The Fizzle/TDE Promotions Programme in June

After the success of the first live event at the Centrala venue in Digbeth and the ongoing series of videos recorded with Paul Dunmall, Lee Griffiths and Mark Sanders, Fizzle/TDE Promotions follow up with two excellent events in June.

The first up is a double bill at Centrala on Sunday afternoon June 20th (doors at 2pm, first group on stage shortly afterwards) with the Charlotte Keeffe Quartet and the Shirley Smart James Arben Duo.

Charlotte Keeffe is a fine musician whom we heard on Lee Griffiths’ Phonome video recording where her eloquent and expressive trumpet made a major contribution to the success of that recording. For this gig Charlotte will be leading an eye-catching quartet that features Moss Freed on guitar, Ashley John Long on double bass and on this occasion the brilliant Will Glaser on drums. Charlotte’s approach involves a movement between her compositions and both individual and collective improvisation, an approach that I find generates some of the most stimulating music to be heard on the current British jazz scene.

You can hear an example here.

The other part of this attractive double bill features Shirley Smart on cello interacting with James Arben on flute, clarinet and saxophones. They met while touring with the Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke, and their playing and discussing together while on tour led to an approach to collective improvisation that draws on various styles of music, Middle Eastern music, classical music as well as improv. I find that the description below captures their music very well:

Smart’s interest in music of other traditions and cultures is never far from the surface and is wholeheartedly embraced by Arben. The music moves quickly, the duo immediately grasping what each other is about, and reacting accordingly. The flow of ideas and the speed in which they are picked up and allowed to develop is quite remarkable, with rhythms and melodies popping up in the least expected places. These are explored, sourced for inspiration and further ideas, and the pair move on. (www.jazzviews.net)

You can hear an example here.

The Centrala venue proved to be an excellent venue for Fizzle’s first post lockdown gig. It’s the right size in that it is possible to have a socially distanced audience without losing the atmosphere of a live gig. There are tickets available at the moment at http://www.fizzlebirmingham.com, but the last gig suddenly sold out in the week before the gig. Details of the venue address are on the website.

One of the most interesting aspects of the current jazz and improvised music scenes is that the instrumentation of groups is much more varied than the standard modern jazz line up of a quartet or quintet. When I first started listening to jazz, one rarely heard other than the expected front line of saxophone and/or trumpet plus the piano bass drums rhythm section, but today we are not surprised to hear cellos and violins improvising with the more expected instruments. And we are accustomed to hearing electronic effects adding to the textures of the music.

We see this with the forthcoming video of Sarah Farmer on violin and Annie Mahtani on electronics generated on her laptop from recordings made in various locations including the islands of the Azores. In the very interesting interviews that are interwoven with the music, Sarah and Annie talk of how Annie prepared her sounds, shared them with Sarah who then worked out a tentative plan of how she would react to them. But in the actual recording – at the excellent Sansom Studios – they extended that initial plan and reacted spontaneously to what the other was doing. The result is a very beautiful set of music that merits listening more than a single time.

The video will be launched on Tuesday 27th June at 8pm on https://youtu.be/4YsZCVJ2Lis. It will remain online afterwards.

I’d also like to mention that Andrew Woodhead’s album of his Pendulums project that brings together church bells and improvisation is launched this Friday 11th June: you can access information about it here. Richard Williams on his The Blue Moment site describes the project as ‘a quite stunning achievement’. You can read his review here.

Steve Tromans: Solo Piano Album Launch

This was a very special occasion, primarily to launch Steve Tromans’ latest album, a solo piano set on FMR Records, but also to mark Steve’s doctorate – he is now Doctor Stephen Tromans – and his return to live playing. The music created on the night with Steve playing solo piano in the first set, and then in the second interacting with various groups of players he has worked with over the years was inspiring and certainly lived up to the occasion.

Steve in an early announcement pointed out that he would be improvising a new set of solo piano music rather than trying to recreate what he had played on the Cd. In a powerful and moving set he created a wide range of moods, frequently building up the tension and then coming down to a gentler conclusion. In his second piece he began in a gently thoughtful mode, but gradually ramped up the tension before producing a nice surprise by quoting from the Daisy Daisy tune. Third up was a mix of spoken word and piano with Steve declaiming the words of My Way. Again his rendition was a thoughtful version in which I noted a touch of sadness. rather than the bombastic versions we associate with the song. Steve’s fourth piece was intially up tempo with a blues feel, but it constantly made me smile with its frequent changes of direction. Steve concluded the set with his interpetation of a tune, Naiad, written by saxophonist Gary Bywater, who had hoped to be part of the second set, but in the end was unable to attend.

The second set with the various musicians appearing in different configurations was full of joy and excellent playing. We started with a quintet featuring Jonathan Mayer on sitar and Neil Young on guitar playing with Mike Green on double bass and Miles Levin on drums, a trio that Steve has worked with over the years. Jonathan Mayer has worked with Steve in a group that pays tribute to the music of Indo-Jazz Fusions led by John Mayer (Jonathan’s father), and here his solo with a kind of groove sitar approach was a revelation. This was followed by an equally fine solo from Neil Young and a more experimental solo from Steve on the piano.

Sid Peacock has also worked closely with Steve, both in the Surge Ensemble and in the folk trio with Ruth Angell; here in the second piece of the set Sid drew on his folk repertoire accompanied by Si Paton on electric bass and Tymek Jozwiak on drums.

There were three excellent drummers in attendance and the third piece of the set featured Steve Palmer. Steve Palmer had suggested what I believe was a Nina Simone song, and this generated a fine and intense trio performance. Mike Green was on the bass again. That intensity was maintained in the next piece, a version of Acknowledgement, the opening movement of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Steve and Jonathan Mayer improvised over the repeated bass line from Mike Green that captures the rhythm of the words A Love Supreme. The final group piece was a version of Prince’s Purple Rain and then Steve concluded the evening with a short, but moving piano solo.

Altogether, this was a fine evening of music enjoyed by a good and enthusiastic crowd, and well organised by the Silvershine Jazz organisation. And it’s great to have Steve back playing with such skill and joy.

Steve’s solo piano album launched at this gig is The Way: Doctor Stephen Tromans FMR Records. It’s available from http://www.fmr-records.com, or on Bandcamp at https://soundartphilosophy.bandcamp.com/album/the-way

Live Music Returns to Birmingham Venues

It has felt strange to have been to three really enjoyable gigs this last week after a gap of 14 months. I’ll say more about the actual gigs below, but what is immediately noticeable is that audiences are coming out, and are clearly very enthusiastic, both about hearing live music and about sitting in a group of like-minded people in order to listen.

First up was the Fizzle gig on Sunday afternoon at Centrala. This was sold out in advance, albeit with restricted capacity. I was involved in the running of this gig, so I should leave it to others to comment. But a few things struck me: the balance between the two sets was really good. Bruce Coates played the first set with a quartet featuring Sarah Farmer on violin, Trevor Lines on double bass and Lee Allatson on drums to be followed in the second set by the Chris Sharkey Mark Sanders Duo. The first set was inventive with good interaction between all four players, while the second set was intense with outstanding interaction between percussion and electronics.

Also noticeable was the audience composition; quite a few new faces as well as well-established Fizzle regulars. Sunday afternoon at Centrala for an improv gig is clearly working and let’s hope it lasts.

Then on Tuesday it was back to the Spotted Dog, with the gig starting at 5.30pm in the outside area. This setting works really well, apart from the cold wind that whistled round the edges, and I for one welcome the early start. Saxophonist Xhosa Cole was playing an evening of Thelonious Monk tunes in a trio with Josh Vadiveloo on double bass and Jim Bashford on drums. I have already commented on Facebook how much I appreciate the way that Xhosa moves between straightahead jazz and free improvisation and clearly values both. A set of Monk tunes with a sax bass drums trio lies between the two and allows a lot of freedom for the soloists. Xhosa has the ability to develop long coherent solos, and has clearly been influenced by Sonny Rollins in this regard. He was strongly supported by Josh and Jim.

The Spotted Dog outside area was packed and full of the young people that Jazz At The Spotted Dog always attracts. Also the waiter service was very impressive; I shall miss being served at the table when ‘normality’ returns!

Then on Friday it was off to the Corks Club in Bearwood (so not actually a Birmingham venue) to hear a double bill with two guitar bass and drums trios. Again I think the event attracted the numbers permitted by the current regulations, but in the large room that the upstairs room at Corks it didn’t feel so packed. But the enthusiasm for the music was apparent.

The first set was played by Aidan Amann’s trio with Leo Morland on guitar, Josh Vadiveloo on bass and Aidan on drums. This was a tight group who have clearly been playing together a lot, and have built a strong understanding. They played material by Monk, Coltrane, Jeff Tain Watts and Sonny Rollins, and each member of the trio took strong solos. The trio is ably led by Aidan from the drums.

Then the Tom Ollendorff Trio played two sets. This is also a very tight trio with Conor Chaplin on double bass and Marc Michel on drums. The trio are currently on a 11-date tour, which must be the first jazz tour of this length anywhere in the world this year. They have also built up a strong understanding, and the music was very impressive with its mix of originals, either from Ollendorff’s debut album, A Song For You, or newly written, with jazz standards from Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Ollendorff has an impressively original style in his solos and a nicely melodic approach in his compositions.

There is plenty of good quality stuff coming up. I repeat: Let’s hope it lasts!

Saadet Türköz: Kazakh and Turkish Songs + Vocal Improvisation

In 2000 I received an invitation to attend a music and dance festival in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. It was a wonderful opportunity to see another country and attend a different kind of festival. The festival was a strange one, not particularly well organised or well attended. But it had one important outcome: I got to know the music of singer Saadet Türköz. Saadet is an improvising singer based in Switzerland, but her parents were part of the Kazakh community in Central Asia. They were based in East Turkestan, the Uygher region of China, but were expelled from there by the Chinese authorities. They settled in Istanbul joining a large Kazakh community there. Saadet inherited a love of the Kazakh folk tradition from her parents, but when she moved to Switzerland she eventually became a key member of the improvised music community there, combining in her performances Kazakh and Turkish songs with vocal improvisation.

Saadet was invited to the festival in Almaty with support of the Swiss government, and gave a number of performances plus television interviews. She was accompanied by a Swiss film maker who was making a documentary about the visit. This was the first time that Saadet had visited Kazakhastan, and there was a lot of interest in her performances and her music. At the first concert I remember that she focussed on Kazakh songs rather than on improvisation and these songs received a warm reception from the audience. I particularly remember one audience member who went up (uninvited) towards the end of the set to say Thank You. Apparently, he was delighted to be hearing songs that he had not heard since his childhood, and this seemed to be the general reaction from the audience. The Kazakh government was at the time placing an emphasis on Kazakh identity, and so Saadet’s visit and this concert came at an opportune time. In the second concert Saadet improvised freely with a group of musicians from Kazakhstan, and it was a revelation to hear how she was able to combine elements of Kazakh and Turkish folk traditions with improvisation.

I heard Saadet again at the Saalfelden Festival a few years later in 2003 when she performed a fantastic, totally improvised set with guitarist Elliott Sharp and drummer Bobby Previte. Saadet has frequently performed with Elliott and they recorded a fine album on the Swiss Intakt label with the title Kumuska.

Now Saadet has a new record out, this time a duo album SongDreaming with trombonist Nils Wogram on Leo Records. They make an excellent combination with Wogram making use of the vocal qualities of the trombone in ways that really complement Saadet’s vocals. Wogram growls, groans and chatters soulfully in a deep voice on the trombone in ways that fit well with the sounds of Kazakh and Turkish in Saadet’s songs and the way she improvises. As well as songs in the two languages, Saadet improvises wordlessly and sometimes, if I’m right, creates passages with imagined words that do not exist. Wogram also plays the melodica on three tracks, and these feature Saadet on songs that have more of a gentle feel reminiscent of folk songs. The approach is very open, and it is clear that much of the interaction between Saadet and Nils is spontaneous and created in the moment.

There are 12 tracks on the album, all with a one word title such as Way, Paper, Sea and the tracks are all relatively short, varying in length from 1 minute to just over 6 minutes. These tracks vary from gentle sounds of Ata and Eye to the more intense and emotional sounds of Rain, Yurt , the playfuness of the first part of Umay which gradually builds up in intensity, and the haunting nature of the final short track Sea. It’s a unique album full of drama, intensity, but also a gentle charm on the quieter pieces.

Saadet Türköz and Nils Wogram: SongDreaming Leo Records CD 898.

Mats Gustaffson Solo at Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia

It is comparatively rare that live streams get a review, but, when they are a special event with excellent sound and visual qualities, that seems a shame. So here are my thoughts on a stream featuring a solo set by saxophonist Mats Gustaffson in the main hall at the Cankarjev Dom venue in Ljubljana. Mats is Swedish, but is based in Austria, so I assume it was relatively easy for him to make his way to Ljubljana.

The set was pre-recorded rather than live streamed, and this no doubt helped create in the venue an atmospheric setting with very effective use of lighting, and the creation with small objects of both a circle and the shape of a person with arms akimbo on the stage floor within and around which Mats moved while performing.

Musically, the set was very interesting. Mats revealed the more thoughtful side of his playing rather than the full on, high energy approach we hear in groups such as The Thing. He presented a journey through the various saxophones from the soprano to the bass saxophone, plus flute, each one of which he played in turn. He also seemed to be exploring different sounds and ways of generating them. I watched the video shortly after watching the BBC documentary about Delia Derbyshire from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop who had a fascination with sounds and different ways of creating them. Mats seems to have the same interest, but with acoustic wind instruments rather than electronics.

Mats began with a gentle approach on the flute before moving on to the soprano saxophone on which he maintained the gentle mood of the flute passage. Towards the end of the passage the mood became a little more energetic, and this mood was intensified when Mats moved to the alto saxophone. At this point Mats began to use extended techniques in order to explore various sounds possible on the alto. The intensity rose again with the switch to the tenor saxophone and also through extended techniques Mats explored a kind of breathy sound on the tenor. Then came the baritone saxophone continuing the build up of tension and intensity. Finally, Mats picked up the bass saxophone and produced a wonderfully rich booming sound. There the video went blank for a few seconds, but returned with a final shot of Mats in the actual auditorium playing a clarinet/oboe type instrument that I did not recognise.

Mats was very happy with the concert and the way it worked in the Gallus Hall in Cankarjev Dom; afterwards he said ‘It was truly the most amazing set and the GREATEST crew ever – surrounded by broken reeds and one of the greatest acoustics for solo sax EVER! I was in Valhalla heaven!’

The video is still online and can be accessed here.