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Bristol jazz week – Dec 10

December 10, 2018
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So I suppose the weekly menu of jazz gigs will be getting thinner as we prepare to wind down for Christmas…  (checks Bristol247). Ah well, completely wrong, there’s absolutely loads on,  much of it festive. See all the details here.

Bristol247 also has the now customary videos to help you choose your gig. But I think you’ll agree you get a better class of illustration here.

I’m hoping to make the Xmas themed show at Future Inns on Thursday, and I’ll be very disappointed if Jake McMurchie isn’t got up like this, TBH…



Bristol jazz this week – 3 December

December 3, 2018
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A host of delights in Bristol this week. The quantity and variety never ceases to impress me, all the more now there are weeks when I view from a distance in a less musically stimulating city – all the details (and lots of videos to sample some of the bands appearing) here.


Bath mini-festival in January

December 1, 2018

First details of a new jazz weekend coming in Bath, inviting the best local jazz players to round off your Xmas and New Year break (assuming you have one).

It’s at the Widcombe Social Club on Jan 4-6. Full details nearer the time, but it definitely looks worth supporting – we’d like it to become a fixture, right? – so here are the current plans, if you want to help spread the word.

Iain Ballamy/Jason Rebello Quartet,
Get The Blessing,
Dave Newton,
Karen Street’s Streetworks,
John Law’s Quartet with Sam Crockatt,
James Lambeth
more to be announced
plus jazz on film

A few more details here. (And now a dedicated website here)

A little distance: 2 gigs – Tommy Smith and Babelfish

December 1, 2018

I decided I hadn’t time to set down anything about a pair of interestingly intense gigs this week. But a few days later, and after heading back from Bristol to Belfast, I find I’m still thinking about them on Saturday night. So a few thoughts.

Both were in a jazz area, if you want labels, but Tommy Smith much more sensibly labelled thus. The Scottish tenor player was born in 1967, so last year was his 50th, and the half-centenary of the early death of one of his great inspirations, John Coltrane.

The result was a well-received project where he plays Coltrane, in every sense of the word. The project is still touring, and Nod Knowles brought it to Bath’s Widcombe Social Club on Tuesday, Smith playing unamplified in the neat space with Peter Johnstone on piano, Sebastiaan De Krom on drums and the brilliant Calum Gourlay on bass. The Coltrane quartet instrumentation, then, and early-to-mid Coltrane is the sound – more early for the drums, mostly, apart from a couple of hair-raising One Up, One Down style drums’n’tenor excursions, and mid- for the rest, especially piano which is faithfully Tyneresque for the duration.

50 years on, this is still demanding music, and on the whole they do it proud. It’s demanding on the players, too, especially the sax, and Smith is certainly in the right zone. He digs into Resolution, Dear Lord, and the rest as if they’ve never been played before.

But they have of course. And there’s just the slightest aesthetic reservation about the “tonight Matthew, I’ll be John Coltrane” approach. It’s rousing stuff, and there are transcendent moments when Smith successfully conjures Coltrane the great ecstatic and you forget everything else. Much of the time, though, you can’t forget the originals (why would you?). It feels good, but there’s a nagging sense of risking the unappealing fate of being trapped in re-creation (see Alan Skidmore’s late career for a discouraging example of where that leads).

It must still be incredibly difficult to do well, needless to say. To play convincingly in this style you must have to study and practice as obsessively as Coltrane did, and achieve a similar level of execution. And this project gets top marks for that. The frequent piano solos were perhaps a bit frantic under the pressure of all that history, and there was sometimes a feeling of a drop in intensity when Smith laid out – but then the original ‘Trane quartet was like that too. People should definitely do this – to give us a taste of what it might have been like to see the original, to honour the ancestors and, to judge by the two youngsters in the front row, to inspire the next generation to explore one of the great masters. Then – a feeling crystallised by Gourlay’s rivetting, freely-improvised bass solo that introduced the last number – they should probably move on.

The next night at St George’s was utterly different, but Brigitte Beraha and Barry Green’s excellent Babelfish were full of quiet intensity in their own way. (The evening probably felt more intense because the gig followed a remarkable poetry recitation by Alice Oswald in the Wills Building up the hill an hour earlier – threatening high culture overload.)

This is filed under jazz insofar as it’s genre-free music. Beraha can nail a standard like Chasing Rainbows, or give a stunning rendition of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament. There’s poetry too, Salley Gardens, a folk song drawn from Yeats, and some oddly pleasing “cubist poetry” texts from France. And there are plenty of other originals. One was pleasingly Jobim-like which prefigured a Jobim tune to close the second set. The others were more distinctive, drawing on the co-leaders’ literary enthusiasms for inspiration, and taking lots of different, unexpected directions.

Altogether a memorably creative evening. Beraha is superb whether singing straight or launching into into snarly-screechy-growly freedom when the mood takes her. Green complements her brilliantly, and shines in the piano trio interludes, and Paul Clarvis on drums and Chris Laurence on bass matched them every step of the way. It’s fascinating to see the four – each of them a favourite performer in other contexts – come together in this band and do something different, and fruitfully exploratory.

The sound, especially that voice, was wonderful in St George’s, as you’d expect. A pretty much flawless evening’s music – thougb it would have been nice to see a bigger crowd for all that talent. Still they’re booked for the Bristol Jazz festival next year, so the rest of you have another chance to appreciate them in March.


Bristol jazz week – Nov 26

November 26, 2018

I’ve already highlighted a a couple of gigs of the week (previous post) – here are all the rest, courtesy of Tony Benjamin over at Bristol247. His listing now has an extensive selection of music videos, too – so many you could spend an enjoyable evening going through them. But then you’d have one less opportunity to go hear live music, and with so much on that’d be a shame…

Gig(s) of the week – Smith and Babelfish

November 25, 2018
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Haven’t done this for a while, but there are two dates this week that really deserve a mention under this heading – and can’t choose between them. They’re on different nights though so that’s OK.

First is the latest in Nod Knowles’ promotions at the very lovely Widdecombe Social Club a few minutes stroll from the station in Bath on Wednesday. Tommy Smith and his quartet gave their widely lauded John Coltrane project an airing at St George’s earlier this year for Bristol Jazz fest, but first night clashes must mean lots of people who’d have appreciated it found themselves elsewhere. Now there’s another chance, in a nice room which offers every jazz comfort. This series is a recent addition to our options round here, and really deserves support. The band has “former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, Peter Johnstone on piano, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s bassist, Calum Gourlay, and Sebastiaan de Krom on drums”.

Sample tune…

Ticket details here .

Equally enticing are the ought-to-be-fabulous Babelfish at St George’s on Thursday. I’ve not heard the band, but the personnel looks superb. Brigitte Beraha, seen here recently with Eddie Parker’s Debussy project and Issie Barrett’s big band is one of our most interesting vocalists. Barry Green on piano, similarly, is one of the best of the current crop of piano players. And the rarely seen Chris Laurence is simply one of the best bass players this country has ever produced (he has a busy classical career as well, I think, and live jazz dates these days seem to be confined to occasional shows with John Surman, who he’s played with since the 1970s, and even scarcer appearances with his own quartet. Add the infinitely resourceful but light of touch Paul Clarvis on drums/percussion and you have a rare combination indeed.

And they sound like it…

This is last but one date on a tour to promote their new recording, which has mostly stopped at rather smaller venues (and finishes at the Vortex in London on Friday). I think the more spacious acoustic of St George’s will suit them well.

Bristol jazz week – Nov 20th

November 20, 2018

I’m staying quiet this week, after a music binge, but if you’ve been less fortunate there’s plenty of good stuff on offer. Read all about it here, as usual.