must go on. Or, as this is jazz, a different show. Fellow sax player Sam Crockatt appeared in place of Luft and, as it turned out, late entry Will Harris on bass subbed for a poorly Riaan Vosloo. And Crowley left behind the music his band have been playing on tour and programmed some favourite tunes instead.

And they played the hell out of them, just four in each set – with plenty of space for everyone to do their stuff. First up was Joe Lovano’s driving Fort Worth – some statement of intent for two sax players. Then My Melancholy Baby (careful to disown the lyrics but endorsing the tune) which doesn’t disclose any other musical allegiances. More revealing was It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago. One of Paul Motian’s finest. And prompting mention of the Lovano/Motian/Frisell trio, one of the greatest improvising outfits of the last 30 years. Set one finished with Barracuda (or General Assembly), a Wayne Shorter tune that also brings Gil Evans to mind.

Since we had a two horn quartet without a harmony instrument, the setting was perfect for some Ornette, who was duly acknowledged with Broadway Blues to open set two. First heard on New York is Now, and revived memorably by Pat Metheny on Bright Size Life, it’s a belter, and brought out the best in all four players. A brace of Monk tunes (Ask me Now and Bye-Ya) followed, and another from Motian, Circle Dance, to close.

All classy stuff, to say the least. The potential modern jazz repertoire is vast, but these are all the sort of tunes a developing player (I imagine) hears and learns because they want to own them. The bonus is that pieces that grip good musicians that strongly are fantastic to listen to as well. And everyone on the stand got stuck in like kids at a party eating a tea composed entirely of treats. If the brilliant Tim Giles on drums played a little too loud for the room, as drummers will, it was a minor drawback in an evening of pure enjoyment. They should do this kind of thing more often. Everyone should.


Bristol (and Cheltenham etc) jazz this week – 30 April

April 30, 2018

As Tony Benjamin notes in his weekly rundown, it’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival week. He’s got a full festival preview here, too. And a great programme it is this year, with plenty of those difficult clashes that typify a real festival. Roller Trio or Jason Moran? Donny McCaslan or Christian McBride? I’ve plumped for Moran and McBride, but wistful about the two I’ll miss there… But really it’s good all the way, right through to Empirical on Bank Holiday Monday evening.

Tony also wrote a particularly nice review of the marvellous gig by Martin Speake and Ethan Iverson at St George’s last week – as did Mike Collins. Audience was bit thin, sad to say – maybe everyone was saving themselves for Cheltenham. Huw Warren, presenting a satisfying solo set in Cardiff on Saturday, found a nice way of dealing with this. Fifty-odd people is a decent turnout on a Saturday night when the city was awash with rugby fans but not enough to populate Cardiff University’s nice concert hall. Put them all on the stage, however, and you have a different atmosphere, and a special vantage point to watch a musician at work. You can see him again in Cardiff in a couple of Saturday’s time when a quartet that is a bit of a supergroup (Warren, Iain Ballamy, Martin France, & Steve Watts) present his Dylan Thomas project at the RWCMD. This premiered memorably at Brecon a few years ago, and is still developing.

And what about Bristol? Plenty going on here as well, needless to say, with another difficult choice on Friday between Matana Roberts with Kelly Jayne Jones at the Cube and George Crowley at the BeBop Club. (The latter will definitely feature a guest appearance from fellow sax player Sam Crockatt, incidentally, as guitarist Rob Left is otherwise engaged at Cheltenham). Crowley was on great form at Bristol Jazz Festival in Ivo Neame’s quartet, and has new music off his own to present. Roberts, who I tried to write about last time she came to town a year ago, is quite unlike anyone else. Tough choice! On the other hand, if you like trains Crowley’s tour also calls at Cardiff next week, when he plays the Flute and Tankard (who have taken over where Dempsey’s left off) on Tuesday.