Late this week, due to jazz festival distractions. Now that’s all over, normal weekly gigs resume, as Tony Benjamin rounds up here. Last weekend was pretty full of music, but I think I might be ready for some more by the time Sam Crockatt gets going at the BeBop club on Friday…
Meantime, various reviews of the jazz festival:
Macy Grey on Sunday night (I left well before the last bit due to festival overload).
Andy Sheppard plays Metropolis on Thursday night (mine).
What I heard Fri-Sun – on LondonJazz, with great photos from John Watson.
Tony’s selection from the same days.
Altogether a great weekend, and the Festival seems in very good shape after five years. It’ll be great if they can continue their booking of a few slightly more adventurous contemporary line-ups in the Lantern. Radio 3 recorded a couple this year (Yazz Ahmad and Jasper Hoiby’s band, I think, so look out for them on Jazz Now on 17th and 24th April respectively) so that extra bit of attention should help. As you can read, the latter was my gig of the weekend. A set where my attention never wavered because it was so consistently good, which was quite something by Sunday evening.
Had a nice evening last week meeting other contributors to LondonJazzNews. So (navel-gazing alert) here’s a post about writing – but also about music.
There are plenty of interestingly difficult things about criticism, and music criticism in particular. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. (Don’t know who first said that but I like to think it was Frank Zappa who spread it about). And every time I review a CD I’m asking whether I can say anything that goes beyond, “if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like” or “this thing is quite good of its kind”. (Usually I can’t, really).
A slightly different question comes up, though. It turned out some of the people I was chatting to puzzled over it as well: how does writing about a gig differ from reviewing a recording? I’m sure it does, but it’s not easy to say exactly why. Both need that effort to find words for something not expressed in that mode. Both call for some way of sharing an experience of listening. Usually writers describe sounds as like those made by someone else, or by some other sound generator. We claim they evoke some mood or emotion, or we strive for some adjectival inspiration that seems to fit.
The contextual information – personal, technical, historical, genre-related – can cover much the same range for live and recorded music, too. One old live bugbear, sound balance, is less of an issue at most gigs than it used to be (cloth-eared mixers who only understand rock-music are rarer; the quality of venues’ kit generally better; the main outstanding issue is drummers who can’t adjust to small spaces).
But still, writing something that might illuminate a recording feels different from recounting a gig. It could be because the CD reviewer’s imagined reader is someone who may now buy it. That invites suggestions of what to listen for, accentuating the positive. The live show is gone, in the air, but also shared (often with just a few people if it’s a jazz gig, but more likely then that you talk to them about it, perhaps). You can just try and describe an immediate response – and maybe indicate if it seemed to be a communal one.
My comments as reviewer on CDs are probably more positive, overall. That’s not because I prefer them. But if I can’t find anything good to say about a recording, I’ll probably just keep quiet because, really, why would anyone care? If an artist I value puts out something that doesn’t quite seem to work, I’ll say so. I’ll comment on lyrics sometimes – ‘cos I do words. Otherwise, musicians should do whatever they feel like, and seek listeners if they want them. If I like the result, I’ll try and help that along. If not, I’ll just take it that it’s not my business. I’m more likely to say if a gig didn’t do it for me, and try and explain why, but will make sure to mention if others obviously enjoy it. I’d hate to put anyone off if the gig is part of a tour that continues – which does sometimes make live reviewing seem more pointful. Otherwise, I treat live reviews mainly as a way of setting down something about a moment I might enjoy remembering myself one day.
The other difference, which matters only to the writer, is that reviewing a CD takes more work. I heard a superb live session from saxophonist Tim Armacost’s trio the other week, and could happily have come back and written a review about how how the evening went. In the event, I ended up reviewing the CD that features the pieces played that night instead – and yes, that took longer.
Why? Well, a new CD has gone through a process where the artist and/or producer have laboured to show the work at its absolute best, so they deserve the best attention I can give. That demands more than one play. Then, how to tell when to stop? There’s always a temptation to have one more go – to fill out the notes, to delay starting to write, or to check what you’ve already said. Sometimes, that’s because the thing is so good I want to enjoy it again, knowing it’ll get less play once the review is done. But the main motive is to convince myself I’ve done justice to the music in all its detail.
Live, that’s not possible, so all words can do is convey a selection of immediate impressions. I hardly ever check a live review against a later broadcast, though the chance comes round quite often. This is a music of immediacy, that either works in the moment, or not at all. There might be different moments on a second listening, but (assuming you already have a jazz-trained ear at all) if a show doesn’t grab you in some way first time, there’s probably something lacking. But then that’s true of a recording, too.
Reviewing it, like playing jazz I guess, is stuck with a modern curiosity*. It is a time-based art that succeeds best by being different each time, but recording allows us to have (part of) the experience over and over. The real puzzle is then why, while I am always drawn to music with an element of improvisation, I enjoy hearing some improvised moments repeated until the record wears out.
It works for musicians, too. And not just so they can justify that moment near the end of every gig when they tell you that if you like what you hear you can take home a CD. There’s a nice piece in the latest Jazzwise where Arun Ghosh, explaining why Miles’ In A Silent Way was important to him, marvels how Tony Williams’ much delayed drum explosion, after nearly two vinyl sides of simply keeping time, does it for him every time. “The hit that gives me whenever I listen to it is pure joy”. Everyone who loves jazz, or just music, collects moments like that, and revisits them when they can. That ain’t “the sound of surprise”. You know exactly, second by second, what’s going to happen. But is the pleasure the same, or different? I’ve been wondering about that for a lot longer than I’ve been reviewing. I don’t have an answer, but still enjoy confronting the question. Excuse me while I revisit Ornette in 1961, or Rollins in 1986, or …
*I first wrote paradox, but last time I said that word in public a mathematician very nicely pointed out that I was wrong, in a logical/technical sense, so he’s scared me off using it.
Here’s the usual run down of local gigs from Bristol 247. There’s more going on than just the Jazz Festival, you know…
Here’s the regular pointer to Tony Benjamin’s preview on Bristol247. Plenty to choose from, all styles…
And a couple of extras from me:
The free music sessions at the Greenbank in Easton have a date this Thursday (9th), with line-ups as follows –
Magllochi, Okamoto, Northover & Gibbs
Featuring the BEJE TRIO Federico Leonori bass, Knud Stuwe guitar/oud and David Mowat playing NEW COMPOSITIONS by David Mowat in the first set and the sultans of groove and swing, Pasquale Votino bass, Paolo Adamo drums, Anders Olinder piano and Len Aruliah on alto sax in the 2nd set, with David and Knud joining them.
Less than a fortnight to go: It’s time to start getting excited about Bristol’s own festival. I’ve already previewed it for my friends at LondonJazzNews, but here’s another helping – with comments on some personal highlights. I’m concentrating here on the sets outside the main concert hall, although there’s plenty of good stuff there, too (Bobby Shew, Macy Grey, London Community Gospel Choir, and more).
First thing to say is that the contemporary side of the programme is excellent this year. I had a mental note of two newish bands I was really hoping to catch live in 2017. One was Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur, the other Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures. And what do you know, they’re both performing in the Lantern for the festival.
Dinosaur is in fact the latest version of trumpeter Jurd’s band, which has featured these players in various combinations for some time, but seems like a fuller expression of her musical vision. The young trumpet-player has an ear for electric Miles as well as Kenny Wheeler, and can do them both justice, with an apparently endless fund of striking melodic lines in her soloing. The combination with Eliott Galvin on piano, Conor Chaplin on bass and Corrie Dick on drums – each of them leading young exponents of their instrument – is superb.
Hoiby is well-known as the bass virtuoso who has been the front man for the wonderful trio Phronesis for a decade now. Last year saw the debut of this new formation that showcases different facets of his playing and composing. Fellow Creatures features Mark Lockheart, whose sax has featured in bands from Loose Tubes to Polar Bear, Laura Jurd again – thus uniting two of the most interesting horn voices from older and new UK generations – along with Corrie Dick and Will Barry on piano. Their first CD was one of last year’s best new recordings and it’ll be a treat to hear how the music develops on stage with such a formidable line-up of improvisers.
That would normally make a strong weekend, but there’s lots more. Jason Rebello plays a rare solo piano set on Saturday afternoon, Dakhla have a double bill in the Lantern with guitarist Remi Harris the previous evening, and the same venue also sees sets from the popular combination of Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes, trumpeter Yaz Ahmed and bass player Alec Dankworth’s charming Spanish Accents ensemble.
Bristol favourite (though, alas, no longer resident) Andy Sheppard has a date in the big hall on Thursday evening, when he presents a new score for Metropolis. For a 90 year old film, it’s a pretty amazing piece, with images of cities, machines, robots and mad scientists that have hardly been bettered since. It’ll be great to see how Andy and his musicians respond to them.
There’s a generously programmed sequence of free sets in the Colston Hall foyer, as usual, running all four days of this year’s festival. If you’re sampling the ticketed gigs, and you should, which free ones you can enjoy depends on where you’re headed next. But try and make time to catch Jim Blomfield’s trio (Saturday at 17.00), who are reportedly on especially good form at the moment, Andy Nowak’s trio, and Katya Gorrie’s Tom Waits project (both Sunday), or just make a point of pausing to see what catches the ear if you’re in the building. That serendipity is one of the things that makes this festival so enjoyable.
Full programme here – and some shows are selling out so bookings recommended soon.
Rotwang says: Enjoy!
Here’s the link to Tony Benjamin‘s regular preview for Bristol247, with an excellent sequence of gigs from Wednesday through Sunday evening this week… Ian Storror’s Sunday date at the Hen and Chicken looks best of the bunch, as is often the case, but Roberto Manzin at the BeBop club two days before sounds pretty interesting, too.
Need to make sure this goes up today as there’s a notable early gig this week – namely Led Bib at the Canteen tomorrow (Tuesday). The rocking, raucous outfit are back with a new CD after a three year break from recording, and touring all over – congrats to the Canteen for booking them in.
Other things of note this week include ace bass and trumpet player Percy Purseglove‘s Perdato (think the Pushy Doctors with Percy substituting for Andy Sheppard) at the Fringe on Wednesday, Denny Ilett’s quartet at the BeBop club Friday. (I’m still cross to have missed John Law last week through illness – must see him again soon).
Finally, Alex Monk’s Flying Machines should be a memorable night at Future Inn on Thursday. I don’t know the band, but they have a very promising personnel, including the ace rhythm team of Conor Caplin on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums.Haven’t made it down to Future Inn yet this year, either, but their programme still looks as if it is going strong.