BEJE ‘Live at the Fringe’ – CD Review by Jon Stein
If the name of Bristol-based trumpeter, composer and bandleader David Mowat is not better known it’s partly because his talents have been spread across a wide field. Apart from his various musical pursuits, he has been variously a social, political and spiritual activist (and is currently a dedicated family man).
So it is all the more welcome when he finds time to share his first passion – jazz. His CD with the Bristol European Jazz Ensemble showcases his thoughtful compositions and energetic playing. Mostly recorded live at The Fringe Jazz Club in Bristol in November 2013, the disc features a line-up of seasoned and younger professional sidemen, several with a continental European background.
The music is all original and ranges from the hard-bop of the opener ‘Easter Rise’, through to the latin-jazz/township feel of ‘All the Best’. Along the way there are nods to the great bands and players who’ve influenced Dave’s development: the Jazz Messengers, Mingus, Coltrane, and Miles Davis. But it’s not just an American sound. There’s a lyrical strain, as well as an occasional English eccentricity, in tunes like ‘The Rainbow’s Gift’ evoking UK-based musicians such as Kenny Wheeler and Keith Tippett.
Often the music reflects Dave’s own life and personal vision. The extended ‘Persephone’s Descent and Istanbul Jam’ features a spoken narrative and chronicles his pilgrimage from Bristol to Jerusalem in 2004-5, while the melodic and playful ‘Zozo’ celebrates his young daughter, Zoe.
The ensemble work is tight and the soloing fluent. French altoist, Julien Alenda provides a foil to Dave’s mellow sound with assured, angular lines. Keyboardist Anders Olinder lays down tight grooves as well as hot solos. The drum and bass pairing of Marco Anderson and Pasquale Votino negotiates frequent changes of feel and tempo with ease and confidence.
A minor quibble is the reprise of the opener to close the album. It might have been more interesting to hear the band’s take – however oblique – on a standard (which might also provide a reference point for the less experienced listener). It is also tantalizing to hear guitarist Knud Stuwe make only the briefest of appearances – on the infectious and funky ‘Saint Francis’.
All in all, BEJE bring a fresh view to the modern scene. Firmly-rooted enough in the tradition clearly to be modern jazz, the album is sufficiently diverse to attract anyone who appreciates well-played, original instrumental music. At just over 75 minutes, the album is also great value for money.
Jon Stein is a writer and musician based in Totnes, UK. Find out more at http://www.jonstein.co.uk