Tag Archives: Dave Stapleton

Dave Stapleton

Gigs of 2013

Something I read today brought me up sharp:  ‘And isn’t the whole point of things – beautiful things – that they connect you to some larger beauty? … if a painting really works down to your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think “Oh I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind”… (you love it because) it’s the secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you. I was painted for you.’   So said one of the unforgettable characters in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.   And so I think it is with great performances, they seem to speak to you, not in generalities or technicalities, but in something you know you will treasure, that you were meant to treasure.  This thought prompts my Gigs of 2013, some of which I have written about in this blog.

There was a late night set at Cheltenham in May, a good piano and the best of Edition – Dave Stapleton, Marius Neset, Neil Yates and Daniel Herskedal.  A sublime hour, made memorable by the obvious weariness of Marius, gently swaying on his feet (he had had a very long day of an earlier gig in Brighton), and yet transcending that exhaustion with the most beautiful sounds, not the full-blowing Marius we knew, but a more delicate one. Afterwards, when I saw him in the foyer and briefly thanked him, saying his performance had moved me, he listened so attentively and humbly, as if I had something of value to say. I will never forget that moment.

At the sight of Chris Bowden walking up the stairs at Stratford Jazz in September, all anxiety of whether he would turn up vanished, he looked so happy. For two hours he scampered around the stage like a court jester with a saxophone, wittily and wholeheartedly commenting on the other musicians around him, all signs of illness and weakness forgotten, just glad to be on the stage playing music he loved. To celebrate the evening, Chris had burned what he called a bootleg of his earlier performances with Stratford Jazz, tracks by Monk, and Brecker and friends.  Because it meant so much to him, the gig meant much to everyone who was there.

A beautiful duo between Dave Stapleton on a Steinway and Neil Yates on trumpet at St Georges Brandon Hill in February, a reworked Henryk.   In the clear cool surroundings of that venue, we heard the music afresh. The video below is from the track on the album Flight but its heartbreaking beauty was rendered human by Dave and Neil on piano and trumpet.

Obviously I must mention the launch of Maciek Pysz‘s debut album Insight  at The Forge in May.   Not only is this my album of 2013, I think it is quite possibly my gig of the year, its beauty took me by surprise. I could not wait to get the album home and into my heart so I could conjure it up in my memory whenever I want to.  The whole occasion was full of joy, of connection between musicians and with us.  It’s why you make the effort to turn out for live music, that somehow, the very act of your listening is adding to the experience of everyone else, that it has mattered that you are there.

And as I end 2013, I eagerly anticipate next year – already tipping Reverie at Schloss Elmau by Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev (on ACT)  to enter my albums of 2014 and no doubt that will be reinforced by seeing them live next year.  And at Stratford Jazz we host what I am calling  A Festival of the Guitar– starting with TG Collective, then John Law’s Boink! (which has a guitar), Maciek Pysz and finally Phil Robson. Different styles and temperaments, but all capable of conjuring up beauty and enhancing my life in unexpected ways. Thank you everyone I have heard this year, you have made that connection.

Mary James 22 December 2013

Review – Cheltenham Jazz Festival 3-6 May 2013

One week on, Cheltenham Jazz Festival still glows in my mind, it was extraordinary on so many counts: the crowds who filled every cranny of the festival site; the buzz at every gig, whether for established artists like Gregory Porter or newcomers with colossal confidence like George Montague; the intimacy of the Parabola; the masterclasses and interviews, but most of all, the truly moving and touchingly modest performances. Not modest in delivery of course, we had world class sounds, but self effacing and genuine when met, fleetingly, after a gig or seen around the festival.

I found myself with tears in my eyes on several occasions. First was Gregory Porter and his St Nick’s Pub Band from Harlem. Did his band ever think they would tour the world, could they believe their luck? Clearly at home in the Big Top, and with an adoring audience, his new song No Love Dying is stunning. Surely this is his next Grammy nomination? In a masterclass Gregory told us he was an optimist, that he took the symbols of death – broken mirrors, birds in the house, drooping flowers in a vase – and flipped them so they were about life and love. Whether heard in a huge venue or a tiny tent, this song has the power to affect. Here it is performed backstage at Cheltenham:

Then came folk singer Heather Masse with Dave Douglas. When simple hymns and folk tunes are sung well they really strike home, go straight to the heart. I loved Heather’s haunting delicacy in Be Still my Soul, a favourite hymn of Dave’s mother, and supported by Dave’s infectious joy of performance and sharing. It’s not just the words that move

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

It was Dave’s haunting trumpet which transported us beyond a vale of tears to something we can smile about through those tears.

Finally was Marius Neset’s performance in a sublime evening gig with the Edition Quartet. Yes, we had all been blown away by him the previous evening with his quartet’s performance of the album of the year, Birds. The sheer physicality and power of Marius’s blowing leaves you breathless, exhilarated. Here is a short clip, filmed by Olivia Dickeson, for Edition Records, leaving you in no doubt about his prowess:

But on Saturday night we saw another Marius (last glimpsed in Flight by Dave Stapleton at St George’s Brandon Hill last year), unexpectedly fragile, human, reflective. Just as a Michelangelo sculpture moves us as its strength appears out of simple form (I am thinking of his unfinished Slaves here), so Marius has the same effect on me. The Edition Quartet is a perfect ensemble – Dave Stapleton on piano, Neil Yates on trumpet, Daniel Herskedal on tuba and Marius on saxophones. Dave’s masterpiece Flight took on a new life in this smaller ensemble, the tuba adding an unexpected eeriness.

At Cheltenham I expected to be entertained, I knew I would probably laugh at witticisms (several false ends in Kit Downes’s new composition, The General in a staggering, hugely enjoyable Troyk-estra), gasp at virtuosity again and again, be challenged and made to think, but my abiding memory is being touched by simple words, heartfelt performances, unforgettable melodies, haunting fragile sounds. And that’s what I love most about jazz.

Thoughts on listening and sound…

This week I’ve been thinking about how I experience and respond to music when I listen to it live and when I hear the same piece as a recording.  What prompted this train of thought was listening to Jazz on 3’s broadcast of Phronesis’ second set from their album launch at Kings Place on 26th May 2012.   I was at the gig, it was a joyous evening, the kind you want to go on for ever. Then I heard the recording and my first thought was “It sounds different, what did I actually hear live, was I really listening?”

Anyone who has ever been to a Brad Mehldau concert will know it’s an intense, exhausting experience because of the act of concentration and the spell he casts.  The same goes for a live Keith Jarrett experience.  I suspect musicians must listen at a deeper level  – once I sat behind Marcus Stockhausen at a concert and I could sense from his body language that his listening was of a different order to mine  – it was as if his whole body was a satellite dish where he picked up absolutely everything, was able to absorb and enjoy it, to see beauty where I was struggling (it was Schoenberg).  And then reflect it back to the musicians.  It was a two way process. I wonder if we ordinary mortals do the same thing?

I also wonder if recording quality is now so good that it enhances what we hear and that’s the standard we now expect to hear live, with coughs, rustling and traffic noise removed? Or is it simply that the visual experience always overrides the aural one?     So in attending Phronesis’ Pitch Black gigs we listened deeper to compensate for the dimension that was missing.  The visual experience is not really about what a band looks like or the lighting/effects, it’s is about the jokes and smiles that musicians exchange, how they stand at their instruments or sit at a piano.  A friend commented that the way Jasper holds his bass is very sensual, as if it were a person. You note the way Anton sets up his drums all on a level, hope you don’t get hit by the occasional escaped drumstick, wonder if Ivo is asleep at the piano.  You’d miss all that if you never saw the band live. It’s the humanity you go for in a live gig, the physical effort of making music, the visible joy when it’s working for the musicians and then, by extension, for us too.

And then there’s sound quality.  Take my favourite pianist, Brad Mehldau  – maybe this is a slightly unfair example – a snippet recorded on a phone and one in 24bit/192khz.

Compare this:


Sound quality is the difference. One is akin to a live performance heard in your living room.

And you can hear even higher, HD, quality here:

So sound quality may be better in a recording than your experience of live music, even in the classiest venues like Wigmore Hall.  It does add to your enjoyment.  But it wasn’t that I’d actually missed anything in the live experience when compared to the edited, smoothed out broadcast, it was just different and I’m glad to have experienced both.

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.

Dave Stapleton ‘Flight’ on Edition Records(EDN1032) release date May2012

This album was to have been called Polaroid but in the end it was named ‘Flight’  and I’m really glad that name was chosen because you are going on a journey where the sax ( in particular) soars like the bird on the cover and there is a sense of space in all the tracks.  Flight starts with the very sombre, haunting ‘Before’ played exquisitely by the Brodowski String Quartet.  Marius Neset on tenor sax enters quietly on ‘Polaroid’ then the piano mimics, like a photo coming out of a polaroid camera. The track ‘Flight’ is slightly menacing and  leads straight into ‘Henryk Part I’ – is this about Gorecki?  I detect an air of sadness.    There was nothing sad about Marius Neset’s album Golden Xplosion so it’s interesting to hear the reflective side of Marius on this album.   ‘Henryk Part II’ opens with a lovely  piano solo  from Dave and ends with a quiet partnership between piano and sax- it cries out for live performance – this track will make you want to weep, it is so tender and gentle.

‘Whisper’ sounds like waves on the shore, or the quiet breathing of someone sleeping. It’s my favourite track because it’s delicate but strong.   ‘Running East’ starts with strings again – you could be in the Purcell Room listening to classical music – at last I notice the drums played by Olavi Louhivuori from Finland and the feathery bass played by Dave Kane.  Put this track on its own and you are in ECM territory, really Northern, spacious, cool and relaxed.   ‘North Wind’ is the longest track at over 13 minutes and has three movements.  You are coming to the end of the journey with a gentle opening movement, this isn’t a cold North Wind but a healing one, then the strings judder, swoop and glide enabling the sax to pick up the tempo. Then a last blast of storm from Marius.  Finally there is peace and a return to the opening phrases. It’s very lovely and you are holding your breath in the closing moments as you don’t want to break the spell.

Sit in your favourite chair, turn off your phone and listen, several times. You will find beauty and depth of feeling in this excellent contemplative album and it will really grow on you. It’s going to be fabulous heard live and I for one am looking forward to the St George’s  Brandon Hill performance in that perfect acoustic.

You can see Dave Stapleton and his ensemble in Bristol, Cardiff and London:

3rd May 2012 – DAVE STAPLETON – St. Georges, Bristol

4th May 2012– DAVE STAPLETON – Dora Stoutzker Hall, RWCMD, Cardiff

5th May 2012– DAVE STAPLETON – Kings Place, London,  ALBUM LAUNCH

‘Flight’ is available from Edition Records: