Birmingham has seen some great improvised music gigs in the last few months and I think it can be said without hesitation that the improv scene with regular events run by Fizzle at The Lamp Tavern and with TDE Promotions at The Hexagon Theatre at mac is thriving. There is a good, loyal and supportive audience for this end of the music. And the events take place in two intimate venues, The Lamp Tavern and the Hexagon Theatre at mac, that work extremely well.
The recent visit by Peter Evans and Sam Pluta working with BEAST sound diffusion system as part of the University of Birmingham Crosscurrents Festival and with a number of students from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire was a particular highlight, as was the concert with Chris Mapp’s expanded Gonimoblast and Stillefelt in The Lab at the Conservatoire, a concert presented by Jazzlines. Chris had added a brass quintet of three trumpets and two trombones to Gonimoblast’s basic quartet (plus Annie Mahtani on sound diffusion), and had written music for the quintet that was to be played in unison as if the quintet was just one extra member of the band. These short written pieces were brought in by the quintet as and when felt appropriate for the music of the basic Gonimoblast group rather than at fixed moments.
The main effect and success of Mapp’s approach was that there was a strong element of surprise throughout the Gonimoblast + set. Moreover, Mapp was so keen to retain that element of surprise that he rehearsed the brass quintet parts with other players taking the part of the regular Gonimoblast players so that the actual members of Gonimoblast came to the concert unaware of what the brass quintet would be playing. The results were very exciting with the music achieving a rare variety and originality.
The next month sees two new bands play the mac: SHIFA a trio with saxophonist Rachel Musson, Pat Thomas on electronics and Mark Sanders on drums (Tuesday 27th March in the Hexagon Theatre) and the Rachel Musson Mark Sanders Ensemble, a new octet plus voice, that will be making its debut at the Surge in Spring 11 on April 21st in the mac Theatre.
SHIFA will play a totally improvised set and I look forward to hearing Musson interacting with Sanders and Thomas. Her sound on the saxophone is, as noted by the Guardian’s John Fordham, in the territory of players such as Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall, Ingrid Laubrock and Pharoah Sanders, and in the company of two great improvisers, the element of surprise and variety will surely come to the fore in ways not that different in essence from Chris Mapp’s approach. Musson and Sanders have worked together regularly, especially in the Tatterdemalion trio recorded on the Babel label; they have a natural synergy. Thomas on electronics will almost certainly add the surprise element
There will be an support set by a trio led by Xhosa Cole with Harry Weir on saxophone and Rob Harper-Charles on drums.
The Musson Sanders Ensemble will be more structured, but will still allow plenty of time for improvisation. More details in a future blog.