Skip to content

Jazz week Bristol (and Cheltenham)

April 25, 2015

Here are Tony Benjamin‘s local – and regional – gig highlights for the coming week. His great review of last week’s standout  performance of Polar Bear at the Lantern is on Bristol247 here, too.

Jazz week April 27-May 3

Well of course it’s all about Cheltenham, isn’t it? The Bank Holiday fest (Wednesday 29 – Monday 4) is upon us with its established mix of the crowd pleasing (Van Morrison, Rumer, Gregory Porter et al) the classic (Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, John Scofield) and the hip’n’happening (Hackney Colliery Band, Gogo Penguin, Phronesis). Hot news is that the last minute cancellation of the Sun Ra Arkestra gig now means that the great Archie Shepp’s quartet will be playing (Saturday 2) – an impressive piece of substitution, you’ll agree.

Impressive, yes, but it isn’t actually ALL about Cheltenham as the Fringe @ Mall session (Wednesday 29) has guitarist Mark Lawrence with Tony Roberts, the fusion sax player whose career stretches back to Tubby Hayes band and includes Kenny Wheeler, John McLaughlin and many other luminaries of the jazz-rock world, most notably Ian Carr’s Nucleus. The quartet also includes John paul Gard (keyboard) and Tony Orrell (drums) and should be a blast. More contemplative pleasures (though far from placid ones) are on offer at Future Inns (Thursday 30) when pianist John Law explores music from his critically acclaimed These Skies In Which We Rust album with Jake McMurchie, Will Harris and Mark Whitlam. John’s music is a uniquely complex mixture of jazz, classical and rock inspirations and he is a remarkably gifted improvising musician.

Freeness abounds at The Fringe itself (Monday 27) when Hugh Kirkbride (bass) and Roger Skerman (drums) pitch in with the house trio for the monthly improvised music night, and the Canteen has its regular jazz jam session the same evening. That venue hosts promising young jazz funkers Plume on Wednesday 29, too. Thursday sees Brass Junkies bring that New orleans street-hop sound to the Coronation Tap and on Friday night the Grain Barge welcomes an intriguing new Meters tribute project The Milli-Meters, featuring a class quartet of local funksters.


This blog’s own Cheltenham highlights, by the way, are Phronesis in the dark (Fri), Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and Lee Konitz, (Sat) and Julian Arguelles (Sun). There’ll be reviews of all these and more for LondonJazzNews as soon as the terrific Cheltenham schedule allows me to get them done.

It would be great to hear John Law at Future Inns again – the venue suits him – but I can’t make it alas, so will have to make sure I get along to catch Tony Roberts on Weds at the Mall…

Oh, and if you’re not Cheltenham bound, there’s a promising date at the BeBop club on Friday for the visiting Paul Riley quartet. They say:

London based alto saxophonist Paul Riley is touring to promote his debut CD Into View on the Jellymould Jazz label, and his band features some of the brightest young stars of the moment. “Riley plays alto and soprano saxophones on this album, his sound modern and contemporary without resorting to grandstanding effects, maybe a little David Binney-like on alto; on soprano the slightly more diffident sound approaching Tim Garland’s sound a little more. There is a lot of personality in the writing however complicated the metrical challenges throw up, the band developing their own magnetism the more you listen, sticking with a blueprint that plots out something more substantial by the end. All 11 tunes seem to fit as individual parts of a bigger vision. The chief plus point here is how well the quintet gel, the writing dependent on making melodic and metrical connections along the way that tease out new angles for listener and musician alike. A stirring debut all in all: Riley and his bandmates pushing hard to explore new space they map out on the outer fringes of bop-derived forms.” – Marlbank Jazz Review site. Paul Riley – saxes, Nick Costley-White – guitar, Matt Ridley – bass and drummer Will Glaser. Really strong melodic compositions, beautifully performed. Have a listen here

Bristol jazz this week – 20 April

April 18, 2015

Here’s Tony Benjamin‘s careful compilation of jazz gigs in Bristol this week – in full for a change.

Jazz pick of the week: April 20-26

There’s no doubting who’s this week’s big name: Polar Bear come to the Lantern (Thursday 23) with their new California Desert inspired album Same As You to showcase. Good news for their many fans but a shame for EMU who also appear at Future Inns that night as the Manchester band (formerly known as Kerfuffle) are interesting visitors, making a busy electric jazz somewhat reminiscent of mid-period Weather Report. They may well be jostling vans with Glowrogues on the M6, too, as they’re another Manchester nu-jazz combo with a distinctive contemporary sound who are Thursday’s band at Canteen. Ah: choices, choices … hopefully youthful trad/swingers The Rhythm Pencils will bring their usual exuberant posse with them to the Coronation Tap, whatever.

It’s quite a jazzy week at Canteen, in fact, with London’s New Orleans piano rollers Professor Nohair & The Wiglifters playing on Tuesday, Sophie Stockham’s excellent contemporary sextet Sefrial on Wednesday and cafe swingers The Schmoozenbergs doing the Sunday afternoon spot. Somehow they managed to miss out James Morton there, but then again he’s got a busy week too with appearances at The Fringe (Wednesday 22) and the Alma Tavern (Sunday 26) as well as his regular Thursday night Groove Den at the Gallimaufry. The Fringe gig has an intriguing line-up including both Mike Willox and Anders Olinder on keyboards – something Willox has explored with Jonny Henderson to great effect. A more traditional organ trio line-up will be appearing at the Old Fish Market (Sunday 26), however, when John paul Gard’s masterly Hammond jousts with Ben Waghorn’s fluent tenor sax.

The Bebop Club will be welcoming Mark Lawrence back (Friday 24) for what should be a great gig with his Quartet. Mark is an excellent fusion and jazz guitarist in the McLaughlin/Scofield mould the band includes Andy Novak (keys) with the impressive young rhythm section of Zak Lanyard (bass) and Tom Gilkes (drums).

Gig pick of the week: Polar Bear/Leafcutter John (Lantern, Thursday 23)

Drummer Seb Rochford took off to the Mojave desert to get latest album Same As You together and the post-hippy Californian influence shows in a more reflective sound, less attention-seeking than previous waxings yet somehow more persuasive. It’ll be interesting to see if that restraint manages to hold them down in the live setting.


And one more from me, for those free to rove. There’s a great prospect in Cardiff on Tuesday when the superb Huw Warren offers an evening’s solo piano in a “Back to Bach” series on offer from the University. He says he’ll play

a variety of improvisations based on classical music, and pairing some Bach piano preludes with Brazilian and Bulgarian music; as well as performing some new music for the first time.

Sounds good to me…  Details here.

Bristol jazz this week – April 12

April 11, 2015

Tony Benjamin‘s comprehensive list of gigs around town is up on Bristol 24/7 as usual – an impressive 13 to choose from this week, covering every night except Tuesday. With a range from George Clinton to Bristol’s own European Jazz Ensemble to Andy Sheppard with Birmingham bass and trumpet star Percy Purslgove, there’s every reason to get out and hear something.

Want more? OK then. The occasional gigs run by the Bristol Jazz Composers’ Collective to air new material return to the Fringe Bar in Clifton on Monday 13th. They will present the Scratch and Sniff Orchestra, featuring

an all-star cast playing brand new compositions by Jeff Spencer,Kevin Figes, Jake McMurchie, Simon Preston, Jim Blomfield, Will Harris and more…

Jake McMurchie also appears at St James Wine Vaults in Bath on Thursday, if you’re over that way.

Finally, one we all missed last week – The Fringe also has a Sunday afternoon session tomorrow (12th), with Anders Olinder leading on organ. That would still leave time to get down to Colston Hall to catch the astonishingly talented Marius Neset – the gig I’ve been looking forward to most keenly this month (see last week’s post for some words on that, and an amazing video…)

Bristol jazz week – 5 April

April 4, 2015

As Tony Benjamin‘s rundown on the week’s gigs for Bristol24/7 says, a bumper crop of organists, and sax players this week. You can see the full list here.

TB’s gig of the week is the striking duo of Courtney Pine – playing bass clarinet – and the fine pianist Zoe Rahman at St George‘s on Thursday, playing songs from their well-received new recording. That’ll sound fine, I’m sure, and is already close to selling out. My own standout, though is Marius Neset a few days later at The Lantern.

Neset has made a huge impression on several earlier visits to Bristol, at the Lantern and a couple of times at St George’s, and a more recent sampling of his live playing at Brecon last year confirms he just gets better and better. His current recording band features Jim Hart on vibes, Ivo Neame on piano, Anton Eger on drums and Petter Eldh on bass. It’s surprisingly hard to find out exactly who is on this tour, but Eger is a certainty*. He’s not irreplaceable – the wonderful Phronesis where he is also a lynchpin recorded a whole live CD with a different drummer – but certainly inimitable, and has a fine rapport with Neset. They demonstrate it at length in this rather amazing recent concert video, which has a couple of different players and suggests that whoever Neset chooses to perform with rises to the occasion.

I haven’t seen many concert videos lately that capture a live show so well.If this one doesn’t make you want to go along on Sunday you may be reading the wrong blog…

Meanwhile, don’t forget the smaller venues. I hadn’t been down to the Be-Bop club this year until last night, and was rewarded with 2 fine sets from Dave O’Higgins, playing with Jim Blomfield to a full house, and both peeling off gripping solos aplenty, whether on standards or a couple of O’Higgins own tunes. He really does know his stuff – when he plays a song by Sinatra, he played with the man; one by Wayne Shorter, he was on a recording Shorter produced. That one, preceded by a couple of choice Shorter anecdotes and with a solo decorated with quotes from other Shorter tunes, was early in the first set, and set a standard for the rest of the night. Impressive stuff, and a reminder of how the back room of the Bear can be such a great place to see really good music, really up close.

*serve me right for saying that: I hear it may be Josh Blackmore on drums on this tour…  He’ll fit in fine!

Bristol Jazz Week, March 29

March 28, 2015

Reverting to previous routine this week, and giving you Tony Benjamin‘s weekly rundown in full – with thanks!

Jazz pick of the week: March 30 – April 5

A pretty thin jazz week looms, so hoorah for the Canteen for laying on nearly half of the gigs  – three out of eight, in fact. The bad news, however, is that a similar proportion of events are all happening on the same night – Wednesday 1 (and I promise this isn’t an April Fool gag).

On that night Canteen offers paint-stripping jazz/funk sax energy from Matt Sibley’s Quartet (also featuring fellow Code Red veteran Andy Christie on guitar, Andy Novak on keys and Eddie John drumming) while John Pearce’s full-toned jazz violin stars at Future Inn and violin-led manouche outfit The Schmoozenbergs will be turning No 1 Harbourside into a Parisian Gypsy swing cafe.

The Canteen jazz week begins on Monday 30 with their fortnightly jazz jam session and ends on Sunday 6 with the Bruce/Ilett 6, a pocket selection of their big band line-up led by Jonny Bruce’s trumpet and Denny Ilett on guitar – a masterful pairing of talents. If you find the hurly-burly and lateness of the Canteen’s evening gigs off-putting, the Sunday afternoon sessions have a much more relaxed vibe.

And that just leaves two: James Morton’s regular Groove Den session at the Gallimaufry (Thursday 2) and Dave O’Higgins debut visit to the Bebop Club (Friday 3) … though you might want to check out the Old Fish Market Facebook page for a last minute update on their Sunday evening jazz trio slot.

Gig pick: Dave O’Higgins Quartet (Bebop Club, Friday 3) With a CV that embraces both Brubeck brothers, Ray Charles and Mr Bean he’s clearly respected worldwide yet, amazingly, this is the first visit to the Bebop for one pf the country’s top post-bop sax talents.


Afterthoughts: It may be a quiet week, as TB says, but still some good gigs there. Audiences at some recent ones I’ve managed to get to have been small (twice last week – maybe everyone had their minds blown by Sun Ra on Monday). From what I hear, this may be happening more often than it should at Future Inns. I’m all for jazz in pub rooms, but it is great to have this excellent, well-appointed space where jazz is treated just a bit better and one can listen in comparative comfort. It deserves a better regular crowd: use it or lose it, people.

Afterthought 2. Dakhla‘s crowdfunder to pay for printing their next (already recorded) CD is still running. As I write they need just £675 more to reach their modest target, and have 8 days left. Why not subscribe now and get the CD and a ticket to the launch gig, now in the diary at Future Inns on June 18th? Worth it, I promise! I have never left a Dakhla set without a smile on my face.

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:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,927 other followers