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Bristol jazz week, 21 March

March 21, 2015

Here’s a link to Tony Benjamin’s recommendations for the coming week on Bristol 24/7. I’d go with his highlighting of the Jazz Worriers at the Mall on Wednesday. Neil Yates, if you don’t know him, is a fine trumpet player with a very personal sound, as he showed at St George’s a little while ago – when he also impressed by playing on after an ill-judged move in the gallery bashed his embouchure. It’ll be good to welcome him back, uninjured. The bands this week at Future Inns and the BeBop club are also local top drawer efforts, so keen types can do a three day sequence.

As TB points out, Sun Ra Arkestra at Colston on Monday are sold out. Also likely to be full, I imagine is Go Go Penguin‘s date at The Old Crown Courts on Thursday, with the Duval Project in support. As James Morton‘s high-volume Groove Den session at the Gallimaufry - my neighbours! – is a strong Thursday draw (with the hugely talented guitarist Tony Remy making a welcome return appearance last week), Thursday remains the day when it may be hard to choose…

Gig of the week – Sun Ra Arkestra

March 19, 2015

There’s only one candidate for gig of the week, really. The colourful cavalcade that is the Sun Ra Arkestra appear at Colston’s Hall’s Lantern on Monday night. Decades after their founding leader died (or returned to his extra-planetary place of origin, according to him) the scalding alto player Marshall Allen, now in his 90s, still presides over this always exuberant, sometimes baffling ensemble.

They tour to big venues nowadays – they have a date in the big top at Cheltenham in May – but like smaller venues as well. One of the first great gigs I heard in Bristol – soon after arriving and before this blog began – was when, astoundingly, they played the old Croft in Stokes Croft one winter’s evening. They rocked the joint.

They still sport the trademark glittery costumes Ra favoured – John Fordham once called him a free jazz Liberace – are still raucous, a bit ramshackle, and ever so slightly ridiculous. And they still mix up everything from swing-era big band charts to free jazz blasts and Afro-futurist chanting. There is lots of percussion, electronic keyboard, and solid bass playing, and considerable solo talent in the horn sections. But more than that, there is a sense of a community, renewing itself now for well over half a century, and affirming its skewed take on the history of jazz. There’s no one else like them. Their place in history is secure, from Ra’s influence on the early days of the AACM in Chicago to a long list of distinguished alumni, many of whom occasionally return. Will you like them? I have no idea. Should you go for the experience? Definitely.

Sometimes there are even acrobatics:

Bristol Jazz links Mar 16th

March 15, 2015

Some quick links to recent jazz stuff for Bristol.

As mentioned last week, Bristol 24/7 have made it easier to find the weekly preview of jazz gigs, so here is Tony Benjamin‘s selection for this week.

The Jazz and Blues Festival last weekend got very good coverage, from Bristol 24/7, the Post and further afield. My own effort, rounding up as many sets as I could manage, appeared on the LondonJazzNews site with Ruth Butler’s great photos here.

And there’s a great review at length of Andy Sheppard’s quartet set up at All ABout Jazz.

As Tony’s preview indicates, the jazz goes on after the Festival, with the highlight last week Nat Birchall at St George’s – Corey Mwamba’s exuberant vibes standing out in a set where the unamplified piano and, some of the time, Birchall’s soprano didn’t always come across too well due to excessive volume from the percussion, a common problem when folks play acoustically on Brandon Hill. And next week, on Monday 23, we have the unlikely advent of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra at the Lantern in Colston Hall, which will be a great chance to hear that extraordinary and historic ensemble in a medium-sized venue. More on that anon.

Bristol Jazz week

March 8, 2015

In haste this week, as the Jazz Festival is on…

Tony Benjamin’s preview of the coming week is up and accessible on the Bristol 24/7 site, so this time let me just link to it – here.

Only thing to add is a strong endorsement for his recommendation of Nat Birchall at St George‘s on Thursday  – which won’t be like anything you heard at the Festival, I think, and as he says has the rather brilliant Corey Mwamba on vibes who should sound fantastic in St G’s.

And a mention, too, for Sefrial at the BeBop Club on Friday – alto player Sophie Stockham‘s really interesting new project – and the new crowdfunder for her other band, the wonderful Dakhla, who are planning production of their third CD. It’s already recorded and mixed, so the modest target is just to make the physical CDs to spread the music, as well as digital download. They are a great band: This needs to happen. Do subscribe if you can – here.

Bristol Jazz Week, March 2-8: Festival time!

March 1, 2015

As per previous post, the annual Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival is almost here. There are some gigs in the next few days which are branded as “Festival Fringe” – something which’ll grow in future, I expect. Hope the extra publicity of being in the festival brochure gives them a deserved boost. I’ll be there for music, of course, and also for the Books for Amnesty stall which looks like having a good stock of CDs this year, as well as vinyl, books and our remaining stock of David Redfern prints. We pay for the stall (discounted for charity) so need to sell stuff to make it worthwhile. My shift is 12-3.00 on Saturday, so come and have a look, and say hello, if you’re down at Colston that early.

Meantime, here are Tony Benjamin‘s recommendations for the coming week, and for the Festival itself. You can also read his review of last week’s bracingly good Partisans gig on Bristol 247.

Jazz week Mar 2-8

There’s a ton of jazz coming your way this week, most of it packed between Friday 6 and Sunday 8 at the Colston Hall: yes, it’s the third Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival and you’ll need to check their website for the full SP. There’s 45 acts appearing, 20 of them in the Foyer, with big names including Dr John, Pee Wee Ellis, Lillian Boutté and Carleen Anderson all catching the weekend’s New Orleans theme. Especially tasty treats should be Andy Sheppard’s unveiling of new ECM material with guitarist Eivind Aarset back in the band (Saturday 7), astonishing vocalist and violinist Alica Zawadzki (Saturday 7), trip-hop influenced Slowly Rolling Camera (Sunday 8) and festival openers Paradox Ensemble (Friday 7), a lively spin-off from the Beats & Pieces big band.

There’s a’fringe’ programme through the week, too, which includes Gary Alesbrook’s Duval Project performing with a string section at Fringe@The Mall (Wednesday 4), saxophonist Nicholas Dover’s new Fault Lines project at Canteen (Wednesday 4) and Emily Saunders’ poised vocals (and new CD) at Future Inns (Thursday 5). Cardiff’s Occasional Brass Ensemble bring that street band sound to Canteen (Thursday 5) while bass player Vicky Tilson’s VTQ will be previewing her new F-IRE Collective album at The Tunnels (Sunday 8). Amazingly that’s not all the week’s jazz, either: there’s the Canteen Jazz Session (Monday 2), Victoria Klewin and the True Tones (Old Bookshop, Saturday 7) and Bartoune (Tobacco Factory, Sunday 8) as well as Trinity hosting a jazz workshop, concert and jam session from Tomorrow’s Warriors (Sunday 8).

Jazz Festival Time March 6-8

February 22, 2015

If you’re reading this, the 3rd Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival is probably in the diary (isn’t it?). It seems an established part of the city calendar already, and now has a few “fringe” gigs – which are dates off the main site which would probably happen anyway but now get a boost, we may hope, from the good vibes generated by the big fest.

The main offer is much like the first two years – some big name headliners who are bankable (Dr John, providing the finale on Sunday night, ought to be sell-out), other ticketed gigs which are mostly fairly risk averse, shall we say, and a strong schedule of free sets in the Colston Hall foyer from local bands showing what they can do. Good music throughout, and the full details are on the website and in a brochure probably now awaiting pick-up in a bar or cafe near you.

It is worth coming by Colston Hall in 2 weekends’ time (March 6-8) just to enjoy the atmosphere and see what catches your ear – it is genuinely festive. But here are a few of the more interesting jazz happenings that people looking for the more surprising or rewarding moments may want to note ahead of time.

First up is the photo exhibition which actually begins before the Festival. Last year there was a matchless display of David Redfern‘s music pics on show – a last offering, I think, from the great man, who died last Autumn. This year there will be a fine selection from the work of the only other photographer given regular access to Ronnie Scott’s club, a show culled from 25 years of work by David Sinclair. It launches on Feb 25 at 6.00, with a short solo performance from Andy Sheppard, who has been a big supporter of SInclair as he and his son, Malcolm, organise his rather fine archive. Check out their new website, which displays many more photos, as well.

And so to the music. Things I want to hear include the Paradox Ensemble early on Friday evening. An 8-piece, they include leader Nick Walters on trumpet, also heard in Manchester’s renowned Beats n’ Pieces, and Rebecca Nash on keyboards. They sound genuinely orchestral, and brilliantly arranged, aided by an instrumentation that runs to sousaphone and accordion as well as electronics – sample them here.

Other sets that look like good bets for seekers of fresh sounds include Alice Zawadzki on Saturday, and Andy Sheppard, often seen in this city of course but not with his international quartet, and not previewing a new and notable ECM CD release.

Then there’s Slowly Rolling Camera, the fascinating new project of Edition Record’s boss Dave Stapleton on Sunday afternoon. Their blend of jazz, trip-hop, soul and cinematic textures has attracted lots of interest but they haven’t played Bristol before so it’ll be good to hear them live.

Those are all ticketed gigs. In the foyer, there’s tons of good stuff throughout, but look out  especially for Greg Cordez Quintet (Friday 20.45), Moonlight Saving Time (Saturday, 13.45), the exuberant Dakhla (Saturday 17.30) and Andy Sheppard again, with the inimitable Pushy Doctors, on Sunday 16.15.

So a packed weekend – but yes, I will be hanging around for Dr John on Sunday night, too. Who can resist?

Gig of the week – Partisans

February 21, 2015

There’s plenty of good stuff in town in the coming week, but I’m pretty sure Partisans at the Mall in Clifton on Wednesday will be the highlight. I wrote a review (pasted below) of their latest CD, Swamp, for LondonJazzNews which goes some way to explain why.

While retrieving that piece, I also found this earlier one on the same site describing a live gig, which gives a good impression of their impact in person. Last time I heard them was in the Coronation Tap, and I can confirm that sitting up close to Gene Calderazzo at the drum set is a pretty energising way to spend an evening. They really deserve a large audience, in a large venue, but hearing them in a small one is one of the peak jazz experiences you can be lucky enough to enjoy in the UK…

The recordings are rather spiffing, too:

CD REVIEW: Partisans -Swamp

Partisans – Swamp
(Whirlwind WR4657. CD review by Jon Turney)

Here’s a CD so good it induced reviewer’s procrastination: putting off writing because I wanted to go on listening. Partisans have been one of the jewels of the British jazz scene now for almost two decades, but it’s been five years since their last recording. Swamp, marking a move from Babel records to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind label, reaffirms their standing as one of the most rewarding bands anywhere.

Rewarding, that is, if you seek engaging writing, exuberant improvisation, and music that pursues Miles Davis’ latter-day project of combining jazz finesse with rock’s electric thrill. Think of the mellower beginning of that phase of Davis’ career – there are indeed a couple of nods here to In A Silent Way – not the all-out funk that followed, and you’re not far off.

Mellow is the feel this time for about half the tunes. The set is perhaps a little more relaxed overall than earlier Partisans’ efforts, though with no loss of intensity. Co-leader Phil Robson’s sound on guitar varies continually, from a heavily overdriven solo that lights up the close of the high-life tinged opener Flip the Sneck to plenty of clean, clear lines in more expected “jazz guitar” mode. Julian Siegel offers abundant tenor sax, with side helpings of soprano, bass clarinet and, on the closing Icicle Architects, a cooling dose of clarinet.

This music has great variety. Each of the eight tracks packs in contrasting episodes and subsidiary themes. There is an ease and suppleness about the band’s realisation of often-complex music that testifies to their long acquaintance. Robson and Siegel’s solos convey a freedom-in-virtuosity that also comes across in the discipline needed to play long, swooping unison lines at fast tempos. Both are energised by Gene Calderazzo’s constantly creative drumming. Thad Kelly’s electric bass is the band’s solid platform, sometimes confined to the simplest of figures for a whole tune.

Standout moments abound: Siegel’s first soprano statement on Overview, leading to a wild guitar solo, then to a cooler re-examination of the insistent theme; the way Swamp begins with some sinister atmospherics but ends with such infectious bounce; the way the fiendishly complex line of Mickey resolves into something much simpler that launches the soloists.

So many good things here, but one quality stands out. Play it through, then go back to the opening cut and ask yourself: when did you last hear so much joie de vivre packed into 5:15?

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