13
Jul
18

Keith Tippett Benefit Gig; Sun 8 July 2018

Keith TippettBristol born world class piano genius Keith Tippett; recently suffered two heart attacks coupled with a chest infection and pneumonia. The good news is that he is now out of hospital and is recuperating at home.

However, as result of his illness Keith has been forced to cancel all engagements for the rest of 2018 and it will be some time before he will be well enough to perform or appear in public.

On hearing this worrying news the ‘Jazz Community’  arranged a number of Benefit Gigs to raise money to help Keith & Julie through this difficult period. Benefit concerts were arranged in London, Birmingham and Manchester and this concert on 8th July at The Hen & Chicken was his home town’s opportunity to show support.

Musicians taking part included Keith’s friends, old band colleagues, ex-students or just players who feel their careers have been inspired by Keith’s incredible music and wanted to show their support.

The evening featured two bands and a short poetry reading.

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Kevin Figes

First up was the specially formed Keith Tippett Appreciation Society Ensemble; led by former Keith Tippett Seedbed Orchestra alumni Kevin Figes who managed to uncover some original scores of tunes Keith used to teach the orchestra, hand written by Keith. Tunes such as A May Day’, ‘Madlobt’, Film Blues’, ‘A Song’, ‘Thoughts to Geoff’, and the legendary ‘Septober Energy’ were performed.

The band was originally a nine piece; but due to some work commitments the line-up advertised was a little different and augmented by extra players, swelling numbers to 15 at one stage for the finale;

The Keith Tippett Appreciation Ensemble
Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn, Jake McMurchie, Mark Langford, Craig Crofton & Norma Daykin  (Saxophones)
Percy Pursglove, Pete Judge & Dave Mowat  (Trumpets)
Jim Blomfield  (Piano), Dominic Lash & Will Harris  (Double Basses)
Mark Whitlam & Tony Orrell  (Drums)
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After a shorter than usual interval the ‘Raffle’ was drawn, with over 25 prizes available and raised £140. An impromptu auction took place of five items that were considered too valuable to use as raffle prizes; pristine vinyl album copies (kindly donated by Jon Turney) of Keith’s large ensemble band ‘ARK’ and one of Louis Moholo‘s band fetched over £70 between them with three other ECM CD’s garnering a further £50.
Andy Sheppard was unable to be at the gig due to engagements with Carla Bley in Europe; but he organised to have copies of his new ECM album sent to Bristol for the evening, raising a further £75 (+one used in raffle & 4 others saved for sale later).
Before the start of the second set a short poem was read by Bob Walton from his recently published book, the poem called Jazz Burglar Blues recounted a time when he was learning the saxophone and had it stolen in a house break-in. He was accompanied by saxophonist Jake McMurchie. It was a delightful and humorous rendition that added something different to the evening!
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Jake McMurchie (Sax) & Bob Walton (Words)

The second set band then took to the stage;
The Paul Dunmall Special Quartet
Paul Dunmall (Tenor sax)
Jim Dvorak (Trumpet & Pocket Trumpet)
Percy Pursglove (Double Bass & Trumpet)
Tony Orrell (Drums)
39-DSC_9631 copyA strong contemporary/improvised set by the specially arranged quartet was based around a few well known tunes, taking into account the mixed nature of the audience. This not only achieved some fireworks but didn’t push the envelope to the full and bruise the more tender of ears, not normally used to full on Free Avant Garde music, a balance well struck!
Many thanks were given all round to those contributing and the final total was announced at just over £2K for the night, which doubled organisers original target…………Hoorah!
Last men standing were joined by the Ensemble plus Jim Dvorak to finish the night with an encore of a Dudu Pukwana tune ‘MRA’, played for the special link Keith has had since the late 60’s with the South African exiles who moved to London during apartheid, so a real Township feel for nights end.
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The influence that Keith Tippett’s music has had and his contribution to the history of British Jazz and European Improvised music cannot be overstated and tonight’s gig was an opportunity for us all to show our appreciation and help Keith at a time when he is unable to work and earn a living.

Thanks to all that played, organised attended (100+), those that gave and sent donations via the ‘Showing Solidarity with KT’ button on the Jazzata website (booking page), which will remain up, for any further donations until the end of August 2018

More pictures of the night taken by Paul Bullivant, above and some below, audience pics by Janinka Diverio, other pics & video clips (very bottom) by Phil Bourne….thank you guys………..

NB; Last picture is actually a slideshow of 25 photos

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Video Clips by Phil Bourne

Film Blues by the Ensemble; Keith Tippett Benefit Sun 8 July 2018it (7.52 mins)

May Day by The Ensemble; Keith Tippett Benefit Gig Sun 8 July 2018 (6.12 mins)

Paul Dunmall ‘Special’ Quartet, Pt 1; Keith Tippett Benefit Gig Sun 8 July 2018 (5.04 mins)

 

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04
Feb
16

January 2016: Gig Reviews

We stuffed ourselves with some great music over the first four & half weeks of 2016, and what treats we heard.
All the gigs were well attended especially the first three (all 100+), some very nice reviews as well, and a selection of those can be accessed here:

Moonlight Saving Time Album launch; Sun 10 Jan’ at the Hen & Chicken
Listomania Bath (by Charley Dunlap)
http://tinyurl.com/gpa9zv8
JazzyBlogMan (Mike Collins) http://tinyurl.com/zpsm24z
Bristol 24/7 (by Tony Benjamin) http://tinyurl.com/ze7zco8

Emily Wright (Vocals), Jason Yarde (Saxes), Nick Malcolm (Trumpet), Dale Hambridge (Keys),

Will Harris (Bass), Mark Whitlam (Drums)
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Pictures by Tony Benjamin
Gilad Atzmon & Alan Barnes Sun 24 Jan’ at the Hen & Chicken
Listomania Bath (by Mike Collins) http://tinyurl.com/gtl8azf
Bristol 24/7 (by Tony Benjamin) http://tinyurl.com/zof4wdb

Gilad Atzmon & Alan Barnes (Saxes & Clarinets), Frank Harrison (Piano), Yaron Stavi (Bass), Chris Higginbottom (Drums)

Photos by Joanne Stowell

Atzmon & Barnes3 Jan 24 '16

Atzmon & Barnes Jan 24 '16Yaron Stavi Jan 24 '16
Alan Barnes Jan 24 '16Alan Barnes2 Jan 24 '16Atzmon & Barnes 3 Jan 24 '16Atzmon & Barnes7 Jan 24 '16Atzmon & Barnes10 Jan 24 '16Atzmon & Barnes8 Jan 24 '16Atzmon & Barnes9 Jan 24 '16Frank Harrison Jan 24 '16Atzmon & Barnes4 Jan 24 '16

Atzmon & Barnes2 Jan 24 '16

Chris Higginbottom Jan 24 2016

 

 

 

atzmon-barnes-2-1453720929Photo above by Tony Benjamin

Tom Harrison Quartet feat; Cleveland Watkiss Sun 31 Jan’ at the Hen & Chicken
‘The Music of Ellington & Strayhorn’
Listomania Bath (by Jon Turney) http://tinyurl.com/hs5k2tg

Didn’t have anyone reviewing the Andy Sheppard “Hotel Bristol” gig but Bryan Angelinetta took a nice snap during the gig

Andy Sheppard's Hotel Bristol Sun 17 Jan '16

From Left to Right: Matt Hopkins (Guitar), Percy Purseglove (Bass & Flugelhorn), Andy Sheppard (Sax) & Mark Whitlam (Drums) at The Hen & Chicken; Sun 17 Jan’ 2016

 

 

 

03
Feb
16

Townes Van Zandt

John Townes Van Zandt: Mar 7 1944 –Jan 1 1997 aged 52 Townes Van Zandt

Of the myriad of over 3,000 gigs I put on at The Albert over a 26 year period many are forgotten in the mists. One series of gigs (mid 90’s) that keeps springing back to mind were a little foreign to me at the time and probably didn’t mean as much to me then; but something about a couple of those still stick in the mind.
It was a brief foray into putting on Country music that was instigated by Kelvin Henderson a local Radio Bristol presenter; he had previously had a quite successful career as a musician and championed Country music for decades including in his local “My Kind of Country” show for the BBC.

Kelvin had been bringing top US Country musicians to Bristol for many years when he lost the venue he was using. As I was also presenting on the same station doing Jazz with Keith Warmington, we were introduced to each other by Keith initially, in the BBC bar. He knew of the jazz and acoustic music I was promoting and asked if we would do some of the artists he had already booked for the venue he could no longer use.
I tentatively agreed but we had to do them on different nights to the jazz (Sundays) and acoustic (Wednesdays) so I think we ended up doing some on a Tuesday and some on Thursdays.

Many of the artists proved amazing to host, but not many were very well attended despite Kelvin plugging them to death on his show. The Sawtooth Mountain Boys a Bluegrass band, solo guitar picking legend Dan Crary were great nights musically.

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The one that made a lasting impression was with Townes Van Zandt, a name I profess not to have ever come across or recognised. Turned out he was one of Americas finest ever Country Music songwriters...Ever!!
I think we only had about 15 folk in for that night: he turned up bedraggled; a face weathered by years of drug and alcohol abuse that I recognised from a wall picture in the bar of Chet Baker the jazz trumpeter who had been down the same road. He was thin as a rake, quietly spoken and when he did speak it was short and sweet.

Townes oldChet Baker
His voice was not in good shape either, though it seems he never was a songbird. His guitar playing was good without brilliance, but there was something about the presence of the guy that you could not ignore.

Van Zandt himself, never had anything resembling a hit in his nearly 30-year recording career — he had a hard enough time simply keeping his records in print. Nonetheless, he was widely respected and admired as one of the greatest country and folk artists of his generation. The long list of singers who’ve covered his songs includes Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (who had a number one country hit with “Pancho and Lefty” in 1983), Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, Hoyt Axton, Bobby Bare, the Tindersticks, and the Cowboy Junkies.
Such gems as “For the Sake of the Song,” “To Live’s to Fly,” “Tecumseh Valley,” “Pancho and Lefty,” and “If I Needed You” plus many more that have made him a legend in American and European songwriting circles.

“Pancho and Lefty” is considered his most enduring and well-known song. Van Zandt first recorded it for his 1972 album. Emmylou Harris then covered the song for her 1977 album, Luxury Liner. The song became a number one country hit in 1983 when Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson and Steve Earle performs the song on his 2009 album Townes, which consists of songs written by van Zandt, Earle’s friend and mentor.

Earle & Van Zandt

Van Zandt tells that he wrote the song in Dallas about two Mexican bandits he saw on TV; 2 weeks previous, Pancho Villa and his mate ‘Lefty’.
He said is just came of out of the blue without even thinking about it. He thought it weird and had come from another place. He didn’t even understand it (the lyrics) himself, for many years.

Many years later something weird happened; he related a story of traveling to a gig and being pulled over by two cops (one white and one Hispanic) in Brenham, Texas, doing 67mph in 50 zone.

The Burton County officers asked for all his details, which he didn’t have.
They asked him where he was heading and what he did, to identify himself.
He told them he was a songwriter heading to a gig….”Oh, and I wrote the song Pancho & Lefty”, he added
The two officers looked stunned and were disbelieving, “No…. I did write that song… really”
The officers told him they weren’t doubting that; it was just that their call sign from the Sheriff’s Dept: to their car had always been Pancho & Lefty??? He got off the speeding ticket…..but he got a fine for not having an inspection ticket and noting his address change, I suppose they had to get him for something!
Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time

Emmylou Harris & Willie Nelson both had massive hits with “Pancho and Lefty”, here they are dueting on the song. with Lyle Lovett –  Live in Austin, Texas, 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-sASHRv2mM (4.33 mins)

townes-vanTownes Van Zandt playing a medley of his hit!  “Pancho & Lefty” played at Uncle Seymour’s place, taken from a DVD called Heartworn Highways in 1975.
http://tinyurl.com/pcg69xo (4.53 mins)

Here are some tales about Townes from people who knew him, if you don’t like bad language, please don’t listen to some of these (Earle & Clark bits)
Kris Kristofferson talking about Townes van Zandt
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qk6KNa_jLWY (1.18 mins)
Steve Earle talking about TVZ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy86AY5Nf7I (5.23 mins)
Emmylou Harris talking about TVZ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOdaj8AxhlI (2.22 mins)
Guy Clark talking about TVZ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb7LVzx_twU (4.52 mins)

 

 

 

25
Aug
15

‘The Session’; a little New Orleans back in Bristol

The Session: Hen & Chicken, Sun 16 August 2015

session 5Just over a year ago I introduced this young quintet to Bristol, little knowing the ripple effect they managed to create in a short period of time. last year following contact made by Englishman in New Orleans, James Partridge (Tenor Sax) I took a gamble on these young guys who were teaching & performing at Aberystwyth Summer School & Festival. Ideally they wanted three or four gigs after this festival until a gig they had a week later at Purbeck Jazz Festival.

I was able to offer them small potatoes in terms of fee (mainly due to time of year with many on annual Hols), but did offer to help find other gigs and arrange accommodation for all five; for four or five days after the gig. Our house is not very big, though we have a track record with musicians as a comforting ‘lay-over’ when on tour….sometimes even when not playing in Bristol! luckily for me a neighbour two doors down was going on holiday and she kindly let me use her house to put two up while I billeted the other three…..well that was OK for three days but the last day she would be home; so they then moved to the next door neighbour who had tagged teamed holidays and so her house was vacant for the last night, phew!

Anyway I had little success at getting anyone else interested in an unknown band especially at this time of year. My gig was to be the only one that week; however on my gig, long time friend and associate Andy Hague (local trumpeter hero/drummer/composer and promoter at The Be-Bop Club in Bristol) was at the gig on the Sunday. He had to really…..he’d lent me his drum kit! Bass was kindly supplied by (and this year) Greg Cordez!

Andy (as were all the 45-souls in attendance) was blown away with energy and verve these guys managed to produce. He said during the interval “We must try to do another gig before they leave and as they are just kicking their heels for a week, why not?” (Or something along those lines!)

Why not indeed; so with Andy securing The Bear for a second “Pop-Up” gig on the following Tuesday, organising back line again, Sandra & Ian Fryer kindly offering to cook food for the guys on the day of the gig, and both of us Twittering and Facebooking madly to drum up support, plus the guys attending the  Jam Session at the Canteen (Stokes Croft) on the Monday to spread the word; we ventured to see what would happen?

Word of mouth was as much a factor from the Sunday as folk let all friends & colleagues know about the happening ~ The bloody gig sold out, with a few not able to physically get in the room, viewing from the hallway!

Darrian_Douglas_and_the_Session_courtesy_Darrian_Douglas_t670So, this year they would return (again in association with Aberystwyth fest); but this time for two separate events. One earlier in June which the Hague-ster managed to make the last gig of his season before their Summer break at the Be-Bop, then back with me at the Chicken in August again.

The Be-Bop gig was vastly oversubscribed with many Be-Bop regulars not gaining visitation rights to the event. Due to massive electrical storms over New Orleans, two of the guys flights were cancelled meaning trumpeter Steve Lands and drummer Darian Douglas missed the gig. This allowed Andy to step in at the last-minute on horns and Mark Whitlam came to the aid of the party by filling the drum chair. A review of this one by Mike Collins can be found here: https://jazzyblogman.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/not-quite-the-session-but-still-cooking-bebop-club-bristol-friday-12th-june/

So August comes around and they are back, what sort of turnout would I get for our gig? Well we doubled the audience from the previous year: Proving that if musicians are willing and able to get out there and persevere, all is possible. Thanks again to Greg for his Bass & Amp and Andy Tween who kindly let us use his kit, cheers boys!

Also thanks this time to The Fryers taking two for lodgings at their splendid Hotwells pad for two nights this visit. Steve Lands made it this time with a very young guy almost straight out of college Willie Green III on drums, more about Willie’s exploits at the end of this piece.

As always if there is an unbiased appraisal of our gigs I like to use them, so again thanks to Mike Collins (Jazzyblogman), methinks he likes these guys…he’s been to all the gigs so far!!

The Session: Hen & Chicken, Sun 16 Aug’ 2015

The Session_H&Ch

 

I’m not sure I can remember the last time I was at  jazz gig that wrapped up with a sing-a-long, but trumpeter Steve Lands was irresistible as he declaimed the verses and egged on the cheerfully dis-inhibited crowd for the responses and chorus of L’il Liza JaneIt was the encore and the packed Hen and Chicken had been thoroughly won over by two blistering sets from the return of the New Orleans based band last Sunday.

The trio of pianist Andrew McGowan, bass player Jason Weaver and saxophonist James Partridge (on Baritone for the evening) have been constants in the line-ups that have visited over the last year. This visit saw Willie Green III powering the quintet from the drum chair.  It was two sets that covered plenty of bases.  They launched with dense contemporary jazz, drifting horn hooks over spiky bass and percussion figures and urgent swing and furious blowing from Lands and Partridge on Sitting Bull Beckons.

Newly minted originals, Andrew’s Blues, Steve’s Samba, and Andrew’s 6/8 thing showed their skill in taking familiar jazz materials and forms, twisting them and opening them up for fluid improvising.   A howling, squealing bleak solo from Lands over the chiming piano chords of a Partridge penned ballad was a stand-out moment of the first set – no surprise that the trumpeter is an increasingly in demand player.

Partridge was formidable all evening. Whenever he stepped up the emotional temperature went up, whether blowing flurries of notes or letting long notes and a delicious tone from the baritone sax carry his thoughts.  As the gig went on, the dynamism and fluency  of Weaver’s bass playing shone through and by the time the inevitable second line groove kicked in on  one of his originals, the band were steaming and the smiles broad all round.

A band of mainly New Orleans natives who all met on the Crescent City’s scene, they bring an exuberance and desire to connect which is infectious and once again it wowed the near capacity crowd at the Hen and Chicken.   Another side of their generosity and musicianship was on display the following evening when they showed up at the regular fortnightly jam session at The Canteen.

A review of the Jam session at The Canteen by Tony B can be read here (for Darian Douglas read Willie Green III): http://www.bristol247.com/channel/culture/music/reviews/live-review-canteen-jazz-session 

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Back to Willie Green III to finish of this tale of hands across the water & stuff, and the sharing of hospitality between the two cities of New Orleans and Bristol…..even if we aren’t twinned (officially!!!) and we haven’t seen any Ambassadors around lately for these four gigs?

Willie Green IIIThis is Willie’s first time outside of the USA, he’s just 18 and is quite shy until he’s let loose on a drum kit, when he explodes and shows his mettle. I found out he has a big appetite not just for food but loves watching films. After the gig on the Sunday when arriving back home, laden with ‘new food’ for the majority of The Session, notably kebab’s from Joe Kubub’s on the London Inn; we decided a film was in order, while eating and washing down with red wine.

To my surprise none of the guys had seen the film ‘Whiplash’; set in a music school Stateside, following the exploits of a young drum student under the tuition of a sadistic and maniacal tutor, with a penchant for throwing things and glad slapping his pupils around if they don’t get right: “Are you rushing or dragging….?” He yells at the student?

I didn’t know and watching Willie’s face, I got the impression he didn’t either. He displayed a mix of nervous laughter and disbelief at the storyline; that any tutor would behave this way, while at the same time the whites of his eyes bulged at the prospect of seeing in the student, what could have been!!!

The following day after rousing and the Full English, I took the three up to view the Suspension Bridge; which we didn’t manage to do last year, though we did go see the very good Slavery exhibit at M-Shed on Bristol dockside, last time. Whilst that did anger some of the guys, they were very appreciative that our City had taken the time, trouble and effort to open up, about that part of Bristol’s history.

Ashlin Parker, trumpetAshlin Parker who was on trumpet last year commented, it was a pity none of this is spoken of back in the USA and also highly praised the display. In the current climate at home they said maybe it would be good to have a similar exhibit.

The guys planned a repeat visit to the Jam Session at The Canteen on Monday night (review link above) before leaving on Tuesday for Swansea and a gig at Swansea Jazzland.

On the way home Willie left his i-pad on the bus. Evidently this was not the first time he had mislaid the said i-pad. The guys told me he lost it twice at the festival and one time left it on the roof of a car, watching is drive away into the distance. So far he’d managed to retrieve the important link to home, via the websphere, on all occasions:

But he hadn’t counted on dealing with ‘First Bus’.

On getting home on Monday night his first reaction was get back on the bus coming back the opposite way, but we talked him out of that, because the chance of getting on the exact same bus was a long shot, especially at 11.30pm. Instead we reported it to lost & found, in the hope that someone would hand it in and we could pick it up next day. I had arrived at the conclusion that WG III was never going to be in the rocket science category, and his fellow band members were well aware of that, whilst being fatherly to him on his first trip abroad, they were dismayed somewhat at the constant forgetfulness of the young man. All good experience for one so young.

In the morning Willie was first up as I preparing to serve second helpings of Full English. Did he want the Full Monte? “Yes” he said, ” But I’m going for a quick walk first”. I told him fine, and I would hold the fry-up till his return.

By 11.45am the band were ready to head to the bus station to catch their link to Swansea via Cardiff, booked onto the 12.15 coach…..but no Willie, he’d gone walkabout; wandering the buses of Bristol and to lost property to find his i-pad! We bundled all his gear together in the car, in the vain hope he was at the bus station….he wasn’t. Coach pulled out on time as my phone rang for Lorraine to tell me he was back at home, believing he had to be there for 12.15, not leaving at that time.

I tried diving in front of the coach as it left the station but the driver was having none of it, I luckily avoided becoming roadkill by a whisker! A phone call to James and we worked out that he could re-book Willie onto the 4.15 coach which would get him to Swansea with an hour to spare. I was to return home and print off his booking form from an e-mail, and I’d get him to the bus on time.

Another phone call a little later from trumpeter Steve, let me know that when Willie went to catch the 4.15 he was to go lost property….not to collect his i-pad (never seen again, not surprising on a bus to Hartcliffe) but to get Steve’s luggage; which Steve forgot to load onto the bus in the panic looking for Willie. Well at least there was a silver lining, Willie could take the luggage.

The guys weren’t overly kind to Willie for missing the bus; when I printed off the booking form they had filled in his name as: Willie ‘defuq’ Green III!

I hope he didn’t notice it and I didn’t point it out to him. He’s a lovely guy and maybe next time he will have grown more street wise, it’ll be a pleasure to have them back again sometime, Willie and all.

Cheers

Ian

 

25
Aug
15

“A Bigger Show” Mike Westbrook’s ‘Uncommon Orchestra’

“A Bigger Show”:

Music by Mike Westbrook, Words by Kate Westbrook

Mike Westbrook & Company: The Uncommon Orchestra

 

The Uncommon Orchestra

Kate Westbrook, Martine Waltier (voices), Billy Bottle (voice & bass guitar)
Roz Harding, Sarah Dean, Alan Wakeman, Lou Gare, Gary Bayley, Ian Wellens (saxes)
Mike Brewer, Sam Massey (trumpets)
Dave Holdsworth (sousaphone & trumpet)
Andy Dore, Stewart Stunnell, Joe Carnell,Ken Cassidy (trombones)
Marcus Vergette (bass)
Jesse Molins, Matthew North (guitars)
Theo Goss, Coach York (drums)
Mike Westbrook (piano/conductor)

OK the Chicken’s upstairs room is reasonably large; normally with a quintet or so we can sit 150 cabaret style or 200 theatre style: However when the band amasses 22 pieces you can begin to see why this might be a logistic nightmare! I had to plan very carefully for this one by making several visits to the venue in the weeks leading up, to arrange staging and seating to able to get a band this size on stage and leave enough room to get some people in to watch the bloody thing!

Moving the group on a diagonal across the left side of the room, they still took up 40% of the room. This left enough to 115 sat if we could sell the tickets for this unique NEW Jazz/Rock Oratorio that Mike & Kate had given birth too….and we did, we sold it out! Coooeee#

kate_serpent1mike_westbrook_feat_mike_westbrook_band-new_off_abbey_roadMike and Kate have kindly graced the Albert stage on three or four occasions in the past, usually in much smaller groupings of trio and quartet.

They would perform their interpretations of avant-garde /operatic style cabaret songs of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht alongside workings of jazz standards in their own wry way.

Not even the grandiose raising of Mike to be a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1988 could stop them coming to the small bijou Albert Inn! we have remained friends and working partners since and so to tonight’s, rather larger extravaganza.

I’ll pass on the critique to others who witnessed the event, two reviews this time. Suffice to say everything went pretty swimmingly even though stress wrinkles are greater after the event!

Mike Westbrook’s Uncommon Orchestra

Tony Benjamin, July 6, 2015, for Bristol 24/7

Mike Westbrook’s Uncommon Orchestra – A Bigger Show (Hen & Chicken, Sunday July 6)

Mike Westbrook was in his early 20s when he first became a bandleader and his career over the subsequent 55 years has shown that he fully deserved the title. Like the great US bandleaders, he has continually gathered together powerful combinations of playing talent that have brought his often ambitious compositions to vigorous life. His biggest and most impressive achievements have been collaborations with lyricist and vocalist Kate Westbrook, usually highly stylised jazz oratorios, often with a political edge and always staged on a grand scale that defies the economic logic of jazz.

So at one level A Bigger Show came as no surprise: a 20+strong big band, three vocalists, a libretto full of conspicuous vocabulary (juxtaposition! miasma! resuscitation fairy!) and a commitment to ‘liberty, fraternity, equality and jokes’. Yes, all the Westbrooks’ trademark boxes ticked, and very well, too. But who-on-earth-else would even consider a project like this, let alone embark on it? And who else could have made it work so satisfyingly? Bristol’s jazz-loving community had packed out the Hen & Chicken in anticipation of all this and were not disappointed.

As ever there was some theatricality – the Uncommon Orchestra slowly assembled as the score required, ambling on throughout Gizzards All Gory until a massive sound had built up thanks to two drummers, five sax players, five horns, two guitars and the potentially tectonic combination of double bass, bass guitar and sousaphone. Kate Westbrook’s declamatory address had all the ‘roll up, roll up!’ of a circus ringmaster, promising ‘the show that never ends’. Two and a half hours later (including the interval) it did, in fact, end – but nobody was wishing it to happen any sooner.

As ever, this was superbly composed music that used the resources at Westbrook’s disposal to create ever-changing moods and textures – Juxtapositions, for instance, which began rockishly as a bass/guitar/drums riff supporting a Chet Baker style muted trumpet solo before shimmering carpets of thick trombone harmony swept it up and away. Freedom’s Crown (dedicated to Bristol’s great planning guru Stephen J Hewitt) set up the brass, rhythm section and vocals in benign contradiction, the filmic swoop of the voices set against Roz Harding’s perversely squally alto saxophone. She was the discovery of the night – a powerful and distinctive player who blossomed across the evening, delivering terse slashes or tumultuous cascades with perfect judgement. Less surprising, but equally delightful, was the forthright tenor of Lou Gare, free jazz veteran and one of Westbrook’s first musical partners, whose shapely solos also punctuated the evening.

The vocal team of Kate Westbrook, Martine Waltier and bass guitarist Billy Bottle (looking remarkably like the fourth Marx Brother – Zeppo? – circa 1967) were crucial, moving easily around the packed stage and delivering Kate’s Brechtian lyrics with crisp articulation, fine harmonies and theatrical flourishes. It all came together in the rocky final number Lovers Galore, a defiantly positive blast against the bleak universe and hollow cyberspace previously outlined, with soaring electric guitars and a rolling riff plus a final blistering alto solo from Roz Harding.

 

It was all both fresh and retrospective, a fitting  statement of Mike Westbrook’s unique career to date and confirmation of his status as one of the greatest jazz composers this country has ever produced. This show deserves to be seen at the Barbican – and hopefully one day it will be – but that we could see this remarkable performance above a pub is also a fine tribute to promoter Ian Storror and his three decades of commitment to bringing the country’s best jazz to Bristol.

Tony Benjamin

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Posted on 6th July 2015

The Uncommon Orchestra – A Bigger Show

Hen and Chicken, Southville, Bristol: 5 July 2015

The great British composer and bandleader Mike Westbrook has always had a gift for bringing off large-scale works that would collapse under their own weight in the hands of almost any other jazz creator – a talent that first came to full fruition with the epic Marching Song way back in 1969. The big projects have usually depended on grants and commissions, and he and partner Kate have toured extensively in trios and small groups, too. Those continue now the pair are settled in Dawlish in South Devon.

But Mike Westbrook, the tireless organiser, has also been in evidence in the West Country in the last few years, with occasional performances from a brand new big band. That ensemble is now reconfigured as the 22-piece Uncommon Orchestra, and are now performing a brand new, two-hour suite, A Bigger Show, music by Mike, lyrics by Kate. And a spectacular show it is. Three vocalists –Kate Westbrook, Billy Bottle, who also plays electric bass, and Martine Waltier – bring real variety and depth to the songs.

Each one is a launch pad for long, punchy big band scores, rich in Westbrook M’s resourceful writing for massed horns. Add a string bass alongside the electric instrument, two electric guitars, who feature more strongly in the second half, and two drummers, and the result is, simply, epic.

Hard to believe this majestic ensemble is playing for 100-odd people crammed into the upstairs room of this capacious pub. It reminds me rather of seeing the Sun Ra Arkestra a few years ago in the Croft in Stokes Croft. Something of their spirit creeps into the room tonight, too, courtesy of Kate’s cosmic lyrics. The songs are carried over from a small group recording made in 2007, extensively re-worked for the large ensemble. Her words can tend too much to abstraction, but give the band lots to work with and it responds with much fine soloing. Fittingly, some of the best comes from longtime Westbrook cohorts. Dave Holdsworth (who appeared all those years ago on Marching Song) plays implausibly light-footed sousaphone, and plangent pocket trumpet. And Alan Wakeman contributes world-class tenor and soprano saxophone.

But it is the band sound that stays in the ear after the gig. A roaring ensemble, orchestrated by a master of the art. They are touring the West country through the summer, and there’s a live recording on the way, set for Exeter at the end of the month. The double CD that will lead to is open for advance subscription on the band website – Surely a worthwhile investment in new work from one of English music’s most creative forces of the last half century!

John Turney for Listomania Bath

Jon is a science writer, editor, and lecturer as well as a jazz authority. His book I, Superorganism: Learning to Love Your Inner Ecosystem was published Feb 2015 and is available at Amazon and most good retailers.

 

25
Aug
15

Trio Brasil: Hen & Chicken, Sun 14 May 2015

Trio Brasil

Hen and Chicken, Bristol: May 14th, 2015

huw-warren

A country that named Rio de Janeiro’s international airport after Antonio Carlos Jobim is one that takes its music seriously. But there’s much more to Brazilian music than Jobim, and the outstanding Welsh pianist Huw Warren has explored much of it. Zoot3

Tonight’s two sets at Ian Storror’s occasional Sunday night gig in Bristol’s Southville feature big helpings of Hermeto Pascoal, multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader, and a man who is basically made of music. Warren fell in love with his pieces thirty years ago, and made an album dedicated to him in 2009. Tonight’s selections are similar in mood, that is, full of tumbling keyboard lines, driving rhythm and exhilarating double-time flourishes at the finish.

We have different tunes in the main, though, which Warren, son Zoot, a first rate jazz drummer, and old cohort Dudley Philips on supple six-string electric bass have made their own – for all that they have to look closely at the sheet music on some of the knottier pieces.

An evening of Pascoal would be just fine, but there are others to explore from the same milieu – a plaintive Jobim ballad, a samba by the prolific Joyce Moreno and a dazzling sample of chorinho, which Warren describes as a kind of Brazilian Dud Phillipsragtime and sounds exactly, and deliciously, like that, although at a tempo much faster than the stateliness that suits, say, Scott Joplin best.

As the evening goes on, we forget that we are in a comfy pub in South Bristol, with sheet music blu-tacked to an adequate (but only just) piano, and are transported somewhere altogether more tropical. Warren could feature some of his own tunes for Hermeto, which are perfectly in keeping with their inspiration, but doesn’t tonight. This is an all Brazilian programme, and full of the rhythmic bounce and harmonic subtlety that Brazilian music often blends together in gorgeous new ways. There is some jaw-dropping pianism, a beautiful solo feature for the bass, and constantly energising drums. But mainly, there is a lot of joy in bringing these tunes alive. It’s just one of many sides to Warren’s playing, more familiar to many these days in June Tabor’s Quercus, but one of the most satisfying.

Jon Turney: for Listomania Bath

 

 

 

25
Aug
15

Blog page update: Perico Sambeat at Zion Chapel

Been remiss in not keeping this blog page up to scratch, seems no time to scratch any body parts lately let alone the blog page. Note to self…. must update more regularly!! (agree to administer course of self flagellation)

So going back some months; I couldn’t use normal ‘Chicken’ venue when Arnie Somogyi got in touch to ask about putting on a gig for old friend Perico Sambeat from Spain. I had worked with Perico several times while at The Albert initially he came with Guy Barker and then later his own groups with the fantastic American pianist Bruce Barth (went on to be Musical Director for Tony Bennett), all the gigs with Perico were exceptional as he possesses a fantastic alto sax sound, with great feel and mellowness, which is sometimes difficult on alto.

Because venue was booked Arnie suggested his sister in law’s place in Bedminster Down. Jess and her partner run the revitalised Zion Chapel which formally was a place of worship.

The last service at the Zion Methodist Church was held in August 2008.  Once a focus for the local community of Bedminster Down this beautiful chapel was left derelict, after the dwindling congregation could no longer sustain its use.

In 2010 Jess Wright came across the building for sale, whilst hunting for a unique property that could house the various community projects that she had worked on over the years. Once Jess had been inside the decision was made and the long drawn out battle for planning and funding began! Completion of the building was finalized in April 2011 and work began to restore the building as a centre for this community once again and provide Bedminster Down with a creative space for all to use.

So we did!

On Wed 13 May; as a sojourn away from The Hen & Chicken, to see if we could make Jazz work a little farther out of Bristol (but still South of the River…). the following are words & pics by Tony Benjamin writing an independent review of the gig for Bristol 24/7.

We only had 35 in the audience but it was a lovely gig in a lovely space. It cost me a bit to put the gig on but would do it again in a heartbeat; especially when you work with such great people as Jess and the wonderful musicians on show. If you want check out Zion’s activities (including the courses, kids stuff and yummy cafe & deli) check them out online at: http://zionbristol.co.uk/

Perico Sambeat Trio, Zion Chapel:  Wed 13 May 2015

by Tony Benjamin

Left to Right: Steve Keogh (Drums), Perico Sambeat (Alro Sax), Arnie Somoygi (Bass)

Left to Right: Steve Keogh (Drums), Perico Sambeat (Alto Sax), Arnie Somogyi (Bass)

Promoter Ian Storror has been putting South Bristol on the jazz map for decades, with his tenure at The Albert Inn seeing many international jazz stars grace an unfeasible small stage for an ‘intimate’ Bedminster audience. These days his events are usually at Southville’s Hen and Chicken comedy club space but to catch touring Spanish sax star Perico Sambeat he brought us out to Zion at Bedminster Down, a comfortably sized former church that made an excellent venue for an evening of equally comfortable jazz.

Flanked by Stephen Keogh’s drums and bass-player Arnie Somogyi the saxophonist warmed up with some light-touch swing, the well-balanced sound establishing the dynamics between the players. Without a harmonic instrument like piano or guitar there could be a ‘plate spinning’ tension but it was clear the three knew exactly how to keep things together, Somogyi’s bass in particular catching subtleties of rhythm to keep the tune in mind. Playing without a hi-hat cymbal and making spare use of kick drum Keogh’s drumming took more chances, an approach that came to the fore in faster bop pieces and, especially, the freer form of Charlie Haden’s In The Moment.

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But whether soloing or gently buoying the tunes behind bass and drums it was Perico Sambeat’s effortless fluency and intelligent playing that focused attention. Stretched out on a ballad like My One and Only Love or bursting through the sharper edges of Thelonious Monk’s Played Twice his tone never faltered. Even the superfast exchanges with Somogyi’s bass on Good Bait, a Tad Dameron tune, stayed smoothly warm and it seemed nothing could make him break sweat.

By the second set this was classic post-bop ‘modern’ jazz, recalling Cannonball Adderley’s 60s style but with a more contemporary clarity no doubt honed during Sambeat’s spells with pianist Brad Mehldau. It was warmly appreciated by an audience glad to have the flag of international jazz still proudly waving over South Bristol.




Jazz at The Albert (Inn)

Andy Sheppard & Paul Dunmall

August 2018
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