Skip to content

Bristol jazz this week, (and Festivals etc)

November 14, 2017

Here’s Tony Benjamin’s weekly preview – and I am reminded that linking here might be helpful by the, ah, persistence you need to actually find it on the Bristol247 site.

As usual it covers an amazing selection of gigs – special mention for Iain Ballamy at the Fringe, which is bound to be full, and Dave O’Higgins at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday. I won’t make either, but they should both be especially good.

As mentioned, I’m diverted by the London Jazz festival – you can read reviews of three diverse but equally splendid gigs here (Pat Metheny at the Barbican), here (Out of Land at Cadogan Hall) and here (Mark Guiliana at Ronnie Scott’s.

No time to write more, but also a pleasure to catch sets on the freestage at RFH from Arun Ghosh, Rob Luft and – best of all – harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, Tony Kofi and Larry Bartley playing Alice Coltrane, all soon to be heard on BBCR3 Jazz Line-up. The lovely Malija were superb, enjoying their touring-borne rapport, in the foyer room at Cadogan Hall yesterday, and were rewarded with a 200 strong capacity crowd. So look for the jazz audience in Sloane Square on a Monday afternoon – who knew?

I’ll be back at LJF in a few days for Fred Hersch, and then a Monk fiesta at Cadogan Hall on Sunday – not reviewing those for LondonJazz but might find time here: we’ll see. But for that, I’d be thinking seriously about a visiting quartet at the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff on Friday that includes the superb US tenor player Mark Turner, or perhaps the small but perfectly formed Teignmouth jazz festival at the weekend. But this is one of those months when the inexhaustible interest of live jazz comes squarely up against the impossibility of being in two places at once. Not a bad problem to have.


Misha and more

November 10, 2017
tags: ,

Such a feast of live music at the moment. I am indulging, in anticipation of thinner times in December and January, and it’s already been a memorable musical week. Off to the London Jazz Festival shortly for some reviewing (Pat Metheny, Schaerer/Wollny/Parisien/Peirani and Mark Guiliana since you ask – the reviews will follow on So no time to write much about other things, but a few notes about the earlier part of the week to help fix some things in the memory.

Memory very much on everyone’s mind in Bath on Monday, when the fab ICP Orchestra‘s set was preceded by a screening of Misha enzovoort, the affecting documentary about their main man Misha Mengelberg’s last overseas performance with the ensemble at the Vortex in 2013. Mengelberg – who died earlier this year – was dealing with dementia, but nevertheless managed to play piano with the band for the final two nights of their London residency. The film, follows their week in London, and the tender care and attention this special community afforded their co-founder (“he’s the soul of the ICP,” as they said), and the actual performance footage – playing piano, vocalising and whistling – are intensely moving. If you have had dementia in the family, it’s not an easy hour, but I’m glad to have seen it. There are some lovely moments, especially fragments of lucid conversation from Mengelberg (Item: “John Cage seemed a friendly boy, but I experienced his music as quite hostile”), and a scene where he addresses a piano with a metal walking stick, held up lengthwise, which somehow seems to engage the correct notes at each end.

You can find the whole thing on the net – I suspect the English subtitled version of the Dutch film we saw on Monday works best, but the Dutch version is here on Vimeo.

There’s also an English version on youtube with a rather annoying American voiceover, which seems to be 40 minutes longer – no idea why.

It would be strange to pair the film with a performance each night. Han Bennink, watching at the back of the room was red-eyed and almost lost for words at the end. He recalls in the film that he first played with Mengelberg in 1959. But the multi-media bill did give the evening a special quality. The live set that followed showed that the ICP show really does go on. We heard Misha arrangements of Ellington (Perdido), Monk (Round Midnight, Four in One), Greig (I think), and Herbie Nichols (2300 Skiddoo), a quirky number by cellist Tristan Honsinger and a wonderful Kwela-inspired piece by the late, great Sean Bergin. I’d have loved to hear more of that, with Han Bennink’s  cymbal beat rivalling Louis Moholo’s whiplash, but it was a great way to finish a fine evening. The Widcombe Social club in Bath, newly built, is a super venue, too, so worth looking out for Nod Knowles’ future promotions there.

A breather on Tuesday before an intense evening in the packed basement room of Cafe Kino in Stokes Croft. This was a double bill starting with a trio edition of trombonist Raph Clarkson’s Dissolute Society. They play spoken word pieces with jazz accompaniment, and the result is pretty effective, though the expanded ensemble on their recording puts Clarkson’s always heartfelt texts into a context that perhaps balances them better with the music.

Then a second live outing  (I think) for trumpeter Nick Malcolm’s new quartet Jade. This is an all star ensemble, with Jake McMurchie on sax, Ric Yarborough on drums and judiciously deployed electronic percussion, and Will Harris on bass. The three people Nick name-checked after the opening, a freebop blues played over churning rhythm, (Skip James, Miles Davis, Wadada Leo Smith) give the flavour of the proceedings, though I was hearing something of Kenny Wheeler in the trumpet playing, and writing, as well. These are strong players producing arresting music. Definitely a band to watch in 2018.

Finally, an evening to savour, as so often, at St George‘s, where Andy Sheppard‘s international quartet were showcasing his new ECM recording. It’s a familiar mix now, big on dreamy themes, achingly slow tempos, washes of processed guitar, (Eivind Aarset), sonorous bass (Michel Benita), delicate percussion (Seb Rochford). But these are four masters of their art, playing as a wonderfully integrated unit, and the result is always absorbing, often beautiful. All four command attention, but Sheppard’s matchless control of tone and dynamics on sax, especially the tenor, remains the key ingredient. Reservations? It is all very nice. Andy has become the Art Farmer of the tenor, always in search of a more beautiful sound to flatter a wisp of melody. A brief episode of effects-heavy thrash on guitar and free percussion feels almost like an aberration in the second set. Still, you might not want to stay in this sound world indefinitely, but it’s a gorgeous place to visit.


Bristol jazz week – 6 Nov

November 6, 2017

Yet another packed week, as detailed here by Tony Benjamin, whose preview for Bristol247 seems to get more comprehensive every week. The ICP Orchestra in Bath tonight (Monday) have already been mentioned hereas has Andy Sheppard at St George’s on Thursday. Also an eye-catching prospect is the previously unheralded double bill downstairs at Cafe Kino on Wednesday – a good chance to catch Nick Malcolm’s new quartet Jade, who sound like this.


With all these extras, it’s easy to forget the regular weekly venues, but there’s another double bill at Future Inns on Thursday if you don’t fancy trying to squeeze into St George’s or fancy something cheaper at this particularly good value venue.

Audiences do seem a bit sparse at some of local gigs at the moment – The Bebop club last Friday a case in point. The crowd was also a little thin last night (Sunday) for the brilliant Robert Mitchell at the Hen and Chicken. A particular shame to miss that one, as the trio were working at a very high level, energised by their first live set with new drummer Marco Quarantotto, who has something of Anton Eger’s intensity.

Have to admit I wasn’t so sure about Mitchell’s words – not the sentiments thereof, which are solid humanist propositions, but their not-always-sparkling expression. They were lightly deployed, though, and the music he built round them was superb throughout. A real treat, and bodes well for the launch of his new album and accompanying book in London in a few days at Kings Place – in a jazz in the round triple bill that includes a solo set from Andy Sheppard if you’re in town. Mitchell’s set there boasts a dancer and video installation, but this regular trio outing was a very satisfying warm-up. I’ll be elsewhere sampling other offerings from the feast that is the London Jazz Festival that night, but Kings Place looks like an excellent bet on Saturday.

Bristol jazz week – 30 Oct

October 30, 2017
tags: ,

Looks like another bumper week – as detailed here by Tony Benjamin. I’m already wondering how to digest a clutch of local gigs: Robert Mitchell at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday 5th; Instant Composers Pool in Bath the following night (see previous post); Andy Sheppard at St George‘s next Thursday (Nov 9th) – which looks like selling out soon All before heading to London to sample the Jazz Festival. (Seem to be reviewing Pat Metheny on Friday 10th at the Barbican – yay.) By the way, there’s another neat jazz festival down in Teignmouth the following weekend, although as usual it clashes with the London festival’s finale when there’s a feast of Monk I have my eye on…

But meantime, there’s a big choice here in Bristol. All three of the regular weekly jazz venues have strong offerings this week, but there are plenty of extras too. All good: hard to choose between them. Enjoy!

Travellers in tradition

October 25, 2017

Here’s the usual weekly list on Bristol247, with goodies from Georgie Fame to Kevin Figes. It’s a bit late in the week for me to post the link, but not too late to write about a couple of other extraordinary upcoming gigs.

Every jazz player has to come to terms with tradition(s), and how far to play inside them, or outside.

True for ensembles, too. But a few endure so long, in evolving configurations, that they create their own traditions, and develop them over decades. Two of those are coming to us in the next couple of weeks.

First up are the Sun Ra Arkestra, appearing at the Fiddlers in Bedminster on Sunday (29th). One of the great large groups which survived the demise of their leader more or less unscathed, the Arkestra were always as much a community as a performance ensemble. I was amazed when they popped up in the back room of the Croft one night soon after I arrived in Bristol, and was still wondering what the music scene would offer here. Suddenly, a legendary band who I’d heard live just once were appearing five minutes from my front door! That night their octogenarian leader Marshall Allen was projecting an alto sax tone that could strip paint. Now aged 93, he’s still out front, nearly a decade later, when their constant travels bring them here again. It’s bound to be a memorable night in the rather larger venue they’ve favoured this time.

Here they are on a recent visit to the Union Chapel


An equally welcome surprise is the visit to Bath of the wondrous Netherlands unit known as the Instant Composers Pool. The ICP Orchestra appear at Widcombe Social Club, a short walk up the hill from Bath Spa station, on Monday Nov 6th. The gig is possible because of a tie-up between the Dutch and the new UK Jazz Promoters Network, and this date comes courtesy of Nod Knowles, the musical guide for the jazzy bits of the Bath Festival in its glory days, who is trying to bring some quality tours back to the city.

It deserves your support for that reason alone, but also because the ICP Orchestra are tremendous creative fun. The evening also offers the chance (separately ticketed) to see a film about their late-lamented founder Misha Mengelberg. Then you can hear surviving long-time members including the legendary drummer Han Bennink and cellist Tristan Honsinger, and a bunch of more recent recruits continuing their own tradition of serio-comic genre-bending improvisation.

Like this

And here, for completeness, is Nod’s note on the evening.

The Instant Composers Pool (ICP) is a unique, internationally renowned collective of Dutch jazz composer-improviser-instrumentalists.

From ragtime to swing, bop to free jazz, classical to carnival, nothing else sounds quite like the ICP.  Every gig is a surprise – no two ICP programmes are the same.

Put simply, it is revolutionary band – a band full of inspired wit and musical imagination –  and the last of its kind.   For half a century, the ever-evolving orchestra has collaborated with giants of the jazz world. Their current line-up consists of ten of the most inspired musicians from the Netherlands and beyond.

Celebrating both 50 years of the group, and co-founder Han Bennink’s 75th birthday, in the accompanying documentary ‘Misha Enzovoort…’ ICP also celebrates the last days of musical genius Misha Mengelberg as he and the band came to terms with the inevitability of his Alzheimers Disease before he finally stopped playing in 2013.

“…The Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, from Amsterdam ….are scholars and physical comedians, critics and joy-spreaders.”     New York Times

More on the film…..   For Misha Mengelberg, the forgetting has begun.  He is waiting for a taxi he didn’t call to go to a performance that won’t take place.

Composer/pianist and grand duke of jazz Misha Mengelberg (1935) has been submerged in the shadow of dementia, ending his life as a musician. At the London jazz club Vortex in 2013 he impressively says his goodbyes to the international stage. It’s also his last major performance with his band, the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra. The musicians find it hard to let him go, but Misha’s decline is constant, and he slowly fades away from their midst. A film about exceptional loyalty, dilemmas, respect and dedication. And about music, the music of Misha Mengelberg.

It’s an Alzheimer film within a musical setting; a music film overshadowed by illness; a film about finiteness; and especially a film about impressive togetherness, and, I’ll say it, love.’ – Walter van de Kooi, De Groene Amsterdammer

Ute Lemper, St George’s Bristol, 19 Oct

October 20, 2017

I go to hear singers I love live to feel the presence of the voice. My eyes may well be closed, or unfocussed much of the time. With June Tabor, say, Christine Tobin, or Gregory Porter, that’s not important. It’s all about the vibrations they make in the air.

With Ute Lemper, that would be a mistake. She inhabits a song, bodily, like no-one else. You can see the early training in dance and drama in a constant flow of studied gestures. Every arch of eyebrow, sidewise glance, tilt of head, jut of hip, and curve of finger seems perfectly calibrated. When she dons a hat, the angle of the brim is just so.

It’s a mesmerising spectacle. There’s a well-drilled trio accompanying – piano, bass and splendid bandoneon – each doing exactly the right thing at every turn. It’s hard to give them more than passing glance. This show is about the woman centre stage.

It’s also about her in rehearsing her own history, through songs she has chosen over the years. After 3 decades, her repertoire is vast, beginning with the Weimar-era pieces that first caught the ear of many, taking in chanson, Piazzolla, and her own settings of Neruda, Bukowski, Coelho…

Tonight is a mix of all of these, linked by evocative talk about times and places and, often, a rapid, deft, narration of the song in English before it is delivered in German, French, Spanish or (once) Yiddish.

All of it works brilliantly. The show isn’t perfect. She tries to do too much, and some pf the Brecht/Weill songs lose power when reduced to a micro-medley. Her recent work with the poets is mentioned, but fills only a couple of minutes. But each individual piece done properly is nigh-on perfect. There is an artistic discipline here, and a level of excellence in performance, that you may come across only once or twice a year if you’re lucky.

And in the end, it is still all in the service of the song, and the lyric. She has said how much she hated being in Cats all those years ago – her first big break – because of the tedium of choroegraphed repetition. She didn’t care much for Chicago, either, because the part was “shallow”. Neither feature in this retrospective, where the fare is altogether meatier. There are songs of deep feeling, political anger, existential doubt, exultant defiance: Illusions and Falling in Love Again (a la Dietrich); Spolliansky and Schiffer’s It’s All A Swindle (misanthropy distilled); Philip Glass and Tara Hugo’s Streets of Berlin; Serge Gainsbourg’s Ces Petits Riens and Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas,  the two together more forlorn than you can imagine.

All this was more than enough – five of us in the fifth row of St George’s were transfixed for two sets – but there was a distinctly jazz flourish to some of the songs that came off better than when we last saw her (in Bath in 2011). That keeps things fresh. She is so meticulous you wouldn’t be surprised to find that the scat episodes are worked out in advance second-by-second, but the youtube evidence suggests they are genuinely spontaneous – they certainly sound it. The uproarious encore, Naughty Lola, was jazziest of all, with some vocal trumpet thrown in for good measure – not quite Andreas Schaerer but impressively accurate (of course). It swept up the whole hall in a sense that “now the work is about over, and I (and you) can really have some fun”. Quite a night.

Oh, and in a show of near constant movement, she doesn’t neglect the power of stillness. Like this:






Bristol jazz week – Oct 17

October 17, 2017

The week just past – with evenings of outstanding music from Entropi, Craig Handy and Thelonious – has been exceptional, as Mike Collins explains here. Among them all, I’d rate Jeff Williams’ drumming as the highlight. Simply marvellous to see and hear such a master at work, up close. Also great, incidentally, to catch some of Peter Edward’s Nu Civilization Orchestra roaring away in Colston Hall foyer on Friday evening, with Gary Crosby and Nathaniel Facey to the fore, after sets from schoolkids they’d all been working with whose enthusiasm lent their performances a special charge. I wonder which of them will take their jazz further and return to that stage as fully-formed musicians in a few years?

There’s another take on Craig Handy on Bristol 247, where you can also find the usual weekly preview from Mr Benjamin – here. The big attraction there for me has to be Malija: three favourite musicians in one drummerless trio. A deeply knowledgeable jazz fan remarked to me the other night that Liam Noble is his favourite UK pianist, and I can see why. He’s somehow always contrives to be thoughtful and adventurous at the same time. It’ll be interesting to hear how he copes with the somewhat elderly sounding piano that is on offer in the Hen and Chicken. Jasper Hoiby of Phronesis fame is definitely my favourite of the younger bass players. And Mark Lockheart’s sax playing, also heard in Hoiby’s other band Fellow Creatures who graced this year’s Bristol jazz festival, has been a stimulating presence ever since his days with Loose Tubes.

Malija are promoting their second recording, which Bandcamp’s in-house jazz reviewer describes very well:

Melodies from Malija feel like falling autumn leaves. They have an undeniable beauty, full of vibrant colors and sharp imagery. Their motion is light and free—and unpredictable. And yet, time and again on the trio’s sophomore release Instinct, the melody has an undercurrent of gravitas that, inevitably, guides it gracefully down to earth. This progression, devised by saxophonist Mark Lockheart, bassist Jasper Høiby, and pianist Liam Noble, gives the music an atmosphere of contemplation. The spryly-dancing melody of “TV Shoes” gets tangled in dissonance, while the hop-and-skip of “Mila” becomes lost in deep thought before snapping out of it and rejoining the dance. The back-to-back “Panda Feathers” and “Sanctuary” play off of one another like light and shadow. These dichotomies aren’t a new thing for the trio, they’re just a more cohesive representation of their sound. On their excellent 2015 release The Day I Had Everything, that interplay between light and shadow were drawn out to their extremes, which heightened their contrast. Here, they exist side by side.

You can listen to it here. This gig is firmly in the “eagerly awaited” category, along with the extraordinary Ute Lemper at St George’s on Thursday. But unlike the regal Lemper’s date (I’m going), it’s not sold out yet…