An Exciting March!

March is a month full of activity and exciting events for both TDE Promotions/Fizzle and the Jazzlines Programme at Town Hall Symphony Hall with two short festival-type events, Jazz Connective and Punkt Birmingham, plus other smaller gigs, and a feature on the book History of European Jazz in the Library of Birmingham.  

It’s a brilliant opportunity for Birmingham audiences to catch something of the thriving scenes in different European countries and to realise that jazz is now much more than an American music.

220px-John_Coltrane_-_Sun_ShipThe first gig of the month, however, features the third of the Paul Dunmall Invites series in which Paul invites three fellow John Coltrane aficionados, saxophonist Howard Cottle, drummer Tony Bianco and bass player Olie Brice to join him in playing their interpretation of the Sun Ship Album, the last album recorded by the great Coltrane Quartet.  This on Thursday 5th March in the Eastside Jazz Club and provides the rare opportunity to hear this great music played live in an atmosphere that captures something of the experience of hearing the Coltrane Quartet in concert.

Jazz Connective is a European project run by the Periscope Club in Lyon and includes partners from six European countries in seven cities, Lyon in France, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Helsinki in Finland, Dublin in Ireland, Łodz in Poland, and Birmingham and London in UK.  The programme consists of a series of seminars on topics related to the development of contemporary jazz, and a showcase programme of gigs with bands from different partner countries.  In Birmingham the Jazz Connective programme takes place three days from 8th to 10th March and will be followed immediately by the London event which runs from 11th to 12th March.

In Birmingham the Jazz Connective delegates will joined by delegates from the Europe Jazz Network working in the area of inclusivity, and will be discussing issues in gender balance, ethnic diversity and social deprivation.

The full programme can be accessed at  The music programme is:

Sunday 8th March 2.30   The Lamp Tavern:  Three bands: Backspace + Tortusa (Poland and Norway) Malediwy (Poland) and Kim Macari/Olie Brice/Andy Woodhead  (UK)

Monday 9th March Symphony Hall Stage:    Sara Colman Band (UK), Riverloam Trio + Paul Dunmall and Sarah Farmer (Poland and UK), Bowrain solo piano (Slovenia)

Tuesday 10th March  Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath  Ashley Allen Band (UK), Rosie Tee (UK) Watchdog (France)

There will also be a residency for Irish composer and drummer Matt Jacobson who will be working with Percy Pursglove, Chris Mapp and Alicia Gardener-Trejo to develop new work.  There will be a short sharing in Birmingham on the Tuesday at 4.30pm (see the programme) and a longer sharing on Wednesday 11th March as part of the programme at The Vortex.

erik honorePunkt is a festival created in Kristiansand Norway by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré (pictured here) in which each concert is remixed for a related concert that follows immediately after the first concert.  It is always fascinating to hear what the sound artists make of the original.  Punkt Birmingham is the second time that Erik and Jan have brought the remix concept to UK, and they have along with Chris Mapp curated a high level version of the festival.  It runs from 18th to 20th March and the full programme can be seen here.   TDE Promotions are sponsoring the concert with trish clowesTrish Clowes (pictured here) and Louise McNonagle which will be remixed by the Punkt top team: Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and Eivind Aarset, while Jazzlines is sponsoring stillefelt to be remixed by students from the Birmingham Conservatoire and the University of Agder (both in The Lab at Birmingham Conservatoire, Thursday 19th March from 8pm).

The Library of Birmingham event on the History of European Jazz book will take place on Saturday 28th March on Level 3 of the Library.  There will be an installation alyn shiptonin the Library created by Sarah Farmer, a panel from 2 to 3.30 with Alyn Shipton, Pedro Cravinho and various jazz students/graduates who benefited from the ERASMUS scheme to spend a term away at a European university and a final short set of music with Sarah Farmer and Stella Roberts.   More details nearer the time.

Finally, Tuesday 17th March (7.30) sees a Fizzle session at the Lamp Tavern with a Quartet led by Bruce Coates with Walt Shaw, Sarah Farmer and  Lee Boyd Allatson,  plus Han Earl Park solo guitar.  Then on Sunday 29th March at 2.30 there will be a duo, Charlotte Keefe + Cath Roberts (trumpet and sax) and a trio, Emil Karlsen, Phil Wachsmann and Martin Hackett (drums, violin and synth).

Saturday Night at Cafe Oto: Moor Mother’s Residency

Much of the most interesting jazz and underground music in London takes place at two venues in Dalston within half a mile of each other.  The Vortex focusses mostly on contemporary jazz with an occasional African music gig, while Café Oto has a broad programme of free jazz, electronica, alternative folk and rock, and noise music.

moor motherI was at Café Oto on Saturday night for the second night of Moor Mother’s residency.  Moor Mother, real name Camae Ayema, is a performer from Philadelphia who creates a potent mix of spoken word, noise, electronica and free jazz.  For this residency she has curated an excellent mix of music which featured on the Saturday a duo with Kazakh/British violinist Galia Bisengalieva, a set from the longstanding punk avant-gospel Chicago group Ono, and, to conclude the evening, a duo between Moor Mother and vocalist Elaine Mitchener. 

The first set featured Moor Mother on a keyboard accompanied by Bisengalieva playing viola, I think, rather than violin, and creating a kind of melodic drone that accompanied Moor Mother’s dramatic declaiming of certain lines of text and improvisations on the keys very effectively.  Overall, I enjoyed the set, but I found it distracting that the backing music from viola and keys often drowned out the words.  With this type of presentation I am never sure whether the spoken word is meant to be just another element in the music without the need for the words to be heard clearly, but, to me, the words always seem important and I want to hear them.  Nonetheless, this was a powerful musical set; I note that in an interview Moor Mother expressed a strong liking for the music of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, and this came across in the energy and excitement of the vocals and the accompaniment on the keys and viola.

Even more drama came in the second set with Ono.  They are a cult group from Chicago that was formed originally back in 1980 and has existed with some gaps onosince then.  Here it was a trio with two of the original members, Travis on vocals and spoken word, P Michael Ono on keys, plus Da Wei on guitar.  The set was built around the mix of spoken word and vocals from Travis with P Michael Ono playing keys augmented by the sounds generated from the keyboard by a kind of infra-red torch on his forehead, and Da Wei creating loud explosions on the guitar.  Travis has a very powerful voice and presence and this came across strongly as he moved around a stage that was set up with a number of plastic curtains that reminded me of shower curtains, and also into the audience.  The keys and guitar created a kind of industrial noise that combined the energy of free improv with the power of heavy rock.  This was a fascinating, unique and occasionally alarming set.

elaine mitchenerThe duo between Moor Mother and Elaine Mitchener was the most musical of the three sets in that it was less involved with the sounds of noise and more with the thoughtful interaction between Elaine’s remarkable wordless improvisations and Moor Mother’s reactions on her keys.  They were joined towards the end of the set by the three members of Ono, Travis here adding more of a gospel line that fitted well with the Elaine’s improvisations.

This was a special evening that certainly me took me outside my comfort zone, but provided a unique experience that I will reflect on and savour for some time to come.  At Oto I usually catch their free jazz/improv events with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, Mette Rasmussen, Peter Brotzmann, et al.   It was fascinating to observe the difference in the demographics of the audience for this night in Moor Mother’s residency; the free jazz events attract a mix of older longstanding fans of adventurous music and some younger people newly discovering the genre, whereas the night described here attracted a younger and more diverse audience.

Ideas of Noise Festival Triumphs

ION_finalposterI remember reading a survey of Birmingham audiences that concluded that they have essentially mainstream tastes and eschew the more contemporary and avant-garde.  I don’t remember the figures, but I do remember that Birmingham came out as being more conservative in its musical taste than other UK cities.  I believe that this is beginning to change and that programmes of more adventurous and experimental music have established a niche in the city’s varied musical programme.  The annual Supersonic Festival has been a trailblazer in this gradual change and the round the year Fizzle programme (strengthened by the TDE Promotions events) have played an important role in developing audiences for this area of the music.

All of this has created an environment in which the Ideas of Noise Festival, which has run from 23rd January to 9th February, can present a wide range of experimental music and draw good audiences.  The wide musical mix of the programme is excellent and undoubtedly one of the reasons for its success.  The programme has included a contemporary opera, spoken word, free jazz, a top New York jazz trio, a night of Queef music (Queer Experimental Freedom Music), a day of organ related and church bell music at St. Paul’s Church, African music, contemporary classical and performance art.  I’m sure I have missed out several other categories.

Full reviews will appear, I believe, on London Jazz News and The Wire, so here I will pick out my highlights.

The day at the beautiful St Paul’s Church on the edge of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and in its only surviving Georgian square was brilliantly conceived with contemporary organ pieces written either for the organ alone and for an organ electronics duo.  It was good to hear a piece by Olivier Messaien in this context (Joie et Clarté De Corps Glorieux); it fitted in extremely well, though I’m convinced that Messaien himself would not have agreed!  There was also an attractive duo of cello and electronics (no organ) with the name Hyphae that created a beautiful sound in the acoustic of the church.

The highlight of the afternoon performances was an amazing performance by Yodest, a Polish performance artist, who created a wonderful array of sounds with a connected shaver as he completely shaved both his beard and head hair over a 30 minute period.  This was an amazing, if occasionally disturbing, performance that seemed appropriate in a church where it reminded one of acts of penitence.

The Pendulums, composed by festival co-director Andy Woodhead, brought together a group of seven improvisers (two trumpets and four saxophones plus Andy on electronics) and eight bellringers.  The piece started with the bellringers, then moved to the improvising group, then into a section with Andy’s electronics drawing on the sound of the bells.  There were two sections where the improvisers interacted with the bellringers and a final bellringing section where the pattern of the bells simulated a rhythmic groove.  Two fascinating aspects of the collaboration: the bellringers were up in the tower of the church and the band was down in the church, so communication between them during the performance had to be done through Whats App.  The bells can only be heard outside the church, not inside, so their sound had to be relayed into the church through speakers.

The collaboration created many absolutely beautiful and unique passages of music and fully deserves further performances.

kit at organThe final set of the night at St Paul’s presented Kit Downes and Tom Challenger in the Vyamanikal duo.  This saxophone organ duo fitted both the programme and the church environment perfectly with its range of moods and provided a stunning conclusion to a very stimulating day.


It was very pleasing that a contemporary jazz programme with free improv and a top trio from New York formed part of the programme.  I say that this because this area of the music tends to operate in isolation, and also because curators of festivals with a relatively wide range of music such as Ideas of Noise sometimes neglect free tom rainey at macjazz.  The festival opened with the Tom Rainey Trio with Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Laubrock playing a totally absorbing set of 75 minutes plus encore; the music was based on a number of tunes which provided the structure for a series of open improvisations.  It was a classic case of the distinction between the structure of composed material and the improvisations becoming blurred.

Trumpeter and journal editor Nate Wooley (Sound American journal) gave a well-structured seminar in which he talked of how he likes to draw on other art forms to generate creativity in his group performances.  Later in the day, he gave similarly well-structured solo trumpet improvised performance.  He started by whistling before going into a series of fascinating improvisations which were broken up by a story and by a song.  There was a warmth and humanity in the performance that created a strong empathy with the audience.

The cooperative quartet Paul Dunmall, Percy Pursglove Olie Brice and Jeff Williams played the Claptrap venue in Stourbridge.  This was free jazz at its most powerful with superb interaction between all four players; it was fascinating to hear Paul and Jeff playing together for the first time.  But here too there was a warmth and humanity about it all, plus a strong commitment to the music.

Finally., I caught two performances of the Waste Paper Opera commission: syrup tracing (or, on the significance of rising and/or falling) .  I enjoyed the second performance at Moseley Community Hub much more than the first which was part of the programme at the Claptrap in Stourbridge.  The Community Hub gave them much more space and it seemed a more relaxed performance.  The opera is a rapid fire piece, which moves seamlessly between one zany scene to another.  It is occasionally funny, occasionally bewildering, always attention grabbing and ultimately good fun.

I am grateful to Rob Bishop and Mike Fletcher for conversations which informed some of the comments I have made here.  I am also grateful to Dave Stanley and Anna Palmer for the photo of the Tom Rainey Trio.  I should also declare an interest: as TDE Promotions I was responsible for the Tom Rainey Trio gig at mac.

Two Gems from My Record Collection: John Carter and Arthur Blythe

One of the joys of having a large CD and vinyl collection is that it gives me the opportunity to listen to more or less any part of jazz’s history when I wish to.  I can go to early Coltrane, late Coltrane, the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations, some of Time Berne’s vast discography, even early Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodd collaborations, and listen and absorb.  I much prefer doing this with Cds and vinyl rather than on sites such as Spotify or YouTube.

john carterI always like it when a name comes up in conversation or in a seminar and that leads to my checking out, or rediscovering a particular artist.  This has happened twice in the last fortnight; the first time was during the brilliant seminar that Nate Wooley gave as part of the Ideas of Noise Festival.  He mentioned that clarinettist John Carter would work on mistakes he made when practising, and when he made a mistake would try to develop that mistake into something he could incorporate into his playing.  That led me to dig out his last album in his Roost and Folklore series, Shadows On A Wall recorded in 1989 and released on Gramavision records.

It is a brilliant album that draws on the various strands of American black music, jazz, both early New Orleans jazz as well later styles, then blues and gospel, and through great compositions and arrangements pays great respect to the traditions of that music in a contemporary way.  Conceptually, it is similar to the recent Coin Coin work of Matana Roberts in drawing on the whole range of black music, but the end product is very different. There is some great soloing from Carter himself and his long associate Bobby Bradford on cornet and a wonderful mix of bluesy vocals, scatting and dramatic declamation of spoken word from Terry Jenoure. 

You can listen to one of the tracks at

arthurblytheThen last week at the excellent gig with Steve Buckley’s Zone B band at Birmingham Jazz’s regular Friday night session at 1000 Trades, the band included a couple of numbers, or maybe three, by the late Arthur Blythe.  Blythe was a prominent figure in the late 20th century and appeared in Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition and later in the World Saxophone Quartet as well as leading his own groups.  His playing was similar conceptually to John Carter’s in that he mixed contemporary elements with a respect for the jazz tradition.  In this case I dug out a vinyl album, Blythe Spirit, an album recorded in 1981.   It is another great album dominated by Blythe’s wonderfully rich tone on the alto saxophone and the interesting blend of sounds from a group that has Abdul Wahid on cello and Bob Stewart on tuba.

You can listen to a track at

It’s great to have rediscovered this great music.

TDE Promotions in February

February begins with two contrasting gigs with saxophonist Paul Dunmall.  The first is on Sunday 2nd February as part of the Ideas of Noise Festival, and sees the festival move out into the Black Country and to the very atmospheric venue the Claptrap in Stourbridge for a Sunday afternoon gig from 2pm.  On this occasion Paul will leading Williams-Jeff-43988-The-Hawth-Crawley-10_Fotor-750x524a quartet featuring Jeff Williams on drums.  Jeff is from the USA and divides his time between London and New York fitting into different scenes in both cities.  Back in the 1970s Jeff was playing with Stan Getz and co-led the Lookout Farm group with Dave Liebman shortly after Liebman left the Miles Davis Band.  I’d say Jeff has found his niche here in UK leading his own bands and playing in interestingly adventurous bands such as that led by Olie Brice.  As far as I’m aware, this will be the first time that Paul and Jeff will have played together and I for one am looking forward to seeing what happens.  It’s a strong quartet with Percy Pursglove on trumpet and Olie Brice on bass.

Then on Thursday 6th February we have the second of the Paul Dunmall Invites series at the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire.  The series involves Paul inviting a different group of musicians each month on the first Thursday of the liam noble.jpg1month during term time, and on this occasion it is a quartet featuring Liam Noble on piano plus John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums.  The first of the series early in January was a great success and this one promises to be equally good.  I know that the group is one of Paul’s favourites; they have often worked together and the interaction between Paul and Liam works really well.  And the partnership between John and Mark is one of the joys of improvised music, constantly inventive and providing a really strong, swinging foundation to the music.  There will be a student group led by Dan Wilby playing at 6.30, and the main group will play at 7.45.

On Thursday 13th February we are back at the Eastside Jazz Club for what promises to be an excellent quartet.  It’s led by saxophonist Martin Speake and features one ethan iversonof my favourite pianists, Ethan Iverson.  Ethan was long a key member of The Bad Plus, but is now concentrating on his own career.  It will be great to hear him in the intimate setting of the club, especially as he will be in excellent company with former Brad Mehldau drummer Jorge Rossy and Calum Gourlay on bass.  The interaction between Speake and Iverson is very special and again this should be enhanced by the intimacy of the club.  It’s the usual pattern for the evening with a student support slot at 6.30 with a group led by Matt Hollick, a very promising bass player, and the main group at 7.45.

The events in the Eastside Jazz Club are co-promotions with the Jazz Department at the Conservatoire

Finally, on Thursday 20th February (8pm) in the Hexagon Theatre at mac we celebrate the music of free improvising saxophonist Trevor Watts, one of thetrevor watts pioneers of free jazz in UK and Europe who is still going strong and playing with great fire and passion in his 80s.  For this his first visit to Birmingham for many years he’ll be playing in a project entitled Dialogue With Strings with Alison Blunt on violin and Hannah Marshall on cello, plus Veryan Weston on piano.

Details:  Paul Dunmall Quartet at Claptrap Stourbridge

Paul Dunmall Invites

Martin Speake Quartet

Trevor Watts Dialogue With Strings

Another Week in Birmingham

Another week in Birmingham and another week of really varied and stimulating gigs.  A few thoughts follow, mostly on the range of experiences that music can generate.

hannah marshallThe gig at Fizzle on Tuesday featured a double bill of two trios with saxophonist Rachel Musson in both of them.  The first featured Rachel on tenor saxophone, Julie Kjaer on alto saxophone, and Hannah Marshall on cello.  They played a beautiful set, based around the interaction between the two saxophonists.  This created a gentle, warm set of improvisations all glued together by Hannah Marshall’s contributions on the cello.  The second set in which Rachel played with Chris Mapp on electric bass and Mark Sanders on drums was much more upbeat with Rachel weaving long flowing melodic lines over the always varied contributions of Chris and Mark.

It was interesting to compare the music of this Fizzle gig with that heard in the first of the Paul Dunmall Invites series in the previous week and described in the previous posting on this site.  The music there created an extremely exciting and dramatic series of improvisations.  The two sets at the Fizzle gig were much gentler, full of thoughtful interaction, but nonetheless requiring a concentration and commitment on the part of the audience to get that intense experience that comes from listening to improvised music.

nifeco costaAnother fascinating contrast came at the Jazzlines Friday session with the music of Nifeco Costa who leads Babock Djazz, a band of players from Guinea Bissau, a small country in West Africa which has Portuguese as its official language.  They have all settled in UK coming originally as refugees.  Their music has the gentle flowing rhythm of so much African music, whether it is from West Africa or southern African countries.  The music is built around Nifeco’s songs and features the high sound of the guitar so typical of African music.  The experience of listening to this music is quite different to that with the improvised music described above.  The music is gently rhythmic, but does not vary that much.  One sits back and lets it flow over one.

liran doninI suppose Liran Donin’s 1000 Boats project heard at Birmingham Jazz on Friday night brings an experience that lies somewhere between that of listening to improvised music and that experienced when listening to Nifeco Costa’s African rhythms.  The two sets from the 1000 Boats band presented a number of beautiful melodies strongly influenced by Liran Donin’s Middle Eastern and North African background and were interpreted by a two saxophone front line, Chris Williams  on alto sax and Josh Arcaleo on tenor sax, plus some striking contributions from Italian pianist Maria Chiara Argiro and wonderfully lyrical solos from Donin on bass.

Finally, it was a joy to witness on Saturday Mark Sanders’ session with a senior group from the Jazzlines Ensembles.  Mark was introducing them to ‘conduction’, an approach originally devised by Butch Morris in which free improvisation is guided by a conductor using a series of hand signals to vary the playing.  The students, all teenagers, are proficient on their instruments, but are unlikely to have played in a free jazz style before.  Under the guidance of Mark they created some really stimulating and original music.  It was then really interesting to observe members of the group undertake their own conductions; again some fascinating music was created

I should declare an interest: I am involved with both the Jazzlines and Fizzle programmes.  The opinions expressed here are of course mine.

Two Days In Birmingham: Three Gigs

paul dunmall again

These gigs took place on 9th and 10th January.  First up was the first of the Paul Dunmall Invites series at the Eastside Jazz Club at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a series in which Paul plays the club on the first Thursday of the month and invites fellow improvisers to join him for a session.  The players on this occasion were Percy Pursglove, John O’Gallagher, Chris Mapp and Miles Levin.  Paul Dunmall is an excellent example of an improvising musician who has always created brilliant music, but has perhaps not had the recognition he deserves.  This session worked really well and the range of the music and the variety in the textures produced by the three horn frontline was very satisfying.  At times the three of them interacted together to produce very powerful, constantly changing statements, at others two of them stood back to cede the floor to the soloist.   The rhythm players, Chris Mapp on electric bass and Miles Levin on drums, provided a really strong basis for the improvisations of the frontline, occasionally also stepping back to allow full freedom to the soloist.  It was fascinating to observe how each member of the quintet was constantly assessing what was happening in the music and deciding when to come in, or what to add to the mix.  I was taken by a short passage about free music written by Richard Williams in his tribute to photographer Jak Kilby (Williams, 2020):

The idiom may be half a century old, but it will never be an easy-listening experience; it demands attention and commitment from the listener as well as from the player. What Jak Kilby and other lovers of free improvisation recognised early on is how risk is answered by reward to a degree unavailable in any other kind of music. In those moments it can reach the sublime, touch the infinite.

This first session of Paul Dunmall Invites had all these qualities.

The Friday 5pm Jazzlines session at Symphony Hall takes place in Halls of the International Convention Centre (ICC) while the Symphony Hall foyer is being refurbished.  Friday’s session was led by bass player James Owston, a young bass james owstonplayer who has recently graduated from the jazz course at the Birmingham Conservatoire.  James was been working with Paul Dunmall recently and recorded on the album Paul made with Steve Swell and Mark Sanders (So Perhaps: FMR Records FMR CD545-0719), but on this occasion was playing in a more mainstream style.  The first set featured a piano bass drums trio with Dave Ferris on piano and Kai Chaurensy on drums.  The repertoire was based around pianists and bass players of whom James is particularly fond: Fred Hersch, Bill Evans, Drew Gress and Charles Mingus.  The trio brought lots of energy to this material and there was a freshness in the way they interpreted the material that was very welcome.  All three players excelled, but I was really impressed by the fluency and imagination of Dave Ferris’ playing.  For the second set they were joined by saxophonist Vittorio Mura, back on a break from his studies in New York; it was clear that his stay there has resulted in a greater edge in his soloing.

sam jessonThen it was straight off to 1000 Trades pub where Birmingham Jazz were presenting the Magpie Trio led by drummer Sam Jesson with Tom Farmer on bass and James Allsopp on saxophone.  Sam Jesson is another graduate from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire.  Interestingly, while at the Conservatoire Sam was mostly interested in the more ‘out’ styles of jazz, but here in the Magpie Trio he is focussing on a more mainstream repertoire with a focus on this occasion on material associated with the pianist Ahmad Jamal.  I really enjoyed their two sets, particularly the inventiveness that went into their interpretations of that material.  James Allsopp is a player that one also associates with more contemporary forms of the music, (Golden Age of Steam, Snack Family) but he is also an excellent interpreter of more standard forms, occasionally taking his solos out, but always coming back into the mainstream.  There was throughout a freshness in the trio’s music that was very impressive.

Two days of excellent music in Birmingham!  I should point out that I was the co-promoter of the Paul Dunmall Invites concert and am Programme Adviser to Jazzlines at Town Hall Symphony Hall.


Richard Williams Visions of The Abstract  The Blue Moment blog January 9th 2020.