European jazz conjures up a melange of unamerican images: strong classical grounding, heavy concept/light intuition, cerebral, austere, rigidly unswinging, masterful technique… and so on. Of course a rash generalisation, but we’re talking here about what many people think, not about what is.
The Bristol European Jazz Ensemble, hereinafter to be called BEJE, is a definition of the falsity of these rash conclusions. They are indeed European even if one, Cameron-like, places Britain outside of Europe. Drummer Paolo Adamo and double bassist Pasquale Votino are Italian, alto saxophonist Julien Alenda is French, pianist Anders Olinder, Swedish; all are musical migrants to the jazz Mecca that is Bristol. Trumpeter/composer David Mowat is the reverse of the others, an Englishman who has trekked the world, fallen in love with and learned Eastern European and Middle Eastern music; a citizen of the world.
The music, however,is resolutely American, a recognition, I think, of the natural African American roots of jazz. David Mowat is, if anything, a Miles-influenced player. Julien Alenda has roots that travel all the way through the earth, finding a home in John Coltrane’s footsteps. He has been compared to Kenny Garrett, but I think the comparison rests on Kenny Garrett playing alto sax with a big Coltrane influence. Bassist Votino is effective playing in a Ron Carter walking bass style that really drives the music. Drummer Adamo shines with a nicely forward but not overwhelming style. He comes across all Tony Williams on ‘Justin’ and contributes a timbale sounding driving Latin feel to the lively closing tune, ‘Redfield Carnival.’
David Mowat’s compositions often are inspired or directly influenced by world music sources. The first tune, ‘Justin’, is built on an Arabic scale Mowat learned in Syria; ‘Chai za Dvoye’ is a Montenegran folk melody; ‘Hymn for the Mostar’ inspired by a Muslim cemetary in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But after the themes are established it’s all American all the way whether it be Alenda’s Coltranish sax, Mowat’s post-Milesian trumpet or Anders Olinder’s Bill Evans-like piano. A word about Anders, who is the favoured accompanist of seemingly everyone, from Pee Wee Ellis to Tony Kofi. Here he is similarly supportive in that role, but he also stands out as a soloist. It is one of his strongest outings playing acoustic piano and soloing. Very nice to hear.
BEJE:Bites may not break any new ground, especially in that rigourous European manner (okay, imagine a smiling emoticon here), but it is filled with lovely playing and a very nice rapport between these migrants in a green and pleasant land.