I had a very interesting conversation with pianist composer Olly Chalk this morning about the gig on Sunday where his duo with Olivia Murphy will be one half of the Fizzle gig on Sunday afternoon (2pm) at Centrala. The other half of the bill will be another duo, that between two very experienced and highly skilled improvisers, bass player Dominic Lash and Alex Ward, who moves between the clarinet and the guitar.
Olly is very much looking forward to playing with Olivia as both have been focussed on composition in the recent past, so a change by playing together in a freely improvised context really appeals. Olly and Olivia performed a duo together for Jazzlines filmed on the Symphony Hall stage during lockdown; you can watch that here. They found that for the first part of the improvisation they were improvising in parallel but separate ways, but by the end of the session the playing became much more integrated with each one playing off the other’s ideas. I find that in free improvisation in small groups, duos or trios, the music can either develop independently in a way that I have heard described as akin to two skiers coming down a slope in parallel, or it can follow a path in which each player picks up phrases from the others and ideas are thrown back and forth. Olly is looking forward to a more integrated improvisation with his musical partner Olivia.
Both have been heavily involved with composition or arrangement in recent months; Olivia has arranged tunes associated with Amy Winehouse for a tour with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO), and also premieres this week a set of compositions for the University of Birmingham Jazz Orchestra. Olly has been writing for his Houndsbleat group with Dan Kemshell, Tom Challenger and Will Glaser; for this he has written a very rich set of tunes which move between written material and free improvisation rather in the manner of various groups of Tim Berne’s. He has also been writing for a new as yet unnamed group that features flautist Ruta Sipola, electric bass guitarist Hugo Piper and drummer Corrie Dick; Olly suggested that the music for this group is less dense and in a sense more accessible.
Olly is a player who moves with ease between more structured contexts and free-er situations, and in this way follows a pattern that is very common amongst younger musicians. Interestingly, many of the graduates of the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire have followed this path, possibly as a result of the freedom to develop their own interests that the course offers in the third and fourth years. One of the many positives of this versatility is that players can bring an element of structure to their free playing and an openness to freedom in situations that focus on composition.
I look forward to seeing and hearing all this emerge in Sunday’s gig, which should be fascinating. There should also be an interesting contrast between the two duos. As I say, it’s on Sunday 5th December at 2pm in the Centrala venue, which now has a piano. Book ahead here, but there will probably be tickets available on the door.