Velvet Revolution and The French Jazz Scene

I have always been most impressed with the French jazz scene and have been instrumental in bringing a number of excellent French groups to Birmingham.  Robin Fincker, who was based in London for a number of years, but now lives near Toulouse, has brought both his Whahay and Primitive London bands to the city.  Sylvain Darrifourcq has struck me as one of the most inventive drummers and composers in Europe; he has brought three of his projects to Birmingham: In Bed With, In Love With and a trio featuring himself, guitarist Richard Bonnet and the American saxophonist Tony Malaby.  The In Love With concert with Sylvain and the Ceccaldi brothers, Theo on violin and Valentin on cello in the Hexagon Theatre at mac was one of the most impressive concerts that TDE Promotions have put on.

??t?? 2011 Longeville sur mer
Sylvain Darrifourcq

Attending festivals in Paris, particularly in the banlieues (suburbs), Strasbourg, Lyon and Jazz à Luz up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has brought home to me the range and variety of the jazz scene.  I think one of the strengths of the scene is the system of collectives, or collectifs in French.  Each city seems to have a collectif and the big cities have several.  These are relatively small groups of musicians who club together to set up collaborations, festivals and in some cases run venues.  It seems that joining a collectif commits the musician to engage in projects and in this way it differs from the collectives in Britain, such as the London-based Loop Collective which has had a large membership, but no expectation or requirement that members regularly engage with other members in specific projects.  By keeping the membership small, the French collectif ensures that its members are actively involved creatively.  And, of course, it helps that they receive funding, often from three sources, the French Arts Council, the regional government and the city or town. This funding enables them to employ adminstrators who get things going.  Examples include the Coax Collectif and Onze Heures Onze Collectif in the Paris region, Le Grokolektif in Lyon, Tri Collectif in Orleans and Muzzix in Lille.


velvet revolution
Velvet Revolution

This Saturday TDE Promotions with Fizzle bring another stunning French group to the Hexagon Theatre at mac: Velvet Revolution.  It’s a trio led by saxophonist Daniel Erdmann with Theo Ceccaldi on violin (the one who appeared with In Love With, see above) and Jim Hart on vibraphone.  Jim is English, but is now based in France.  Their music is gentle, contemplative and very beautiful, have a listen here.    The concert takes place this Saturday, 17th November at 8pm.  There will be a support set by the Tom Harris Becca Wilkins Duo; equally beautiful music with Becca on vocals and Tom on keys.

Tickets are available here.


Paul Dunmall Quintet with Hamid Drake On Tour

The beautiful unison passage of Sacred Hymn, from the Dreamtime Suite, concluded last night’s set at Derby Jazz’s Baby People venue and a wonderful four days of music by the Paul Dunmall Quintet.  The quintet was led by Paul on tenor and alto sax, and featured the amazing drummer from Chicago,  Hamid Drake, plus Percy Pursglove on trumpet, Steve Tromans on piano or keys and Dave Kane on double bass.  It played four gigs in Bristol, London, Birmingham and Derby attracting large and enthusiastic crowds in each venue.

Paul Dunmall with Hamid
Paul Dunmall with Hamid Drake and Dave Kane at Cafe Oto. Photo by Peter Freeman

The music was magnificent throughout, full of surprises and drama.  What was particularly interesting, and perhaps surprising, was that Paul had written a new suite, with the appropriate title of the Soultime Suite that built on the success of The Dreamtime Suite that Paul had written for the previous tour by this quintet two years ago.  So each concert started with a tune strongly influenced by soul music such as the music on the Stax Label and also I guess from Paul’s tours with blues artist Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson in the late 1970s, before going into collective improvisation.  This was the sequence throughout with both individual solos and collective improvisation alternating with the written soul-influenced material.

This movement between the improvisation and the written material that came in at various points during the improvisation struck me as being unique within contemporary jazz and a logical contemporary development of what Ornette Coleman was doing throughout his career.  It certainly created some stunning and exciting music.  ‘Uplifting’ was the adjective that I heard various audience members use; there was also one description of the music as ‘Wagnerian’!

Particular highlights were Percy Pursglove’s solos that ranged from the extremely melodic to the creation of extravagant breathy sounds that only Percy seems to be able to play.  Incidentally, it was special to be able to hear Percy play (very differently) in this context from the way he played earlier in the week with the Pablo Held Trio (a Jazzlines gig at the Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham Conservatoire).  Hamid Drake really fits in well with the group, both musically and socially, and provides a constantly shifting rhythmic support.  His solo slot that provided the bridge between the two suites was a highlight each night; in it Hamid played the hand drum and chanted before returning to the drum kit.  Dave Kane also drove the ensemble and played some strong solos, and Steve Tromans was extremely inventive in different ways each night; I particularly enjoyed his playing on the grand piano in Birmingham’s Eastside Jazz Club. And Paul is just outstanding on both horns; he mostly plays the tenor sax, but I also love his playing on alto sax.  He has a very distinctive tone on it.

The music was recorded in Birmingham and Derby and will almost certainly come out on the FMR Label, which seems to document all Paul’s projects.  And there are plans to tour the quintet again, possibly in an interesting new context.  More news to come!

I should declare an interest in that I set up the tour and ran the Birmingham gig.  I’d like to thank those who promoted the tour: Jon Taylor at the Bristol Fringe, Fielding Hope and Hamish Dunbar at Cafe Oto and Corey Mwamba at Derby Jazz.

The TDE Promotions and Jazzlines November Events


The month starts on Saturday 3rd November with the appearance of the piano trio Phronesis at the CBSO Centre (8pm start, tickets at  Jazzlines has championed this great trio over the years and it’s wonderful to have them in the perfect setting of the CBSO Centre.  Its personnel have been constant over the years with Ivo Neame on piano, Jasper Hoiby on bass and Anton Eger on drums.  There’s lots of drama in their music!

Paul Dunmall

Then next week TDE Promotions/Fizzle take over with the second national tour of the Paul Dunmall Quintet featuring the charismatic drummer from Chicago, Hamid Drake, plus Percy Pursglove, Steve Tromans and Dave Kane.   The play the Eastside Jazz Club at Birmingham Conservatoire on Friday 9th November as part of a four-date tour that starts in Bristol  on 7th November, Café Oto, London, 8th and Derby Baby People on 10th.  The music of the first tour two years ago was magnificent and promises to be even better this time!  Paul has written some new material with the title of the Soultime Suite for the tour, but, as before, the emphasis will be on improvisation.  Tickets for the Birmingham concert are available and early booking is recommended at

Please note that there will be a support set from the Will Markham Trio in the club at 6.30 and that the Paul Dunmall Quintet will play two sets at 7.45 and 9pm.  It’s no problem if you can only get there for the 7.45 set, but we do recommend catching Will Markham, he’s an excellent pianist.

TDE Promotions finishes its autumn season with another amazing trio: Velvet Revolution.  This is an Anglo-French trio led by saxophonist Daniel Erdmann with Theo Ceccaldi on violin and Jim Hart on vibes.  Jim is now based in France.  I heard the trio in a Dutch church last year and the music was stunningly beautiful.  Many will remember Theo Ceccaldi from the French group In Love With, which played a great set in the Hexagon Theatre two years ago.  There will be a support set from the Tom Harris Becca Wilkins vocal piano duo.  The concert takes place on Saturday 17th November in the lovely Hexagon Theatre mac, tickets at


For the Fizzle gigs at the Lamp Tavern, see

Jazzlines in November

In addition to the Phronesis concert described above, Jazzlines has a wonderful range of music this month with events at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham Conservatoire and the strong season with the Leftfoot at the Hare & Hounds that brings all the latest bands on the burgeoning London scene to play in the great vibe at the Hare, plus one at The Crossing in the Digbeth area.

pablo held trio
Pablo Held Trio

Monday 5th November sees the German Pablo Held Trio joining Percy Pursglove for a set in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire.  Percy is now much in demand in different countries in Europe and he is always coming back and saying that we must book the band he has just played with.  It’s great to be making this happen; on this occasion it’s the Pablo Held Trio, which is without doubt one of the most exciting piano trios in Europe.  See 

Also coming up – I’ll write about these in more detail in a future blog:

Saturday 10th November CBSO Centre Sara Colman What We’re Made Of

Saturday 24th November Recital Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire   Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra

Saturday 1st December CBSO Centre Yazz Ahmed’s Hafla Band

The season co-promoted with Leftfoot has:

Thursday 8th November The Crossing, Digbeth Kamaal Williams

Monday 12th November Hare & Hounds Ezra Collective   (already sold out)

Wednesday 21st November Hare & Hounds Alfa Mist

Thursday 6th December Hare & Hounds Soweto Kinch 

Young Pilgrims also play the Hare & Hounds on Friday 16th November, see

The Emerging Talent Tour

This scheme set up and organised by Jez Matthews of Jazz Lescar, the winner of the Best Venue award at the recent Parliamentary Jazz Awards, saw four bands tour in two double bills.  The Samantha Wright Quintet and the Bela Horvath Trio toured to Sheffield, Birmingham and Lyme Regis while the Josh Schofield Quartet and Morpher toured to Sheffield, Nottingham, London and Bristol.  The tours took place with support from the Jazz Promotion Network and the Arts Council England.
The aim of the scheme is to bridge the gap between the students’ jazz courses and life once the bands go into the outside world of gigging and touring.  Bands build up a momentum while studying and are usually able to rehearse and play regularly within their institutions; this becomes much more difficult after graduation.  Too often great bands emerge from jazz courses, but just cannot maintain the momentum afterwards and disband.  The scheme aims to bridge the gap and give bands the opportunity to maintain that momentum.
The bands were chosen from the jazz courses in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Leeds College of Music, Samantha Wright and Josh Schofield are from the former, while Bela Horvath and Morpher are from the latter.
The tours were a great success and the bands really appreciated the opportunity to play on a tour with more or less consecutive dates.  As always with tours, the music of each group really developed over the touring period and bands gained a lot from the experience of adjusting to different venues, different PA systems and different audiences.  They were also exposed to the rigours of jazz on the road, and sorting out travel, accommodation and sound check times.
A brief description of the bands:
sam wright
Samantha Wright

Samantha Wright graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire and is currently studying in Hamburg.  For the first two dates in Sheffield and Birmingham her group included two players she had been working with Germany: Jonas Oppermann on piano and Jan-Phillip Meyer on drums.  Alicia Gardiner-Trejo on bass clarinet and baritone saxophone and Tommy Fuller on bass completed the group.  In the final date in Lyme Regis Charlie Bates came in on piano, and Charlie Johnson came in on drums..  Samantha has a huge passion for the clarinet in jazz and the group played an extremely varied set with material from Artie Shaw and Sidney Bechet as well as Samantha’s own material.  I loved the double front line of clarinet and bass clarinet which produces a lovely sound.  Alicia occasionally switched to baritone sax thereby creating a different and equally attractive texture.

Bela Horvath is in his final year at Leeds and leads a piano trio with two graduates he has working with at college: bass player Jack Garside and drummer Luke D’Aureliou.  The trio played an attractively melodic set with good integration between the three members.  Bela is of Hungarian origin and there were occasional touches of influence from that background.
josh schofield
Josh Schofield

Josh Schofield leads a really strong quartet with Ollie Chalk on piano, Sam Ingvorsen on bass and Billy Weir on drums.  Their music really grew over the tour and it was interesting to note how much more adventurous Josh’s own playing became over the four gigs.  The band draws influence from the late 60s Blue Note period, and has an energy and drive from  all four members that really grabbed the audiences.  Ollie Chalk was really impressive on piano.


Morpher interestingly was the only band that had a specific name rather than the xxxx Quartet.  They played in the double bill with the Josh Schofield Quartet and their groove-based and occasionally theatrical set made an interesting contrast with that of the Schofield Quartet. This contrast was a bit of a risk, but, as it turned out, it worked really well and was popular with audiences.  The sax, bass drums trio with Jasper Cole, Frazer Kerslake and Chris Mcintyre use a lot of electronics to create a strong groove with interesting sax lines from Jasper and entertaining antics and weird announcements from Frazer.

The tours were organized with great efficiency by Jez Matthews with support from Helen Matthews and myself.

The Relationship Between Structure and Free Improvisation in Contemporary Jazz: Some Thoughts

olie brice quintet
The Olie Brice Quintet

I was struck by Olie Brice’s description of his quintet’s music and of his approach to composition in a post-gig interview last week.  The quintet had played a really excellent set, mostly based on material from the latest album plus two new tunes premiered at the gig.  The band played straight through for about 75minutes and there was a wonderful range of music which included written material, free improvisation, both from front line soloists and also collectively.  In the interview, Olie said that his approach was based on free improvisation, but that he wanted to add certain elements that he felt would enhance the improvisation and were missing from totally improvised music.  Specifically, he wanted to add a certain amount of written material, tunes and melody in other words, without losing the openness and spontaneity of free playing.  He was at pains to state that this did not imply any criticism or disillusion with totally improvised music, a genre in which Olie continues to be a key player, but more a desire to develop a different approach.  He also talked interestingly about how he has used Jewish liturgical music as a basis for his writing because of certain harmonic and textural features of that music that fit a jazz or improvised music context.

The quintet played Newcastle Jazz Café the following day and the review on Bebop Spoken Here can be read here.

The bringing together of composition and free improvisation is burgeoning part of the contemporary jazz scene.  At the Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan last week, the two groups that most impressed, the Florent Pujuila Quintet and the Ostaar Klake Quintet, adopted a similar approach.  I have written about the Jazzèbre Festival here.  Moreover, it was good to see how Tim Berne’s and Matt Mitchell’s music similarly moved from structure to free playing in their duo set and the work they did with jazz students in their residency at Birmingham Conservatoire in early October.

I would suggest that this is increasingly becoming a mainstream approach in contemporary jazz.

It was fascinating to hear trumpeter Dick Pearce at the Spotted Dog in the same

dick pearce
Dick Pearce

period. He was playing mostly standards and the format was the traditional head plus solos approach of modern jazz.  Dick Pearce has the ability to create very satisfying solos with long flowing lines and with a group put together by bass player Arnie Somogyi featuring Dave Ferris on piano and Nathan England-Jones on drums the music was wonderful.  It was good to be reminded that the more traditional bebop approach still has validity and that I still enjoy it very much, despite my interest in more contemporary forms.

Finally, it was great to have a short post-gig interview which shed some light on the music that had been played.   It should happen more often!

Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell Run A Three Day Residency and Concert at Birmingham Conservatoire

Next week, 9th to 11th October, Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell will be working with two groups of jazz students at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire leading up to a concert on the Thursday in the Conservatoire’s Eastside Jazz Club involving performances by both student groups and by the Tim Berne Matt Mitchell Førage duo (sax and piano).  Details of the evening’s programme are below.

The residency with Tim and Matt follows a well-established pattern at the Conservatoire that has worked extremely well with a number of visiting artists, notably Dave Holland, Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard.  The artists send copies of selected material of their own in advance so that the students can prepare.  They then run a series of sessions preparing the groups for the public performance and on the concert night the artists will sometimes join the student groups on one or two of the numbers.  I hear that this will likely be the case with Tim and Matt.  And on this occasion we will get a full duo set with just Tim and Matt.

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Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell. Photo by Robert Lewis

Tim and Matt’s collaboration began with Matt Mitchell joining Tim’s Snakeoil band after Tim had heard Matt in his home city of Philadelphia,  and Matt rapidly became a key member of the group with an instinctive grasp of Tim’s music.  This grasp was even more apparent on the solo piano album Førage that Matt recorded on the Screwgun label; on this he played seven of Tim’s tunes and captures the intricate nature of those tunes, and brings new insights and angles to them.  Then in 2017 Tim and Matt recorded a duo album Angel Dusk.  Peter Magarsak, writing in the Chicago Reader, comments that ‘exacting unison passages appear in all eight pieces, but everywhere else the give-and-take between the two men is constant—they created the music together, and Mitchell seems to anticipate every shift in direction or tone that Berne makes.

There is a possibility that both Tim and Matt will also play solo as well as in duo format, but time constraints may not permit this.

I find it truly interesting and encouraging that the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire is engaging with two of the most exciting players on the more experimental end of the jazz spectrum.  In a sense Tim Berne’s is becoming increasingly accepted and part of the mainstream of jazz; he has recorded on the ECM label and plays regularly in festivals round Europe.  We were delighted to have his Snakeoil band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2016 and that concert was recorded for the Jazz on 3 programme on BBC Radio 3.   This is not to suggest that Tim has in any way compromised in his music; it remains just as complex, innovative and challenging as ever, and always has a great exciting groove.

The concert takes place in the Eastside Jazz Club on Thursday 11th October and the running order is:    6.30  Ensemble Set 1     7.45  Ensemble Set 2    9.00   Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell

You can buy tickets in advance here; tickets will also be available on the door, £12 in advance £13 on the door.  Concessions are available.

Tim and Matt will also be at the Vortex Jazz Club on 12th and 13th October

A Wonderful Double Bill with HTrio + Nate Wooley and Leila Martial’s Baa Box

The autumn season of TDE Promotions in association with Fizzle  begins this Friday 5th October in the Hexagon Theatre at mac with this amazing double bill.  It features the improvising trio HTrio with special guest US trumpeter Nate Wooley and the French vocal trio Baa Box led by Leila Martial.

nate wooley
Nate Wooley

HTrio has three excellent improvising musicians based in the North West, saxophonist Mark Hanslip, bass player Otto Wilberg and drummer Andrew Cheetham and its music ranges from intense free jazz to certain more dream-like sequences.  It’s a style of experimental music that Nate Wooley will feel very much at home with.  Nate is considered, along with fellow trumpeters Peter Evans (seen in Birmingham in February this year) and Greg Kelley, one of the leading lights to redefine the physical boundaries of the horn, as well as demolishing the way trumpet is perceived in a historical context still overshadowed by Louis Armstrong. A combination of vocalization, extreme extended technique, noise and drone aesthetics, amplification and feedback, and compositional rigor has led one reviewer to call his solo recordings “exquisitely hostile”’.

leila martial photo
Leila Martial

The set by Leila Martial and Baa Box will be different, but I think it will fit nicely with the HTrio set in the context of the intimate Hexagon Theatre.  I have seen and heard Leila perform on two occasions, once solo and the other in a duo with cellist Valentin Ceccaldi.  She is an amazingly charismatic performer and I jumped at the chance of presenting her in Birmingham.  In the trio Leila is joined by guitarist Pierre Tereygeol and drummer Eric Perez; both also contribute to the vocals.  Ian Mann’s description of her is just right: Martial is among the most adventurous and experimental of modern vocalists, manipulating her already extraordinary voice via live looping and other electronic effects. She is regarded as the female equivalent to the Austrian vocalist Andreas Schaerer, with whom she performed at the Sudtirol Jazz Festival in Schaerer’s homeland (

After the triumphant Fizzle opening night last Tuesday with an improvising sextet led by Paul Dunmall, this gig promises to be every bit as exciting.  You can buy tickets here.