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Doubled standards – hometown jazz

September 29, 2018

Back in Bristol for bit, so topped up with live music 2 nights running.

First up were Will Harris’s trio, enjoying the space – and a decent audience I’m glad to say – at Future Inns on Thursday. It’s an unusual line-up, Will on bass, Rebecca Nash on piano, Jake McMurchie on tenor. I can’t think of many precedents, save a brief, beautiful coming together of Haden/Mehldau/Konitz and maybe Carla Bley’s trio.

Unlike the latter, this lot play standards – mainly the American songbook kind, as Will put it,  as opposed to jazz tunes (see below). The three play together acoustically, which is a treat these days: hardly any drummers born since, say, 1980, would allow them to do that. And all have plenty of space as the grapple with a fistful of old chestnuts: If I were a Bell; Pennies from Heaven; Body and Soul; Star Eyes; even I Remember You. 

The results are beguiling. The bass can be rhythmically playful, skipping around with abandon on Star Eyes, or as solid as Ray Brown, whose tonal quality was in evidence here and there too. Piano and tenor got better and better through the evening, as often happens, culminating in a gripping sax excursion on Tom Waits’ (non standard) cracked ballad Johnsburg, Illinois – a real highlight.

It’s the kind of stuff  you want to point people toward who “don’t like jazz”, but have never listened properly: easy to listen to without being “easy listening”. It’s just that in the hands of three such expert practitioners it’s a great, engaging format, and one can readily follow every little nice thing that’s going on, and enjoy it without effort. The three are all busy with other projects, but this trio should become a Bristol institution.

That other Bristol institution, trumpeter Andy Hague, was leading his quartet Double Standards at the BeBop club. This version benefited from a whole string of sparkling solos from John Law on piano, with Chris Jones on bass and the energetic Billy Weir from Law’s quartet on drums (no, they didn’t play acoustically, even in the back room of the Bear, and there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get the piano levels right).

This is a different take on standards. As well as his fine trumpet and flugelhorn work, Hague has an astonishingly encyclopaedic knowledge of who wrote, arranged and recorded what, when, so his standards are a quite different cut through jazz repertoire. There was a tune by Cole Porter both nights, and a Wayne Shorter barnstormer on Friday, but otherwise Hague’s selections are lesser known jewels by the likes of Jobim, or relatively obscure figures like Andy Laverne or Alvin Batiste. The leader reels off their histories and musical reference points, and plays all the tunes from memory, while the others play equally fluently from charts. It’s a jazz education in itself. More important, it’s all great music. and these players do it justice.


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