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Jazz in Bristol this week

February 7, 2016

As Tony Benjamin says in his weekly roundup (below) it’s a diary of local players’ ensembles this week – counting the excellent Dave Newton as one of ours…

However, there’s one exciting visitor next Sunday (14th) when the superb pianist Dan Tepfer offers a recital at St George’s. It’s not exactly classical, not exactly jazz, but inhabits an enticing area in between. How? Tepfer, who has equal facility either way, performs Bach’s Goldberg variations… with variations. That is, you will hear the 30 original variations, each followed by a related improvisation by Tepfer. (This review explains it well).

The original set often appeals to jazz keyboard artists. Keith Jarrett has recorded it on harpsichord (of course he has). Our own John Law issued a splendid version, with some tasteful electronic additions before and after, last year, and that may be heard live soon. In the meantime, this one is a delicious prospect. As another reviewer, in Jazz Times, said, Tepfer makes Bach “a colleague in joy”.

Here’s how, on just one variation. (You can listen to a complete performance on YouTube as well, if you’ve an hour and a half to spare)

Before then….Jazz week February 8-14

Does Dave Newton count as a local hero? He’s a Scot who lives on the South Coast and has a thoroughly deserved status as one of the UK’s finest jazz musicians, so Bristol’s claim on him would be dubious. Yet, happily, we see him play on a regular basis whether as a crucial sideman to other players, a deft and sensitive accompanist to singers or leading his many and various trio configurations. An intriguing example of a Dave Newton Trio is arguably the gig of the week when he plays The Fringe (Wednesday 10) in a drumless threesome with the Steele brothers Nat (vibraphone) and Luke (bass). Nat has that classic bebop vibe style – cool as you like – and with Dave’s seemingly limitless imagination the combination should be thrilling.If you can’t squeeze into the Fringe that night, however, you could catch Kevin Figes Quartet at Canteen, and enjoy the saxophonist’s long-established chemistry with pianist Jim Blomfield.

Thursday night (11) sees a choice of unarguably local players, with the ever-heroic Bristolian violinist John Pearce bringing his emotionally charged swing and bop to Future Inn, while the cooler ambient piano of relocated Dutch film composer Daan Temminkk features at the Old Market Assembly and, finally, Ayesha Akkari & Henry Binning represent the new post-Uni generation of jazz talent with Ayesha’s classic jazz and Latin vocalsdown at No 1 Harbourside.

Friday night (12) sees the beginning of the much-vaunted Radio 6 Music festival – not much jazz on offer but Ayesha’s former band Feelgood Experiment will be playing their global jazz-rock at the Assembly and the Iceman Furniss Quintet will be making their ‘fully improvised, uncompromising and soulful punk art jazz’ at The Exchange. Cornet player Harry Furniss’s lot make interesting music – check the Roll For The Soul sample on their Soundcloud page. But of course the Bebop Club has no need of BBC branding for the Nick Dover Quartet with Nick’s melodic tenor sax playing nicely worked around George Cooper’s fluid piano harmonics.

The week rounds off with a session of mucho caliente Nu Yorican Latin jazz at the Alma Tavern (Sunday 14) courtesy of singing percussionist Tammy Payne and Chirimoya, her rhythm-packed celebration of Tito Puente and the like.

Tom Harrison Group, Hen and Chicken, Jan 31

February 1, 2016

Choose your  own stuff, or play standards? – A question for any jazz musician. The answers leave you exposed in different ways. Self-penned compositions can be thin. But the standards you choose invite comparison with all the greats who have played them before.

Alto sax  player Tom Harrison has taken on the second challenge in its extreme form, devoting his new project entirely to the works of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. As it’s often unclear exactly who wrote what, lets just say that together they are undoubtedly the greatest jazz composer. And their tunes evoke an orchestra that always featured some of the greatest players.

You aren’t going to get far with orchestral sounds with a quartet, which is what we have tonight, but there are definitely Ellingtonian features in the sound. Harrison can channel Johnny Hodges – who promoter Ian Storror recalls hearing play with Ellington at Colston hall in 1969! – when he wants to, as he proves on Chelsea Bridge. And the astonishing Cleveland Watkiss on vocals can do pretty much anything, including muted trumpet now and again, as well as using an electronic box to loop up a whole rhythm section for a solo tour de force on Caravan.

The rest of the time, he focuses on vocal lines – sometimes with lyrics (so A Flower is a Lovesome Thing becomes A Flower is a Lonesome Thing), sometimes without. He exudes the kind of confidence you need to use the vocabulary of scat singing without sounding lame, as well as harnessing a full range of more up to date voice techniques, from McFerrin onwards, and generally projecting delight in the work.

Watkiss’s transfixing stage presence, helped a lot by what is currently the best sound system in any Bristol jazz room, is matched by the hugely talented Northern Irish drummer and frequent Harrison collaborator Dave Lyttle. He has imagination and drive to spare and catches the ear constantly in the way that Jack DeJohnette or Joey Baron do. The foursome is rounded out tonight by up and coming bass player Daniel Casimir, who has the deep tone that points irresistibly to the origins of modern bass playing in the short spell Jimmy Blanton sparred with the entire Ellington Orchestra.

It’s the first night of a short tour, and already clear that this project is something special. The selections are mainly well-known ones: Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, Solitude, Warm Valley. (No Lush Life, although a passing mention of the title prompts a tantalising unaccompanied foray by Watkiss in between numbers). They are all sound fresh and rich, whether played straight or, like Take the A Train, given startling new treatments (even the train noises are musical), with lyrics, or without.

They’ll be back in this part of the country in a week, playing in Cheltenham on Feb 8, with a stop at the Pizza Express in London midweek. Both those dates, I think, feature Robert Mitchell on piano, which will add another whole dimension, and will be recorded for release later this year. That’s one to look forward to. This was an evening full of joy, and a great way to round off Storror’s remarkable run of January gigs.

Bristol jazz diary – Feb 1-7

January 30, 2016

Here’s all the jazz info you need for the coming week, courtesy of critic about town Tony Benjamin, including a useful radio tip this time. The final Hen and Chicken gig in Ian Storror’s January feast is tomorrow, and looks another excellent prospect. Last week’s Atzmon/Barnes double act certainly sparkled. Read Tony’s Bristol247 review here, and Mike Collins’ appreciation of the same evening here.

Jazz week Feb 1-7

No doubt promoter Ian Storror will be looking forward to a well-earned breather after January’s highly successful run of weekly jazz gigs that all attracted audiences of 100-plus to the Hen & Chicken for some cracking evenings. It was a tantalising glimpse of what Bristol still needs – a weekly top-class jazz club able to rely on a large enough audience to pay for great acts.

That’s not to disrespect the Bebop, Fringe or Future Inn sessions but it has to be recognised that their scale and finances put a limitation on what can be booked. What the Bebop has always done brilliantly, however, is to showcase the best local musicians who are making original music, something exemplified by the club organiser himself. For over a decade the Andy Hague Quintet (Bebop, Friday 5) has been rewarding audiences with a combination of great individual and group musicianship and Andy’s ear-catchingly crafted tunes and arrangements. The Fringe this week celebrates another enduring favourite of the Bristol scene in the James Morton Band (Wednesday 3), a grooving quartet that puts the flamboyant alto player in front of guitarist Jerry Crozier-Cole, Jonny Henderson’s Hammond and the mighty drumming of Ian Matthews, while frequent Morton collaborator Gary Alesbrook brings his R’n’B fusion outfit The Duval Project to Future Inn (Thursday 4). The band has a new line-up, with Arge McGee replacing the over-busy Danny Cox on drums and Dan Waldman joining on guitar. Fronted by the ever-impressive vocals of Marie Lister the band are currently working on new material for an album.

Things are pretty well-established at the Old Market Assembly now, with the fortnightly Old Market Jazz Session led by bass player Greg Cordez (Monday 1) opening a week that also hosts the Jonny Bruce Quartet playing for the swing dance night (Wednesday 3) and trumpeter Jonny returns to the venue with the  good time contemporary New Orleans style Brass Junkies (Saturday 6). There’s more swing business with Hot Clubbers Schmoozenbergs at No 1 Harbourside (Sunday 7) and swing-jazz vocalist Molly King brings her Molly & The Kings project to The Old Duke (Wednesday 3) – the same evening that Canteen hosts pianist Andy Christie’s Quartet .

Those finding themselves with the Sunday twitches might do well to head past the Hen & Chicken to the Tobacco Factory for the Dave Perry Trio (Sunday 7), a tight threesome led by the diffident craftsmanship of saxophonist/composer Dave, whose classic tune writing and economically judged solo playing are always a treat. If that doesn’t tempt you there’s also the farther-out attractions of Japanese sound artist Ryoko Akama appearing at the Cube with sonic improviser Joseph Clayton Mills and Dominic Lash’s solo bass interpretations of avant-garde composer Alvin Lucier.

Finally – if you find yourself with 45 minutes to while away the BBC Radio i-player should still offer Blood Count, a rather compelling afternoon play from Radio 4 looking at the creative relationship between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn with Dave Newton Andrew Cleyndert and Alan Barnes making some fine Ellington-esque music throughout.

Bristol jazz highlights, Jan 25-31

January 23, 2016

Upcoming week dates, courtesy of Tony Benjamin, below. And if you’re thinking of heading for Gilad Atzman and Alan Barnes at the Hen and Chicken tomorrow night, here’s a review from earlier in their tour to encourage you.

Jazz week Jan 25-31

Good to see guitarist Cameron Pierre heading for the Bebop Club (Friday 29) with Anders Olinder (keys) and Andy Tween (drums) – at one time the latter were the ubiquitous rhythm section of choice hereabouts and they should make an excellent context for Pierre’s fluent playing. His long association with Courtney Pine’s heavily grooving bands never seemed to suit the guitarist’s style which harks back to the more classic influences of Wes Montgomery. Equally impressive is the appearance of Jazz Warriors vocalist Cleveland Watkiss with the Tom Harrison Quartet at the Hen & Chicken (Sunday 31), making the fourth in a weekly run of star visitors for Ian Storror’s increasingly popular session. It’s doubly impressive given Ian’s well-known imperviousness to vocal jazz, of course, but few would challenge Watkiss as one of the country’s best jazz singers and this pairing  with young sax talent Tom Harrison is a project exploring the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn who together created tunes like Satin Doll, Lush Life and many others.

Elsewhere it’s a busy week for Charlotte Ostafew’s lively baritone sax with the glorious and groovy Dakhla Brass appearing at the Fringe (Wednesday 27) and the retro-swinging Bartoune popping into the Alma Tavern (Sunday 31), while the Future Inn is offering a Dave Newton Trio (Thursday 28), though whether it’s the band with Matt Skelton and Tom Farmer that recorded Dave’s last movie-themed album ‘Big Screen Take 1’ they don’t say. Elsewhere that night there’s ‘hokum blues’ outfit The Hot House Four at the Old Duke and Canadian saxophonist Len Arulia in a duo with Anders Olinder at No 1 Harbourside.

The Canteen/No 1 Harbourside people now have a third venue, of course, with the Old Market Assembly and their weekly swing dance evening every Tuesday usually features a great band: this week (Tuesday 26) they have lively trad-swing youngsters Rhythm Pencils. The three venues are programmed by drummer John Blakeley whose star-packed Afrobeat outfit No Go Stop are at The Exchange (Saturday 30).

Finally – it should be time for the monthly Fringe Free Music at the Fringe (Monday 25) though their Facebook page doesn’t have any up to date details. The house foursome of Phil Gibbs (guitar), Paul Anstey (double bass), Mark Langford (bass clarinet and tenor sax) and Bob Helson (drums) are seasoned improvisers who know exactly what they’re about.

Jazz in Bristol – Jan 18-24

January 16, 2016

Haven’t been to much yet this year, but good reviews of 2016 jazz in Bristol are already in evidence – Moonlight Saving Time at the Hen and Chicken written up here and here, and Rebecca Nash’s Atlas (of which I caught the first half, but found the sound a little difficult to get into when the electric piano and electric bass folded in together, although the band’s potential is clear) here

Now looking forward to Andy Sheppard’s Hotel Bristol tomorrow night at the Hen and Chicken again, which is sure to be crowded. And then, there’s this lot, as compiled by the ever-obliging and well-informed Tony Benjamin. That clash between Three Cane Whale and Baaba Maal is irksome, but I’m voting for the home team, whose new CD has had some cracking reviews in the posh papers.

Jazz week Jan 18-24

Things are definitely warming up, despite the weather, and there’s plenty of jazz to pick from this week. There’s also a lot of great music jazz-lovers might enjoy that doesn’t fit the definition – like neo-folkers Three Cane Whale (St George’s Thursday 21) blessed with Pete Judge’s incisive trumpet playing or world music stars Baaba Maal and Vieux Farke Touré (Colston Hall, Thursday 21 & Friday 22 respectively). Word is that Brazilian outfit Bloco Dos Sujos (Exchange, Friday 22) are on fire these days, too.

Jazz-wise, however, the stand-out gig is at the Hen & Chicken (Sunday 24) when jousting reedsmen Gilad Atzmon & Alan Barnes lead Gilad’s Orient House Ensemble in the third brilliant gig in a row for Ian Storror’s Jazz At The Albert programme. Fiery modernist and dazzling hard bopper Barnes is a fine match for Atzmon’s powerhouse playing that can recall Charlie Parker or John Coltrane for both technique and passion. Book early – these nights are selling out!

But the week also offers the return of swinging Fringe favourites the John Pearce & David Newton Band (Wednesday 20) – also featuring Kasabian drummer Ian Matthews and highly rated bass player James Agg – while Canteen has the filmic pianist-led Daan Temminck Quartet on the same night. Thursday (21) sees the duo of Sefriel’s alto sax leader Sophie Stockham & Ruth Hammond’s keyboards at No 1 Harbourside and new, blues-heavy quartet The Sneakers at Future Inn. Ruth figures at the same venue on Friday (22) as part of the New Orleans street-beaters Brass Junkies but you might catch that on the way back from the Bebop Club who have an interesting night of Italian jazz, with local ex-pats Paolo Adamo and Pasquale Votino providing the rhythm section for Fabio Lepore’s Pausa Caffe, with veteran vocalist Lepore and alto saxophonist Carlo Fraccalvieri covering some 80 years of Italian jazz history. The Friday night wild card is, unsurprisingly, at The Exchange, with a bill of ‘sludgegaze’ and ‘groovescape’ that includes the Iceman Furniss Quintet, led by eclectic cornet player Harry Furniss making ‘post-punk art jazzscape’ music. Wowsers!

If you don’t get into Gilad’s Sunday gig you might want to check FlatEarth at the Alma Tavern, a quartet fronted by vocalist Victoria Klewin with Andy Christie (guitar), John-paul Gard (Hammond) and Eddie John playing New Orleans inspired blues, jazz & soul, or guitarist Will Edmunds’ regular Sunday Jazz & Blues trio evenings at Leftbank.

Bristol jazz week – 10 Jan

January 10, 2016

Tony Benjamin’s jazz notes for the coming week.

Jazz week Jan 11-17

Ok, better have a nice quiet start to the week because it really hots up from Wednesday 13 onwards, when the Jim Blomfield Trio hit the Fringe session (which is now back at the actual Fringe Bar, if you remember). Jim never disappoints and his recent appearance with Greg Cordez really was astounding so this well established threesome with Tosh Wijetunde (bass) and Mark Whitlam (drums) is certain to be on top form.

Then it’s down to Future Inn on Thursday (14) for  Atlas, a new project by London-based (but Bristol-raised) pianist Rebecca Nash that also includes trumpeter Nick Malcolm who was also a splendid part of Greg’s quintet that night. Rebecca’s music is characterised by thoughtful economy and fine dynamic control, both as player and bandleader.

Friday night, and for the courageous it’s the opening of Howling Owl weekend at the Arnolfini – three days of ‘forward-thinking music, art and noise’. Those prefering to hedge their bets can expect more recognisable (but probably no less inventive) music from the Jake McMurchie Quartet (Bebop, Friday 15) when the Get the Blessing saxophonist teams up with guitarist Dan Waldman, bass player Riaan Vosloo and Bebop mailman Andy Hague himself on drums. That’s a formidable line-up and suggests Jake will be exploring his powerful Rollins-esque side as well as more contemporary influences.

And then it’s Sunday 17 and for those not howling with the owls there’s an interesting spectrum of choices: the Alma Tavern features Denny Ilett & friends, a regular residency of classic swing and modern jazz led by the eclectic guitarist, while the Tobacco Factory offers Eyebrow, trumpeter Pete Judge’s ambient electro-acoustic duo with drummer Paul Wigens. Finally – and probably the biggest draw of the evening (if not the week) – there’s Hotel Bristol at the Hen and Chicken. This groove-based project was initiated by Andy Sheppard with Denny Ilett, Percy Pursglove (bass/trumpet) and Mark Whitlam (drums), however given Denny’s obligations elsewhere it will feature highly promising young guitarist Matt Hopkins whose stylish jazz-rock contributions to Sefrial are an important part of their sound.

Brstol jazz week – 3 Jan

January 3, 2016

First weekly preview for 2016. Tony Benjamin writes:

Bristol Jazz Week January 3-10

So – the new year blows in, quite literally, with a handful of excellent saxophonists, a brace of vocal talent and a couple of contrasting guitarists. The first blast of reed power is the return of The Three Tenors project to the Fringe (Wednesday 6) – itself returned to the Fringe pub in Princess Victoria Street. This absolute treat brings Ben Waghorn and Nick Dover together with Andy Sheppard and the incomparable rhythm section of Blomfield, Vosloo and Whitlam and is guaranteed to burst the walls of the Fringe’s compact theatre. Though there’s just One Alto at the Colston Hall Foyer drivetime slot (Friday 8) it is Kevin Figes and he’s likely to have a very similar rhythm section to those tenors. Kev’s been working on new material as well as numbers from his Tables & Chairs collection and his longstanding playing partnership with Jim Blomfield’s piano is always rewardingly empathetic and creative.

And then, sax-wise, there was one … but quite a big one, as it goes, when the Hen & Chicken presents Moonlight Saving Time & Jason Yarde (Sunday 10). First encountered as a Jazz Warrior, Yarde is an established star on the UK scene, with a distinctively passionate Afro-tinged style who recently collaborated on the new Moonlight Saving Time album being showcased at this gig. MST is itself an all-star affair, with singer Emily Wright a true vocal artist in the manner of Norma Winstone and others, and it will be fascinating to see Jason Yarde’s interaction with lively improviser Nick Malcolm’s trumpet as well as the impact (sic) of the twin percussion team of Mark Whitlam and Rory Francis.

The other vocal-led jazz gig will be the soulfully swinging partnership of Molly King & George Cooper at No 1 Harbourside (Wednesday 6). The first of the guitarists mentioned crops up at the Bebop’s inaugural 2016 gig (Friday 8) when the John-paul Gard Organ Trio brings Matt Hopkins alongside drummer Toby Perrett and J-p’s own flying feet on bass. John-Paul has an ear for talent and left-hander Matt’s deft guitar has already been heard to great effect in bands with Andy Sheppard, John Pearce, Emily Wright. By contrast the Alma Tavern (Sunday 10) will feature the fusion pyrotechnics of guitarist Mark Lawrence’s Band .

And, finally, there will probably be a session at the Future Inn on Thursday 7 but as yet there are no details on the website as to who it might be so check that out nearer the day.

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