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Art Themen at Bristol Music Club

Art Themen

(Fringe Jazz at Bristol Music Club. 28 September. Review by Mike Collins)

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A stone’s throw from the University of Bristol’s Student Union building, it’s easy to miss the steps down to the entrance of Bristol Music Club, current home of Fringe Jazz. The weekly jazz gig has been defying gravity for 10 years now, with the quality of the programme hosted in intimate rooms around the Clifton area in Bristol. Art Themen has featured regularly over the decade, and he was visibly enjoying the company of the trio booked to work with him on this latest visit.  

L-R: Huw Warren, Riaan Vosloo, Art Themen, Tony Orrell, Photo by Mike Collins

Promoter Jonathan Taylor has made a habit of booking eclectic groups of musicians and letting the jazz chemistry do its work. Tonight it was welsh piano wizard Huw Warren on the venue’s beautiful piano (Warren had opted for the newer Boston over the older Steinway), Riaan Vosloo on bass and the ever inventive Tony Orrell on drums. They joined Themen on stage after he’d showed the near capacity audience that he was on fluently exuberant form, by kicking off with a solo rendition of Monk’s Ask Me Now.

They launched into Swing Low with a bustling latin vamp and the tenor sliding and skipping over the top.  Huw Warren let fly with fluid chords and firing off glittering patterns and runs. He was at it again on Cedar Walton’s Midnight Waltz , tugging and pulling at the limits of the classic hard bop groove, piling up layers of rhythmic phrases, spiced with bluesy inflexions. Themen, switching to soprano, reminded us how much his distinctive sound has grown out of the history of the music with Coltrane-ish flights and the odd quote on the fly.  

On Azure Serape Riaan Vosloo had the leader grinning appreciatively as he sculpted a compelling solo, full of drive and momentum and strikingly coherent and melodic lines. As they ramped up the energy with Airegin, Themen was still sounding like Themen, but giving his inner Rollins full rein. He beamed with delight as Tony Orrell uncorked a drum solo full of drama and, somehow, melody.  They rounded off the second set with a blistering rhythm changes, Rhythm A Ning, after a moment of magic with their collective reading of Autumn in New York. Warren gave his rhapsodic side full rein, embellishing and decorating the harmony. Vosloo’s solo simply sang and stopped time for a moment, and then the sighing tenor rounded it off.

It was a routinely top drawer night for Fringe Jazz. The gig started 10 years ago in possibly smallest pub back room, at The Fringe pub from which it takes it name.  Legends a-plenty have featured at close quarters, and more than a few intriguing ensembles have had their genesis at the club.  The move to Bristol Music Club post-COVID has the bonus of a bigger room and those pianos. The tenth anniversary season continues through October and November with a great programme.

Future events include Kevin Figes’ album launch (5 October), James Morton and friends (12 October), Scott Hammond’s JINGU BANG (19 October), then Moscow DrugClub and Paul Dunmall Quartet.

Address: 76 St Paul’s Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1LP

LINKS Full programme till December


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