REVIEW OF BEJE ‘BITES’, the second album

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)

BEJE at PREMA ARTS CENTRE MAY 22

The interest from Prema Arts Centre [Fri May 22 8pm £12/9 in advance. Bethesda Chapel South Street Uley (Nr Dursley) Gloucestershire GL11 5SS] allows us to present ourselves as ‘world music’ whilst others see us as ‘modern jazz’. It all depends what a programmer thinks their audience likes. What people actually like when we get to a gig may be different to what we think we like as experience (usually) trumps preconception. I’m always trying to think how to present the band, whilst band members tell me not to compromise on the quality of the music that emerges on stage from the improvising dialogue that pushes us into ever more open and exciting places. It’s an interesting place to be as band leader, recpetive to the music making as a fellow musician, but also attentive to to the audience before they arrive and when actually there. http://www.prema.org.uk/whats-on/weekly-classes/Bristol%20European%20Jazz%20Ensemble/?prod=131

BEJE band leader co-exhibitor at JAZZ AHEAD in BREMEN GERMANY

Having launched our new cd ‘Beje Bites’ and made a new promo film of ‘Redfield Carnival’ www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIDmuRfYL1w David Mowat the BEJE leader is to travel to Bremen at European Jazz’s premier event, ‘Jazz Ahead’ on 23 to 26 April. His intention is to secure the first European gig for BEJE at a club or festival around which smaller gigs can be organised. And attracting the interest of an agent would be fabulous as well. Musicians may find him hanging out at the jam sessions (if they are to be had). He will be a co-exhibitor on the Jazz Services UK stand.

Review of BEJE at BIRMINGHAM SYMPHONY HALL Jazzlines Nov 28th

Bristol European Jazz Ensemble. Jazzlines. Symphony Hall. 28th Nov 2014. P1650100It was a hairy journey up as though the M5 wasn’t terrible the satnav directions to ‘Bay C’ at the back of the Symphony Hall were impossible to follow. We arrived and unloaded 10 minutes before we were due to start, nervous, before an expectant audience of 300 Mary from Jazz Lines later told us. Anyway, our choicest numbers went down very well and we quickly relaxed into it. On the Monday I reminded the South Bank London of our availability. I’m sure they can’t wait to have us…

Sheffield Here we come! Saturday October 25th

8pm FREE ENTRY Wig and Pen Paradise Square S1 2EG. Due to the generosity of Richard and Chris, celebrating their 60th Birthdays this month, BEJE is coming up to Sheffield and not charging anyone clever to find out about the gig who isn’t a bosom buddy or relation of the two old boys and already has an invite. They only ask that you keep off the buffet. We’ll probably throw in funk standards along our own grooves, so come along and enjoy the party. Why not make a weekend of jazz and enjoy the Ollie Howell Quintet as well at the Millenium Hall Sheffield on the Friday 24th? Details on the Sheffield Jazz Website.

Audience comments on BEJE at The Porter Live Jazz and Blues Club

We all enjoyed playing here and hope to come again. The sound was clear and sound engineer really helpful. I particularly enjoyed the subtle colouring  by guest guitarist Knud Stuwe, replacing Anders on this occasion. There was a large contingent of jazz students from Bath Spa Uni so I was interested to see what they made of it. They gave the emails for future gigs, so that’s some kind of endorsement. Ali wrote “Intonation and timing between the whole band and especially the horns was amazing, made it groove so much!”. And George wrote “A very gentle yet vibrant sound, also very good lyrical phrasing” Phew! On to the next grade then…

Review of ‘live at the fringe’ CD by Jon Stein

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.

(415 words)

Jon Stein is a writer and musician based in Totnes, UK. Find out more at http://www.jonstein.co.uk

Audience review of BEJE at Canteen Bristol 17th Sept

Great listening audience at The Canteen on the 17th Sept. The bar staff said it was an exceptionally high bucket-donations take. Some audience comments included

“Soft, sweet and plenty of rhythms” Sadi Zane.
“I’ve not seen any live jazz in ages and it really rekindled my love of it and made me want to see more!! Deep tight and contemporary with some hints of traditional styles as well!!” Owen Clarke
“Unusual, original, with the story telling. Surprising” Anna, jazz pianist