Live reviews

REVIEW: Wandering Monster at the BeBop Club, Bristol

Wandering Monster in Bristol
Photo credit: Evan Dawson
Wandering Monster
(BeBop Club, Bristol, 25 January 2019. Review by Jon Turney)

Friday night found Leeds-based quintet Wandering Monster paying a first visit to Bristol’s BeBop club, a small room with a listening audience where it’s always good to catch new bands. They were evidently in good spirits, the gig coming near the end of a UK tour and on the official launch day of their debut CD. Composition and arrangements, courtesy of leader Sam Quintana, were tight. And the music, for all that the band’s name alludes to everyone’s “inner monsters”, often briskly cheerful.

Opener Samsara was a case in point, with Quintana on double bass Aleks Podraza on keys and Tom Higham on drums tracking its rhythmic twists and turns and several mood shifts effortlessly. Like several of their tunes, it has passages of calm, which are displaced by high energy blowing from the entire band.

That said, the two all-originals sets are nicely varied. Sweetheart is a fetching ballad, graced by a shapely tenor solo from Ben Powling, the night’s most attention-grabbing soloist. Other pieces are adorned with tricky time-signatures, fiercely declaimed unison lines, clever closing flourishes. But overall, even in the raucous urban jazz-rock of Rush Hour there’s something else. An air of restraint, that seems to emanate from the bass – mainly sticking with simple figures, hardly ever soloing. That restraint doesn’t extend to volume which, as young bands in small rooms often will, gets elevated a bit too much for comfort in the second half. But in the playing it still lends a sense of relaxation that helps the band sound like young virtuosi expressing themselves, not straining for effect.

It’s a difficult feeling to maintain, much assisted by Higham’s excellent drumming, and suits all these players, evoking fluid guitar excursions from Calvin Travers, and sax statements from Powling that mine a rich vein of Coltrane-isms. All very promising. A bunch of players who all went to the same college in a big city, formed a hot band, and now want to bring their new music to a live audience countrywide? You’ve heard that story before, but this is a well-wrought version that’s definitely worth paying attention to.

Aleks Podraza
Photo credit: Evan Dawson
Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. Twitter: @jonWturney

LINKS: Next dates, which round off the tour, are in February.
Wandering Monster’s eponymous album is on Ubuntu Records. Extracts here

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