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Bristol (and beyond) jazz week – 12 Nov

November 12, 2018
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Mr B has done the business for us all, as usual – a week’s musical delights detailed here on Bristol247. Small correction, Jim Blomfield’s ace trio are at the Fringe on that venue’s usual night (Weds), not Thursday. That’s great as it avoids a clash with other piano trios, of whom there do seem to be plenty in town this week.

Also worth mentioning the annual Teignmouth jazz festival if you fancy a weekend trip to the South Devon coast. Attractions there on Saturday – perhaps the stronger of the 2 days – include the excellent Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick duo playing their Monk-influenced set, BBC Young Jazz Musician winner trumpeter Alexandra Ridout’s quartet, Nigel Price and the indefatigable Gilad Atzman. As usual, the Teignmouth affair clashes with the big festival in that London, and I’ll be there in pursuit of reviews for LondonJazzNews, but I’m repeating my annual resolution to keep a weekend free for the Devon option one of these years. They have such a good logo, for one thing.


Finally, you should come back from Devon on Sunday for the hometown launch of the fourth album by Bristol ‘s own, ever more splendid (because now a sextet) Dakhla Brass. Some reasons why here.


Bristol jazz week – 5 Nov

November 5, 2018
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I was pretty excited last time the great Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake hit town. Well, he’s back, alongside Paul Dunmall again, but this time at the Fringe instead of the Lantern. They work brilliantly together and all I can say is that anyone who can get a seat for this in the, er, more intimate venue on Wednesday should consider themselves privileged. Drake always lifts any band he’s in. He’s appearing with Archie Shepp at the London Jazz festival in a couple of weeks. ‘Nuff said.

That visit is Tony Benjamin’s current highlight, too. Go here, to read his rundown of all the other delights in Bristol jazz this week. The density of good music in and around town continues to impress. I caught South African piano and harmonica virtuoso (sometimes both at once) Adam Glasser at the BeBop club the other Friday, then in the space of the next few days took in two excellent young bands at the Hen and Chicken, Tord Gustavsen at St George’s (a little more animated than usual) and Jason Moran in Cardiff (see previous post).

I commented on the division among reviewers of Moran’s project – AJ Dehany at London Jazz has come down on the positive side, and describes the show at some length. A nice way to remember an outstanding evening. Spending time in Belfast, then topping up with good music while in Bristol seems to be working pretty well, no matter when I’m here.

Jason Moran, Harlem Hellfighters – Cardiff Oct 31

November 2, 2018

The first appearance on this little tour, at the Barbican, drew a couple of interestingly opposed reviews: It was a successful recreation, said the Guardian. Not so, said The Times, the concept looked good but the show lacked substance – 2 stars.

I don’t know if the Barbican show was more tentative, but what I heard in Cardiff a the Royal Welsh College the other night seemed a marvellous marriage of proto-jazz styles with modernism. Jason Moran’s aim was to highlight the work of bandleader James Reese Europe. I checked, and he’s at least a footnote in all the jazz histories*, but he’d passed me by until now. And what a fascinating figure: led an all-black ensemble; promoted music that developed what the people he knew listened to; made the first recordings of jazz, or almost jazz, by an African-American band before the war, and a second batch shortly before his early demise in 1919.

On top of that, he joined the black 369th Infantry, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, in WW1, enlisting in the service of a country that, as Moran put it flatly,”made him no promises”. They fought in France and Reese, who became the regimental bandleader, performed widely in Europe. The parade on their return to New York drew an immense crowd.

All this inspired Moran’s regular trio, with Tyrus Mateen on bass and the always arresting Nasheet Waits on drums and a band drawn from the UK-based Tomorrow’s Warriors (plus Andy Grappy on one of two tubas). The trio were well to the fore at first, but the band had plenty to do thereafter, and everyone rose brilliantly to the challenge of often complex scores. The tunes were generally lively-going-on-raucous, the band sound – seven horns including those two tubas – rich, and the blend of old and new cleverly worked into the arrangements. Some numbers brought to mind the ragtime-meets-AACM treatments on the great trio Air’s early release Air Lore and if, understandably, none of the horn players reached the level of Air’s Henry Threadgill, they all performed as if they had been spicing up old jazz with new sounds all their lives. 

Kaidi Akkinibi on tenor testified effectively on one piece (titles went by too fast on screen to catch) and Adam Nathoo delivered a beautifully developed alto solo on  another that moved from the simple, bluesy declamations of the early 20th century into impassioned bebop. Again, this doesn’t tally with John Fordham’s impression that they generally went straight from unadorned renditions of Europe’s tunes into free blowing. I don’t know if the bebop episode was pre-planned, but it seemed particularly effective in the moment – my notes say, “it’s almost like aural time-travel”.

An altogether fascinating 90 minutes, and one of the most memorable gigs of the year. Others’ comments about the visuals being too low-key to add much are fair, although contemporary footage and stills of the regimental players, who appear to have numbered approaching 100, did make you wonder what a huge sound they must have made.

But the music is the thing, and the smaller forces mustered here achieved one high aim – to rekindle interest in pieces that are worth hearing not just for their historical importance, but for their joyful energy and invention. A long encore, repeating W.C. Handy’s Hesitation Blues, gave everyone a chance to solo once more, and set the seal on a verdict that there is more to be made of this music.

*Lots more about Europe here.   And more background on Moran’s project here and here.

Bristol jazz week – 29 Oct

October 29, 2018

I’m always curious to see what gets the various jazz tribes out of their living rooms. Something’s definitely working in Bristol at the moment, with a slew of varied gigs selling out. As Tony Benjamin points out in his weekly preview, you’re already too late to grab a ticket for Moscow Drug Club at the Fringe on Wednesday or Sons of Kemet tonight (Monday) at The Fleece. No surprise in either case, I guess. The former’s stylish cabaret jazz is popular, the venue small, and Sons of Kemet are the state of the art contemporary outfit who almost won the Mercury Prize. If I was better organised I might even have braved the venue to catch that one myself, though I’d really rather sit down (they’re mesmerising either way). Still, the impressive Morpher, playing to a smaller crowd at the Hen and Chicken last night, had moments where they explored very similar territory, albeit with only the one drummer.

Also heavily sold is St George’s favourite Tord Gustavsen, visiting Brandon Hill tomorrow (Tuesday) – though there are still a handful of seats left as I write. I’ve been in two minds about previous gigs of his: some worked, some didn’t, but you can see why his devotional, atmospheric keyboard work appeals to the St George’s crowd. I’ll be going along to try and get in the sort of quiet, attentive mood that’s essential to appreciate his music.

There’ll be a different crowd again, I imagine, for one Tony doesn’t mention – bass legend Stanley Clarke, who saw a big turnout at the Fleece on his last Bristol visit but is playing this week (Thursday) at the Fiddlers. And it looks like there’ll be a decent turnout in Cardiff on Wednesday for Jason Moran (see previous post for details), but still tickets left there.

All of these may leave some of the other regulars in the shade, so here’s hoping there are listeners left over for Future Inns on Thursday and for a slightly larger crowd than last week at the Bebop club, where Adam Glasser played a storming piano and harmonica set (sometimes simultaneously) for a rather select audience. Tony has details of this week’s bookings at those venues and more, too. As ever, I marvel at the range of music on offer in or around a small city in a single week.


Bristol jazz week (and Cardiff next week)

October 22, 2018
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The weekly listing from Tony B (up on Monday – hurrah) has a dozen tasty items to choose from here. I think the Sunday night pairing at the Hen and Chicken is of particular interest if, like me, you happen to be interested in how new jazz careers (and maybe audiences) are nurtured in the second decade of C21. The Jazz Promoters Network was set up a couple of years ago to try and improve the framework which this perennially marginal music is supported. It’s the first fruit of a scheme instigated by Jez Matthews from Sheffield, a chap of great taste and discernment who is seen at gigs down here from time to time. This double-header gig is one of a little tour that presents two bands you probably don’t know but might take a chance on for an evening – best case: you like both! Worth a punt, I reckon. All the details are here. I don’t really know any of the players, but am interested to get acquainted.

Otherwise, I want to mention an out of town gig (not far – Cardiff) early next week that ought to be special. Jason Moran, a towering jazz figure who is also creator of many more broadly based projects, comes to the Royal Welsh College on Wednesday with a piece inspired by one of the lesser-known pioneer jazz ensembles, James Reese Europe’s Harlem Hellfighters.


No, I’d not heard of them either, so just gonna paste the stuff provided here rather than summarise:


Jason Moran: The Harlem Hellfighters

Wed 31 October 7.30pm

The Royal Welsh College are delighted to welcome Jason Moran and his long established band The Bandwagon to Cardiff as part of Black History Month in Wales. On New Year’s Day 1918, James Reese Europe – an iconic figure in the evolution of African-American music – landed in Brest with the band of the 369th Infantry Regiment, knows as the Harlem Hellfighters. As well as their achievements in combat, Europe’s crack military music ensemble popularised the new spirit of jazz to a war-torn French nation fascinated with black culture.  And this is but the beginning of a story that continues to fascinate and intrigue.

A century later, composer, pianist and visual artist Jason Moran – himself a major and innovative force in today’s jazz – celebrates the legacy of a hero of Black music, in a multi-dimensioned reflection on the impact of the African-American presence in Europe in the closing years of WW1. He explores its resonance both in Europe and in the USA, with contributions from John Akomfrah, and visual materials from acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young, in a new project specially commissioned for the final year of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.  The Harlem Hellfighters story provides the genesis of the extraordinary impact of African-American music on Europe and the Americas, and a century of profound cultural and political change that is still evolving.

The performing ensemble will include members of Moran’s long-established trio, The Bandwagon, and a group of brass and wind players drawn from today’s richly talented new generation of British musicians.  Moran himself has created projects that have offered a profound insight into the creative world of key figures in jazz history, Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk. His most recent UK performances included a two-night residency at Tate Modern with his long-term collaborator, performance artist Joan Jonas, and a duet with fellow pianist Robert Glasper at a sold-out Festival Hall.

James Reese Europe

A seminal figure in evolution of black music, James Reece Europe acted as MD for Vernon and Irene Castle and recorded in 1913/14 for Victor (Castle volunteered for British Air Service in 1915).  He was assigned to the French Army as part of the 369th Infantry Regiment and documented as marching across No Man’s Land playing Memphis Blues.  One concert was later described by band member Noble Sissle as having “… started ragtimitis in France”.  The band recorded in France and again in the USA after the War.

After his return home in February 1919, Europe stated, “I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negros should write Negro music. We have our own racial feeling and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies … We won France by playing music which was ours and not a pale imitation of others, and if we are to develop in America we must develop along our own lines”.His musical associates and band members included a number who continued to make a mark in the evolution of jazz and black music – vocalist/band leader Noble Sissle, pianist Eurbie Blake, bassist Pops Foster, trombonist Herb Fleming.  It is interesting to note that a number of band members have Latin names – there was a significant Puerto Rican presence in the army.  Europe was described by Eubie Blake as “the Martin Luther King of Music”.


Moran says this completes a trilogy of projects. The first, on Monk, was quite wonderful. I wasn’t blown away by the Fats waller extravaganza on record, but I bet it was great live. I bet this will be too. There are only three shows in the UK, and I’d guess this piece is unlike to tour again so…

Help keep the music going

October 17, 2018

You may have noticed a good proportion of the most interesting visitors to our small clubs get Arts Council England backing these days. They are typically small grants, but as door money doesn’t cover touring expenses they’re often the difference between playing away from a musician’s own neighbourhood or staying local.

But grant-swinging is a game some lose – so what about the rest? Maybe crowd-funding can help. An upcoming date for guitarist Vitor Pereira at the BeBop club is a case in point. As he writes:

I’m going to have a UK tour in November to release my band’s new album.
Unfortunately my arts council skills weren’t enough and I’ve decided to put together a crowdfunding campaign to help me out with some costs. The tour will happen either way but this would just help me not get in debt.
We’re playing at Bristol’s BeBop club on the 9th November.
I’ll write down some more info and links and hope for the best.
Here’s the kickstarter link with more details. Looks like he’s about half way there with a fortnight to go – so a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m really not sure how this would work if it became a regular thing but this looks like a tremendous band so any generous readers here have a chance to support performance of some excellent music…  And really, if you’re the sort of punter who is liable to pick up a CD at the gig, all you have to do is pay for it in advance.
Here’s his own website, and below is a sample of what the band sound like live.

Bristol jazz week – Oct 15

October 15, 2018

First, don’t forget the Keith Tippett benefit at St Stephens on Saturday (Oct 20th), as detailed here last week.

Otherwise, more big name saxophone this week as David Murray visits – Tony Benjamin’s highlight from a veritable feast of gigs this week he lists here. He also has a nicer review of Andy Sheppard’s appearance at St George’s last week, here.