Mike Fletcher launches a new project for a large ensemble this week as part of the Surge in Spring day festival that is taking place on Saturday 27th April at 1pm (full details here). The new work involves developing what was originally a solo saxophone project, Picasso(s), for a 12-piece ensemble. The original performances took place in 2017 and involved Mike improvising a solo set based on Coleman Hawkins’ short saxophone solo recording, Picasso.
All this came about as the basis of Mike doctoral research completed last year. Mike had been fascinated by an exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s Las Meninas, which are 58 variations by Picasso on the original Las Meninas 1656 painting by Diego Velazquez; Mike was particularly interested in Picasso’s comment in a letter to a friend that, as he made changes to the original, the results would gradually cease to be copies of the original work, and would become new works of Picasso’s. Mike immediately saw a parallel with the approach of the improvising jazz musician. In order to develop his ideas about originality in improvisation, Mike decided to base a performance on a similarly iconic work in jazz, Coleman Hawkins’ solo saxophone recording. The fact that Hawkins had named his piece after Picasso gave the project an excellent cohesion.
I attended (and ran!) a performance in the Hexagon Theatre at mac in 2017. Mike developed an extensive and absorbing improvisation which was about 50 mins in length based on Hawkins original recording of just over three minutes. What was original about the performance was that Mike had transcribed Hawkins’ solo and only allowed himself to use the same notes as those used by Hawkins. This was in order to be true to Picasso’s approach to Las Meninas in which he had not permitted himself to add an extra figures or objects to those in the original Velazquez painting.
The new work for the large ensemble will follow the same principle; the writing and the soloing will only use the notes used by Hawkins. This is an interesting and original challenge and it will be fascinating to see how the musicians deal with it. The 12 musicians are all top improvisers from the burgeoning Birmingham and London scenes so I have every confidence that they will relish the opportunity. The full line up is listed below.
Mike Fletcher constantly looks for fresh ideas in music. I particularly remember a project commissioned in 2013 as part of a short festival at Symphony Hall based on Steve Reich’s music and its influences. The commission entitled Different Trane drew on the fact that Reich took inspiration for his move into minimalism from hearing John Coltrane play with his quartet in a New York club and also from the Africa Brass album that added a horn section to the quartet. Mike was given the difficult task of writing pieces influenced by minimalism for a large ensemble. The concert was a great success and created some very original music. Sadly, Steve Reich, who had attended part of the festival in order to lead a performance of his latest work, could not attend the performance by Different Trane, but he did meet Mike and wished him luck commenting that he would not be able to undertake such a commission!
The line up for the ensemble playing on Saturday is:
The band: Mike Fletcher, alto saxophone, composition and direction; John O’Gallagher, George Crowley, saxophones; Sean Gibbs, Aaron Diaz, Sam Wooster, trumpets; Kieran McLeod, Richard Foote, trombones; Andy Johnson, tuba; Tom Ford, guitar; Chris Mapp, bass; Jonathan Silk, drums.
Mike will also be introducing the music before the concert and running a Q&A session afterwards. The pre-concert talk will be at 12.30. He discusses his ideas for the talk and Q&A in an interview for London Jazz News, which you can read here.