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Bristol Jazz Week, March 2-8: Festival time!

March 1, 2015

As per previous post, the annual Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival is almost here. There are some gigs in the next few days which are branded as “Festival Fringe” – something which’ll grow in future, I expect. Hope the extra publicity of being in the festival brochure gives them a deserved boost. I’ll be there for music, of course, and also for the Books for Amnesty stall which looks like having a good stock of CDs this year, as well as vinyl, books and our remaining stock of David Redfern prints. We pay for the stall (discounted for charity) so need to sell stuff to make it worthwhile. My shift is 12-3.00 on Saturday, so come and have a look, and say hello, if you’re down at Colston that early.

Meantime, here are Tony Benjamin‘s recommendations for the coming week, and for the Festival itself. You can also read his review of last week’s bracingly good Partisans gig on Bristol 247.

Jazz week Mar 2-8

There’s a ton of jazz coming your way this week, most of it packed between Friday 6 and Sunday 8 at the Colston Hall: yes, it’s the third Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival and you’ll need to check their website for the full SP. There’s 45 acts appearing, 20 of them in the Foyer, with big names including Dr John, Pee Wee Ellis, Lillian Boutté and Carleen Anderson all catching the weekend’s New Orleans theme. Especially tasty treats should be Andy Sheppard’s unveiling of new ECM material with guitarist Eivind Aarset back in the band (Saturday 7), astonishing vocalist and violinist Alica Zawadzki (Saturday 7), trip-hop influenced Slowly Rolling Camera (Sunday 8) and festival openers Paradox Ensemble (Friday 7), a lively spin-off from the Beats & Pieces big band.

There’s a’fringe’ programme through the week, too, which includes Gary Alesbrook’s Duval Project performing with a string section at Fringe@The Mall (Wednesday 4), saxophonist Nicholas Dover’s new Fault Lines project at Canteen (Wednesday 4) and Emily Saunders’ poised vocals (and new CD) at Future Inns (Thursday 5). Cardiff’s Occasional Brass Ensemble bring that street band sound to Canteen (Thursday 5) while bass player Vicky Tilson’s VTQ will be previewing her new F-IRE Collective album at The Tunnels (Sunday 8). Amazingly that’s not all the week’s jazz, either: there’s the Canteen Jazz Session (Monday 2), Victoria Klewin and the True Tones (Old Bookshop, Saturday 7) and Bartoune (Tobacco Factory, Sunday 8) as well as Trinity hosting a jazz workshop, concert and jam session from Tomorrow’s Warriors (Sunday 8).

Jazz Festival Time March 6-8

February 22, 2015

If you’re reading this, the 3rd Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival is probably in the diary (isn’t it?). It seems an established part of the city calendar already, and now has a few “fringe” gigs – which are dates off the main site which would probably happen anyway but now get a boost, we may hope, from the good vibes generated by the big fest.

The main offer is much like the first two years – some big name headliners who are bankable (Dr John, providing the finale on Sunday night, ought to be sell-out), other ticketed gigs which are mostly fairly risk averse, shall we say, and a strong schedule of free sets in the Colston Hall foyer from local bands showing what they can do. Good music throughout, and the full details are on the website and in a brochure probably now awaiting pick-up in a bar or cafe near you.

It is worth coming by Colston Hall in 2 weekends’ time (March 6-8) just to enjoy the atmosphere and see what catches your ear – it is genuinely festive. But here are a few of the more interesting jazz happenings that people looking for the more surprising or rewarding moments may want to note ahead of time.

First up is the photo exhibition which actually begins before the Festival. Last year there was a matchless display of David Redfern‘s music pics on show – a last offering, I think, from the great man, who died last Autumn. This year there will be a fine selection from the work of the only other photographer given regular access to Ronnie Scott’s club, a show culled from 25 years of work by David Sinclair. It launches on Feb 25 at 6.00, with a short solo performance from Andy Sheppard, who has been a big supporter of SInclair as he and his son, Malcolm, organise his rather fine archive. Check out their new website, which displays many more photos, as well.

And so to the music. Things I want to hear include the Paradox Ensemble early on Friday evening. An 8-piece, they include leader Nick Walters on trumpet, also heard in Manchester’s renowned Beats n’ Pieces, and Rebecca Nash on keyboards. They sound genuinely orchestral, and brilliantly arranged, aided by an instrumentation that runs to sousaphone and accordion as well as electronics – sample them here.

Other sets that look like good bets for seekers of fresh sounds include Alice Zawadzki on Saturday, and Andy Sheppard, often seen in this city of course but not with his international quartet, and not previewing a new and notable ECM CD release.

Then there’s Slowly Rolling Camera, the fascinating new project of Edition Record’s boss Dave Stapleton on Sunday afternoon. Their blend of jazz, trip-hop, soul and cinematic textures has attracted lots of interest but they haven’t played Bristol before so it’ll be good to hear them live.

Those are all ticketed gigs. In the foyer, there’s tons of good stuff throughout, but look out  especially for Greg Cordez Quintet (Friday 20.45), Moonlight Saving Time (Saturday, 13.45), the exuberant Dakhla (Saturday 17.30) and Andy Sheppard again, with the inimitable Pushy Doctors, on Sunday 16.15.

So a packed weekend – but yes, I will be hanging around for Dr John on Sunday night, too. Who can resist?

Gig of the week – Partisans

February 21, 2015

There’s plenty of good stuff in town in the coming week, but I’m pretty sure Partisans at the Mall in Clifton on Wednesday will be the highlight. I wrote a review (pasted below) of their latest CD, Swamp, for LondonJazzNews which goes some way to explain why.

While retrieving that piece, I also found this earlier one on the same site describing a live gig, which gives a good impression of their impact in person. Last time I heard them was in the Coronation Tap, and I can confirm that sitting up close to Gene Calderazzo at the drum set is a pretty energising way to spend an evening. They really deserve a large audience, in a large venue, but hearing them in a small one is one of the peak jazz experiences you can be lucky enough to enjoy in the UK…

The recordings are rather spiffing, too:

CD REVIEW: Partisans -Swamp

Partisans – Swamp
(Whirlwind WR4657. CD review by Jon Turney)

Here’s a CD so good it induced reviewer’s procrastination: putting off writing because I wanted to go on listening. Partisans have been one of the jewels of the British jazz scene now for almost two decades, but it’s been five years since their last recording. Swamp, marking a move from Babel records to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind label, reaffirms their standing as one of the most rewarding bands anywhere.

Rewarding, that is, if you seek engaging writing, exuberant improvisation, and music that pursues Miles Davis’ latter-day project of combining jazz finesse with rock’s electric thrill. Think of the mellower beginning of that phase of Davis’ career – there are indeed a couple of nods here to In A Silent Way – not the all-out funk that followed, and you’re not far off.

Mellow is the feel this time for about half the tunes. The set is perhaps a little more relaxed overall than earlier Partisans’ efforts, though with no loss of intensity. Co-leader Phil Robson’s sound on guitar varies continually, from a heavily overdriven solo that lights up the close of the high-life tinged opener Flip the Sneck to plenty of clean, clear lines in more expected “jazz guitar” mode. Julian Siegel offers abundant tenor sax, with side helpings of soprano, bass clarinet and, on the closing Icicle Architects, a cooling dose of clarinet.

This music has great variety. Each of the eight tracks packs in contrasting episodes and subsidiary themes. There is an ease and suppleness about the band’s realisation of often-complex music that testifies to their long acquaintance. Robson and Siegel’s solos convey a freedom-in-virtuosity that also comes across in the discipline needed to play long, swooping unison lines at fast tempos. Both are energised by Gene Calderazzo’s constantly creative drumming. Thad Kelly’s electric bass is the band’s solid platform, sometimes confined to the simplest of figures for a whole tune.

Standout moments abound: Siegel’s first soprano statement on Overview, leading to a wild guitar solo, then to a cooler re-examination of the insistent theme; the way Swamp begins with some sinister atmospherics but ends with such infectious bounce; the way the fiendishly complex line of Mickey resolves into something much simpler that launches the soloists.

So many good things here, but one quality stands out. Play it through, then go back to the opening cut and ask yourself: when did you last hear so much joie de vivre packed into 5:15?

Bristol jazz week, 21 Feb

February 20, 2015

Two truly mouth-watering prospects on successive evenings (hurrah) next week – Partisans and Tim Garland. And a wide choice of other stuff, as highlighted below by the ever-vigilant Tony Benjamin.

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If you’d been planning to catch the Cube’s enterprising double bill of the film Whiplash with a live music set from The Big R Big Band (Thursday 26) it’s well sold out, which will probably leave you heading for St George’s for Tim Garland’s glorious ‘Songs To The North Sky’ music with Messrs Rebello, Sirkis and (Ant) Law among many delights. You’ll probably still be buzzing from the previous night’s Partisans gig at the Fringe @ Mall (Tuesday 25), mind you – a real coup for the session. And, of course, the actual Fringe pub still hosts its monthly free jazz blow-out which this month welcomes Kevin Figes (Monday 23), a player whose formal compositions only hint at his great improvisatory skills, joining the regular house trio.

Good to see pianist Martin Jenkins Latin Descarga session pop up again, this time at Plantation (Saturday 28) while full-tilt fusion guitar merchants Bad Hands appear at Golden Lion the same night. Jenkins appears in swing mode with Paper Moon at Canteen earlier in the week (Wednesday 25), while the equally ubiquitous James Morton takes to that stage on Friday 27 having led his Groove Den at the Gallimaufry the night before (Thursday 26). Blues fans can catch the Will Edmunds Band’s jazz grooves in the Jimmy Smith mode at the Coronation Tap (Thursday 26) and the rootsier hokum blues of Swansea’s excellent Rumble Strutters at Left Bank (Friday 27). But do you know about United Vibrations? The young Sun Ra inspired quartet from London will bring their joyful brassy jazz-hop music and Last Poets style conscious declamations to Canteen (Saturday 28) and if you can get in it’ll be another treat. Their gig is the first of next week’s scattered ‘fringe’ flagging up  the  impending Jazz and Blues Festival weekend (from Friday 6).

PS – One before the festival: the fiery (in several senses) Gilad Atzman makes a welcome return to the Hen And Chicken on March 1, with material from his new album with the excellent Orient House Ensemble (4* Guardian review here).

Dave Newton’s left hand…

February 20, 2015

Note to the person who called Steve of Jazz @Future Inns asking if last night’s duo gig (Simon Spillett, sax; Dave Newton, piano) would work OK without a drummer: Dave Newton is a rhythm section. Indeed, as my neighbour said when I voiced  that thought, “Dave Newton’s left hand is a rhythm section”…       Great gig from both players, Spillett hoarse vocally, but eloquent on the horn!

Three Tenors, The Mall Pub, Feb 11

February 13, 2015

“Three tenor players getting nasty with each other – which is what you’ve all come to see, isn’t it?” Thus Ben Waghorn‘s introduction to a thorough working over of Coltrane’s Impressions, deep in the second set. Honest, guv, it wasn’t really. It was for the sheer joy of the sound of three of the big horns in such capable hands – Waghorn himself along with Nick Dover and Andy Sheppard in this case – bringing a big crowd back to the Mall after a week or two of cold nights keeping some punters (me) at home.

Granted people reach easily for gladiatorial or jousting metaphors when confronted with more than one saxophone, but there are other ways of doing it – mutual appreciation and inspiration are equally attractive prospects. And that was mainly what we got, backed by the quintessential Bristol rhythm section of Whitlam, Harris and Blomfield.

The latter three were as essential as the three horns, Will Harris getting off the blocks with a fine bass solo on the opening Wayne Shorter tune, Blomfield on piano rising to the challenge of pieces identified with Tyner and Hancock, Whitlam on drums stoking the fire throughout. His groove on the second tune, Hank Mobley’s Hi Voltage, wold have brought a smile to original drummer Billy Higgins’s face, I reckon.

So a bit of a Blue Note-leaning blowing session, then. Waghorn had arranged a few numbers but, in the way of uncountable informal jazz dates, had run out of time to provide a full evening’s worth, so we got a few solo features along the way – a fine rumination on My One and Only Love from him and How Deep is the Ocean (I think) from Dover. Add tunes from Hubert Laws (Bloodshot), Herbie Hancock (Wiggle Waggle from his early Mwandishi phase) and Coltrane and there was time for just one original – a splendid, loping tune from Harris titled Mosey.

As is also the way, the playing got better as the evening went on – or did it just seem so? No, I think it did. Dover, a less demonstrative player than the other two, sounded a tiny bit tentative at first, but was unfolding confident, inventive solos by the end. Waghorn, with a harder-edged tone, was magisterial throughout, and Sheppard took advantage of his broader range of timbres and effects – from smooching to shrieks – while raising his usual amused eyebrow when the others did something unexpected.

By the end, we’d heard a fine three-way conversaation about the finer points of horn playing. They could have called it saxophone summit, but that name’s already taken. They should do it again.

Bristol jazz week – Feb 15th

February 13, 2015

The already star-studded line-up of Ant Law’s Quartet at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday has been augmented by saxophone player Julian (Partisans) Siegel – even more reason to get down there for what promises to be one of the best gigs of the month. (Partisans, incidentally, are booked for a rare Bristol date at the Mall on Feb 25th: another one not to miss.)

Meanwhile, here are Tony Benjamin’s recommendations for the discerning jazz-lover about town for the coming week.

So … Friday 20 should be a sort out (of sorts) given the choices of a) the Hackney Colliery Band (Lantern); b) Mike Collins’ Quartet (Bebop); c) Avellana, plus Lift to the Scaffold (Cube). Fun loving groove merchants will definitely head for the Lantern and those Hackney hip-hop flavours  (a la Hypnotic and others). Connoisseurs of intelligent European contemporary jazz, however, should get to the Bebop early to hear pianist Mike with Lee Goodall’s well-tempered sax and a whole new set of tunes as they launch their excellent new CD And Suddenly, Evening. That just leaves the retro-beatniks heading down to the Cube for that dreamy Miles Davis soundtrack.

Earlier in the week James Morton appears at The Fringe @ The Mall (Wednesday 18) for a proper blow with a jazz quartet before grooving into the Gallimaufry (Thursday 19). That date unfortunately coincides with the brilliant (and less frequently seen) Simon Spillet at Future Inn in a duo with Dave Newton’s reliably engaging piano AND a Coronation Tap return of Jonny Bruce’s highly entertaining Tribute to Trumpet Kings, hopefully with as supercharged a sextet as he brought last time. Sultry voiced singer Victoria Klewin’s True Tones jazz and blues band are at the Golden Lion on Thursday night, too, and the evening begins with the excellent Dakhla Brass in the Colston Hall Foyer who then head over to the Canteen for a later gig there. Thursdays, eh!

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