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Jazz bargain of the year?

May 3, 2016

A little late this week, thanks to the splendid goings on in Cheltenham, but here’s the regular link to Tony Benjamin’s Bristol247 jazz preview.

As he says, the most notable date is probably Howard Alden’s unexpected appearance at Future Inns. He’s the “don’t try and follow my chord shapes this is a seven string guitar” wizard who wows anyone who has ever pushed a string down on a fret. And, I’d say, he’s a a great listen for everyone else, too. His last show in Bristol, to a rapt Lantern audience at the jazz festival – a couple of years ago, was it? – was pretty great. I’m sure this one will be, too, and the jazz club room at Future Inns promises to be a great place to see him.

As Future Inns are keeping their £5 (£3 for students) pricing on the door, it’s probably the jazz bargain of the year too – though they may emphasise their usual invite to make additional donations this time.

Here’s a suitably stunning sample from another recent UK set.


Meanwhile, for the record, reviews of half a dozen sets from Cheltenham, where the festival seemed bigger and better than ever this year, here, here and here – thanks to LondonJazzNews for including me in their (four strong!)  review team, and to John Watson for the photos.

Bristol jazz (the rest of) this week

April 27, 2016

Weekly link to Tony Benjamin’s jazz preview on Bristol 247. A little late this week but still time to consider going to (most of) these is you can’t make it to Cheltenham. I’d missed Julia Biel at the Lantern on Sunday in all the Cheltenham excitement, for instance, which adds yet another excellent date to Colston Hall’s recent welcome run of good jazz…

Gig of the week – Bobo Stenson and Martin Speake

April 25, 2016

A late note about a gig that anyone interested in international jazz collaborations of the highest standard should try and get along to. British altoist Martin Speake has done a few tours with the superb Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson – I heard them in Blackheath with the late, lamented Paul Motian a decade or more ago, a formation that recorded for ECM. It’s a splendidly compatible and creative pairing. Speake is one of my favourite British alto players, with a sound all his own and an improvisational approach that builds beautifully on Parker, Konitz and Coleman (Ornette not Steve). Stenson has played with jazz royalty – from Garbarek to Charles Lloyd – for decades, and doesn’t visit the UK that often, though I recall a lovely solo set at Bath festival some years back.

Speak and Stenson have also toured with another great  US drummer Jeff Williams (coincidentally also popping up in Bristol this week, at the BeBop club, en route for Cheltenham, which’ll be quite a sight), but tomorrow’s (Tuesday) gig at the Lantern features everyone’s favourite drummer from the recent British crop, James Maddren, with the quarter rounded out by Conor Chaplin on bass. It’s sure to add to the small Colston venue’s recent rep for presenting some of the best jazz you can hear, anywhere, in one of Bristol’s nicest spaces.

Here’s a full length video of the Williams’ edition quartet, with lots of Stenson to enjoy.

A few Cheltenham jazz fest standouts

April 24, 2016

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival is almost here, and has plenty of goodies to choose from. (Others’ selections are here and here). I know we have our own jazz festival now, but with the (temporary?) loss of the main programme at Brecon and the shrinking of the Bath Festival jazz weekend to a single eye-catching gig Cheltenham is the most significant out-of-town jazz event in easy reach for Bristolians this year. Fortunately, the festival goes from strength to strength, recent expansion having been consolidated on the back of some shrewdly chosen commercial acts, leaving plenty of scope for adventurous stuff in the several venues they have at their disposal.

It looks like a proper festival, too…


Just a few sets I’m particularly looking forward to. Soweto Kinch on Friday night, who was on torrentially Rollins-like form last time I caught him (at Brecon, as it happens), in a trio with the top drawer US drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Then on Saturday we have Tim Berne‘s quintet, another independent-minded saxist who now records for ECM after years of creative work on his own label.

Two rare offerings I’m most excited about, though, are on Sunday. First up is Julian Arguelles with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Their album of South African jazz classics – which like the gig features Julian’s brother Steve on drums and Django Bates on keys – was on lots of best of year lists in 2015, including mine. I tried to explain why in a review. It’s hard to see this project making too many live appearances, so this may be the only chance to savour the marvellous tunes left to us by Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana, Miriam Makeba, and more, in some spectacular new big band arrangements.

Also eagerly awaited is the trio Rom Schaerer Eberle. I don’t know the other two (guitarist and trumpeter respectively) but Andreas Schaerer is a remarkably creative and versatile improvising vocalist, judging from recent recordings (one of which I describe here). By all accounts he is extraordinary to hear live.

There’s a pile of other big name stuff (Taj Mahal!, David Sanborn!), a free stage, and an expanded fringe programme around the town this year that is well worth checking out. Already wondering if I can manage more than the half dozen sets I have tickets for, or whether to try and pop up to Cheltenham for more than Fri, Sat, Sun, which is the current plan. If it just gets a little warmer, it’s be a near ideal holiday weekend. Reviews from me on LondonJazzNews as soon as I can tear myself way from the music to write them:)

Bristol jazz this week, April 18-24

April 18, 2016

Tony Benjamin‘s weekly jazz roundup for Bristol 247 is over here. He urges consideration of Preston Glasgow Lowe‘s date at Future Inns on Thursday – agreed! I haven’t caught them live (as he says, they’ve seen small turnouts here in the past) but their newly released CD is quite something. There’s a real electric thrill going on here, but not at the expense of other kinds of musicality.

And one to add – Next Sunday (Apr 24) sees trumpeter Dave Mowat’s Bristol European Jazz Ensemble (known to its friends as BEJE) playing at the Old Fish Market. There’s an augmented line-up, with guitarist Knud Stuwe added, and some new music. The leader promises “a newish set featuring a gentle Surman-esque tribute to the Somerset levels and an angular jazz punk rock piece ‘Valentin soldiers'”. Entry is free and doors open at 7.00pm.

It’s a crowded week, and Cheltenham Jazz festival’s not far off – preview to come. Hope you find some music to suit.

Kevin Figes et al, et al, et al… Lantern, April 10

April 12, 2016

“We’ve got an enormous amount of music to get through this evening” said Kevin Figes, kicking off a packed evening celebrating his label Pig Records. He wasn’t kidding, and you forgave him for checking his watch throughout – hiring Colston Hall’s Lantern doesn’t come cheap.

So we had a brief, beguiling set from Cathy Jones‘ Balanca, a quartet on this occasion with Figes, Tristram Cox on guitar and Mark Whitlam on drums, warming us up with a couple of bossa nova tunes, some Hermeto Pascoal and, intriguingly, a Stevie Wonder song. Then came a raggedly raucous, percussion heavy Afro-latin brew from Simon Presto with 13 (I think) people on stage for two numbers. They made way for Jim Blomfield‘s trio, Whitlam again on drums and Roshan Wijetunge on bass. They had time for four numbers too, with Blomfield incandescent from the off, and having fun with some electronics in mid-set. This outfit really delivers – I’d been listening to a lot of Michael Wollny’s feted piano trio over the weekend, and they work together just as convincingly. None of the four pieces, incidentally, was on Blomfield’s Pig CD release, so maybe there’ll be another recording soon?

That somewhat breathless first half left time for just two bands after the interval – both led by Figes. First up was his quartet, with Riaan Vosloo on bass and Blomfield and Whitlam returning to the stage. They were launching Figes’ third quartet CD, but it’s a quartet that keeps growing…  The first number, Weather Warning, had a Dolphyesque theme and a slightly menacing feel, maintained by guest Nick Malcolm‘s trumpet solo and some crunchy electronic keyboard sounds. Fall Apart saw Blomfield conjuring gamelan tones from his keyboard, then came Birdsong, making delightful use of wordless vocals from Cathy Jones and Emily Wright. Incorporating natural avian lines has appealed to lots of musicians – from Messiaen to  author and jazz player David Rothenberg – but this piece is a worthy edition to the trans-species canon.

I was beginning to lose track of personnel by now – it was more fun listening to the music. But the final line-up was an octet to note because it has an intriguing formation: the two vocalists used alongside the horns, Figes and Nick Dover on saxes, and two drummers – Whitlam joined by Lloyd Haines – with Jeff Spencer coming in on electric bass. That needs some careful sound balancing, but the result is brilliantly effective. The twinned percussion creates a driving urgency hard to achieve any other way, while the two flawlessly accurate voices blend with the reeds and give the arrangements a fetching harmonic glow. There’s another CD’s worth of this ensemble’s work now on offer as well. It would have been good to hear more from them on the night, but MC Figes called time at 2 minutes to eleven. The crowd enjoying the Necks’ explorations of Colston Hall’s organ in the big hall had already dispersed, and it was time to clear the building. Still, a fascinatingly varied display of Pig Records’s wares, of Bristol jazz talent and, especially, of a medium-sized ensemble who I hope get the chance to play live somewhere in Bristol for a full evening soon.

Gig of the week – Deep Whole Trio, Weds 13th April

April 11, 2016

Plenty to tempt you out this week, as Tony Benjamin‘s jazz diary on Bristol247 shows here.

But although I have a couple of the gigs he mentions in my sights, I think my gig of the week is one I’m regretful to see listed because I know I’m out of town. The Deep Whole Trio, returning to the Fringe for Jon Taylor on Wednesday, are a remarkable, long- associated unit, bringing together three superb improvisers. Paul Dunmall does the ecstatic late Coltrane thing better than most. Mark Sanders is a wonderfully sensitive, skilled and inventive percussionist. And, my personal favourite, Paul Rogers conjures music from the bass that no-one else does – partly because he has a very unusual and beautiful instrument with 7 strings.

Like so


It should be astonishing to see the three of them working together up close in the Fringe’s small back room…


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