A Review of ‘Bites’ by BEJE
(Bristol European Jazz Ensemble)
Written by Ben Williams, an independent writer on jazz.
‘Bites’ is the first studio release by the Bristol European Jazz Ensemble. Led by trumpeter David Mowat – also principal composer for the quintet – the sound of the group is influenced by the folk forms of Europe, blended seamlessly with the classic Modern jazz moods of Miles, Mingus, Monk and ‘Trane. As a whole, the music reflects Mowat’s extensive travels and immersion in the cultures Eastern Europe and the Middle East, together with his deep, abiding love of the jazz tradition. Recorded in Bristol, UK at Toybox studio, the album features some highly respected young players on the British Jazz scene – Julien Alenda (alto), Paulo Adamo (drums), Anders Olinder (piano), and Pasquale Votino (bass) – in a well written set that gives each of them ample opportunity to demonstrate his individual musicality.
‘Justin’, the lengthy opening track, has a rubato fanfare-like intro reminiscent of ‘Sketches of Spain’ and other Davis/Evans collaborations, moving into an ostinato bass and piano figure that supports a long, arcing, richly active melody, played in unison by the horns. This contains speech rhythms and motifs that evoke the middle east. It is a modal composition, but its modes incorporate a scale used in Kurdish music and Syria. The use of this scale creates a dramatic and melancholy atmosphere that speaks powerfully of the many tragic events in that region. The band members solo excellently throughout its 13 minutes, always intensifying the mood.
The bitter-sweet trumpet led ballad ‘Hymn for Mostar’ reminded this writer of some of Randy Brecker’s more poignant compositions. The Breckers’ Ashkenazy heritage may not be entirely coincidental in this impression. It has a sadness that is rooted in the urban experience, and its mood speaks of the aftermath of conflicts that once gripped the City named in its title.
‘Chai Za Dvoye’ Has a nostalgic yet upbeat mood, with a propulsive swinging 6/8 groove supporting some excellent straight ahead piano work from Olinder, and some elegiac themes from Mowat. I gather the title refers to the familiar European scene of old folks talking about what might have been over a glass of tea.
Then it’s up, bustle and out, with the hard swingin’ ‘Forward and Back’ – ushered in with some excellent drumming by Adamo, the punctuated rhythms and climbing figures of the head remind one of Mingus ‘Fables…’ and the entire band get a chance to stretch out the most on this tune, developing longer and more expansive arcs in their improvisations. The sax solo in this is particularly good. The trumpet also has some great dialogue with the piano before the recapitulation.
‘Redfield Carnival’ is exactly that – a Rollins type Samba meets Calypso tune – it adheres to these genres closely enough to create the Carnival atmosphere – but quickly becomes a vehicle for unfettered blowing in a style that reminds one of Richie Cole’s ‘Hollywood Madness’.
As a whole, ‘Bites’ admirably showcases both the compositional talents of the leader, and the improvisational strengths of all of the BEJE players. It is well paced, gradually picking up throughout, courtesy of Votino’s fine bass playing. Any stiffness at the start – owing to studios being some of the least conducive places in which to create a lively performance atmosphere – is soon dispelled by the increasingly intense performances. It is often the case that the logistical dilemma of whether to record first, then gig, which means that the band don’t know the material as well as they will in future, or whether to work new material in LIVE, then record it, is always a bugbear. With this release, you get accurate renditions of very original material that also lead to heartfelt and savvy improvisations, what’s not to like?
Ben Williams (21/04/15)