Ten to remember from 2013

Caught the usual quota of excellent and enjoyable gigs last year, in Bristol and elsewhere. And as usual  a smaller number stand out. They had that special chemistry which took them to the next level – the one that makes you feel newly impressed by humans as a species who can co-operate to make art out of sound, endlessly varied, inexhaustibly rewarding. My ten to set the standard for 2014:

Quercus at St George’s presented as near perfect a collection of performances as I can imagine. Their tour, and CD, feature on many other top ten lists I’ve seen. Moving and memorable.

Cheltenham jazz festival’s programming this year was superb – with the Hans Koller-Mike Gibbs ensemble a particular delight, but the festival highlight was the Edition Quartet late on Saturday night. Dave Stapleton, Marius Neset, Daniel Herskedal and Neil Yates made breathtakingly beautiful music.

Brecon’s resurgent festival was also full of plums (including Quercus again), but the afternoon sequence of Phronesis, airing new material, and Django Bates‘ Beloved trio had almost too much goodness to take in.

In Bristol, Guitarist Femi Temowo lit up the Coronation Tap for an evening in August, and Julian Arguelles‘ quartet (with Kit Downes) were my personal highlight of Ian Storror’s programming at the Hen and Chicken. The BeBop club had good stuff through the year, but my two standouts were both early on. Compassionate Dictatorship are not a high profile outfit but have now recorded, and toured, three superb CDs, making the most of the compositional and playing talents of Jezz Franks and Tori Freestone on guitar and sax. And piano maestro John Law’s Congregation – a line-up that sadly is no more – worked their customary magic of making the scruffy, uncomfortable back room of the Bear in Hotwells feel like the best jazz cub in the world for a couple of hours.

Two other abiding memories: Andy Sheppard and Denny Illett digging into Joe Lovano/John Scofield tunes at the Fringe, and a wonderful evening’s improvisation from Corey Mwamba‘s trio with Dave Kane and Josh Blackmore in Bath in December.

All these stood out in a year when there were more good things than disappointments – and which also included fine sets from Get the Blessing, The Pushy Doctors, Nick Malcolm, Dakhla, David Murray, Marius Neset, The Mingus Big Band, Troykestra, Dave Douglas, and Liane Carroll. Thanks to all of them for work which is a reliable source of delight.


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