This quartet was put together by drummer Jim Bashford and two years ago undertook a short tour of UK recording an album at the end of the tour. On the occasion of the release of the album, entitled Meridians on the FMR Records label, Jim invited Drew back over to do two days of workshops with the jazz students at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and to play a gig with the quartet in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire.
All the tunes were penned by Jim and he has developed a very distinctive compositional voice. Most of his tunes take their inspiration from the martial arts and kung fu, so we have titles such as Chi Meditation and the Don Teen or Hay Goang Breathing, and certainly this inspiration results in music that has its own strong and distinctive character. The quartet really brings out this distinctiveness with strong individual voices that fit extremely well together; Jim and Drew on double bass provide a strong and integrated foundation and the interaction between John on the alto and Liam on piano is very special. Jim’s drumming is impressive: he came relatively late to the jazz course at the Conservatoire with, I believe, a background in rock drumming. Being taught by Tony Levin and playing with musicians such as Paul Dunmall has enabled him to add a wonderful grasp of contemporary jazz drumming to the energy of his rock beginnings.
All of this is apparent on the Cd; for example, on Track 1 Chi Meditation and the Don Teen John and Liam interact through short solos complementing each other perfectly. Track 3 Long Bridge Principle features a very interesting rhythmic figure built through the interaction between Drew and Jim. The longest track, For Ray and the Laughter, is a tribute to Jim’s uncle and its quirky free-er feel perhaps reflects something of his uncle’s character.
It was instructive to hear the music live after listening to it on the Cd. As ever in the live situation, the music came across more strongly than on the Cd and the way the music is built around the strong individual voices of the four musicians was very much in evidence. One particular example: on the Cd the track For Ray and the Laughter seems, as noted above, to focus on the quirky and witty side of Ray, in the concert it seemed to focus on the laughter and the fun. Nonetheless I strongly recommend the Cd.
I should add that in the first part of the concert two student groups presented the material that they had been working on with Drew. This material included tunes by Ornette Coleman and Bill McHenry as well as Drew’s own. Both groups performed well, but Ensemble 2 struck me as being just little more relaxed with the material.
CD Meridians FMR Records CD533-1218 2018 http://www.fmr-records.com