Gigs Coming Up in July

I will actually begin by reflecting back on the last three TDE Promotions gigs, acknowledging that these were gigs that I promoted myself. However, they were such high quality gigs that I do want to comment on them. Each one was of a very high standard,and were certainly the equal of the various acts I described in my review of the major international festival in Germany, the Monheim Triennale.

Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas

The gig with Xhosa Cole with Black Top (Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas) featured Black Top’s rather different approach to free playing with its use of electronics, beats and influences from funk and other black musics. Xhosa is clearly becoming comfortable in playing in this context, interacting brilliantly on flute and tenor sax with Pat and Orphy. Xhosa has built quite a following and the gig was attended by a very good and varied audience, a sellout in fact. There were many new attenders, and it was fascinating to observe how positively they reacted to the music, giving the trio a standing ovation at the end.

Steve Saunders Abstract Visions of a Foreign Land for an 11-piece ensemble including a string trio featured Steve’s outstanding writing that draws on contemporary classical music, notably the ‘spectral’ composers, Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail, as well as jazz. In a pre-concert interview, Steve explained that spectral music involves the use of the acoustic properties of sound. The success of the concert was due to the strength of the compositions, and the way that solos from Steve himself, the horns, Sam Wooster on trumpet, Xhosa Cole on tenor sax and flute and Chris Young on alto sax, plus Josh Vadiveloo on bass and Jim Bashford on drums were integrated into the compositions. This attracted another good and enthusiastic crowd.

Chris Bowden’s The Hypnos Files project is something of a new direction for Chris in that it brings together the vocals of Louise Warren, the drumming of Neil Bullock, Chris’ great arrangements of the songs and for the horn section, and the electronic sounds of David Austin Grey on keys and James Owston on electric bass. James also played double bass. This was an excellent example of how to mix jazz, funk and pop; it also attracted a good crowd to the Hare and Hounds.

So on to July and two events at Centrala, the art gallery and music venue in Minerva Works on Fazeley Street in the Digbeth area of Birmingham

Tymoteusz Jozwiak Quartet featuring Marek Pospieszalski, Paul Dunmall and Olie Brice

Saturday 16th July 7.30 A co-promotion with Centrala and the Ikon Gallery as part of The Migrant Festival

Tymoteusz (Tymek) Jozwiak is a young drummer originally from the north of Poland, but who studied jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire and has settled in the city. He remains in touch with the scene in Poland, and for this special gig in The Migrant Festival he has invited saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski to come over to play with a special group that also features Olie Brice on bass and Paul Dunmall on saxophones. Marek was in Birmingham immediately before lockdown to play in the Jazz Connective festival with the Polish group Malediwy that he co-leads. He has always been very interested in Paul Dunmall’s music and has jumped at the chance to perform with him. This should be an amazing concert

Wednesday 20th July 8pm Dancer Petra Haller Joins Drummer Mark Sanders + Chris Mapp solo electric bass

Petra Haller is a London based dancer both of tap and contemporary dance; she often works with jazz musicians and in improvised settings. Mark has had a lot of experience of working with dance and theatre companies, and is the ideal partner for Petra in this collaboration. They plan to use the whole space of the upstairs room at Centrala to create an original and unique event. The evening will open with a solo set from Chris Mapp on electric bass.

For tickets and more details see the Fizzle website wwwfizzlebirmingham.com or the Centrala website http://www.centrala-space.org.uk

A Few Thoughts On Lucy Railton’s Residency At Cafe Oto: Day 2

Photo by Camille Blake

Cellist Lucy Railton was in residence at Cafe Oto on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Day 1 saw her with Sharon Gal, Caroline Kraabel, Joseph Houston and Sophie Fetokaki; I attended Day 2 when she performed with Catherine Lamb, Rebecca Salvadori and in a trio with Farida Amadou and John Edwards.

The duo performance with Catherine Lamb on viola was, I believe, the first outing of a piece in development based on Lamb’s composition, The Additive Arrow. So this was a through composed piece based on the interaction between different lines played on the two string instruments, moving gently through various textures, and constantly introducing minute changes. It was a beautiful piece that created a feeling of intensity in the playing and also in the listening audience.

The work with Rebecca Salvadori was an electronic score accompanying a sequence of visuals.

The highlight of the evening for me was the final set, which was a free improvisation with Lucy on cello, John Edwards on double bass and Farida Amadou on electric bass. It was fascinating to hear an improvisation with three low string instruments, two acoustic and one electric. Apparently the word cello is short for violoncello which in Italian means small double bass, so it might be said this was a kind of bass ensemble. Certainly John Edwards seemed to take the lead throwing into the mix a series of great ideas which were picked up and developed by Lucy. Farida provided more of a groove beginning with the bass guitar on her lap and beating out a rhythm. As the improvisation developed, she introduced new patterns but always maintained the pulse. The result was an absorbing, cohesive and deeply satisfying set of improvised music.

Cafe Oto was packed with a noticeably young and enthusiastic audience.

Three Great Gigs In Three Days

In two weeks we see a run of three gigs in three days presented by TDE Promotions: Xhosa Cole with Blacktop at mac on Tuesday 28th June, Steve Saunders’ Abstract Vision of a Foreign Land on the flipped stage at Symphony Hall on Wednesday 29th June and the launch of Chris Bowden’s Hypnos Files at the Hare & Hounds on Thursday 30th June. Three very different gigs in three very different venues.

It’s tempting to call it a mini-festival, a TDE Promotions Special or some such name. But the complications of ticketing across three different venues rule that out, so we’ll settle for calling it an amazing sequence of great gigs. What it certainly is a confirmation of the vitality and strength of the Birmingham scene in the area of contemporary jazz and improvised music.

Each gig is different and one of the reasons I feel confident in presenting this run of madness is that each one is likely to appeal to a slightly different audience.

A word about each one of these:

BLACK TOP with XHOSA COLE: Black Top is Orphy Robinson (vibes. electronics and percussion) and Pat Thomas (piano); they specialise in setting up particular projects with special musicians, and it is a great honour that their latest version is in Birmingham with Xhosa Cole, a player who has emerged from the local scene to become a very important national figure. Black Top’s approach is based on free improvisation, but differs from other approaches to free improv in that it may draw on various styles of black music as well as jazz and improv. It will be fascinating to hear Xhosa in this context; he enjoys playing free as well as in more traditional styles, and, in fact, does not make a distinction between the two. I suspect the music will be quite varied, intense at times, gentle at others, and, above all, good fun.

You can book here.

STEVE SAUNDERS’ ABSTRACT VISIONS OF A FOREIGN LAND: This concert will feature an extended composition for an 11-member ensemble with a string quartet as well as the more expected jazz instrumentation; it is thus a very different event from the Black Top concert. Steve Saunders is a guitarist and composer whose writing has been influenced by French contemporary composers such as Gerard Gisey and Tristan Murail, but is closer to the compositions of Tyshawn Sorey whose blend of jazz and minimalism is unique. Steve has a great band with Sam Wooster, Chris Young, Xhosa Cole, Dave Sear, Josh Vadiveloo, Jim Bashford as well as the string section of Sarah Farmer, Maja Pluta, Natalie Mason and Emma Capp Baron. This should be a very special concert on the flipped stage at Symphony Hall: band and audience on the stage.

You can book here.

CHRIS BOWDEN AND THE HYPNOS FILES: Any new project of Chris Bowden‘s is a very special event. Chris is known for his role in the acid jazz scene back in the 1990s, and two special albums that drew on the music of that era but enriched it in a variety of ways. They were Time Capsule and Slightly Askew. This new project brings together the vocals of Louise Warren and the drumming of Neil Bullock with another amazing set of arrangements from Chris Bowden and Chris’ magical playing on the alto sax. There will be support set from Echo Juliet, playing an instrumental set based on percussion rather than a DJ set.

You can book here.

Reviews Of Albums By Ingrid Laubrock + Andy Milne, Under The Surface And Jacob Garchik

Ingrid Laubrock + Andy Milne  Fragile Intakt Records

Ingrid Laubrock has been recording a series of duo albums with pianists; the first two were with Aki Takase and Kris Davis, and the latest is with Andy Milne.  Ingrid is a key member of the more experimental jazz community in New York, playing and touring with groups led by Tom Rainey and Myra Melford as well as with her own groups. Andy Milne was a key member of groups led by Steve Coleman; to me he has seemed quiet recently, so it is good to hear him in this intimate context.  I find it to be a totally absorbing album which moves between more melodic tracks and more experimental tracks, but one that is always attractively interactive, gently at times, energetically at others.  The tracks are mostly relatively short at about 4 to 5 minutes with a couple of longer tracks and one shorter, but they pack a lot of music into each track.  The album begins with Equanimity, which sets the mood for the album; it is thoughtful, intimate, but gradually builds up the tension.  Fragment moves into a more experimental mode beginning with fluttering sounds on the soprano saxophone which continue through the track with a percussive sound on the piano. Ingrid returns to this fluttering sound on the final two tracks, Kintsugi and Splinter and Andy responds with a similar percussive effect sounding at times like a xylophone.   Overall, the tracks seem to alternate between more melodic pieces, such as Fragile, and more experimental tracks, such as Shard.

Under The Surface  Miin Triuwa   Jazz In Motion

Under The Surface is a Dutch trio featuring Sanne Rambags on vocals, Bram Stamhouders on guitar and Joost Lijbaart on drumsThey played Birmingham last December as part of a UK tour.  One memory of that date in Birmingham was that the trio, especially Sanne, were very happy to be staying in a hotel, The Plough & Harrow on the Hagley Road, that has a plaque noting that writer J.R.R. Tolkien had stayed in the hotel, and this interest led to a short post-gig tour of various sites in Edgbaston associated with Tolkien, notably the towers that were the inspiration of The Two Towers part of The Lord of the Rings.   I mention this because their music, although it has absolutely no connection to Tolkien or his novels, has something of the magic and the mystery of his writing. In Birmingham the trio performed a number of songs in the Old Dutch language that they had recorded in April of last year, and these are presented on all the tracks on this, the latest album made by the group.  These have a special sound coming from this medieval form of the Dutch language, which is a little guttural, but softened by Rambags’ attractive voice.  The sleeve notes are very useful in that they have the text of the songs plus the English translation.  The music is unique with its mysterious air and the brilliant interaction between the members of the trio.

Jacob Garchik Assembly Yestereve Records

Trombonist/composer Jacob Garchik is another key member of the creative jazz scene in New York. He has created amazing albums including The Heavens, based on the trombone gospel choirs working in churches on the east coast of the USA and performed by what Garchik names the Atheist Gospel Trombone Choir, Ye Olde based on Heavy Metal and Clear Line, which has music for a conventional saxophone, trumpet and trombone big band line up, but without the rhythm section.

In Assembly, recorded during lockdown, Garchik has returned to the more or less standard modern jazz small group format, with two horns (Garchik and Sam Newsome on soprano sax)and piano (Jacob Sacks), bass (Thomas Morgan)and drums (Dan Weiss). However, this is far from a conventional modern jazz album in that Garchik has created a studio album by, firstly, recording several hours of music and then selecting the final material, and, secondly, bringing the musicians back to create overdubs and intrusions into the original playing. In the press release accompanying the album, Garchik states that he has always been puzzled by the way jazz albums are recorded: ‘even in experimental jazz, most of the time the studio is used to record a kind of idealized snapshot of a performance – people present complete takes, rarely overdub, and use the studio to clean up performances, rather than radically alter them.

The approach is immediately apparent in the first track, Collage, which alternates between a group improvisation and a much stronger and louder overdubbed melodic line which enters and interrupts the flow of the group improvisation. Similarly, Fantasia begins with an unusual deep bass sound generated by the attachment of a plastic hose to the neck of the soprano sax, but moves into a series of swing passages played by Garchik over the rhythm section, which in turn are interrupted by overdubs of the manipulated saxophone sound.

Other approaches include on Bricolage the selection of passages of Morgan’s bass solos to create loops for Newsome to improvise over, and in a similar manner, on Idee Fixe Garchik takes a repeated motif played by Sacks to create a line for the horns that punctuates the ongoing piano solo. Pastiche features a very fast boppish tune that leads into a trombone solo over the rhythm section, and finishes with an even faster rendition of the head.

It’s a fascinating album, full of surprises and some good humour, but it is not one for the jazz or bebop police.

The Mike Gibbs Jazz Composition & Arranging Prize at Birmingham Conservatoire

I was honoured to be invited to be on the panel judging the nine compositions submitted for the Mike Gibbs Jazz Composition & Arranging Prize, the concert for which took place yesterday in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire. The prize went to a delighted Ben Partridge for his composition Hopeful Despair, an attractive piece full of interesting textures.

It would be unprofessional to describe the other pieces as this could reveal something of the panel’s discussion, but one particular feature of the evening was very pleasing, and worthy of comment. This was that of the nine compositions submitted and performed five came from students on the jazz course and four from students of classical music in the Composition Department. It was very interesting to hear how the composers from that department brought in different influences, and how they adapted these to suit the instrumentation and musical approach of a 16-piece big band.

It is often said that contemporary jazz and contemporary classical music have become increasingly close and draw on each other’s approaches and philosophy. While this is probably true, I am not aware of many examples of composers from the contemporary classical field writing for a jazz big band. One famous example is Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto written for the Woody Herman Big Band in 1945. It seems Stravinsky had been impressed by jazz players such as Charlie Parker, Art Tatum and Charlie Christian, as well as the Herman band itself, and was enthusiastic about the commission. However, the piece was not well received by the Herman band, and Herman himself felt that the music written was ‘pure Stravinsky’ and not well suited to a jazz big band.

A more recent example is a commission for Anna Meredith to write for the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra in Birmingham. Anna Meredith’s music is generally defined as uncategorisable drawing as it does on contemporary classical, electronic and rock music, . The piece with the title Studies for Big Band was premiered in 2016, and the commission and its performance were analysed in a very perceptive review by Peter Bacon on his Jazz Breakfast website:

The tightly controlled melodic and harmonic content had me thinking of Philip Glass, but again the mood was more flexible and more inviting. The internal rhythms created had a deep “groove”and a marvellously controlled swell and fade, all with the visceral familarity of a blood pulse.

A very clear sound picture emerged of Anna Meredith’s delight in the sound of the jazz big band expressed through the technique and sensibility of contemporary classical composition.  The band played it superbly, I thought, showing – or rather confirming – just how skilled and adaptible are our young Conservatoire-trained musicians.

I am not aware that this piece has been played again, which is a shame.  I would like to see composers from different genres seizing the opportunities provided by the sound and instrumentation of a jazz big band.  In the same way, it was great to hear the five jazz composers also presenting work at this event that extended the language of the big band. Ben Partridge’s prize-winning composition was an excellent example of this.

Finally, the nine compositions were beautifully played by the Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra, and the whole event including the liaison between the Jazz and Compositions departments was expertly run by Ed Puddick, now a full time member of the Jazz Department.  And it was great to see Mike Gibbs back in Birmingham, still fit and well in his 80s.