The beat goes on – 2012’s standout gigs

It’s been a richly rewarding musical year, as usual. A great mix of regular gigs in and round Bristol plus festivals in Cheltenham, Bath, Brecon and London was augmented by the indulgence of a trip to the Chicago Jazz Festival. One reason for keeping up the blog is to remind me which nights stood out. Re-reading this year’s impressions, and aligning them with what I now remember that the words don’t capture, here are a notable dozen in 2012 (in no particular order).

Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero – first heard in Cheltenham last year, and also caught in Bath, but the best set so far was at St George’s I think. Michel Bonita’s bass sounded wonderful in there.

So did another bass player, Michael Janisch, underpinning the great quintet of Aruan Ortiz, Greg Osby and co. The sax/tuba duo of Marius Neset and Daniel Herskedal also used the room to great effect, as did Dave Stapleton’s double quartet project playing his superb new compositions from Flight. Fred Hersch was pretty remarkable at St George’s, too – a high hit rate there this year.

Stan Tracey stays in the memory from Bath, duetting with drummer son Clarke, as does Soweto Kinch from Brecon – an intense performance. Intense was also the word for Ken Vandermark and Paul Nillson-Love in Chicago, and it was great to catch the Billy Hart quartet there, too.

We heard Joe McPhee in Chicago as well, but his duo at the Cube with Chris Corsano a month or so earlier was an unexpected delight.

Young saxophonist – and impressive composer – George Crowley came to town for a fine night at the Coronation Tap, and Bill Frisell, whose live sets I’ve found a mixed bag in the past, blew me away with his trio at Cheltenham. So, finally, did Chick Corea’s trio with Brian Blade and Christian McBride at the London Jazz Festival. Is that 13?  Well a baker’s dozen then.

There was a thing on Radio4 this morning asking if jazz is dead. I think this lot suggests the answer is no. The range and quality of music one can hear at first hand, in this early part of the new century, is a constantly renewed privilege.

If anything else stands out from this year for me, it is the contribution which drummers make to the music. The level of skill, responsiveness and invention from the current generation of drummers seems to get more gripping every year. Joyful to see Rudy Royston at work with Frisell, and again with Ortiz, Brian Blade inspiring Corea, Seb Rochford with Sheppard, Corsano’s understanding with  McPhee, Nilsson-Love with Vandermark, not to mention Marcus Gilmore with Steve Coleman in Chicago, Tony Orrell with the Pushy Doctors and Dylan Howe subbing on the drum stool for Get the Blessing. A fair to middling gig can be lifted by a great drummer. If the others are superb, but the drummer is not quite up to it, there is trouble with this music. I find drummers at work even harder  to describe convincingly than the other musicians, but  what they do thrills and intrigues in equal measure.

Here’s to more chances to try and work out why this is in 2013…

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