Two Newly Discovered Live Recordings of Tim Berne’s Bloodcount

As Tim Berne says in the notes to these recordings, he should definitely tidy up more often. A recent tidying session brought to light two recordings of Bloodcount, the quartet Tim led with fellow saxophonist Chris Speed, bass player Michael Formanek and drummer Jim Black, and which was often joined by guitarist Marc Ducret. These are two full recordings of concerts recorded, as Tim reports, by ‘someone, somewhere’, one with the quartet, the other with the quartet plus Ducret. The year of the recordings is given as 1997, and this is the year that Tim toured the UK with Bloodcount and Ducret under the auspices of the Arts Council’s Contemporary Music Network (CMN), so it just could be that the recordings were made in UK, possibly even in Birmingham!

The recordings, one with the title Attention Spam with the quartet, and one with Ducret added simply titled Bloodcount ‘5’, have excellent sound and show Bloodcount at its very best; indeed Tim describes them as the best examples of the band in a live situation. It’s a group that I heard quite often back in the late 90s, both on tour in the UK and at a festival in France, and I agree that these recordings are brilliant examples of Bloodcount’s live work. All the features that make the band so distinctive and creative are there: the extended pieces that truly take one on a journey through complex themes that may come at different stages in the work, the development of these themes over a strong pulse from Michael Formanek and Jim Black, the intense solos from Tim on baritone as well as alto saxophone, and from Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, the duets between the two saxophonists, the extra textures that Ducret adds to the sound of the quartet, and the very stimulating changes of direction in the music that come at various points and catch the listener by surprise. I have heard Tim use the term ‘maximalism’ to describe his music using it as a contrast to the minimalism of certain contemporary composers, such as Steve Reich,or Olafur Arnolds, and I feel that this term captures the essence of his music and the way that a given piece has a series of constantly evolving events.

Listening to these tracks (available at https://screwgunrecords.com/) having heard both Tim Berne’s earlier work on Fulton Street Maul, with Miniature and Caos Totale, and his later work with the Snakeoil group, it is interesting to reflect on how the music of Tim Berne’s groups has developed. The earlier work has many of the features of the Bloodcount recording, but there is less integration of the composition and the improvisation. The Caos Totale and Fulton Street Maul groups with players such as Bill Frisell, Herb Robertson, Bobby Previte, Joey Baron allow considerably greater space for the individual soloists. I see Bloodcount as a kind of interim group that is the forerunner of Tim’s current group Snakeoil in that the music in Bloodcount focusses much more on collective improvisation weaving in and out of the composition. We see this very clearly on the final two tracks on the Attention Spam album, Talk Dirty To Me and IRU.S. It should be mentioned that Tim has also led various other groups: the Paraphrase group which is devoted entirely to free improvisation, and the Science Friction and Sun of Goldfinger groups which create a more electronic sound. Recent duets with Mark Helias have also been largely improvised, see https://markhelias.bandcamp.com/album/not-for-the-multitudes.

In my opinion all these strands come together in Tim’s latest working group Snakeoil. For me, the greatest compliment is that in listening to Snakeoil one is frequently unsure as to whether a particular passage is composed or improvised. It all blends together in a wonderfully stimulating way. But this is not to dismiss the Bloodcount recordings; they are brilliant examples of creative music.

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Reflections on Five Cds Chosen At Random From My Collection

There is always a danger that Cds are bought or arrive in the post, played once or twice, and then filed away. So I have been selecting several Cds at random, listening to them, and writing a short piece about them. I don’t intend to write about them in detail, rather just summarising them in a few sentences.

Joe Henderson: The State Of The Tenor: Live At The Village Vanguard with Ron Carter and Al Foster

Blue Note Records

Joe Henderson leads a really strong trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster. The music is an excellent example of the style that developed in the 1960s, modal, post-bop. Henderson shows how creative one can be in that style with a beautiful range of phrases in each solo played over the always inventive rhythmic support from Carter and Foster. Carter also takes some excellent solos

Lotte Anker and Fred Frith Edge Of The Light

Intakt Records

Lotte Anker is a Danish saxophonist who playes in the free jazz/improvised music style. Here she appears in duo with Fred Frith on electric guitar. It’s a delightful album that features a very empathetic conversation between Anke and Frith which moves between the spiky, the charming and the melodic. Frith is as inventive as ever, and in the sleeve notes states that the duo is his favourite format, and that he was able to establish an immediate rapport with Anke on this recording.

Alcyona Mick Around The Sun Audio B Records

Alcyona Mick, or just Alcyona as she is listed here, was one of the students on the first jazz course run at Birmingham Conservatoire, There she was taught by Liam Noble, and his influence is apparent in her playing. The album dates from 2006 and features original compositions by Alcyona, and an excellent group featuring Robbie Robson on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Hanslip on tenor sax, Alcyona on piano, Phil Donkin on double bass, and Asaf Sirkis drums on most tracks and John Bleese on two others. Vocalist Olivia Chaney appears on one track.

It’s a fine album with excellent solos from the group, especially Alcyona and Mark Hanslip, nice Monkish compositions from Alcyona, and two brilliant solo piano improvisations from Alcyona, one, Black Notes, White Notes, showing an influence from classical music, the second, Discussion, equally good with more of jazz feel.

Alcyona seems not to be leading her own groups these days, but appearing in duo with Tori Freestone, and in groups led by Brigitte Beraha and Henry Lowther. Her appearances in these groups have been well reviewed. Alcyona also writes film scores and is listed as a film composer on the internet.

Finn Peters Su-Ling Babel Label

It was good to revisit the this debut album from 2006 by Finn Peters. Finn is an extremely versatile musician who has worked in contemporary classical ensembles as well as urban music contexts; in this album he focusses on his jazz roots, but reveals an openness clearly derived from his versatility. The album has a lot of variety, and we hear this in the opening track, Al Dar Gazelli, which has an attractive groove and an African feel created by guitarist David Okumu, bass player Tom Herbert and drummer Tom Skinner. The title track has a strong Chinese feel created by Nick Ramm on piano and Finn on percussion. It’s interesting that the album cover includes a quote from Gilles Peterson, and it is clear that the album will have had an appeal for Gilles’ radio audience as well as fans of contemporary British and European jazz. Sadly, Finn seems to have gone very quiet in recent years.

Herb Robertson Certified JMT Records

I like the description in the Guide to Jazz on CD of Herb Robertson as giving ‘the impression that he took up the trumpet only that afternon, discovered an aptitude for it, and has been having fun ever since‘. On this album he plays trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and valve trombone, often combining with bass trombonist David Taylor to create a splendid brassy sound. This album from 1991 presents music that is typical of the music of the so-called ‘downtown scene’ in New York; it’s very open, full of interesting twists as it moves in and out of composition and improvisation. It is quite often simply bonkers, occasionally indulgently so. But I am delighted to have rediscovered this album which is part of the short-lived but influential output of the JMT label under Stefan Winter.

A Short Memory Of Charlie Watts

All the tributes to Charlie Watts have mentioned that jazz, particularly the bebop and hard bop styles, was Watts’ first love. Although he was totally committed to his role with The Rolling Stones, it seems he loved to play with the occasional jazz groups he formed, the big band, the quintet that paid tribute to Charlie Parker, and a tentet.

I have a strong memory of seeing the Charlie Watts Big Band at the Bracknell Jazz Festival back in the 1980s. The band had a large number of the top jazz players of that period: Bobby Wellins, Alan Skidmore, Pete King, Don Weller and Evan Parker were in the horn section, and they were joined in it by a very young Courtney Pine, who was just beginning to make his name. My strongest memory is of how Evan and Courtney seemed to be jousting with each other in their solos, and that this raised the intensity of the music in a very exciting way. Also memorable was presence of three drummers, Bill Eyden providing the swing, John Stevens adding an element of free playing, and Charlie Watts sitting between them playing with a broad smile on his face. I’m told that Pete King, the manager at Ronnie Scotts rather than the alto saxophonist, when asked what he thought of the band, said he thought it needed a fourth drummer!

I was also present at a Jazz FM Awards Ceremony where the Stones were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Both Mick Jagger and Charlie were present, and I remember Jagger mentioning in his acceptance speech on behalf of the band, that they were delighted to get this recognition from JazzFM as early in their career they totally failed to get gigs from jazz clubs.

An Exciting New Season for Fizzle and TDE Promotions in Birmingham

It’s great that since the easing of the lockdown that people have come out in good numbers to catch the Fizzle gigs at Centrala and the Gap Cafe. So we enter the autumn season with a full programme and great confidence.

There is quite a bit happening, both for Fizzle and for TDE Promotions, so in this introduction to the season I am going to focus on September and October.

We will using two main venues, Centrala, the venue on Fazeley Street in the Digbeth area, for Sunday afternoon gigs, and the Hexagon Theatre at mac in Cannon Hill Park for evening gigs. Both venues have worked well for improv gigs, and seem to be popular with audiences. We also have one gig in the Main Theatre at mac: the Cleveland Watkiss: The Great Jamaican Songbook, and a gig at St. Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter. We are also planning to continue the Paul Dunmall Invites series at the Eastside Jazz Club, but we are waiting for details on that one.

Tickets for all the Centrala gigs in the autumn are available now at https://centrala-shop.co.uk/collections/music-gig. Links for the Hexagon gigs are at http://www.macbirmingham.co.uk under Live Music.

Sunday 12th September, 2pm Centrala Emil Karlsen Martin Hackett Phil Wachsmann trio + Richard Scott solo

Emil Karlsen is a brilliant and innovative young drummer from Norway who has studied in Leeds, and made UK his base. He has played in duo with saxophonists Mark Hanslip and Ed Jones, but here he performs with two well established improvisers, Phil Wachsmann on violin and Martin Hackett on analogue synthesiser. The first set set will feature Richard Scott solo on mandolin and viola. Buy tickets here.

Thursday 23rd September, 8pm Hexagon Theatre at mac Richard Foote Trombone Quintet + Ripsaw Catfish

This is a great double bill with the two trombone frontline of Richard Foote and Kieran McCleod, the key trombonists in the Young Pilgrims band plus Andy Woodhead on piano, Olie Brice on bass and Andrew Bain on drums. The first set will be played by the duo of saxophonist Cath Roberts and guitarist Anton Hunter. Tickets can be booked here.

Saturday 25th September 11am Hexagon Theatre, mac Flatpack-Fizzle Reanimated

A show as part of the Flatpack Film Festival designed for children and adults. There will be a series of short animated films accompanied by improvised reactions from Charlotte Keefe, trumpet, Piera Onacko, piano, Max Tomlinson, drums and Tom Pountney-Barnes, guitar in solos and duos. Tickets are available here.

Sunday 3rd October, 2pm Centrala CollapseUncollapse and Steve Saunders/Christos Stylianides

This is an exciting double bill featuring the percussion/electronics trio of Mark Sanders, drums and percussion, Chris Mapp, bass guitar and effects, and Andrew Woodhead, keys and effects with the support set from the guitar trumpet duo of Steve Saunders and Christos Stylianides.

Thursday 14th October, 7pm St Paul’s Church Pendulums + Liam Noble solo piano

This evening presents the second performance of Andrew Woodhead’s amazing piece for bellringers and improvising group. The album has been extremely well reviewed, and this concert is strongly recommended, especially as it also features a solo piano set from Liam Noble. You can book here.

Thursday 28th October, 8pm Hexagon Theatre at mac Xhosa Cole Duos and Trio with Neil Charles and Mark Sanders

Saxophonist Xhosa Cole has made a big impact this year with his debut album Know Them, Know Us. Here he plays in duo format with bass player Neil Charles and drummer Mark Sanders, then Mark and Neil will play together, and the evening will conclude with a trio performance. You can book here.

Saturday 30th October, 8pm Main Theatre, mac Cleveland Watkiss and the Great Jamaican Songbook + Romarna Campbell Trio

Cleveland Watkiss brings a really good band to mac to celebrate the great songs in the reggae and ska traditions from Jamaica. Drummer Romarna Campbell, back from her course at Berklee in the USA, supports with her trio. You can book here.

You can always find out more at http://www.fizzlebirmingham.com and the mac website http://www.macbirmingham.co.uk.