Category Archives: Gigs I’ve enjoyed

Gigs I’ve enjoyed

Review: Asaf Sirkis Trio, Cheltenham Everyman, 11 June 2012 and some thoughts on guitars

I knew Asaf Sirkis’ drumming from a favourite album of mine – John Law’s ‘Congregation’. So it was great to see him live twice in one week – with Geoff Eales’ Isorhythm at Stratford Jazz on 3 June and with his own Trio on 11 June (line-ups below).  In both cases I was not disappointed and found myself enjoying the gigs far more than I’d expected. I was initially wary of Isorhythm with its electric basses, fretless and otherwise.  So why was I moved by these 2 gigs?   I mentioned my reaction to guitarist Carl Orr (of Isorhythm) afterwards and he said “We put our hearts and soul into this, it’s not as easy as it looks”.  There were tunes that remained with you the next morning. We knew we were in for something special when we saw Asaf silently drumming on a bar table before the gig.

Asaf’s Trio consists of a bass guitar, guitar and his drums.  They played 10 compositions, all by Asaf.  The gig started with Chennai Dream, with delicate riffs on the guitars, gentle tunes and drumming that held it all together. You are always aware of Asaf, whether he has his eyes tightly closed or when he beams encouragement to his band, he is very much a leader.    Is this really the same drummer who plays so gently with John Law?  Well yes, and he’s mesmerising. It’s not just technique, it’s something spiritual, a ferocious intellect combined with deep feeling.

I was gripped when they got to Other Stars and Planets which took us on a rocket trip, maybe it was Telstar with crackle and static, it worked as well as the harmonica version of the same track. The evening was beautifully paced – a delicate rendition of Lady of the Lake (which put paid to my silly notion that electric guitars are always loud) was followed by the extraordinarily looped and  thunderous Meditation and complex but accessible Letting Go.  I was moved by Ima about his Mother (with drums like distant thunder) and Waltz for Rehovot (his home town in Israel). I could see the landscape, feel his sense of rootedness to it. The set ended with Life Itself, inspired by the late Tony Williams.

So just 4 hours at two gigs has changed my view of guitars in jazz for ever. Thank you Geoff and Asaf!

Geoff Eales Isorhythm:

Geoff Eales – keyboards

Ben Waghorn ( various reeds)

Carl Orr ( guitar)

Fred T Baker ( fretless bass)

Asaf Sirkis ( drums)


Asaf Sirkis  Trio:

Asaf Sirkis ( drums)

Tassos Spiliotopoulos ( guitar)

Yaron Stavi (electric bass)

Review: Phronesis at the Mac, Birmingham on 15 May 2012

I invited two friends to the Phronesis gig on 15 May 2012 at the MAC in Birmingham.  Both enjoyed the gig immensely (I noted they were mesmerised by Anton’s drumming) and their comments are perhaps indicative of Phronesis’ growing appeal. One friend said ” I could have listened to them all night”.    The other said, “I could hear Debussy in Ivo’s piano”.  Both are now hooked, I hope.

In view of the recent announcement that the album launch of Walking Dark at Kings Place on 26 May has been moved to Hall One from the sold-out Hall Two, I started to think about how Phronesis might sound in a larger auditorium.   And even more pertinent is the fact that they have been chosen for the International Jazz Festivals Organisation emerging talent support program, where some of the festivals are huge, with big venues.

So just what is it about a performance that gives it an intimate, personal feel and can that be transferred to bigger venues?   And is that desirable?   I have heard Phronesis in a tent (Cheltenham), a sports hall (Brecon, in the dark),  the Purcell Room (also in the dark), The Vortex and now the Mac.  All are cosy venues, lending themselves to a very intimate experience.    Just why did those gigs in the dark feel so very intimate?  It wasn’t just down to the lack of visual distractions, it was the shared experience that made it so memorable.  Would it work with 2000 people in the dark?  Maybe scale doesn’t matter after all?   Jasper likes talking to the audience, it’s a bonus for us, we feel connected with him in a very human way. Will that work with 3000 listeners?  I only have questions.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is how different the gig sounded from the album Walking Dark.   I thought I knew the album quite well – it turns out I didn’t recognise my favourite track Zieding because it opened the gig instead of occurring midway.   It was in the wrong place (in my ears)  and so it sounded different.  So my ears need training to listen and not compare what I’m hearing with what I thought I knew.   Actually it wasn’t just the order that was different, it was the improvisation from Ivo on the Bosendorfer, particularly his delicate Democracy.   They must have played all these tracks many times now, but they came out fresh.   Genius.

It was a great evening only very slightly marred by humming from a monitor, I’m sure they’ll sort that out, they’ve got everything else perfect!

There is another enthusiastic review here

5 stars for Cheltenham Jazz Festival – 5th and 6th May 2012

There have been some really great reviews of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival so I’ll confine myself to a narrow canvas.  When I booked the tickets I thought it was going to be the festival of the pianist but for me it turned out to be the festival of genuine deep emotion.  First up was a workshop with Chris Potter at the un-jazz time of 10.30am.  If Chris was still running on New York time he certainly didn’t show it as he led a small group of local young people through On Green Dolphin Street. Throughout the weekend there were tweets of  “Oh man, I can’t believe I just played with Chris Potter!” which made the weekend for me, their joy at playing with an idol was infectious.

We learned that a very young Chris was playing with Paul Motian in Switzerland in 1993 and one evening after a set he went for a long walk, feeling very down, trying to work out why he was just playing the notes.  He started to scat and that was his epiphany, the moment when he turned a corner. He knew he had to communicate more than the notes in a certain order.  People often ask him what key he plays in, to which he usually replies “I don’t know”.  He uses his ears to guide him into a piece, not written down notes.   His approach reminds me of Keats’s phrase about poetry:  If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.  Now it appears that glorious saxophone playing comes naturally to Chris. But that’s all because he spent his youth mastering standards on a piano and then working out how to get to the same place on a sax, but by one note at a time because that’s all you can do on a horn.  I loved this insight into the emotion of music – through his ears (and I’d add, probably his heart too).

Naturally-occuring emotion was what we got with Gregory Porter in the Big Top.    I loved every minute. That glorious huge voice, that child-like delight in being alive.  His jump for joy easily rivalling a Jamie Cullum leap!  No wonder his band played their socks off.   Who could not be captivated?  I hadn’t appreciated til I looked at the sleeve notes of his latest album Be Good that all the songs he sang were his own. They already sound like standards.  He’s honed his craft in Smoke in New York (one of my favourite clubs) so he manages to make a big venue feel like a small jazz club where he is singing just for you.

I was also captivated by the gentle Seb and Kit late night treat at the lovely Parabola. The Parabola is a new venue for Cheltenham Jazz Festival. It’s near-perfect  (just hope they can rectify the lack of coffee at future gigs!) , you can see/hear from every seat, it’s intimate and could (maybe should?) be used without amplification.   Kit Downes is a maverick pianist who is as comfortable in boisterous Troyka as this delicate duo with Seb Rochford.  It was a striking contrast to the somewhat patrician set by Vijay Iyer before him.  I was hoping for a Brad Mehldau intensity and perhaps that’s what we got, but I couldn’t find the emotion in his performance so it was lost on me.

My final blast of emotion at the festival was Roberto Fonseca and his extraordinary Cuban/Malian band in the Jazz Arena. Someone else has just posted that Roberto should have been in the Big Top and I agree. The sound was so huge I forgot the hard seats.  If we hadn’t been confined to tiny seats we would have got up and danced!  Roberto was barely able to sit on the piano stool, his exuberance propelling him to stand most of the time, a stunning pianist and leader.

All of the artists I have mentioned have this in common  – an innate ability not just to entertain, no, they go much deeper than that; they have the ability to convey deep emotions in a very genuine and humble way so the experience lives with you long after the festival is over.  That’s why I love jazz and already I’m looking forward to Cheltenham 2013.

Dave Stapleton: Flight – Live at St George’s Bristol, 3 May 2012

The performance by Dave Stapleton at St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol last night was the first performance of his latest album called Flight (EDN 1032.)   His band consists of a very fine jazz quartet of Marius Neset, Dave Kane and Olavi  Louhivuori, and the equally fine Browdowski String Quartet.  The fusion of two potentially different approaches to music making – jazz and classical – was beautifully, seamlessly displayed in Dave’s thoughtful, deep, through-composition which made the most of the flawless acoustic of St George’s.    It’s a bit unfair to single anything out because it was a unified, satisfying whole and Dave’s enjoyment of the Steinway was evident.  But I did particularly enjoy the joy and wonder on the faces of the members of the string quartet when Marius and Olavi enjoyed an extended duet where Marius’s saxophone filled the auditorium with  gorgeous sound (shades of Golden Xplosion) and Olavi’s drums skittered around him.  Their delight made me hear the  music afresh – living and vibrant.   I hope the quartet will continue their exploration of jazz.

The buzz in the hall at the interval and afterwards was enthusiastic. We all knew we’d had a very special evening. Five stars from me.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode (Nonesuch) March 2012

OK, I am unashamed Brad Mehldau fan. From the moment I first heard him in 2001 at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival I was caught in his spell and it has never been broken. Ode is his latest album with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. We haven’t had a trio album from him since his 2006 live sets from The Village Vanguard, New York- the album called Live was released in 2008. I know a bit about this album – I was there for two of the sets and I still remember them very clearly. There was a lively mid-week audience of students and I’ll never forget the applause when they recognised Black Hole Sun and the young man who murmurred ” Aw…..Braa..dd…..” in a quiet bit (they left that version of this track out!). From Black Hole Sun to a heart stopping The Very Thought of You, to his anagram of his name ( Buddha Realm), in all cases you get intensity. Yes, we all come for an audience with Brad and we get an almost religious, mystical experience from his dense, cerebral performances, especially in small venues like Wigmore Hall and Village Vanguard.

You do get the impression that Brad is controlling and shaping his discography as carefully as Bill Evans did before him, and I guess that is not something most musicians can afford to do? His output is prolific – albums are rarely released in chronological order – so Ode was recorded in 2008 but has only now been released.

Ode consists of eleven original compositions. Not a single Radiohead, oh well never mind. Oh please record “Jigsaw falling into place” soon Brad. So it’s actually a pleasant surprise to listen to Ode and not feel wrung out emotionally, at least on many of the tracks. And the liner notes are easy to grasp! If you know Highway Rider you will recognise echoes of it but that’s hardly surprising as both were composed at the same time. Eulogy of George Hanson is probably closest to the intense Brad we know with a shimmering trembling piano.

My favourite track is Days of Dilbert Delaney. I love its gentle roll and sway. It’s Brad at his most relaxed with his signature right and left hand playing different tempos and all the time something bubbling underneath. This is joyous music with a delicate fade out.