Friday, 15 June 2018

John Etheridge at The Blue Vanguard Jazz Club, Exeter, 14th June, 2018

Sublime Guitar Wings

Could you see Jimi smiling last night at the end? I could, inside my head, and then mine as well, though I had smiled often throughout another fine evening of jazz at the Blue Vanguard, John Etheridge a delight as player and joker, and then the band who were, as I always say but will allow Etheridge’s words to encapsulate for this review, ‘great players all’. And JE should know, not that anyone couldn’t, hearing them this ‘great’ last night as well as time and time again. And I mean Jimi Hendrix as Etheridge finished his evening with a wonderful cover of Little Wing, with thanks to Billie Bottle for requesting in a shout-out from the sidelines near the end [Bottle playing with The Granite Band – Kate and Mike Westbrook – at the Dartmoor Resonance Music Festival on the 21st June].

The night’s entertainment began with the 12 bar blues of Ornette Coleman’s Turnaround which Etheridge described as ‘our first number as a band’. Literally, though it didn’t show, superbly controlled as it was. Next was Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep for Me, with Etheridge controlling the feedback and Craig Milverton supplying a sweet piano solo. This was followed by Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas, ‘some of the same notes’ as in the previous song.

Throughout this and the night, Al Swainger was the still point of bass control, all grace and drive, and the Blue Vanguard Trio excelled again and also on the next slower and ‘sad old tune’, the Don Raye/Gene De Paul You Don’t Know What Love Is with a long opening guitar solo and a later Santana-esque layer.

The first of two outstanding funk numbers was Art Neville’s Cissy Strut made famous by The Meters. Coach York on drums and Etheridge ripped this one up with some hot dual rhythms, and Craig Milverton pumped out more funkfesting on his keys.

After the interval Etheridge and band played Charlie Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, the musical lament for, at that time, recently passed saxophonist Lester Young, and Etheridge invoked other artists including the great drummer John Hiseman who sadly passed on the 1st June – I didn’t know.

The other funk gem of the night was John Scofield’s Do Like Eddie, written for the electrifying saxophonist Eddie Harris, and this had Coach on drumming fire again and Milverton pumped to funk heaven. Etheridge drove the melodic line with such sweet punch and later more of the same before bending notes and riffing in another electricity over the other punching beats of those drums.          

There was more of this excellence but my note-taking got lost in the lower lights of the room in that second set and demanding, happy distractions of the musical feast. As I’ve said, John Etheridge finished on Hendrix’s Little Wing, starting with slaps and plucks and note dips before revealing one of the sweetest melodies ever written and playing homage to this with such empathy and distinctive interpretation, entering into its soaring and still plaintive notes to dip and rise loudly and beautifully. Yes, I was smiling like a kid in the proverbial.   


Wolves and Wild Dogs Music 4

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Al Swainger's Pointless Beauty - After & Before, album review

Beauty, Yes

Tomorrow I’ll have the huge pleasure of seeing legendary guitarist John Etheridge playing with the Blue Vanguard Trio in Exeter [see all reviews of them and venue here], and I’m sure that gifted bass player Al Swainger from this superb house band is even more excited than me. He and the others will, as ever, slip into an extraordinary musical bond with their guest player.

It’s been another pleasure to be listening over the past few months to Al Swainger’s Pointless Beauty After & Before jazz album, hearing his composition talents as well as the skilful playing I’ve heard live, and on this album accompanied by more excellent musicians

Too Late opens the run of fine songs on this album with some delicate oriental-sounding keys setting an ambient tone, then the percussion and bass pulses before there is a surprise vocal scat from Swainger to add its own punctuations, followed by more classic bass plucks. I’m searching for a defining term beyond its wrap-around comfort – and that gets near – but it is a filmscore to the movie inside your head as you listen.

Next Sonhos Estranhos is set in its opening keys by George Cooper and the trumpet of Neil Yates, late-night jazz territory, and then joined by Mike Outram on guitar picking out the candlelight and conversations. It’s a soothing piece, mellowed out by craft and feel. Spring Cleaning follows this, a more staccato and upbeat sweep, the trumpet and keys dancing in tandem across their melodic lines. The bass picks up this echo as Yates’ trumpet goes into a literal one, reverberating wonderfully before re-entering in near-squeals and a sustaining of the pace, Outram running alongside. This trio of songs, all composed by Swainger as the rest to follow, establishing the high quality of that writing and the collective musicianship.

In the tracklist, the next ‘song’ The Rockpool stands on its own, separated from the others, and its glockenspiel with sound recording of waves and an impending storm also set it apart, and as a very incidental observation, this atmospheric injection crept its way into a prose piece I wrote shortly after listening to this when sitting outside on a recent balmy early summer’s evening, and I'll put in the whole as it all applies, but it's clear when this track emerges,

I went outside into the warm evening to read a book of poems and possibly write about them but I soon reclined in the lounger and dreamed of falling asleep listening to jazz. Earlier I had driven to the seaside with the car’s top down playing a selection of long, slow blues. I parked at the most distant part of the promenade with the sun hot on my right-hand side and looked out to sea at people standing on surf boards and paddling, their dark shapes set against sun glistening off the surface of rippled water, and for that moment this was in the ascendancy. At home, not having gone to sleep, no one came around to surprise me and say hello. A jazz song playing had a glockenspiel, though perhaps it was programmed keys, and there were recorded sounds of waves with seabirds calling and a storm breaking. The horn later on sounded like echoing from long ago.

and I will never forget that moment of being dreamily affected by the interlude of this which segues into Time Considered, another gentle trumpet-led instrumental that soon rises to its emotive top notes as the piano glides beneath. The penultimate song Cyrano has a lovely synthesised keys segment, and Swainger’s bass playing is highlighted with some delightful runs in and out of the fusion swathe that follows, Mark Whitlam controlling the paces with his continued sharp drumming. The song drops off that fusion stride to more in the mellowed hitherto, just before Outram returns to spark it all up again, the synth revisiting, and the drums roll out their perfections.

You know, this is all good enough to be enough, but the album ends on the twelve minutes of its exquisite title track. It’s a mix of ethereal bliss with piano lines and bass drawing long lines and wavering notes of guitar in its rise and a fine conclusion to what is an absolutely standout jazz album.

Monday, 11 June 2018

No Face Music 6

Olivia Chaney - Shelter, album review

Not the Blues But Blue Yet Not Blue, Though

Followers of this blog will know that this is the period when I am in examining mode - examining/marking English Literature papers, not being examined [not knowingly] - and thus there will be minimalist reviews as I have little time to listen to music, apart from eventually, as I get into the groove: background instrumental, usually classical, or as with this evening, exhausted, having a full music fix, though, to exploit a segue, some minimalist folk, though I have no idea really why it is called 'minimalist' apart from the fact it isn't a bunch of loud blokes called Mumford and Something, though I guess because on the track I am listening to now Arches it is just acoustic guitar and vocal, though I think some piano is just creeping in. I say that because on the gorgeous Dragonfly there is some fulsome accompanying vocal harmonising.

To conclude, if you like Joni Mitchell's Blue then you will like this, and there are many very clear echos of that album [listen to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn], though Chaney has a deeper vocal sound overall, and if you don't like Blue then what is the matter with you?

As ever, the touchstone is a compliment - this is a distinctive and accomplished album in its own right and it is most peacefully pleasing after an interesting day.

Nothing Olivia and I can't handle.

More lush harmonising on IOU.

Eye Music 28

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Downey to Lubbock, album review


It’s Cash and Nelson but of course it isn’t it’s Alvin and Gilmore but there is this mirror both in the vocal dichotomy and the strength of performance.

There, that idea is out of the way.

It’s TexMex and rock’n’roll and blues, this latter with a Gilmore great outing on Buddy Brown’s Blues. The guys alternate on a song and go solo on a song. And harmonise on the beautiful but plaintive Woody Guthrie/Michael Hoffman Deportee - Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Ten covers and two originals. 

It’s old school and brilliant from ‘two Americana legends’. I quoted that from a quote on their Bandcamp site because it is brilliantly true.