Bristol Jazz week – 28 May

A couple of interesting excursions last week. Steve Williamson (sorry, “The Steve Williamson Experience”) at a rather thinly-populated St Georges on Thursday was ambitious, and as he intended showcased a band full of promising youngsters. The string trio who opened were especially striking, offering gorgeous arrangements of Joe Henderson, Ornette – Lonely Woman sounds amazing on violin – Monk and one of Max Roach’s pieces for string quartet. They don’t sound like anyone else and I’d love to hear them do more.

Williamson confirmed that he is a notable post-Coltrane sax stylist. The programme referred to his “lifelong study of harmonics”. No idea what that’s about really. If it means harmony, that pretty well any jazz musician. If harmonics on the tenor sax, it doesn’t show in his playing, which is contemporary in a fairly familiar way, if more angular than most. He uses prepared sounds on a laptop as well as bass, drums and a string quartet to realise some ambitous writing. Not all of it worked, but enough did to keep the interest up. And for all the care in the arranging, the sax rather dominates the proceedings, with the old Steve Coleman influence still discernible. In fact the whole set had an AACM flavour, with the writing leaning toward Henry Threadgill at times.

Then a first visit on Sunday night to the Old Vic’s Weston Studio to hear Jonathan Gee lead a quartet completed by three Italian players. The band didn’t quite lift off until well into the (lengthy) first set: Gee’s arrangements of Beatles tunes weren’t adding to them. we felt; a couple of pieces by the bass player Giuseppe Bassi, and alto saxist Gaetano Partipilo worked better. The studio is a great venue, though, and has an excellent piano so long may it find space for jazz. It’s so nice not to be in the back room of a pub for a small gig sometimes, even if it does cost a bit more.

There are plenty more of those (small gigs) this week, as well as a few larger ones. All the details you could possibly want from Tony Benjamin, as usual.

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