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Bristol jazz this week – 23 Oct

October 23, 2016

Two gigs stand out this week* for departing from habitual one-band-and-two-sets formats. Thursday (Oct 27) sees the Match and Fuse Tour booked for the Cube (up behind King’s Square off Jamaica Street). It’s an always enterprising effort that seeks unusual European bands, and arranges musical exchanges to mix everything up. This time we have (to quote from the blurb)

Horse Orchestra who bring “an irreverent approach to its melding of disparate styles” (Free Jazz Blog), from 1920s classic jazz compositions to 1960s free jazz and modern classical music.

Joining them are “Norwegian power trio Krokofant [who] white knuckle an adrenaline rush of kinetic riffs that straddle prog rock, jazz and heinous skronk” (Jazzwise). Hear references to King Crimson, John Zorn and Peter Brötzmann in their set.

The evening also features a set from Bristol trio Michelson-Morley, Jake McMurchie’s jazz/electronica outfit that also boasts Dan Messore on guitar and Mark Whitlam on drums. Then the whole lot of them get together and make new music…

It’s a thing you see more often on the free music scene, and, as it happens, there are three trios for the price of one at Cafe Kino‘s new regular session this month (Friday 28th). Trio 1 has Mark Langford on bass clarinet and sax, the remarkable Dominic Lash on bass and Roger Telford on drums. Telford also plays drums with Phil Gibbs on guitar and Paul Anstey on bass, then we’ll hear two basses with Telford. You get the idea…

If that’s not enough novelty for one week, the Rose of Denmark in Hotwells (just round the corner from the Bear) offers a Saturday session with jazz and… tapas. Jerry Crozier-Cole plays guitar and Andy Nowak keys. The food down there’s pretty good so sounds like an excellent way to spend Saturday evening.

The more conventional weekly gigs have nice things too. James Morton Band are at the Fringe on Wednesday, which’ll be intense in that cosy room; Future Inns has the saxophonist John Lloyd‘s quartet on Thursday, with the mouth-watering quartet line-up completed by John Law on piano, Tom “Empirical” Farmer on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums. The Be-Bop club the following evening (Friday) presents Kevin Figes excellent sextet. There’s also a special late night showing of Clint Eastwood’s old movie Bird with Forest Whitaker doing a decent job of impersonating Charlie Parker at the Watershed on Friday 28th, with suitable music in the bar from 22.00.

Finally if you seek temptation further afield, the brilliant Laura Jurd and her quartet Dinosaur are playing the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on Friday, and trains to Cardiff are back to normal after the Severn Tunnel works so it’s a feasible excursion for the carless… Their new CD got a five star review from John Fordham, and it’s a lovely venue. Highly recommended.

*and don’t forget the other weekly preview for Bristol247, from Tony Benjamin, here.




Generosity at work – that’s jazz

October 21, 2016
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Had a couple of grumpy posts, I know but I like to accentuate the positive here – jazz is the love of my life after all. So just a quick note to pin up a quote that’s stuck in my mind.

It comes from a long and (as always) very interesting interview by Ethan Iverson with the long-time music critic of the New York Times Ben Ratliff. The whole thing is well worth reading if you’re interested in how a smart writer thinks about the job of cultural critic. (Ratliff’s books, especially Coltrane’s Sound, are also highly recommended).

Along the way, Ratliff recalls one gig like this (I tweeted about this, but want to revisit the full quote).

BR:  Around 20 years ago, there was a very short-lived club that opened on the upper east side—it might have been connected to a hotel or something. I’d always go to these places out of curiosity, and Houston Person and Etta Jones played a gig there. It was a small room and the gig was under-attended. I don’t think the sound was anything special, and it was a first set of maybe a two-night run. This was never going to go anywhere, this enterprise, but those musicians created a condition of nirvana in that room. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the generosity of what they were doing—so much so that it made me want to weep. Why did they think we deserve this, in this situation? How could that be? Anyway, they created something intensely special in this very non-special place for a non-special occasion. That’s really hard to do. All this time later I’m still thinking about that.

I love this because it puts into words so well a sensation I recognise but had never expressed quite like this. All art can do this sometimes – artists make their work for their own reasons, but for the viewer/listener, the effect often is a special kind of gratitude. And it’s enhanced in jazz, I reckon, because it is often in small spaces, and achieves instants of unrepeatable excellence that are impossible to miss if you are listening properly – the ones that musicians tend to recall as moments of transcendence that pass description.

This, when all’s said, is why one turns out for gigs instead of staying at home and listening to CDs in comfort.

And I’m not saying that Ian Ballamy‘s quartet sets on Wednesday at the Fringe exactly fit Ratliff’s words – the small room was stuffed, for one thing. But I did come away, after two sets of  really beautiful playing from everyone, genuinely adventurous in the second half, and with a couple of surprise bonus songs from a visiting Norma Winstone, with a feeling pretty close to what he’s describing. I can’t really describe it without getting portentious, but what the hell. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does it rekindles something that’s important to hold on to in life – an admiration for humans cultivating their best selves that makes you feel better about the whole deal, at least until the next news bulletin.

(Incidentally, generosity – to audiences, to fellow musicians – is something I’d say also marks Ethan Iverson’s work. He’s in town with The Bad Plus in a couple of weeks (Nov 7), so come sample for yourself.)

More (jazz) than we deserve? – Oct 16 week.

October 16, 2016
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Here comes a comment masquerading as a preview*. There’s a good array of gigs in town this week. I wonder how many will get a decent audience?

I tell myself I’ve stopped worrying about the take-up for live jazz, after so many gigs, large and small, and so many years after I got into the habit of mentally adding up the numbers and the door price each week when I helped run a small gig in Manchester – a habit I found annoyingly hard to shake. But still, last week it felt like there might be more music than Bristol could cope with.

In particular, the superb Indigo Kid ended up playing to maybe a dozen appreciative listeners on Thursday night at Future Inns, surely the most comfortable of our weekly venues. Claire Teal at St George’s on the same night probably had something to do with that, and no doubt some folk went to check out John Parricelli at the Hen and Chicken as well. Still, it’s a bit dismal when people who really feel a bit too tired to stay for the late set (me) feel as if they are giving the band a kicking as they make for the door.

OK, just one example, and Future Inns does seem to get full(er), then empty again due to the working of forces that remain mysterious. But even the gigs that do boast an audience don’t get that great a turnout. Paul Dunmall and Keith Tippett had what looked like under 100 people in attendance at the Lantern the other week, in a venue that holds double that. Looking ahead, Tim Garland‘s superb quartet, which features Jason Rebello, Ant Law and Asif Sirkiss, will probably get a few more  down to St George‘s on Thursday, but the place holds nearly 600 and ticket sales at the moment don’t look that strong. Ian Ballamy at The Fringe the night before, with Percy Pursglove, will probably fill the room – as they should – but when the gig moved to a different, rather larger, space for a year or so the turnout didn’t justify it, and it reverted to a room where 30 people feels like a crush.

There are places that pull people in – I see scores spilling out the door onto the Prom when I pass the Gallimaufry‘s Thursday sessions with James Morton, which makes no charge for entry. But it looks like the regular pool of punters for gigs that ask for money for tickets, rather than passing the bucket – even if the charge is the mere fiver Future Inns usually take off you – is only a few hundred people altogether. And they (I) simply can’t support all the gigs we currently have to choose from at the level they deserve.

They’ll probably all carry on, as jazz musicians need to play, and to tour (Future Inns has some spectacular touring bands booked over the next couple of months) but, selfishly, the nights one hears would certainly often be more enjoyable if there were enough listeners to generate a bit more atmosphere. I don’t know how to make that happen – the blog hits here, usually fewer than 100 visitors a week, tend to confirm that the core jazz audience in this not so large city is hundreds, not thousands. But maybe we can all go to a few more gigs, while we have the luxury of choosing.

So if you don’t care for Tim Garland, do try Nigel Price‘s excellent organ trio at Future Inns on the same night, or the resourceful pianist Ray D’Inverno‘s quintet at the BeBop club on Friday. Let’s keep all our live music spaces going, Bristol!

*alternatively, you can read the ever-optimistic Tony Benjamin‘s more upbeat, and more wide-ranging, preview of this week’s notable gigs over at Bristol247, as usual.




Bristol jazz week, Oct 11

October 11, 2016
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Haven’t had time to do a preview this week, but never mind – Tony Benjamin has the usual run down of jazz essentials over at Bristol247. He also has a review there of Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett at Colston Hall last week, incidentally, that captures the occasion very nicely – a rewarding evening.

Less rewarding, I have to say, was the BeBop club on Friday. Not because Tori Freestone‘s trio weren’t excellent, but because the amplified music from the bar at the Bear has become horribly intrusive. When the noise from outside the performance space is louder than the sounds the musicians are making inside, which happened whenever they dropped the volume even a little, then a venue has a problem. I hope they can reach some new accommodation with the Bear’s landlords on Friday nights, or I’ll be lobbying for these sessions to look for a new home…  A really aggravating evening for listeners.

There can be noise here and there at Future Inns, too, but only snatches of diners’ conversation from the restaurant upstairs – unlikely to detract from the excellences of Dan Messore’s Indigo Kid on Thursday, which is my standout gig of the week. A composer with a striking gift for melody as well as a master of the guitar, Messore’s own group – who blew us all away at the Bristol jazz fest a couple of years ago – is a real delight.

Also been reminded that there’s an extra gig at Future Inns this week, on Sunday afternoon, when you can hear the multi-national quintet, the Bristol European Jazz Ensemble, starting at 4.30, so nicely timed between lunch and dinner.

Jazz preview – Tori Freestone trio

October 5, 2016
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A trio tour calls at the BeBop club in a couple of days (Fri) that’ll be very well worth catching. Saxophone trios suit the room, somehow, and this is one of the best ones you can find currently in the UK – their last visit to Hotwells was memorable. The club’s billing says they are touring now to promote The Chop House CD. That’s not quite right: they have a splendid new recording, El Barranco, on the same label to promote.

That says two things. The same personnel appear, with Freestone joined by Dave Mannington on bass and the excellent Tim Giles on drums, so these three are well bedded in after several years together. And two releases on Michael Janisch‘s label is a strong indicator of their quality.

Both feature the leader’s cleverly wrought compositions, strong on hooks, with a few well-chosen covers. Freestone first caught the ear with the rousing quartet Compassionate Dictatorship, co-led with guitar wizard Jez Franks, who have three recordings to their name and were the first outfit some of us heard Jasper Hoiby play in. She seems to have diversified productively in the last couple of years, and will be part of a couple of other touring bands soon to visit Bristol. But the harmonic freedom of the piano-less trio suits her especially well.

It’s a classic format, and they play in the classic mould – you’ll hear hints of Rollins, and she’s acknowledged the influence of Chris Potter. I get flashes of Joshua Redman when I listen to the latest CD as well. That is, this is confident, go anywhere saxophone playing, in the service of story-telling solos. It is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, but there are occasional folkish flourishes as well (Freestone sings and plays violin on occasion). If you like your contemporary reed players, from Julian Arguelles to Joe Lovano, this is a creative saxophone voice to savour.

There aren’t really any decent videos on YouTube, so here’s an album track. And if you can’t make the BeBop club gig there’s another date at Burdall’s Yard in Bath (Nov 18th).

Bristol jazz this week – 3 Oct

October 3, 2016
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Tony Benjamin’s Bristol247 guide to notable gigs is already up (here), so no need for me to duplicate. Will say a bit more about the excellent Tori Freestone in a day or two, though.

And I’ll mention one he doesn’t find room for. Future Inns has a string of excellent bookings coming up, and this week sees them present pianist Sean Foran‘s quintet. OK, I’ve not come across him before, but from the company he keeps (including Stuart McCallum on guitar, Joost Hendrickx, drums and Sam Lasserson on cello, with the group completed by James Mainwaring on sax) he’s going to be very interesting. The fact that his recent CD features Julian Arguelles, who can currently do no wrong, on sax also impresses.

Here’s the club’s blurb, and the leader’s own website is here.

By the way, if you don’t make that one (or even if you do) you should definitely make space in the diary for guitarist Dan Messore’s rarely heard Indigo Kid the following week. Currently slightly confused about the line-up, but will try and clarify nearer the time…

Eagerly awaiting… Hamid Drake

October 1, 2016
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Was going to do a gig of the week post about Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett extravaganza at Colston Hall next Wednesday, but the main thing I want to say is that Hamid Drake must be seen live – and I find Peter Bacon has already done his stuff on that subject over at The Jazz Breakfast so you can read him instead. (Nice mention for this little tour in the Guardian guide today as well, incidentally).

I’d add that Dave Kane is one of the finest improvising bassists in this country, and seeing him in tandem with Hamid Drake won’t be the same as catching the drummer with his soulmate the great William Parker, but ought to be just as good, in its way.

Meanwhile, if you’ve never listened to Drake (poor you), here is a taster, playing with the late Chicagoan sax improviser Fred Anderson, who isn’t a million miles from Dunmall’s post-Coltrane style, although he’s generally a bit punchier rhythmically. Great stuff.