REVIEW: Get the Blessing: Bristopolis at the 2018 Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival

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Get the Blessing: Bristopolis
(Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, 15 March 2018. Review by Jon Turney)

Bristol’s festival has a great record of making shrewd use of local artists. The opener for this year’s Colston Hall jamboree featured city favourites Get the Blessing and an unexpected resource, a trove of archive film of Bristol over the last century.

They were brought together by film-maker John Minton, who has worked with the band extensively. Building on that, the show opened with a series of shorts made for the band’s earlier work, wittily linked by vintage cinema announcements. These old pop-video style efforts don’t benefit from being sequenced together - tight budgets make them a tad repetitive - but they did allow a crowd-pleasing airing for a string of GTB’s greatest hits, with live video mixing from the stage to add interest.

That music wears very well, but main event was all new. The band created an expansive soundscape for a fascinating hour-long depiction of city life over the last century. Their music, for all its deep grooves and catchy hooks, has always had a cinematic aspect, and it came to the fore here. Period commentary emerged now and again as the images ranged over the days when the docks were the focal point of the city, the ravages of the blitz, and a panoply of everyday urban life, sometimes prosaic, sometimes eccentric.

Unlike last year’s screening of Metropolis, scored by Andy Sheppard, the film didn’t have an overall narrative - though there were narrative episodes here and there. The music, in keeping, was mainly textural and atmospheric. Dan Moore on keyboards and sparing use of electronics by hornmen Jake McMurchie on saxes and Pete Judge on trumpet extended the sound palette of the quartet. Clive Deamer on drums furnished a constantly shifting rhythmic pulse. Jim Barr on electric basses unified the band, as per normal, by locking down the rhythm while also taking a share of melodic declarations.



The live work on stage married well with the images, without drawing attention from them. No-one left humming the tunes, but the mood-setting was unobtrusively appropriate: elegiac for footage from the morning after an air raid; a moment of exultation for a victory parade. It wasn’t the right show for big soloing, although the construction of Brunel’s suspension bridge over Clifton Gorge triggered a barnstorming baritone sax feature from McMurchie.

A fascinating evening altogether. The collaborators brought off an audio-visual treat in a realm where sound and moving images can as easily detract from as enhance each other, and Minton shared the applause with the band at the close. The emphasis returns to music for the rest of the programme, but this multi-media show already feels like a festival highlight.

Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival continues until Sunday.

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