At London's Cafe Posk last year pianist Ivo Neame gifted free cupcakes to punters minded to buy his homemade ear candy: CDs. By his own admission Jim Rattigan is more of a savoury than a sugar man so he has remixed the culinary sales pitch and offers potatoes instead. The spud-u-like promotion neatly brings to the boil the strain of humour that marks this performance. Yet as playful and plentiful as the banter between musician and audience may be it does not deflect attention from an evening of impressive composing, arranging and improvising.
As a bandleader who plays the French horn, Rattigan could be seen as niche or novelty within jazz, and though his most notable musical antecedents – think Junior Collins, John Clark, Tom Varner – are relatively few the equally significant fact is that he is at the helm of a 12-piece orchestra, Pavillon bolstered by soloists like alto-saxophonist Martin Speake, drummer Gene Calderazzo and trumpeter Percy Pursglove. Playing material drawn largely from the recently reissued 2011 set, Strong Tea, the band is anchored by a potent rhythm section in which Calderazzo is joined by double-bassist Dave Whitford and pianist Hans Koller. They make a strong engine within the ensemble.
Rattigan's writing and arranging effectively marshal the large resources at his disposal in any case. The hard swing of the album's title-track and the carefully woven countermelodies of 'Dulwich Park' celebrate the grandstand flourish of big band vocab, but there are enough left turns taken throughout the gig to make it clear that Rattigan is very interested in channelling experimental energies into his scores, and some of the edgier it not harsher timbres may reflect his experience of working in unusually configured outfits such as the trio formed with pianist Liam Noble and violinist Thomas Gould several years ago. 'Parkwood Fair', inspired by the off-centre geometry of a twisted bicycle at a fete Rattigan attended, is a good example of the sound palette nuanced with imagination. A moody 6/4 lament in which brass and reeds are used sparingly, teasingly, tantalisingly, it builds slowly as Calderazzo skips funkily on the pulse. Haunting melodic combinations of Rattingan's French horn and muted trumpets eventually give way to a boisterous fanfare after which the whole band strides to the finale.
On this and other pieces the unique texture of the French horn comes into sharp focus. It is a low register instrument with an intriguing, pastel-like softness, something exploited by the far-sighted arranger Claude Thornhill and underlined by the fact that Rattigan is the only member of the horn section using a microphone, his phrases given the faintest electric flutter amid the acoustic purity of the other horns. Then again Rattigan's positioning on stage is noteworthy. Standing right in front of the double-bass and next to the trombones he is a micro-bass, a sotto voce bass within a bass unit, and it is the velvety, wistful delicacy and subtle swell of the notes that make the French horn much more than a curiosity.
Ultimately the overriding impression made by Pavillon is a joyous one and the scattering of snappy blues throughout the two sets lends a warming uplift to the evening that chimes nicely with the leader's good cheer. This is the penultimate gig of an Arts Council tour and the vibe is up. As befits the talk of hearty foodstuffs in cold, dry January, things wind up with 'Mung Beans.'
Further names have been added to the Jazzwise 20th Anniversary Festival, which runs from 13 to 18 March at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, including fiery Cuban jazz violin virtuoso Omar Puente and his sextet performing two shows on Friday 17 March, with propulsive all-female group Nérija opening. The Jazzwise 20th Anniversary Festival has been curated by Jazzwise's Jon Newey and Ronnie Scott's Paul Pace and is set to unite several generations of top British and international jazz talent, with some of the UK's hottest young jazz artists filling the opening spots.
These include two very rare club dates from iconic guitarist John McLaughlin's 4th Dimension band, on 13 and 14 March, with the first night opened by charismatic Indo-jazz clarinettist Arun Ghosh and his hard-grooving Quartet, the second with a solo set by acclaimed pianist Nikki Yeoh. Wednesday 15 March is topped by MOBO-winning saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch, with rising star trumpeter Yazz Ahmed's Hafla Quintet opening.
The specially-commissioned double bill on 16 March features the new 19-piece Julien Siegel Jazz Orchestra with a stunning line-up of UK giants from Henry Lowther to Jason Yarde and Percy Pursglove, plus Nick Smart's Black Eyed Dog, featuring the likes of pianist Kit Downes, saxophonist/bass clarinettist James Allsopp, guitarist John Parricelli and guest singer Claire Martin – all combining on Remembering Nick Drake: an evocative interpretation of the legendary folk/ jazz singer songwriter. This night will also feature a late set from latin-jazz seven-piece J-Sonics, with further late shows to be confirmed across the week. The final night on 18 March sees an unmissable double bill of top UK saxophonist, and Jazzwise Album of the Year winner, Tim Garland's One featuring Jason Rebello, Ant Law and Asaf Sirkis, plus dazzling trio Phronesis with special guest Julian Argüelles.
Former New York No Wave-hero Mark Cunningham's brings his plasma-powered post-jazz rockers, the Barcelona-based Blood Quintet, to the UK's shores for a couple of shows next month on the back of their debut album release, Deep Red, issued late last year on both Hang The DJ! and Feeding Tube Records.
If the sound of collaged Sonic Youth outtakes bolstered by a generous dollop of Arve Henriksen seems appealing (and why the hell shouldn't it?) then get down to either the Exchange, Bristol (13 April) or IKLECTIK (15 April) for a noise to curdle your crimson liquids.
Reenergised UK quintet Led Bib (coming cover stars of Jazzwise's February issue) seek out a cessation to current hostilities with a fresh vid clip for 'Ceasefire', a propulsive cut from their forthcoming long-player, the heavy-hitting Umbrella Weather, which is released on 20th January by RareNoiseRecords. Check it here:
Catch Led Bib touring in support of the new album at the following venues: Dempsey's, Cardiff (15 Feb); The Hothouse, Morecambe (16 Feb); Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (17 Feb); Kings Place, Hall 2, London (18 Feb); The Bell, Bath (20 Feb); The Canteen, Bristol (21 Feb); Broomhill Art Hotel, Barnstaple (22 Feb); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (23 Feb); Vortex Jazz Club, London (3-4 May); Red Lion Pub, Birmingham (5 May); Fuse Arts Space, Bradford (6 May) and The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle (7 May).
EST-influenced Australian three-piece Trichotomy return to the UK with their distinctive jazz sounds for an eight-date tour to support their new album Known-Unknown. Comprised of pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and bassist Samuel Vincent they'll be showcasing new material that features their affecting blend of propulsive riffs and emotive improvisation spiked with subtle real-time electronics.
Dates are: Stratford Jazz, Stratford Upon Avon (25 Jan); Black Cygnet new music @ The White Swan, Leeds (31 Jan) The Vortex, London (1 Feb); SoundCellar @ The Blue Boar, Poole (2 Feb); Southport Jazz Festival, Southport (3 Feb); Zeffirellis, Ambleside (4 Feb); The Stables, Milton Keynes (7 Feb); The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (8 Feb) and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff (10 Feb).