Tony Orrell’s Thinko, Sep 23rd

Friday night this blog’s unstoppable search for jazz in every corner of Bristol took in the hitherto unvisited Cafe Kino, which is, er, eight minutes walk from our house.
There are venues nearer home (James Morton‘s Thursday night sessions in the Gallimaufry are only just out the door), but this is the newest, and the music is rather different from Morton’s fluid, funky ways. The Stokes Croft cafe has a neat basement, home for a new monthly series of improv gigs (next one is on 28 October).
This opener featured the marvellous Tony Orrell on drums, powering a quartet known as Thinko (don’t know where the name came from). The four – drummer, bassist and long-time Bristol free jazz stalwart Paul Anstey and two reed players, Kevin Figes and Mark Langford, delivered two neat sets of loosely organised, highly reactive music. This wasn’t out-and-out improv – no squeaky bonks – but an excursion into the relatively well-worked soundscape somewhere between the heartfelt torrents of late Coltrane and Albert Ayler’s cracked lyricism. It didn’t have the sometimes exhausting qualities of either, but certainly applied their overall lessons thoughtfully. That is, anyone can do anything at any time, but mainly the band played variations on simple melodic motifs and rhythmic figures, developing them collectively and moving on when anyone was moved to do so.
A few pieces had names and written lines, but all were spontaneously organised to make gripping music. Langford played striking tenor sax and Dolphyesque bass clarinet, while Figes stuck to alto and has a cooler sound, though his occasional nods to Ornette Coleman bring more heat. They played off each other excellently, with the bass now underpinning it all with a deep, plucked riff, now adding a third interweaving arco line in the same register as the horns. Orrell, playing with the most infectious drummer’s grin since Billy Higgins, was indispensible throughout, maintaining a constantly varying dialogue with the other three. He has that irresistible quality that always lifts this music: even when he is not playing strict time, he still swings.
It’s no longer radical music – but still contrasts with the routine of many (so many) jazz gigs – no heads and solos, no cute ostinati behind yet another obligatory drum solo, no exchanges of fours to play out a tune. In fact, as you let it draw you in, it’s jazz without the boring bits. You might say the lack of structure makes it higher risk, relying more on the inspiration of the moment, but it’s not really true. If any jazz lacks that, it’s going to be pretty uninspiring. If it manages to find it, as these four did this evening, it’s unfailingly enjoyable.
The Kino gigs mean there are two regular venues for sessions like this – the other being the Greenbank in Easton, one Thursday a month. They start up for the Autumn on Sep 29th and have two different line-ups each time. And don’t forget that the Fringe bar in Clifton has an improv session on Monday nights. If you like music in this occasionally challenging but rewarding vein, all three are worth checking out. You can keep up with all of them via Freetone records facebook page, and I’ll post details of individual dates here as they come up, too.

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