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Bristol jazz week – Nov 30

November 30, 2016

Press of business in other departments precludes any previewing here this week, but Tony Benjamin has your jazz diary covered, as usual, on Bristol247.

I can only echo his comment that the line-up of the band at Future Inns tomorrow night (Thursday) is remarkable, more like a jazz festival special project than a weekly club date. Obviously a long-cherished project by the leader and composer, who must have a healthy bank balance!

Remembering Charlie Haden

November 25, 2016

Last weekend, Charlie Haden was remembered in the best possible way, with a London concert by the large ensemble he led with arranger and co-conspirator Carla Bley, the inspiring and moving Liberation Music Orchestra. It was a poignant occasion, not least because if you google the LMO several stories appear about them playing in New York the night Obama was elected. The political climate now is so horribly different it almost seems a good thing Haden didn’t live to see the most recent US election. Only almost, because it would be wonderful if he was still here, and he himself would surely counsel the long view, as he did at so many earlier times since the LMO made its debut during the era of anti-Vietnam war protest.

That formation, which recorded a landmark album in 1969 (which I feel justified in listening to on Spotify because I own it on original vinyl) was drawn from the larger pool of players associated with  the co-operative Jazz Composers Orchestra. The presence of Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri, Paul Motian, and Michael Mantler gives it affinities with Bley’s monumental, unique Escalator Over the Hill from a few years later. Later, Bley’s efforts focussed on her own independent record label, Watt, one of the most successful efforts to keep control of an artistic career to come out of the self-help ethos of the ’60s, and the various versions of the LMO appeared on other labels, with varied personnel but always a recognisable sound, consolidated beautifully on Ballad of the Fallen on ECM with its strands of folk song and resistance anthems spun into orchestral gold.

The London concert has been well-served by reviewers – Peter SlavidPeter VacherRichard Williams and Peter Jones -so I’m not going to add to that little lot directly. But the evening did make me feel sad again about Haden’s loss, yet also encouraged by what can be preserved in this music.

Most of a jazz musician’s most characteristic work is only accessible on recording when they die. You feel that keenly when someone dies who you have listened to closely for many years. I first heard Haden live around 1979, or maybe 1980, when Old and New Dreams played the Hammersmith Odeon.  I remember saying to someone that night that it was a band with four members any of whom I’d happily listen to if they played alone (Redman, Cherry, Haden, Blackwell – all gone now). That sound of those four together won’t be heard again. Other strands in Haden’s work aren’t reproducible either. Live, I think of hearing the great trio with Geri Allen and Paul Motian, or Quartet West with Ernie Watts delivering some of the best tenor solos I’ve ever heard, not to mention the immeasurable delight of hearing Charlie and Ornette play a brief duet at Meltdown in 2009. On record, the two wonderful duo recordings with Hank Jones stand out as work near the core of his art which no-one else could emulate convincingly.

A large ensemble is the exception, though. It’s about the sound of the individual players, but also about the arrangements. You can, to a degree, separate the two. We have the Mingus Big Band, still playing regularly in New York, and touring. Loose Tubes reconvened after two decades with more or less the original personnel, but I have heard convincing performances of a few of their pieces by at least one other band. And the LMO, whose arrangements, all by Carla Bley, are very special, might turn out to be another vehicle that can be re-engineered to last.

It needs the right bass player of course. Steve Swallow – Bley’s partner – isn’t quite that. He is his usual superb self on the new tracks on the just released LMO CD, but that’s really the drawback – his electric sound makes it feel more like a Carla Bley big band than seems right. A new Carla Bley big band recording is always a fine thing to have, but not quite what we were after, somehow. For the live show, we had a fine upright bass player, Darek Oles, who had enough of Haden’s sound to get by, without intimating his solo style. (He was also audible: one of my less cherished recollections is an earlier LMO London gig, starting horribly late after the players were delayed on a road trip down from Edinburgh, in which the great man was really hard to hear. When I mentioned this to the sound desk, the guy at the controls replied: “Charlie says if you’re really listening you can feel it”. I obviously wasn’t.)

On Sunday we also had Bley, playing piano and conducting. The LMO has appeared live with and without her at various times, but there’s obviously more connection with the band we know if she’s there too. She looked, as several people commented, very frail on stage, though, so it’s not morbid to wonder how the orchestra might fare without her. She is always a shaping musical presence, and I love her piano playing, but it is a style that one can imagine someone else bringing off well enough to serve this band, I reckon. And a suitably skilled leader could get inside the music well enough to conduct – again, it’s the arrangements that make it all work, and they can be codified.

Was this gig the LMO’s swansong? If so, then so be it. But it would be lovely to think that something like this band will continue intermittently, or even that these marvellous arrangements will be published so that some other ensemble can keep them alive. We’ll see. Meantime, the other place the band survives is on YouTube, so here’s a helping of the 2004 edition, substantially the same as the personnel last weekend, but playing mainly pieces from Not in Our Name, the penultimate CD. If you want an even bigger helping, check out Live in Montreal, in which the closing rendition of We Shall Overcome lasts the best part of half an hour!

Jazz week – Nov 21

November 23, 2016
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Late to this due to London Jazz Festival distractions (my reviews here, here and here). But there’s plenty in Bristol in what’s left of this jazz week, as detailed by Tony Benjamin.

I’ve nothing to add except to echo his highlighting of Ivo Neame‘s gig at Future Inns on Thursday. If you saw him with Phronesis last week, you probably won’t need persuading. Since then – busy man – he’s done concerts with Marius Neset for the jazz festival and elsewhere, just to show that this is a pianist who keeps the best company.

That’s carried into his own quintet, too, which includes the excellent Tori Freestone on sax and flute and Jim Hart on vibes. It’s a really excellent band, who don’t get to tour that often, and their live show should be something quite special. As the venue’s own publicity quotes:

“There’s an approachable immediacy to this music which crosses the jazz generations. The right up for it crowd recognise the real thing, kicking the band up another gear.” Nick Hasted for Jazzwise
“Ivo Neame’s complex compositions and gorgeous arrangements married with his searching yet unequivocal soloing results in an album of exceptional depth and originality, indubitably enhanced by his choice of such a talented coterie of collaborating musicians.” All about Jazz
They include a couple of nice youtube samples as well…
One not to miss.

Rest of jazz week

November 15, 2016

If you’re like me, en evening of Phronesis – and you should still go tonight – means you don’t need another gig for a day or three. But there’s plenty else going on if you’ve the stamina, detailed in Tony Benjamin‘s usual well-informed fashion over at Bristol247. Good, as I’ve not time to do my own run-down this week.

Peter Brotzman at the Cube is an enticing prospect, but think I’ll be London Jazz Festival bound by then. And if you want a weekend excursion, but aren’t drawn to London, check out the small but perfectly formed Teignmouth jazz fest, which coincides, as usual.

Embodied hope – and Phronesis…

November 14, 2016

A review here by way of a preview. Stunning evening last night at the Hen and Chicken (first in a sequence of five Sunday gigs from Ian Storror – check out the others here). High energy drummer Andrew Bain‘s quartet were stellar individually – George Colligan conjuring miraculously grand sounds from the venue’s less than top notch piano, John Irabagon absolutely world class on tenor, Michael Janisch digging deep on bass. Collectively, they were working at a level often aspired to, rarely achieved. And the band in full flight sounded genuinely transported more than once. On Hope, in particular, which closed the first set, they reached a pitch of hard-swinging intensity I don’t think I’ve experienced since the days of the George Adams-Don Pullen quartet – makes you want to move, but at the same time hold still because you daren’t miss a moment. Breathtaking stuff.

The writing helped – and as Bain explained as the evening wore on it was inspired by a book which explores the bases of effective human action, and particularly the conditions for “embodied hope”, the title of the suite they played. In particular, he’s interested in the idea, which of course all sensible people subscribe to, that jazz at its best is a worthy model of people co-operating freely, under constraint, to create wonderful new things. Case proved!

Perhaps that accounted for the general feeling of uplift at the end of this gig – necessary at the end of this week of all weeks. (And how weird it must feel for Colligan and Irabagon to be heading back to the US shortly after a fortnight on tour here while their country fell into the hands of the forces of darkness.) Music, as ever, can’t make it all better. But it can make it seem worth going on trying to find ways of working that involve the kind of skill, trust, and attention to everyone else that help improve, well, just about anything.

That doesn’t happen on every gig (shame). But I can’t think of another, finer example of a band who consistently evoke that feeling that Phronesis – who play St George’s on Tuesday. Ten years since they started out, they’ve grown into one of the most thrilling, intense and enjoyable groups you can hope to hear. Their appearance at Wiltshire Music Centre a few months ago, just before they launched their brilliant new CD in London, was extraordinary, as Mike Collins wrote at the time. I’ve tried to find words for their work myself a couple of times, at Cheltenham last year, and the same year’s London Jazz festival here and here (both different occasions from regular trio gigs, but all good).

Did you miss one of the city’s musical events of the year on Sunday? Afraid you probably did. Want to make sure you don’t repeat the omission? Get down to St George’s tomorrow!


Bristol jazz this week – 6 Nov

November 6, 2016
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Simply loads of the stuff this week, starting with a bang with two gigs that show – recent comments here notwithstanding – that the city’s jazz audience is receptive to new music. The Bad Plus are at the Lantern tomorrow (Monday), and there are only a few tickets left, while Go Go Penguin are already sold out at St George‘s the following night. The latter outfit, a rare UK signing to Blue Note, aren’t really my cup of tea, but if you’re going I hope you enjoy. The Bad Plus, once also candidates for that critical staple “reinventing the piano trio” (hint: it doesn’t need reinventing as it’s doing very nicely thank you), are now simply a nice example of how if you carry on making interesting music for a dozen years or more you will build an audience, even far from home.

Then there’s a rare sighting of veteran sax player Trevor Watts at the Fringe on Wednesday, in duo with pianist Steven Grew. I’ve not come across him before, so lets nick the bios from the Queens Head Monmouth, where they are playing a week later:

Trevor is a legend of improvised music over the past fifty years, and Stephen is aptly described as “One of Europe’s most dedicated and imaginative pianists”

Since the 1960s Trevor Watts has been at the forefront of many innovations as a saxophone player, percussionist and composer, he was a founder member of The Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and leader of the bands Amalgam, Moire Music and The Drum Orchestra. He’s also worked with many of the great US jazz musicians, including Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, Kent Carter, Rashied Ali, Steve Swallow and Bobby Bradford as well as Europe’s foremost musicians including Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, Stan Tracey, Evan Parker, Louis Moholo, Lol Coxhill, Barry Guy, Paul Rutherford, Tony Oxley, John Stevens, Derek Bailey and many more.

STEPHEN GREW has been playing piano and electronic keyboards for 25 years. His music is completely improvised. He creates spontaneous compositions with other musicians in the heat of the moment. He also performs as a soloist and has toured extensively, touring and recording with many musicians from the free improvised scene including Evan Parker, Keith Tippett, Tony Bianco, Graham Clark, Pat Thomas, Howard Riley and many others.

A younger generation take to the stage on Thursday when guitarist Ben Lee‘s interesting quintet – completed by sax, organ, trombone and drums – have a tour date at Future Inns. They’re promoting their debut CD on the rising Birmingham-based label Stoney Lane records, and a very varied and enjoyable recording it is, too. Mike Collins’ review for London Jazz gives a good flavour of the music, as usual. And you can tell from the combination of compositional flair and playfulness in delivery that they’ll be good live.

No recording yet, but an interesting new formation at the Be-Bop Club on Friday, with saxist Matt Anderson joined fellow Royal Academy MA student Will Harris on bass, Ashley Henry on piano and Jay Davis on drums. The coming together of talented players on the various postgraduate jazz courses is an important part of the continual refresh the UK jazz scene benefits from these days, so here’s a sample of what’s happening in that line this year.

Finally, don’t forget the all-star line-up on offer at the Hen and Chicken next Sunday (Nov 13th) when Andrew Bain plays with George Colligan, Jon Irabagon, and Michael Janisch. There’s an interview with Bain about the project here. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Jon Irabagon, who I’ve spent a good deal of time listening to on CD – two recent examples reviewed here…  oh, and another here – but not had the pleasure of seeing perform. It’s the final night of an 11-date tour so the music should have brewed up nicely on the road by the time they hit Bristol. Quite a week!


Bristol jazz this week – Oct 31

October 31, 2016
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There’s an astounding band almost reaching Bristol this Wednesday. Bassist Michael Janisch has put together tours for some pretty remarkable multinational ensembles in the last few years, making use of his US and UK jazz connections as an expatriate Yank living and recording bands in London. But the latest may be the best yet. Drummer Andrew Bain‘s new recording features top drawer pianist George Colligan along with the free-spirited saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Janisch. Irabagon, as far as I know, has only been over the the UK once before, with the feisty Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but to my ear is one of the most interesting horn players out there just now. OK, they don’t make Bristol until a date at the Hen and Chicken on Nov 13th, but you can pop over the Cardiff and catch the tour opener on Weds 2nd at Dempsey’s if you prefer. I’m tempted.

On the other hand, you’d miss Josh Kemp’s Rare Groove that night at the Fringe, with Kemp on sax and the excellent Steve Fishwick on trumpet along with Liam Dunachie on organ and Tim Giles, who seems to be a regular Bristol visitor just now, on drums.

Thursday sees Jake McMurchie bring his quartet to Future Inns with Will Harris on bass, Dan Waldman on guitar and Matt Brown on drums. This is McMurchie in more straight jazz form than you’ll hear in Get the Blessing or Michelson-Morley, the band promising “originals, a few choice standards, plus a handful of tunes rarely heard in a jazz context by composers such as Tom Waits and Nick Drake”.

Then on Friday there’s a return to Bristol for pianist John Donegan, who I don’t know but has an illustrious past in the city according to BeBop club mastermind Andy Hague:

Pianist John Donegan was one of Bristol’s most in demand players through the early 90s. Originally from Cork, John is now based in London and plays a hard swinging style of piano reminiscent of Wynton Kelly and Red Garland, with a touch of Bill Evans for the ballads. It’s always great to see him back in Bristol, and for tonight he’s teamed up with the brilliant saxophonist Ben Waghorn, international jet-setter Greg Cordez on bass, recently back from a sojourn in the USA, and a rare appearance from Simon Gore on drums who used to play in John’s band when he lived here.

Those are the main things to note this week, I think. Also time to check your diary and plan for two contrasting dates showing off state of the art piano trios – The Bad Plus at Colston Hall on Nov 7th and my personal favourites Phronesis the week after at St George’s (Nov 15th). Shaping up to be a rewarding month…

NB: the promise of November is reinforced by Tony Benjamin’s preview this week for Bristol247, which mentions several gigs I missed in my own quick roundup.