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Bristol Jazz Week – 15 April

April 15, 2019

Before we get into gigs, you should enjoy this video evidence that you can’t keep a good musician (2 musicians) down – a pair of Bristol’s finest overcoming current medical obstacles to play one trumpet. Get well soon, Johnny Bruce and Nick Malcolm



Actually, Tony Benjamin’s weekly listing – here – indicates that Bruce is already back in unassisted action, with at least two appearances noted.

Also pleased to see that the brilliant vibes player Jonny Mansfield is bringing his small group to Future Inns on Thursday. His larger ensemble was a big hit with quite a few folks at the jazz festival, but I didn’t catch them then, so pleased to have another opportunity to hear this great player so soon. Not quite clear from various links whether this will be a trio or a quartet (+piano), but should be good either way. There’s a competing attraction at the Canteen, as Tony points out, but you’ll be able to hear better at Future Inns, I reckon.

Speaking of hearing well, it was good to drop in to the Old Fish Market’s Sunday evening session for the first time yesterday – really nice pub. And a pint on the way home from the station after a 4-hour train ride was greatly enhanced by hearing Sam Crockatt in tenor-sax trio mode, bringing to mind Rollins, Henderson, and a host of others who have enjoyed this exposed format. The pub does this every week, with personnel announced on their Facebook page here (though not usually in time for me to tell you).



Bristol jazz week – 9 April, and bit beyond

April 9, 2019

Quick note to say that Tony Benjamin’s weekly preview is even more wide ranging (musically, and in terms of venues) this time, if that’s possible. All the stuff you need to know is here.

Also worth noting a gig in Bristol next Monday (15th) for Get the Blessing, one of a short run of UK dates before they resume their more regular European itinerary – it’s at The Exchange, keenly priced, and a chance to celebrate the band’s 20th year. Here’s to many more!

And if you want to catch Woodstock veteran (really! – although a tiny episode in an astonishing career) Henry Lowther’s UK jazz supergroup, on an extremely rare tour, at the BeBop club at the end of the month, you’ll need to book ahead – as detailed here.

Then it’ll be Cheltenham Festival time, which calls for a preview when I’ve got a bit deeper into the programme

John Martyn Project, Jam Jar, 6 April

April 7, 2019

I’m mostly here for the jazz:the sound of surprise and all that. But sometimes it’s good just to hear songs: the same words in the same order, and the alchemy of words and music without all that clever elaboration.

That was something John Martyn went with, and struggled against (that, and other things) most of his performing career. I liked him in both modes, though the only live gig I caught (in 1975 I think!) was when he was being a bit jazzy. That was a trio affair with Danny Thompson and John Stevens, quite the best drummer he worked with (yes, I know he was mates with Phil Collins). It probably featured overblown but adventurous electrified guitar jams like this, recorded live the same year.

But it’s the songs he’s remembered for, with a bit more remembering going on just now as he died ten years ago, having somehow made it to 60 in spite of his best efforts. So it was fine to hear them treated by the Bristol-rooted John Martyn project on Saturday night.

They are a six piece – the excellent Kit Hawes for the necessary guitar chops, and a trio of performers I’d not come across, Blythe Pepino, a superb singer, along with singer/instrumentalists Pete Josef and Sam Brookes, and bass and drums (John Blakeley for the latter). This was their third gig, and they offered a shorter first set of songs from around the time Martyn came to notice (Nick Drake, including the compulsory River Man, an old folk tune or two, Joni Mitchell and Richard Thompson’s Vincent Black Lightning delivered solo with some gusto by Hawes.)

All very pleasant. But the reason we were there, in a bleak but adequate venue in East Bristol, was the second round. The Martyn set leaned heavily toward the earlier songs that we tend to remember – especially the track list from Solid Air. Quite right too – it’s a gem from beginning to end. A shame he never surpassed it in all the years after, but some careers go that way.

So we had Martyn the folkie who threw off stone cold classic songs, which were reworked for two, sometimes three guitars, and even harmony singing. It worked beautifully. Here’s a taste.

The sound wasn’t as pristine on Saturday, but we had the live joy of Solid Air, May You Never (of course), Don’t want to know, Over the Hill, I’d rather be the devil and more. Curious to be hearing them revisited by a band most of whom weren’t born when one first heard these pieces (this isn’t an unfamiliar sensation these days), but they did them proud. There were plenty of others in the audience who heard them first time round, but a fair few who must have come to Martyn much later, too, and everyone seemed to enjoy their new life equally.

I sang along with pleasure. (Tunelessly. Quietly.) And went home to dig out the old recordings, as you do. But I’ll be there if they do this again live. They should. Ideally in a seated venue. Some of us John Martyn fans are getting on a bit now, you know.




Bristol jazz week – 2 April

April 2, 2019

As usual, relying on Tony Benjamin for all the info – here. He quite rightly highlights the piano trio Vein’s appearance at St George’s on Thursday with guest Andy Sheppard. Unlike most of Andy’s gigs when he returns to Bristol there are still tickets available for this one. He’s been performing with then intermittently since a recording that featured pieces by Ravel a couple of years ago – here’s a review of that set to encourage you to check them out live.

The first gig on TB’s list last week turned out splendidly – as he described insightfully here. A great gig to follow the jazz festival marathon the previous weekend because it was so different from any of the offerings there. That said, Jim Hart‘s accompaniment of Bex Burch’s Gyil (xylophone-like percussion instrument) reminded us all what a great drummer he is – he’s more commonly seen these days playing equally brilliant vibes with Marius Neset or the Cloudmakers trio. His tilt toward African patters, and use of the cowbell, nodded toward Edward Blackwell at times, and the whole set brought to mind Blackwell’s collaborations with another great vibes player, Karl Berger, though maybe that’s just me.

or maybe not…

Here’s Vula Viel

compare the first sections, especially, of this…


Always interesting when people take different routes to similar destinations, no?

Looking ahead again, Soweto Kinch – who impressed so much at the jazz festival, is in town again on Saturday. He’s on a panel at the BristolTransformed festival of political talk and discussion – which is at various venues around Stokes Croft and St Pauls, but they’ve persuaded him to play at the after party as well! Details here.

Finally, Huw Warren (another jazzfest star) has been doing good things at Cardiff University lately, and directs the University Jazz Ensemble in a free concert on Saturday night, featuring some of the Brazilian music he often explores. Sounds worth a trip to me.

Bristol jazz week – 26 March

March 26, 2019

Not sure I’ll be going out for music after a feast of good stuff over the weekend, but if you missed the Bristol Festival, or liked what you heard and are in the mood for more, there’s plenty to choose from as we revert to regular weekly gigs.

Tony Benjamin has all the details, as usual. And, ever efficient, he has also posted a review of the festival on Bristol247. (In fact, he’s done a piece for Jazzwise as well, but in similar vein).

And here’s my review of a festival selection for LondonJazzNews , with some extra words from Peter Slavid and some nice pics. It was a real treat to have access to so many shows this year, and to see the festival on a streets here and there, too.


Finally, back indoors, there’s a chance to see the reputedly very good new documentary about the history of Blue Note next weekend. It’s “event cinema” apparently, which means it costs 18 quid to get in, so you may prefer to wait until it’s online. I’d pay that for a live show relayed on screen, but seems a lot for a film…

Endless renewals: Rhiannon Giddens and Anouar Brahem, Belfast/Dublin

March 19, 2019
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The other pair of ears and I were both across the Irish Sea last weekend, and a St Patrick’s Day holiday itinerary wrote itself: Rhiannon Giddens at the Black Box on Friday night (booked long ago as I was sure it would be a solid sellout – it was); and a later buy-in to Anouar Brahem at the National Concert Hall in Dublin the night after because, well, if you are already in Belfast a day in Dublin always appeals.

Both were memorably good. And, as sometimes happens, lining up this pair laid open fascinating connections, within both gigs and, less expectedly, between them.

Giddens is all about making connections. I’ve listened to her a lot but this was the first live show and it was as good as one dared hope. The voice is one in a million, and goes with a musical sensibility and a fearless historical curiosity that produce consistently astounding results. I could say much more, but others have done it so well recently it’s hardly needed. (Read this great essay in the Smithsonian, or this generous pre-tour feature in the Irish Times).

The tour was a duo affair, with her partner Francesco Turrisi. He was unfamiliar but turns out to be similarly inclined in ways that may make him Giddens’ perfect accompanist. He hails from Southern Italy, lives in Ireland now, and combines virtuoso musicianship on keyboards, percussion and other things with a deep interest in history and ethnomusicology – the results of the latter are audible both in the music and in the occasional mini-lectures he inserts in the programme on, for example, the history of the tambourine.

The human history they draw on is complex, and often painful – but transmutes into performance that is emotionally visceral and consistently fascinating musically. Giddens’  versatile voice is usually the centre of attention – she can deliver classical purity or down-home bluesiness, simple melody, scat or even, in a delightful encore, strings of bubbly nonsense syllables in Irish folk style. And she conjures hints of other great singers from Nina Simone to Joni Mitchell.

Her instrumental prowess is transfixing, too, though. The opening number deployed some interesting pitch-bending on the fiddle, echoed in the voice, as if to make it clear that a simple duo should not be pigeonholed as easy listening. More often, she built a backdrop with her deep-toned five-string banjo, the instrument whose Afro-American history she is unearthing anew.

Turrisi’s array of hand drums and tambourines blended seamlessly, but his piano work, on an unusal single-string instrument, was just as impressive. The performers’ connection there reminded of Huw Warren’s rapport with another matchless vocalist, June Tabor – and speaking of connections, it’s intriguing to note that Turrisi has collaborated with clarinet virtuoso Gabrielle Mirabassi and singer Maria Pia de Vito, both of whom have also worked with Warren.

The result was that a song like the stark slave-trade declamation At The Purchaser’s Option became even more powerful, to my ear, with Turrisi’s piano accompaniment giving way to a torrential solo that went deep into blues and gospel territory. You can hear an abbreviated sample of that here.

The whole song is gripping, but I found the duo version even more so – though that could have been just being there?


Either way, this evening showcasing the combined talents of a multicultural artist from North Carolina and a Southern Italian educated in the Hague and dedicating to.mixing world music and jazz offered much to savour, and many unexpected musical connections and renewals to reflect on.

And more of those next day in Dublin, when oud master Anouar Brahem was presiding. I first came to him via a glorious trio collaboration 20 years ago with an all-time favourite bassist, Dave Holland and saxophonist John Surman, one of producer Manfred Eicher’s more inspired introductions. For his latest project he was reunited with Holland along with that most musical of drummers Nasheet Waits (in place of Jack DeJohnette on the group’s recording) and – Eicher’s latest inspiration, Django Bates on piano.

The recording they made is superb, and the live show confirmed that Brahem’s rapport with Holland endures. Most of the pieces begin with a simple-sounding rumination on the oud, often unaccompanied, with the bass joining in to interweave the string sounds – though there are other duo combinations from time to time. Brahem seems to have an endless collection of beautiful tunes and after such openings, each one can go anywhere, continuing in rueful-sounding meditation, building into something much more intense and rhythmic, or just jumping off into improvisations on the Arabic modes that give the CD, Blue Maqams, its title.

Less expected was the strong connection Brahem has clearly forged with the English pianist. Bates characteristic exuberance is, if not absent, toned down a little in this setting. That allows him to explore his facility for gorgeous simplicity, his light, glancing figures weaving in and out of the oud lines as if the pair have been playing together for decades. It’s a delight to see him using his talents in the service of someone else’s music and the results are consistently uplifting. The sound combination of these four instruments doesn’t vary much over the course of the single lengthy set, aside from one trio number and the pieces that feature solos from each of the players. The main pleasure here is continual interaction, underpinned by wonderfully solid bass grooves or subtle shading from the drumset.

The similar sound of each piece means the music rewards close attention – else one could easily drift from one to the next. Each was so excellent in itself that wasn’t a problem. But I did have enough attention left over to wonder from time to time about other connections. We were watching a Wolverhampton-born bass veteran, a piano player from Beckenham, a black American jazz drummer whose father cultivated the same art and an oud player from Tunisia articulating and extending their common musical language. But impossible, after the previous night, not to hear echoes of the banjo in some of the oud lines. The two fretless instruments, one – the banjo – assuming modern form some time around the middle of the 19th century, the other readily traced back thousands of years in the Middle East and North Africa, must surely have a common ancestor still further back.

And very easy, too, to see how Turrisi could join Brahem on hand drum, or Holland jam with Giddens. Those meetings may never happen, but with players so skilled, and with such broad musical sympathies, such rare improvisational flair, it’s impossible not to imagine how good it might be…

See what I mean?


Bristol jazz week – 18 March

March 18, 2019

It looks like a snow-free weekend for Bristol’s jazz festival this year, so all set for a great weekend. My preview’s in the last post, and there’s another here with plenty of good video links.

There are still some gigs to note before the Festival gets under way. Frequent collaborators John Pearce and Dave Newton are at the Fringe in Clifton on Wednesday, while the adventurous Sefrial appear at the Canteen. And Future Inns has a festival warm-up special bringing together a bunch of Bristol regulars. John Pearce is out again, along with Gary Alesbrook – Trumpet/Flugelhorn, Anders Olinder – Piano, Matt Hopkins – Guitar, Victoria Klewin – Vocals and Kevin Figes – Alto Saxophone – with more special guests promised on the night.  

The BeBop club are taking a break this Friday so everyone can go to the opening night of the Festival, but one  gig which, throwing caution to the winds, is scheduled for Sunday features the words and music improv outfit Blazing Flame Quintet, fronted by Steve Day.  That’s at the Alma Tavern, starting around 6 in the evening, so still within hailing distance of the festival if you fancy something a little different.