The Weave bring wit and wisdom to The Spice

Is it jazz?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.” Thus spake Martin Smith, responding lightly but politely to a loud inquisitor from the back of a packed room at The Spice of Life. The trumpet mouthpiece of The Weave already had a tough day just getting to the gig. A heckler was the last thing the band needed. Their van had broken down on the long drive from Liverpool to London.

But The Weave had nothing more to worry about, because they received a rapturous welcome from a crowd that revelled in their exhilarating arrangements, all performed with meticulous craftsmanship. Before they arrived youthful singer/songwriter George Montague entertained with a stirring solo set, promoting his funky album ‘Have You Met George’ and winning a lot of fans.

M.C. Paul Pace then introduced The Weave as ‘One of the freshest sounding bands I’ve heard in ages’ and they instantly established why the Liverpool jazz scene is creating such a buzz. Their special feature is a twin horn lead with Martin Smith sharing duties with Anthony Peers (trumpet, flugel horn and vocals) and backed by Tony Ormesher guitar, Rob Stringer piano, Harry Harrison bass and Tilo Pirnbaum drums.

The gentle trumpet duetting on the quirky ‘Caresser Caress Her’ was a delight, and contrasting swing and Latin rhythms gave scope for pianist Stringer’s deft solos. With the trumpets blowing mellow and melodic, The Weave message was brass doesn’t always mean brassy.

Stand out numbers were the blue and moody ‘Thus Spake A Mouthful’ and slow ballad ‘Our Father’ featuring bassist Harry. New song ‘Hailed And Revealed’ doubled in tempo, giving drummer Tilo plenty to keep him occupied stick wise, while Pat O’Hare offered some splendidly witty Liverpudlian poetry.

From West Coast cool to hard bop and New Orleans there were many moods and styles subtly evoked during two superb sets that drew whistles and cheers. Was it jazz? Absolutely!

– Chris Welch

Quest Ensemble and Flux fuse flamenco, Indo-jazz and classical at the Vortex

London locals, Quest Ensemble and Flux, invited a packed-out Vortex down two contrasting tangents last Thursday. The former, described as a jazz-inflected classical piano trio, struck a path through a maze of minimal textures à la Steve Reich; dense with premeditated artifice, sparse with superficiality. The latter ventured in exuberant and beat-infused style beyond these shores via their smorgasbord of sounds from Flamenco to Hindustani classical. Why this intriguing double-bill you may ask? The answer lies with violinist Preetha Narayanan who appeared in both ensembles and for whom this concert seemed a veritable celebration of these young groups; a point not lost on the audience.

Quest Ensemble began the evening with a set of originals from their debut Footfall (2014); a disc that would not be amiss in the Bermuda triangle between Cinematic Orchestra, Phillip Glass and EST. Filipe Sousa gave velocity to the performance with his virtuosic ostinati while cellist Tara Franks and Narayanan on violin wove alternating patchworks of chord and discord, displaying an obvious familiarity from extensive collective playing. All former Guildhall students, the trio came grounded in a visibly classical aesthetic, but perhaps due to their collaborative compositional process (inspired by bizarre locations from London basements to a former leper hospice) they seemed joyfully natural, Sousa especially so, in their willingness to break beyond the dots.

Compositionally complex, inventive in technique (three-way pizzicato dueling on ‘Train’, no less) and wonderfully ambiguous in tonality, this was a joy to behold. Live visual artist Somang Lee further upped the experimental-ante with her projected combos of ink, plastic, glass and kitchen spray. Despite occasional cravings for more melodic lyricism, Quest Ensemble, with the aid of Lee, beautifully pulled off their stated aim to capture a “sense of place.”

Following this rich odyssey was no easy task, but four-piece fusion band Flux earnestly rose to the occasion. Also relatively new to the scene, Fluxreleased their embryonic EP Mirror in 2012. With a shift of gear, nylon-string specialist Suroj Sureshbabu laid down a finger-blurring percussive beat, swiftly followed by Michael Goodey on piano, acclaimed bansuri master Shammi Pithia and of course Narayanan. Inspired by the soundworld of Nitin Sawhney the group oscillated from one cultural imaginary to the next, drawing South Asian and Flamenco rhythmically and tonally into line within the hybridized electronic genre of so-called ‘World Beat’.

While some of the individual playing was not as impressive as that of the support act, Pithia and Narayanan were nonetheless compelling and poetic soloists, if occasionally overpowering, and Sureshbabu admirably filled the musical void left by a lack of percussion or bass. To crown the invigorating mix of the night, both bands combined forces for a final set. Full of conviction and energy, the two bands are worth pursuing for fusion fans and a pleasure to witness among such hearty home support.

– Tommie Black-Roff

WorldService Project top rip-roaring Ronnie’s triple bill

A sold-out Ronnie Scott’s revelled in three dynamic faces of young British jazz on Tuesday night. The Peter Edwards Trio’s 2014 debut album Safe and Sound impressed with a soulful, intense depiction of atmosphere, from the impressionistic piano of ‘Southern African Sunrise’, to the Cuban lilt of ‘Meet You at El Malecón’. Edwards (pictured below) and bassist Max Luthert (who have played together for the equally soulful Zara McFarlane) are deeply entwined throughout, while drummer Ed Richardson (Moses Boyd on the album) disrupts their rhythmic bond with complex, layered grooves. They broke no rules, but the mood pictures are lovely.


There’s a whiff of the boyband sophomore about Henry Spencer’s fresh-faced presentation of his quintet Juncture (pictured below), but there’s nothing immature about the tone of his trumpet and flugelhorn, tender, soulful and dangerously cracked round the edges. Spencer’s solo work is at the centre of everything, oozing heartache on ‘Remember Why’ and ‘Knocked Back, Knock Forward’, and sorrow on ‘Eulogy’, for his grandfather. Guitarist Nick Costley-White supports with some appealing melodic tracery on ‘The Survivor and Descendant’, while drummer David Ingamells balances the smoothness with neurotic rhythmic texture.   


The crazy blazers and bowler hats of headliners WorldService Project (pictured top), like Downton Abbey run by anarchists, topped the bill with a mesmerising combination of brutality and dark humour. Their live sound, blending bleeding chunks of free brass noise with the ironic sentimentality of tracks like ‘Requiem for a Worm’, has only got better. The razor-sharp rhythmic edges are polished, the ensemble is painfully slick, and you can smell the rubber burning from their stylistic handbrake turns. Raph Clarkson (trombone) and Tim Ower (sax) mix raw brass power to awesome effect, leader Dave Morecroft channels a unique blend of Johnny Rotten and John Cleese on synth and spooky vocals, while drummer Liam Waugh holds the free-jazz freak-outs together with a fierce punk beat.   

– Matthew Wright

– Photos by Carl Hyde

The Impossible Gentlemen brimming with bonhomie in Brighton

It’s a busy life being an Impossible Gentleman. Despite starting their day at 4am in Budapest, Mike Walker, Gwilym Simcock, Adam Nussbaum and relative newcomer to the bass chair Steve Rodby took to the Old Market stage punctually at 8pm, already exuding a relaxed confidence, and treated the packed house to a preview of material from their forthcoming album.

From the first rippling guitar figures of opening number ‘Hold Out For The Sun’ it was apparent that the Gentlemen operate within the territory that Rodby’s long-time employer Pat Metheny first staked out in the seminal albums that he recorded for ECM in the 1980s. Rodby’s soft, sure-footed basslines combined with Nussbaum’s gently insistent, pulsing cymbal groove to support washes of electronic colour from Simcock’s trio of keyboards, topped by peals of flawlessly articulated notes from the guitar. Metheny’s influence still casts a long shadow over jazz guitarists, but Walker’s breadth and versatility over the course of the gig showed that he’s very much his own man – producing harp-like textures to introduce the slow greasy groove of ‘Dog Time’, then building up to an artful deployment of rock axe-hero clichés, or moving effortlessly from a Derek Bailey-esque barrage of tapping and strumming to a beautifully realised melodic passage that defied genre categorisation in Nussbaum’s ‘Insight And Light’.

Simcock’s fast swinging ‘Earworm’ gave the composer a vehicle to display his chops in a truly incendiary improvisation, and also featured a riveting solo from Nussbaum, but the real character of this band, over and above its members individual virtuosity, lies in the telepathic rapport between them, and the strength and diversity of their compositions which for all their attention to detail (Walker especially shows a knack for surprising endings) never seem overwrought. It’s a vision of what used to be called ‘fusion’, but far removed from that of the bombastic ‘everything louder and faster’ brigade, and Nussbaum’s superlative drumming is pivotal to its success – crouched behind the kit, he can impart a simmering intensity even at the quietest moments, and his flawless control of colour and dynamics is a constant joy.

Dissatisfaction with the sound mix led Walker to take the unusual step of asking the audience what to do about it, provoking an enthusiastic outburst of detailed but contradictory advice that momentarily threatened to derail proceedings. Problem solved, he embarked on series of gently surreal anecdotes, and his banter with Nussbaum over the quirks of their respective accents – New York and Salford – confirmed that the warmth and esteem between the Gentlemen isn’t limited to their music. Congratulations are due to promoters David Forman and Ralph Erle for bringing this outstanding, international calibre quartet on an all-too-rare visit outside the capital.

– Eddie Myer

Dylan Howe's Subterranean waltzes at Watermill Jazz

With enough rave reviews of his album Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie's Berlin to earn it a rightful place in all the end of year jazz polls, 2014 certainly ended on a high for drummer Dylan Howe.

As well as all the applause for the album (which interprets, for a small jazz group, music from David Bowie's Low and Heroes albums from 1977) an equally potent live show also thrilled the critics, bringing together an all-star band – Ross Stanley on piano, Dave Whitford on double bass, Steve Lodder on synthesizers and Andy Sheppard on saxophones – that would effortlessly re-capture the multi-layered mix of cold, ambient textures, and hard-hitting bop, the album offered up.

Sheppard-1For those that missed out, extra demand has kept Howe's Bowie show on the road, and tonight, assembled in a darkened hall in front of a huge projection screen screening grainy footage of 1970's Berlin, the band began with a surprise add-on to previous shows, and a beautiful reading of recent Bowie song 'Where Are You Now' Its queasy synth melody, in unison with tenor sax, was met with dark, discordant piano chords, creating a tense, eerie ambience that would sustain throughout, thus acquainting all in the hall with the underlying mood of the album, of which, all would be rolled out in sequence tonight.

Following a sax-led 'Subterraneans', cyclic percussion parts from Bowie's original 'Weeping Wall' had been lifted from Low to layer a new, dramatic waltz take on the tune. It was here that the band shifted gear, proving that, whilst Howe's arrangements have gone to enormous lengths to preserve the bleak beauty of Bowie's recordings, what brought colour, energy, and great contrast to all the wired atmospherics was the injection of raw swing.

'All Saints' best exampled this. From Whitford's solo bass intro, to its main theme trailing off into a long, ruthless swing-out, it resembled the roadmap to Coltrane's 'Resolution', right down to Sheppard's Trane-like tone snaking around the melody, or the screamy intensity he reached at breakneck tempo. Stanley's solo here would also dance uptight, but while a Casio-sounding synth break from Lodder added extra thrill, it indirectly shattered the illusion of '60s small group, delivering something more suited to sci-fi.

Stanley-1Throughout the show, the passion in the performance against the glare of the visuals was entrancing. If not back to a drizzly, post-war Berlin, the band's soft soundtrack to old clips of airports, art galleries and the Autobahn during drowsy ballad 'Some Are' took you somewhere else, anywhere but a small jazz club in darkest Dorking, that at any moment will be flicking on its lights to announce a short interval and the winners of the raffle. It was mesmerising.

Elsewhere, a moody 'Art Decade' was unveiled with a short drum solo, as Howe's sluggish, military-style rolls, and tribal tom fills rattled into an ethereal mix of laser strings, and Morse Code-like bleeps. 'Warszawa' would resonate as shadowy at first, before its lazy pulse and sombre melody were abruptly flipped into a higher register by a crack of snare, signalling some more killer swinging from all.

As the set was coming to a close, and the film behind the band bleached out to white to match the noise seeping through a long ovation for 'Warszawa', Howe smiled. His group would go on to deliver the last two tracks of his five star album, and he would once more go out on a high, and this writer will plead that if you're yet to see this sublime show and believe that jazz covers of rock standards are standard these days, you should hear how Howe interprets this one.

– Mark Youll

– Photos by Jon Frost

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