Forj at The Spotted Dog Birmingham

Forj is the name of a new quartet led by drummer/composer Jonathan Silk and this name somehow mysteriously reflects the names of the members of the group, the two saxophonists, Joe Wright and Josh Arcaleo and the bass player Nick Jurd.  They played their debut gig at a packed Spotted Dog on Tuesday.

Jonathan Silk

The quartet and the double tenor saxophone front line worked really well and it was a joy to hear the interaction between Wright and Arcaleo.  This was not the macho cutting session of a double saxophone group such as that led by the Americans Johnny Griffin and Eddie Lockjaw Davis, but a lively conversation between two fine players.  There is quite a bit of similarity between the playing of the two, but Arcaleo was perhaps the more forceful and Wright was rather more abstract.  I particularly liked the way they interacted in short solo bursts on the second tune of the first set, Jurd’s Sweet Hesitant Alabama, and the gruff tone that Wright adopted on Silk’s Mirrors.

I have focussed on the two saxophones, but rhythms created by Jurd and Silk generated real momentum.  They also provided most of the material with the sets built around five of Silk’s originals and three of Jurd’s.   There was also one tune by Eddie Harris. The music was thus based on compositions, but was in that area of the music between the mainstream and free jazz.

Silk was originally from Scotland, but studied on the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire; he is now a key figure on the burgeoning Birmingham scene.  He has led a quintet that played the Cheltenham Jazz Festival a few years ago, and runs an occasional Jazz Orchestra which recorded an album with strings on Stoney Lane Records entitled Fragment.  He also runs the University of Birmingham Big Band.

So this group is an excellent addition to the Birmingham scene, on which so many fine bands and players have emerged in recent years.  There is a tendency for journalists when discussing jazz scenes outside London to concentrate on the scenes in the north of England and neglect the Birmingham scene.  This is partly due to Birmingham’s tendency to be modest about its achievements, but there is little doubt that the scene here is one of the most thriving in UK.  Check out the Live at the Spotted Dog album, also on Stoney Lane Records.


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