Once again I am inspired to write about two excellent gigs I have attended in Birmingham: Xhosa Cole’s Album Launch and an evening of BEAST improvisations and compositions. Since the easing of the Covid regulations there has been a very welcome burst of activity on the jazz and related musics scene in Birmingham, at both established venues, such as The Spotted Dog, Centrala and the Hare & Hounds, and new venues such as The Legacy Centre of Excellence in the former Drum building.
Thursday was Xhosa’s night launching his first album on the Stoney Lane label at the Legacy Centre. The album itself is in my opinion an excellent debut; some fine playing from the group, and a good selection of tunes, with jazz standards and a couple of show tunes, but standards that are less often heard including Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation and Monk’s Played Twice. The music at the launch followed a similar pattern to that of the Cd with the main focus on the quartet of Xhosa with Jay Phelps on trumpet, James Owston on double bass and Jim Bashford on drums, but with the addition of other players on certain tunes, pianist Deschanel Gordon on the gig rather than Reuben James as on the Cd,, alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch and a fine singer Lucy-Anne Daniels.
I particularly enjoyed the quartet numbers. Bashford and Owston are a great rhythm team and both also take fine solos, and the front line partnership betweeh Phelps and Cole works really well with a nice contrast in their styles, Cole forceful and fluent, Phelps bright and varied. On both the Cd and on the gig there were a number of passages with a kind of call and response between the two that added a lot of variety to the music. The quartet have played together regularly and undertaken an extensive UK tour, and this shows in the cohesion of the group.
The gig attracted a good and enthusiastic crowd to the Legacy Centre and I understand that sales of the Cd and the T-shirt were very good; interestingly, I’m told that sales of the T-shirt were more than those of the Cd.
Friday night with BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) at Centrala was quite a contrast, but equally enjoyable. I have attended a number of BEAST concerts in the past, and they have always concentrated on compositions which have been extended electronic soundscapes focussing on sounds and texture. So it was both interesting and pleasing that the Centrala programme included improvised pieces as well as composed pieces. The first piece was a group improvisation with Zach Dawson, Milad Mardakheh and Pongtorn Techaboonakho with all three interacting in the creation of a whole range of sounds. Mardakheh also performed a solo improvisation, and the evening concluded with a second group improvisation. There were composed pieces by Chris Haworth, and a duo piece by Nikki Seth and Emma Margetson, the latter being a nicely reflective piece. But the most impressive performance for me was that by Simon Smith who created an amazing range of sounds in a system using laptop and some kind of electronic bracelets, which were controlled by Smith’s arm movements and gestures. The system seemed to be a more sophisticated version of the theremin in that the sounds were controlled by the arm movements . It was fascinating to observe how each movement or gesture was immediately translated into sounds, and to take in the flow of ideas that created a fine and coherent musical statement.