Skip to content

Stop the music! (not really): Bristol jazz week, June 18.

June 18, 2018

I’m having trouble keeping up with all the jazz events in town at the moment. Fortunately Tony Benjamin manages it – seeming to search out new bands and new venues every week. Here’s his listing for the week.

Also having trouble sampling more than a fraction of the music. Of the baker’s dozen of gigs he includes, there are at least four I’d really love to hear. They’re on consecutive nights as it happens, so possible to do them all, in theory. In real life, that’s not going to happen. The splendid double bill of Dakhla Brass and Nick Malcolm’s quartet Jade on Friday is a certainty. The others: well, I’ll just have to see. Sometimes even I have things to do that don’t involve listening to jazz…


Bristol (and Bath) jazz this week – June 12

June 12, 2018

The BeBop club now on a long Summer break, but still plenty going on, as Tony Benjamin details here.

His listing includes a delightfully unexpected one-off – a visit to Bath Spa’s Micheal Tippett Centre by Paul McCandless. It’s a little way outside the city at Newton Park, but I teach there occasionally so can say that if (like me) you are carless, there are plenty of buses from Bath bus station that ensure students get to and from their classes on campus, so pretty easy to get to. Don’t know anything about the Bath Spa big band but the university does run a jazz course so assume this draws on their students. The gig also features the US West coast trio Charged Particles, who have been playing with McCandless around the world. There’s a bunch of numbers on YouTube to sample beforehand, like this.

The Michael Tippett Centre is a pretty nice venue, too, so this should be an excellent evening –  and there are plenty of seats left at the time of writing – though there are worthwhile gigs in Bristol the same night if you don’t wish to leave town…


Sona Jobarteh – St George’s June 7

June 8, 2018

Sona Jobarteh is a wonderfully charismatic performer – on kora, voice and guitar (played, as far as I could tell, in what I shall now think of as kora finger-style: thumb and index finger only). She has a great band, too. Last night’s show at St George’s was a treat, as recorded here by the  perceptive blogger Emma Champion.

But still… What a difference a drummer makes. Wesley Joseph on drums was also a superb player. I love some drums – I’ve heard live shows from most of the leading jazz drummers of the last half century, and seek out their recordings.

However, I kind of wished he hadn’t been there last night. Nothing personal. But a full-length set I listened through on YouTube a day before this gig featured just a four piece – same (really excellent) five-string bassist, Andy McLean, a different guitarist, and the brilliant and inventive percussionist Mamadou Sarr. The interaction between Sarr and Jobarteh was a highlight of that set.

More, it seemed a perfectly balanced band. It’s well recorded, and you can hear everything, each of the four enhancing the others. With the addition of a trap set, the sound in St George’s was much more problematic. There was more amplification, which obscures the natural beauty of the sound of the kora. And the addition of snares and cymbals intrudes on the end of the frequency range where much of the kora sound lies. The result was muddy and a little frustrating. A retreat to the back of the hall, and then ascent to the gallery in the interval, improved things somewhat, but there was still a density of percussion that this music didn’t need. The voice mostly still cut through. The kora, and the guitars often didn’t. Seems a shame.

I thought the addition of drums was new, augmenting a previous working band but I now see other, earlier clips on youtube feature (I think) the same drummer, so I guess the first one that caught my fancy was an exception, and drums plus percussion is the usual line-up. Oh well, I hope she comes back … and maybe the budget or scheduling conflicts will take things back to a four-piece again, just to have a chance to enjoy that rather clearer sound live.

See which you prefer:

Without drummer. This one’s been viewed 4 million times (!) so I assumed it was the regular ensemble…


And with drummer, though also with rather clearer sound than we enjoyed last night…

Meantime, this taste of kora provides an incentive to book for a just-announced date in November at the same venue, where Catrin Finch and Sekou Keita’s harp and kora duo will sound fabulous, I’m sure. Missed their recent date in Bath, so this is a welcome chance to hear them: a recordings I have on download is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

Solo piano – two ways

June 5, 2018
tags: ,


It heats no homes, and grows no food, but the concert grand piano is on my list of finest human technological achievements. Almost anything you do with it sounds good. Great music on a great piano is an endless pleasure.

Two samples this week bear comparison. First was Paul Lewis’s recital at St George’s. Lewis is a wonderful performer, but not one who strays far from canonical concert repertoire. It’s the kind of evening to do occasionally – and we’re already booked for his date in a fortnight (the two were close together because of a cancellation and rescheduling). But a late ticket offer and another chance to hear the chap who helped St George’s select their shiny new Steinway were temptation enough to do both.

Friday was the pure  presentation of composed music. Lewis doesn’t speak – just walks on, plays, bows smilingly, and leaves the stage. Interval, and repeat. A little bit of Beethoven; two Haydn sonatas; a hefty dose of Brahms. A rousing ovation. All done by 9.05 pm, precisely as advertised – reinforcing a feeling that our man was intent on catching a train back to London.

All superbly done. Still, since you hear the same notes in the same order every time, why take in a live performance? Look for the Haydn Sonata in E-flat, and the first youtube hit is an excellently shot film of Alfred Brendel playing it as well as can be imagined. I tried to pay attention to what the live rendition yielded that was different.

Not better playing, to be sure. But you get a richer sound and, perhaps, a sense of connection. With the performer, the instrument, and audience. Even though St George’s was only two thirds full – unusual for this performer – sharing music with 400 other people who are concentrating intently does create an atmosphere of close attention that sharpens awareness of sound and silence. The spaces between the notes are louder – especially in St George’s acoustically limpid, deconsecrated space. It’s a pleasing communal rite, too. I’m not a great one for tribal custom: this one I like.

And there is something about this repertoire that makes one appreciate the piano more. These composers were exploring what it could do. This is apparent in the Beethoven bagatelles at the outset – these are essentially offcuts, but they are Beethoven’s offcuts, so each plays delightedly with what for him was a new-fangled instrument. The same is true, to a lesser extent of the Haydn sonatas. They do, all these years on, have the quality that he seems to fill out each phrase with exactly the note you expect, but that’s mainly a measure of how good a job he did, I guess. We now take all his tricks for granted.

And in the Brahms klavierstucke, similarly disconnected but more substantial than Beethoven’s bagatelles, the sound of the piano is grander still. He was born a century after Haydn, 60 years after Beethoven, so enjoyed the fully evolved grand piano, with steel frame and strings and mechanical improvements that brought the sound we now enjoy.

And what a sound. The Steinway on Friday delivered a top register like falling water, and lower notes that rumbled, growled and purred. And at climactic moments, especially the last bars of the Brahms, it roared. I daresay one could build an audio system that reproduced all this, almost, but it would probably cost nearly as much as the actual instrument. Better to remind the ears how it sounds every now and again by visiting a concert hall and hearing someone as good as Lewis play music like this, that uses it to such good effect.

Sunday’s set – 90 mins, no interval (what an excellent phrase that is) – from Tigran wasn’t quite unadorned piano. There was a little electronic decoration deployed, rather effectively, on one piece; some vocal percussion at the mike; one sung melody; and some exceptionally tuneful whistling. But the piano was the main business. The young player is something of a critical darling, as this review from Kings Place last year testifies – he played the Barbican the night before this gig as his only other UK appearance this time round.

I find much of what he does resistible, sadly – my failing, I daresay. There were scattered beauties all the way through, and some entire pieces succeed brilliantly. But the overall conception doesn’t quite keep the attention. I have never seen a solo piano recital from a player whose left hand was used to such static effect throughout. A note or three, often repeated unchangingly from start to finish, supports a continual stream from the active hand, but creates a monotonous effect, rhythmically and – some of the time – harmonically. Some of the tunes are deeply affecting, some aren’t. But all are delivered with a semi-devotional air reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim decades ago. It’s beguiling, up to a point, and obviously deeply felt, but if you aren’t quite swept up in the flow it seems to lack something. Hard to define what – I think where it falls down may be that this is music with the quality of improvisation, but without very much actual quality improvisation. The mid-tempo flurries from that busy right hand never falter, but all sound pretty similar over the long haul.

Still, everyone else seemed to find it thoroughly pleasing, and there was a good audience, about thirty years younger on average than Lewis’s crowd. So maybe I’ve just spent too long in the company of Monk and Moran, Stan Tracey and Fred Hersch, and not enough time steeped in Armenian tradition. I felt the force of that in the splendid encore, one of the tunes with gorgeous whistling to delineate the melody. But only intermittently before that.

Never mind. The Steinway sits in St George’s, awaiting its next collaborator (or adversary, as Stan used to say). That encounter will be different again.



Bristol jazz week – 4 June

June 4, 2018

Here’s the rundown compiled by Tony Benjamin for Bristol247

I count 15 gigs listed there, but still a couple of things to add: TB says Thursday looks crowded. Yes, and there’s more. Big Bad Wolf, a London-based quartet, includes guitarist-of-the-moment Rob Luft, along with Owen Dawson (trombone), Micheal de Souza (Fender bass) and Jay Davis (drums). Their album Pond Life came out last year and John Fordham found it “intriguing” – and they appear at the Canteen on the night in question.

And for something a bit different, you can pop down to St Stephens church the night after for energetic trumpeter Dave Mowat’s Chai for All. He describes them as “a jazz-tinged klezmer and Middle-Eastern music ensemble”. Their latest project has recruited artists and story-tellers from Palestine for

“An evocative ‘music and spoken word concert’ of human-earth stories through the eyes of Palestinians living under Occupation. A collaboration between Dar Al Musika (Palestine) and Chai For All (UK) with singer/bağlama player Zaid Hilal (Palestine)..

If you want to learn more about how life is lived there after recent news from Gaza, or are just intrigued by the possibilities of cross-cultural collaboration, then catch this first night of a five-date tour. Can’t find it on St Stephens website, but the details and tickets are here – and start time advertised is 7.30.


PS. Out of Bristol, there’s also the Amser Jazz Time festival at the RWCMD from Thursday, with Trio HLK/Evelyn Glennie, Yazz Ahmed, and Nerija, as well as a packed programme of college ensembles. Details here.

A clutch of 2018 CDs

June 1, 2018
tags: ,

Vanity reposting interlude: Still reviewing for LondonJazzNews – still about one a month – so here are the half dozen or so I tried to say something sensible about in the first months of 2018.

Andreas Schaerer – A Novel of Anomaly – link


Slightly more relaxed session than usual from the astonishing Swiss voice artist.


Greg Cordez – Last Things Last – link


Beautiful writing and playing from Bath-based bassist, and a stellar NY band.

Michael Wollny Trio Live – Wartburg, Trio – Oslo. – link


Double offering from the mercurial pianist, who ACT continue to document generously. Quite right too.


Mathias Eick – Ravensburg – link 


Another dreamy offering from the trumpeter – the contrasting flavour imparted by a different violinist, compared with his previous, is fascinating.


Bokani Dyer Trio – Neo Native – link


Love South African piano, and this guy is developing an interesting take on several traditions.


Jure Pukl – Doubtless – Link


A formidable two-tenor quartet here.


Bristol jazz this week – 29 May

May 29, 2018
tags: ,

As anticipated, I failed to benefit from several notable gigs last week. Eyebrow were excellent at St George’s, though. Not so taken with Mammal Hands, unlike the rest of the audience who responded warmly to their simple, riffy pieces. As Tony Benjamin relates, the sound wasn’t great, but there was another problem – I find what they do a little dull, overall. The event rate is low, and it’s a all bit monotonous, and predictable. Lots of folks obviously like their music like this, but if jazz is the sound of surprise, then that’s to be found elsewhere.

Happily, we made it back from a trip up North in time to catch Greg Cordez’s birthday celebration gig at the Fringe on Sunday night, which was an endearingly ramshackle affair, and musically rewarding, as such evenings often are. Especially good to hear Michael Blake, who plays so well on Greg’s last album, on tenor. I hadn’t come across this accomplished US-based player before but his stuff is well worth exploring.

Plenty more on offer this week – as listed here. I’ll be giving Tigran a try next weekend, on the basis of growing reputation and recommendations. Didn’t hear him last time out at St George’s when, they say, he “left the audience almost dizzy with the evidence of his genius”(!). I did find a European Festival show, a few years ago, marred by a lot of bombastic stuff derived from his affection for heavy-metal, which overwhelmed the rest of the set. Hoping for something a bit more reflective this time round.