Next week sees the debut tour of UK of a new trio with the name Uncanny Valley featuring Tom Challenger on tenor sax, Phil Donkin on double bass and Oliver Steidle on drums. They play London’s Vortex Jazz Club on Tuesday 26th March, Jazz at The Lescar Sheffield on Wednesday 27th and the Hexagon Theatre at mac Birmingham on Thursday 28th. The group formed in July 2017 and perform original music composed by the British contingent of its members. Challenger and Donkin are long-time associates from London, where Challenger still resides. Donkin and Steidle are Berlin based, and perform together in a variety of settings, namely ‘Killing Popes’. But in contrast to that group, this music is acoustic.
They have a new album entitled just Uncanny Valley and you can access the music here. The music is very rhythmic and interactive with wonderful call and response between Tom on tenor sax and Oliver on the drums plus strong bass lines from Phil. One reviewer describes it in the following way:
Any accepted forms of what we know as improvised music are indeed challenged, questioned, swallowed, digested and redistributed here as this marvellous cauldron of coalescence (Roger Koch, Spaffington Herald)
I have always enjoyed Tom Challenger’s music and regard him as an important figure in that interesting area of adventurous music that moves between structure and freedom, and composition and improvisation. In many ways this is now the mainstream of jazz and improvised music, and, as suggested by the quote above, Uncanny Valley is doing something new and original in this area.
The concept of ‘uncanny valley’ suggests humanoid objects that appear almost, but not quite, like real human beings, elicit uncanny or strangely familiar feelings. I’m not sure how that helps with the music, but it is an interesting name and so much better than the Tom Challenger Trio.