Had a notion to turn out for gigs a bit less often this year – going for quality, not quantity (more in the listening than the playing – real attention calls for a bit of effort). However, we still found our way to three of them in the last week. As it happens, all were in a jazz area, and all featured superb trumpet playing. And the infinite variety of music means things which might look superficially similar sounded quite different. All good, but different.
First up was Kevin Figes quartet taking care of the early Sunday evening (6-8.30) gig at the Brass Pig on the triangle in Clifton. It’s a cavernous place, especially downstairs, but the upstairs room works OK for music – it could do with some lighting for the band – and more people were there to listen than I might have guessed. The quartet mostly played standards, as they were augmented by guest Steve Waterman on trumpet. He has tone and technique to spare, and reeled off a succession of superb, boppish solos. Tony Orrell on drums was a bonus, and the whole thing was a nice way to round off the weekend.
Followed swiftly by the Edition Records showcase at St George’s the following night. This was probably the best of the three, with an opening solo set from Ivo Neame on piano followed by the piano/trumpet duet of Dave Stapleton and Neil Yates. Tony Benjamin’s review of the evening is a particularly nice piece.
As he says, the trumpet playing here was quite different. Trumpet may be the only instrument aside from the drum which gives us a verb, but trumpeting was exactly what Yates wasn’t doing on this outing. It was more like tuneful breathing by someone who happened to have a trumpet against his lips at the time. Pushing air through brass with that kind of plaintive whisper requires impressive control of the instrument. It also sounds wonderful. The music was meditative, melancholic, wisftul, resigned, and deeply joyous by turns. If I am ever ill and looking for a restorative, don’t send me to soak at a spa, find me more of this to immerse myself in, please.
Finally, we went down to the BeBop club on Friday to hear what Nick Malcolm is up to with his quartet. Not of lot of bebop, but lots of interesting new music, is the answer – there’s a new CD set for recording in May which will be a cracker. As on previous outings, the general approach is freebop, with solo inspiration depending crucially on melodic ideas. The themes are getting quite elaborate. Malcolm has not exactly taken a vow to eschew more familiar intervals but he certainly emphasises the other kind, They sound pretty tricky to play. The neatly arranged endings of several debut pieces here evoked the smiles of relief of musicians who have just successfully negotiated the rapids for the first time. Strong material, from the leader and Olie Brice on bass, and excellent playing from everyone, especially the mercurial Corey Mwamba on vibes, making a welcome return visit. This quartet go beyond the familiar routine of head and solos – which is still rewarding in the right hands but can easily seem merely routine nowadays – to explore music which puts a premium on real, high risk improvisation. Most of the time, they bring it off splendidly. They’ll be energising the free stage at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Fest in a few weeks, so if you missed them, and the turnout was a little thinner than some recent BeBop evenings, come on down to Colston Hall then.