Latest podcast: We look back to the return of live jazz in 2021 and wonder if we can expect a further detour ahead

2021 has been an unusual year to say the least. Going out to hear live jazz wasn't possible in England until venues reopened in the spring. On the first night back at Ronnie's in late-May there was a certain sense of relief to say the least and …

Published: 30 Dec 2021. Updated: 7 months.

2021 has been an unusual year to say the least. Going out to hear live jazz wasn't possible in England until venues reopened in the spring. On the first night back at Ronnie's in late-May there was a certain sense of relief to say the least and upstairs that first night back Django Reinhardt was the presiding inspiration for guitarists Harry Diplock and Jeremie Coullon. That seemed fitting somehow certainly the strolling motion and momentum building and building then releasing to tease out lightly amplified melody that joyfully rang out to let out something inside so strong. Over the next few months going to a range of venues was a different experience however than in previous years. Audiences were terribly small, sometimes you felt it was a case of rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic for venues scanning empty rooms, only increasing in the autumn, partly because of imposed restrictions and partly because a lot of people until relatively late on in the year did not have their second vaccinations or were simply being cautious.

But it was certainly good to actually be able to hear live music again back in the spring. Listening to records without that live reality did not mean the same. It was more an academic exercise when you couldn't actually see and hear real live musicians.

Looking ahead things are uncertain again. Stricter rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make life very difficult for musicians and audiences there. Venues in England will count themselves lucky that New Year's Eve events are still allowed.

Will the jazz festival circuit fully return for the first time in two years in 2022 or can there be a detour ahead? That sector has been even worse hit than clubs and small venues although the live return of the London Jazz Festival in November was a big boost with US musicians, largely a much-missed absence since early-2020, able to be booked in significant numbers once again.

But anyone putting on festivals in the early part of 2022 such as the Bath Jazz Weekend in January will be riding on a wing and a prayer.

Harry Diplock, top left, and Jeremie Coullon playing upstairs in Ronnie's on the first night back in May after the long Lockdown had closed the UK home of jazz for months

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Luke Stewart's Silt Trio, 'Roots,' Cuneiform ***

The gospel according to Luke – surely a test of any record is how quickly you want to hear it again. Certainly for the bass and drum integration tick that box. The sax playing in this trio, Brian Settles, did not ignite so much first time round. …

Published: 29 Dec 2021. Updated: 7 months.

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The gospel according to Luke – surely a test of any record is how quickly you want to hear it again. Certainly for the bass and drum integration tick that box. The sax playing in this trio, Brian Settles, did not ignite so much first time round. But the second and subsequent listens were another story, the less-is-more ethic meaning you listen differently once you realise that this is not about instant gratification.

And yet Settles seems distracted, insouciant if you like. By contrast the busy, feverish, momentum of Luke Stewart on double bass and the brittle touch and jostling swagger of Chad Taylor means that he can't be too busy or the whole thing would simply combust. There is a lot to like here. And you always get freedom when there isn't a harmony instrument so that's often a plus although the downside can be there is too much protective scaffolding and not enough robust structure.

Certainly the trio starts stripped back and keep it real if that isn't too much of a cliché. As for Settles John Coltrane comes to mind a bit but hear him too for more meat on last year's far more complex and sonically rich release The Daily Biological, the tenorist again with Taylor as a contrast to the relatively simpler, quasi-spiritual, style here.

'Roots' is from The Bottom out on 22 January. Stewart, above, the blazing motor at the heart of the sound, is fast becoming a worthy heir musically to Henry Grimes and his role is a tonic to hear. Catch the bassist too on one of 2021's most stimulating free-jazz records, Open the Gates.

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