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Jazz diary – May 22 and into June

May 23, 2017

The weekly Bristol jazz listing from Tony Benjamin is rich indeed this week. Read it here.

Aside from the usual local sparklers, there are three visits from touring bands on successive nights, any one of which would be a must-hear in a quieter week. I’m especially looking forward to Mark Lewandowski‘s “Waller” trio with the brilliant Liam Noble and Paul Clarvis on Wednesday. They’ve made a really superb recording and the live reports from the tour are very enticing, too. Always love projects that dig into classic jazz repertoire and put a new twist on it, and I’ve rarely heard that done better.

Jonathan Kreisberg at the Hen and Chicken on Friday is a mouth-watering prospect, too, and the band that Simon Spillett is bringing to Future Inns on Thursday is ridiculously good – Alec Dankworth and John Critchinson on that room will make it a jazz club of rare quality for the evening.

Plenty of other stuff going on, but don’t forget the regular Friday date at the BeBop club, which this week features vocalist Ros Cuthbert.

This flurry of quality bookings calls for planning, so worth noting two forthcoming dates which I’ll say more about nearer the time. There’s a fine double bill at the Lantern on Sunday June 4th featuring solo piano from Zoe Rahman and trumpeter Jay Phelps (with Mark Lewandowski again). And the following Saturday (June 10th) Bristol player and organiser Dave Mowat has put together an enterprisingly unusual day at St Stephens Church, with a gaggle of excellent improvisers playing in various combinations from 10 in the morning until late. Trevor Watts, Keith Tippett and Maggie Nicols are just some of the names who will be assembling to create “music from another dimension”. Full details of who is playing when are here but it’s all on one (cheap!) ticket. Sounds like it will be an excellent day to dip in and out of.

Has a rather lovely poster, too…mowatfest.jpg


Bristol jazz diary

May 16, 2017

can be found here.

no time to say more this week…

Matana Roberts, Ian William Craig. Cube, May 11

May 13, 2017

The Cube is almost dark when the music starts. Ian William Craig is illuminated by the bulbs hooked up to a collection of, what, cassette players? Hard to tell in the gloom. Definitely some old school tech, anyway.

It doesn’t matter. His set is all about the sound. A trained voice (later, I learn he is classically schooled) sets up a line at the mike, and is then looped to form a backdrop to the next live fragment. It’s a simple but effective layering technique, augmented by prepared sounds from the battery of cassette decks.

What does this build? There’s an ethereal, almost devotional feel to the soundscape. The tonality is conventional, but the fairly simple melodies are cliche free, slightly poignant in the main. He mixes upper and lower registers to good effect to deepen the effect. There are some words, but most aren’t completely audible (“we are discovered”, repeated, an exception – but don’t know who or what or how it fits with anything else…). It doesn’t matter. The overall effect is absorbing, as if the Cube has been temporarily consecrated to some as yet undefined religion. The singing is Cantorial at time, and takes on a yearning quality, a near lament, for long stretches, then gradually ebbs away before the next piece starts. There isn’t a lot of variation in this brief set, and some faintly tedious organoid synth noises intrude here and there, but there’s a focussed musical intelligence at work here, and some very effective sonic organisation. The Canadian artist, who I’ve not come across before, seems to operate in a range of modes from singer-songwriter to abstract impressionist. Definitely someone to investigate further.

And you can see why a double bill with Matana Roberts – whose welcome visit to Bristol is probably the reason the house is full – makes sense. She’s another artist who builds soundscapes in a very distinctive way. There’s more improvisation in her work, and – in the unfolding episodes of Coin Coin, her epic confrontation with the history of slavery – stronger programmatic elements. We have three instalments so far, out of a projected dozen and it’s a version of Coin Coin Chapter 3, River Run Thee we hear tonight. That calls for a similar set up to Craig’s – the performer centre stage behind an array of devices, with a mike for real-time elements. It’s still dark, but there are now looped back projections of still photos.

There’s no real introduction or explanation, so if you don’t know what’s going on I’m not sure what would come across. The recording of Chapter 3 (still available to listen to here, while part 2 is here) is a richly textured assembly of field recordings, spoken fragments, incantatory vocal lines and often heavily treated saxophone. It’s been called a collage: that doesn’t really do it justice but it’s a start. It’s easier to experience than describe – though I tried to review it here.

Tonight’s performance is the same, but different. It doesn’t recreate the recording (why bother) but reassembles the materials in a different pattern, like viewing a landscape from a new angle or in different weather. It opens, after the briefest of allusions to current events in the US (ruefully: “it’s not my fault”) with clear statements on (unprocessed) alto saxophone. It’s a reminder that Roberts could readily have established herself as an outstanding conventional jazzer, and still could any time.

But she has other plans. Barely heard voices come and go from the mix – less distinctly than on the CD. A whole range of effects are stirred in as well, there are song fragments from the decks and sung live, and and her own voice intones the stark lines that punctuate the whole work – sometimes declarative, sometimes posing unanswerable questions: words of sadness, loss and pain, as well as resilience.

The piece comes together through accretion, rather than any straightforward sequencing. It’s a powerful method. The same illusionistic brilliance is in evidence as  features on the recording, an elusive alchemy that transforms sounds that could sit uneasily together into a blend that coheres. An hour passes quickly, building an experience that is involving, moving, and rather beautiful.

There’s just time for a quick back and forth with the audience – mothers are on her mind – and a bonus unaccompanied saxophone solo before she finishes. Like the whole work, it is heartfelt, piercing, and leaves a feeling that much has been said, but there’s still more to say.

(Roberts’ tour continues, including Jazz Cafe in London next week.)

(photo: in Aarhus, 2015. Hreinn Gudlaugsson via Wikipedia)

Bristol this week

May 9, 2017

Behold the regular link to Tony Benjamin’s weekly preview on Bristol 247.

I’ve already mentioned the John O’Gallagher visit to the Fringe on Wednesday. There are a couple of other things to add. There’s a rare performance of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl at the Greenbank in Easton on Thursday, voiced by Nick Moore, and with free accompaniment from Hugh Kirkbride double bass, Roger Skerman drums, & Dave Mordecai tenor sax. The same gig also sees music from Vulpine 2Paul Shearsmith trumpet, Keisuke Matsui guitar, Roger Skerman drums, described as “Improvisational experimentalism all the way from London town”.

Finally, note another experimental outing, in a slightly different sense, on Saturday for trumpeter about town Dave Mowat, for which I also quote from the blurb for accuracy.

Chai For All weaves together klezmer and Arabic music, infused with jazz, Yiddish song and storytelling. Here it previews material from the forthcoming show ‘Longing Belonging & Balfour’, the first full performance of which takes place on Thursday 13 July at Henleaze United Reformed Church (URC) Bristol.

On Saturday 13 May 6.15pm, at Colston Hall: Foyer, Bristol, Chai For All presents a Work In Progress (WIP) performance, with an after-show discussion and feedback session. With Knud Stuwe, oud; Mark Smulian, bass; Simon Leach, guitar, oud, percussion; Katie Stevens, clarinet; Marianna Moralis, vocals; and David Mowat, narration and trumpet. Free entry. Child friendly. Feedback to the show is greatly appreciated.

‘Longing, Belonging & Balfour’ WIP focuses on the Zionist and Jewish perspectives of the period before the Balfour Declaration of 1917 when a ‘Jewish Homeland’ in Palestine became a real proposition under the protection of the British Empire. The Palestinian persectives on the Declaration are currently under development, to premiere at the full show.

Thursday at the Cube – Matana Roberts

May 7, 2017

Was going to do a little preview of this intriguing prospect – but I see the gig is now sold out so will try and write about it after. Meantime, here’s a link to my review of her last recording, just for interest. I found it a compelling and moving work, hard to characterise but in a good way. Great she’s coming to town. As I’m still slightly high from hearing Kyung Wha Chung play the complete Bach solo violin sequence at St George’s last night you could say this is a week of contrasts! I feel my life is one of more or less unbroken cultural privilege at the moment – and I’m loving it.


Fabulous Fringe

May 7, 2017

An enjoyable, mostly off the cuff, evening last Wednesday at the Fringe in Clifton, when Guess the Bleating – a bunch of old Bristol acquaintances with a shared jazz history – had one of their rare get togethers. That history turned out to be one part “my heart belongs to Blue Note”, one part Ornette Coleman. We had tunes by Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard – Jake McMurchie on sax turning in an especially gripping solo on Red Clay – and several more by pianist John Baggott, who writes originals that sound as if they come from some lost Blue Note album. And Ornette’s greatest hits: Turnaround; Ramblin’; Lonely Woman.

Ramblin’ probably came off best of the three – all you need do with Lonely Woman is play the theme, really, and that’s pretty much what they did, in a segue from the bluesier title. The very first recording of Ramblin, unusually for OC, had a piano (Paul Bley), so it sounds more authentic from a quintet somehow – though it’s a tune you can do lots of things with: check out Mike Gibbs’ arrangement on recent CDs with his own small band and the NDR big band. This time we had Tony Orrell digging in on drums and a fine solo from Jim Barr on string bass. Add Pete Judge on trumpet, and you have an unbeatable line-up for a casual jazz club date.

Unbeatable line-ups are something Fringe promoter Jon Taylor brings off increasingly often, and it’s worth noting that his four May gigs are a sequence he’ll find hard to better. This all-star Bristol line-up are followed next week by a return visit for the brilliant alto sax player John O’Gallagher, with Percy Pursglove also coming down again from Birmingham to join him, Tony Orrell and Dan Moore. Their last date at the same venue prompted this post about the pleasures of music in small rooms.

Then get ready for some high-energy music from Partisans, Julian Siegel and Phil Robson’s long-running quartet. This is a rare sighting now guitarist Robson is mainly based in the US, and a real coup to book them into such an intimate venue. Should be an intense evening.

This remarkable four-week run of brilliance then concludes with a new trio, led by bassist Mark Lewandowski, and featuring Liam Noble on keys and Paul Clarvis on drums and percussion. Clarvis and Noble work together superbly – in duo and in the raucously enjoyable Pigfoot. This trio are airing a different project, a CD devoted to Fats Waller tunes. I picked up a copy in Cheltenham the other week and am enjoying it enormously. So is John Fordham.

You can savour a great video of Noble and Clarvis here, if you’ve 20 mins to spare.


Now imagine that with an excellent bass player added, and you’ll be in the right neighbourhood. Definitely looking forward to hearing the trio live.

I won’t make all these dates, but I wish I could. The Fringe is contributing mightily to the range of music we can hear in what really isn’t a large city. Jon moved to a larger room for a bit, but didn’t get quite enough support to keep it on. Let’s make sure we keep filling the current venue, so we can enjoy months like this.

Jazz – back in Bristol

May 2, 2017

There’s a lot happening in Bristol this week, for those not jazzed out by the Cheltenham festival. Tony Benjamin has the full list here. As he says it’s a pretty brassy few days in prospect – even brassier in fact, when you add the Hot 8 Brass Band, hotfoot from Cheltenham, at the Fleece on Wednesday.

He’s somehow found time to review much of what went on at Cheltenham as well. My own thoughts about the ten or so sets I managed to fit in over four days are here and here, with nice pics from John Watson. Tony and I seem to have a few differences of opinion there, though we definitely agree about the astounding Marius Neset.