Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti bewitch the Barbican

It's quite rare these days that one comes across a guitarist that plays the blues on the twelve-string, which is why it was so startling to hear Oregon founding member Ralph Towner insinuate a blues theme on his booming 12-string guitar. It turned out not to be any old 12-bar figure, though, but a soulful recital of bassist Charlie Mingus' blues-ballad, 'Goodbye Porkpie Hat'. The American guitarist's solo set was replete with such instances of wonderful unexpectedness.

The evening was hosted by not one, but two guitar giants, both displaying two very different approaches to the instrument. Brazilian virtuoso Egberto Gismonti (pictured) was Towner's counterpart in this rare double-bill, and he took to his instrument like a rally driver takes to his car, swerving crazily at breakneck speed through various techniques, barely pausing for a moment's rest. Towner, on the other hand, valued breathing space and subtlety over relentless instrumental stunting. In all honesty, the idea of sitting through two back-to-back solo recitals can seem like a bit of a drag. But any apprehensions were dispelled by Towner and Gismonti's masterful grasp of their art, both of whom created vivid, intricate and constantly fascinating sound worlds from the wood-and-strings simplicity of the humble acoustic guitar.

Towner utilised his self-confessed 'beautiful' 12-string on three brilliant occasions; on the aforementioned Mingus cover, on a reworking of Bill Evans' 'My Foolish Heart', and on the almost-geologic power of 'Solitary Woman.' With its deeply resonant drones and vertiginous sense of space, the folk-rock tinged latter conjured mind's eye images of America's great canyons. After finishing the song, Towner highlighted the drawbacks of his 12-string: "It's a beautiful instrument, but it murders your fingernails". He then pulled out an emery board and proceeded to file his picking fingers. Aptly, from beginning to end, his was a smooth, well manicured set. While Towner took excursions into arid soundscapes, he ultimately seemed at home amid the pastoral splendour of 'The Prowler' and lucid Oregon classic 'If'.

Egberto Gismonti's frenetic set was as wild and free as the frizzy hair that streamed from under his trademark red head gear. Gismonti didn't utter a word throughout, instead allowing his 10-string guitar and piano to do all the talking. And they not only talked, but, in Gismonti's hands, seemed to froth maniacally.The self-confessed "piano player that plays guitar"set about blending Brazillian choro music, classical and jazz via turbulent, melodic crosswinds. This was definitely music to get swept away by. In the end, though, it was Towner's calming, suggestive tones that really took your breath away.

– Jamie Skey


Dice Factory and Will Rixon Quartet get fresh at Jazz Nursery


Gritty, urban and fiercely contemporary, Jazz Nursery is one of London's most exciting new venues. Established in 2012 as a platform for the capital's emerging talent and still something of a well-kept secret, gigs are held on the first Thursday of every month beneath the bare brickwork of a Southwark railway arch. The clientele are young, beautiful and disconcertingly hip but the atmosphere is friendly and the acoustic is surprisingly good given the cavernous space.

It was an appropriate setting for the sounds of Dice Factory, an up-and-coming quartet led by tenor saxophonist and Loop Collective veteran Tom Challenger, who delighted the assembled hipsters with a richly inventive set of originals. Anchored by mesmeric pedals and vamps that evoked the music of Steve Reich, tracks from their self-titled debut album, released in 2012, had an industrial edge that seemed right at home amongst the cracked tiles and the reclaimed furniture. In the opener, an off-kilter number entitled 'Gooch', Challenger's stuttering staccato honks and broken melodies were counterpointed by the metallic scrape of cymbals and bare piano strings. 'Eternal Sleep' saw the pulsing, insistent grooves of Empirical bassist Tom Farmer set the pace before showcasing swirling motifs from pianist Dan Nicholls. Contributing a thoughtful solo, Challenger soared into the upper register, playing fast and loose with the time and fighting with the insidious rhythmic undertow.

Drummer Jon Scott (of Kairos 4tet) was excellent throughout, orchestrating sudden stops and changes of intensity and driving the band on as the trains rumbled overhead. A suite of new pieces drew things to a close and it was here that the group's mathematical and highly structured approach to writing was most evident. 'Coincidental Design', its melody derived from a set of four pitches reordered and refracted by the ensemble, was among the highlights of the set, blending beauty and internal logic.

A quartet led by young trumpeter and Guildhall School of Music graduate Will Rixon were more conservative in their choice of repertoire. The band's first half performance was dominated by classic standards including 'September in the Rain', 'Song for My Father' and 'Change Partners'. Tom Farmer seemed less at home in a straight-ahead setting but there were some nice touches from the group, with latin breaks from drummer Josh Morrison and shimmering, impressionist solos from the in-demand Kit Downes on piano. Exploring and manipulating the melodies, Rixon's sound was impressively varied: at times dark and smoky, at others strident. Despite the well-worn material, the band kept things edgy and fresh which, after all, is what the Jazz Nursery is all about.

– Thomas Rees (@ThomasNRees)

For more info go to www.jazznursery.com


The sun and the crowds come out for Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

The stars, planets and weather lined up for the 2ndBristol Jazz and Blues Festival this weekend. As the sun came out the crowds flocked in to hang out in the foyer of the city’s Colston Hall, lining the soaring staircase, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying some of the 70 events featuring over 400 artists whether it was the free foyer programme or the diverse series of ticketed gigs.

They ranged from funk legends Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley (pictured above), through a fizzing set of standards from an Alan Barnes/Howard Alden led band, a double bill of the contrasting lyricism of Dan Messore's Indigo Kid, the bluesy soul-jazz of New Orleans star Lillian Boutté (pictured top), and Get the Blessing in riotous form and a wind it down, improvised set from Andy Sheppard (below) and Italian percussionist Michele Rabbia that closed the festival in the smaller of the two concert halls, The Lantern. On the way there was the mass particpation of a Gershwin Spectacular with a colorful choir of 200 and the more intense meeting of classical and jazz with the premiere of Kate Williams and Will Goodchild's Interplay project.

There was a tremendous buzz and frequent outbreaks of dancing all weekend. The jam sessions on the foyer stage ensured that the night-owls were able to keep going until the early hours. Diaries are already being marked in hopeful anticipation of another festival next year.

– Mike Collins

– Photos © Tim Dickeson

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