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Alex Garnett’s Bunch Of Five have an album to plug, a tour underway and a collective sense that they’re on to something very worthwhile. And so it proved at the 606, three dates into the launch of Andromeda, newly out on Mike Janisch’s Whirlwind label, this fast becoming the source of choice for the brightest and best in current jazz-making.

There’s something about the 606 that seems to concentrate minds, for there are no hooray sideshows, and it’s not the setting for the glitterati to strut their stuff. The food is good, the look plain Jane but above all it’s a place centred on the music and this band knew that. With Tim Armacost, his American co-star alongside Garnett, it was a two-tenor affair throughout, the rhythm section of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Janisch [of course] and drummer James Maddren busting a gut to propel these front-liners [and themselves] to jazz heaven.

Club gigs mean players can stretch out, enabling Noble in particular to captivate the onlooker with his very distinctive keyboard ruminations, while Janisch seemed about to fall into mortal combat with his bass at times and Maddren thought up an infinite variety of percussive interjections. Better than the album? Well, yes, but that’s the way of live gigs, isn’t it?

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Inevitably with a Garnett appearance, there was humour in abundance, Armacost confessing that however many times he heard the gags they were always different. That said there was no tenor coasting from AG, or TA, for that matter. Chunky lines like ‘So Long’, the two heard as one kicked hard, the American taking the motorway route, running fast but going straight, while Garnett looked to go off-road, taking in rhythmic bumps and diversions, his tone darker, as the spirit built.

Each title had its story, Garnett explaining that his compositions reflected the 20-year span of his association with Armacost, this taking in ‘Charlie’s World’ for his son and ‘Delusions of Grandma’, for a malapropian friend [you had to be there!] the latter the ultimate in ferocious, two-tenor shout-ups, yet almost eclipsed by ‘This Will Be’, a Chris Potter piece, which revealed yet again Maddren’s inventiveness and Noble’s enigmatic, sometimes Monk-ian touch.

This was stirring, virtuosic music by masters of the art, up on their toes and going for it. A case of the right music in the right place and I’m glad I was there.

– Peter Vacher
– Photos by Roger Thomas

The band continues its tour this month and next at the following venues: St James Social Club, Swansea Jazzland, St James Crescent, Uplands, Swansea (21 Jan); The Coronation Tap, 8 Sion Place, Clifton, Bristol (22 Jan); Wakefield Jazz Club, Eastmoor Rd, Wakefield (23 Jan); The Cube Deda, Chapel St, Derby (6 Feb); and The Progress Theatre, The Mount, Christchurch Road, Reading (2 April).

Click here to pre-order the album from the Whirlwind Recordings website

Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco returns to the UK at the end of January for concerts in Glasgow, London and Edinburgh. He appears with his Blue Lamp Quartet at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, plays a duo concert with last year’s Parliamentary Jazz Award winning Singer of the Year, Christine Tobin, and opens with a gig at Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar.

Blanco’s gig at Celtic Connections on Sunday 1 February reunites the Venezuelan with three of Scotland’s finest musicians – the Brazilian-born bassist Mario Caribe, alto saxophonist Paul Towndrow, of horn quartet Brass Jaw, and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s drumming powerhouse, Alyn Cosker – who formed the Blue Lamp Quartet with Blanco to great acclaim and five-star reviews from The Scotsman and The Herald newspapers at Aberdeen Jazz Festival in 2007.

A musician who particularly enjoys working with singers (he has recorded and performed with Grammy-winning vocalist Luciana Souza as well as featuring alongside Dave Liebman, Donny McCaslin and Lionel Loueke), Blanco was so impressed with Christine Tobin’s vocal quality and her recent, award-winning album of Leonard Cohen songs, A Thousand Kisses Deep, that he invited her to join him at the Vortex on Wednesday 4 February in a programme of duets and solo piano pieces. He will also play with Caribe, Towndrow and Cosker at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh on Friday 30 January.

– Rob Adams

For more info go to www.leoblanco.com/en/

William Blake once wrote, “Energy is Eternal Delight”. This aptly describes the feeling after hearing this quartet here last May and audience expectations this week would have been high. They weren’t disappointed. These musicians have played together now for some time and right from the outset they settled in with ease. Not to say that things can be taken for granted. On the contrary, there is an edge and a feeling that they want to take chances – move, prompt and cajole each other into new areas, while retaining a common bond throughout.

It has always been a joy to watch and hear Louis Moholo-Moholo play – fast cymbal work, trademark African rhythms, free touch drumming – both gentle and aggressive, and the unmistakable urgency of the snare drum. All are here. His relationship with pianist Alexander Hawkins appears to have reached a higher level where they visually direct the music, through eye contact and nuance; saxophonist Jason Yarde alert to the changes. And in the centre stands bassist John Edwards, a pivotal figure capable of playing in all styles, around whom the proceedings revolve, whether in the role of maintaining the pulse, laying down a walking bass line or descending into a rapid flurry of notes, plucked or bowed, often with a smile on his face, and no wonder in this company. His solid platform seems to allow the others the freedom to explore, taking the music out before the snare explodes or a shuddering piano chord reins in the proceedings and signals a change of direction or momentum. This time the freeform cries and soulful lyricism of Yarde’s alto and soprano were augmented by trumpeter Byron Wallen, giving it a slightly different dynamic without losing any of the beauty, eloquence, energy and urgency the quartet are capable of. What was impressive was the range of reference points, from hard bop to free improvisation, via Africa, Hawkins’ percussive approach fitting in with this particularly.

The first set was largely one piece, recognisable by the theme of Louis’ ‘For The Blue Notes’, but like improvised jazz should be, seamlessly morphing into other areas, some structured, some not; the looseness allowing interaction and musical conversation but belying a self-discipline that surfaced with the urge to change. There were passages where the musicians listened and quietly responded, before being drawn together, as in the direct, slightly Coltranesque, ‘Khwalo’. The rhapsodicMark of Respect’wasin the great tradition of Blue Notes/Brotherhood material. Some veered towards the anthemic, as if the spirit of Ayler was in the room. It possibly was. Last year Richard Williams (Blue Moment, May 2014) wrote of the quartet, “personal freedom and group interdependence achieve a perfect unity.” This time it appears to have achieved spiritual unity as well – spirits rejoice!

After showing their approval the audience left, some no doubt to return the following evening, others perhaps to see visions, like Blake, of angels on Peckham Rye. Certainly heavenly bodies were
abroad that night.

– Matthew Wright

– Photo by Tim Dickeson


Music by the Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet can be heard on Hazel Miller’s recent Ogun release OGCD 043 entitled 4 Blokes

Fresh from their second Mercury Prize nomination for last year’s In Each And Every One, Polar Bear are to release their sixth album, Same As You, on 30 March on the Leaf Label. Such was the fast turnaround between the projects, when the band was announced as part of Mercury shortlist last September, bandleader and drummer Seb Rochford was already mixing the album in the Mojave Desert with LA-based producer Ken Barrientos.

Early listens to the album confirm that the unusual desert location has leant Same As You a bigger, spacier edge, with the previous album’s electronica somewhat replaced by dub basslines from Tom Herbert and tough beats, which fuel lengthy sax improvisations from Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart.

The more percussive sound also sees the band dipping into Afro-Caribbean influences on the tune ‘Unrelenting Unconditional’. Rochford and singer Hannah Darling both add chant-like vocals to the tune ‘Don’t Let The Feeling Go’ while Sons Of Kemet saxophonist (and regular Polar Bear dep) Shabaka Hutchings also makes a guest appearance.

The band follow the album’s release with a series of gigs at the following venues: Village Underground, London (8 April); Komedia, Brighton (15 April); Royal Northern College Of Music, Manchester (17 April); Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (18 April); The Kazimier, Liverpool (19 April); Hare & Hounds, Birmingham (21 April); Broomhill Art Hotel, Barnstable (22 April); Colston Hall, Bristol (23 April); and Festival Of Firsts, Brighton (6 July).

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.polarbearmusic.com

Double Septet. That’s what Tom Green’s band became for a few a minutes at the end of an exhilarating first set at Burdall’s Yard, Bath Spa University’s performance venue in a vaulted cellar beneath a pavement in central Bath. Students from the music degree were the on-stage guests to double the numbers and deliver an anarchic version of award winning Green’s New Orleans inspired 'DIY', the product of an afternoon workshop. This latest in a series of gigs bringing great bands to what must surely be Bath’s best appointed cellar for the benefit of students and the public alike, provided a great start to an epic mainland UK tour for the septet promoting their debut album Skyline.

Tom Green’s Septet is packed with exciting players but it’s the leader’s writing and arranging that is as much of a star turn as any of the frequently exciting and always fluent soloists. Ear worm like melodic fragments get developed and filled out with the four horns somehow sounding like a big band, complementary lines and rhythmic figures weave in out as likely to come from a locked in bass and piano as closely harmonised horns. There’s an instinct for drama and attention grabbing swerves, making each piece seem like an epic. The opener Peace of Mind evolved a flowing, even quavered groove after an opening of sweet piano chords and one of those catchy fragments articulated by Green’s warm-toned trombone sound.

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A blistering solo from Tommy Andrews on alto was given an extra lift by the horns surging in with a twisting riff, then one of those sudden switches left Sam Miles’ tenor building an atmospheric solo with a sparse rhythm section nudging him. A great moment. ‘Mirage’, had constant changes of pace after a stately theme, bursting into exuberant swing for another breathy emotionally charged tenor solo. ‘Skylark’ was a delightful reworking of the standard, stretching and colouring Irving Berlin’s melody Miguel’s Gorodi’s flugel horn soaring over the band before a glorious flowing solo from Sam James on piano, full of lyrical flourishes and swooping runs.

After 'DIY''s anarchic whoop up, the second set saw features for rhythm section of Misha Mullov-Abbado on bass and Scott Chapman on drums in more extended Green compositions and Mullov-Abbado in particular created another magic moment with a singing grooving solo on the encore Kaleidoscope. This was a great start to a national tour that will be well worth catching.

– Mike Collins – @jazzyblogman 

Photos by Ruth Butler – www.facebook.com/jazzfineartphoto

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