As ever, Birmingham hosted a number of excellent gigs last week. Here I post a few reflections on those I attended, but I should begin by declaring an interest: these were concerts I was involved with in my roles at Jazzlines and TDEPromotions/Fizzle.
Mark Lockheart and Days On Earth
Mark Lockheart brought his Days On Earth project to the flipped stage at Symphony Hall (band and audience on the actual stage with band facing the choir seats) for the Jazzlines programme on Wednesday. The recording of the project on Edition Records featured a jazz sextet plus a 30-piece orchestra, but for the touring version Mark led a slightly larger jazz ensemble of eight musicians. Mark is, along with Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Chris Batchelor, John Parricelli and others, one of those whose membership of the Loose Tubes Big Band back in 1980s launched their career and established them as a key member of that jazz generation. In many ways Mark has been, of all the Loose Tubes diaspora, the one whose music has stayed closest to the original approach of the band; his first large ensemble The Scratch Band had many echoes of the Loose Tubes sound. His Days On Earth project, however, has largely moved on from that influence, though pleasingly not entirely. The touring version struck me as punchier and livelier than the recorded version with the orchestra while retaining the wonderful textures of the original recording. The ensemble was an excellent mix of jazz generations with strong solos from John Parricelli (always one of my favourites with Loose Tubes), Laura Jurd on trumpet, Rowland Sutherland on flute, Alice Legget on alto sax and Liam Noble on piano and strong rhythmic support and solos from Tom Herbert on bass and Dave Smith on drums.
Tim Berne Residency at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Tim Berne spent three days with jazz students at the Conservatoire working together on a number of his compositions of his, plus one by Julius Hemphill. The student group was a 12-piece ensemble with two trumpets, three saxophones, guitar, piano, two double basses and three percussionists. Tim was supported by Liam Noble in the rehearsals and the final concert in the Eastside Jazz Club concluded with a stunning duo performance by Tim and Liam. Tim writes very detailed and dense compositions so this was music of a type that probably none of the students had encountered before, especially as a number of the players had only just started the jazz course. The group, were, however, worked really hard by Tim and, after some difficulties, really rose to the occasion at the concert last Thursday. It was interesting to hear the music the night after the Mark Lockheart concert and to hear the contrasts. There was a wide range of moods in the compositions Tim brought for the residency. There were the up tempo passages with strong dramatic statements leading into collective improvisation by the whole ensemble – there is something very exciting about the sound of a fairly large ensemble collectively improvising and this performance was an excellent example of that excitement. But equally impressive were the gentler passages that established a calmer but also nicely edgy mood.
This was the second residency for Tim Berne at the Conservatoire, the first having taken place last year with Matt Mitchell. Over the years Tim’s music has had a huge influence on the British jazz generation of the 2000s and players such as Dan Nicholls and Tom Challenger; he is now having an influence on those beginning their studies in jazz. It was a co-promotion between TDE Promotions/Fizzle and the Jazz Department at the Conservatoire.
The Archipelago Residency
Archipelago is a saxophone, electric bass and drums trio based in Newcastle whose music is based on improvisation, but draws on experimental rock and alt-folk as well as jazz. They spent a day on Saturday on instant composition and collaboration with two Birmingham based players, Alicia Gardiner-Trejo on baritone sax and flute, and Andy Woodhead on electronics leading up to a performance at the now monthly Sunday afternoon Fizzle session at the Lamp Tavern. Alicia and Archipelago’s Faye MacCalman on tenor sax and clarinet clearly hit it off extremely well and their improvised lines dovetailed beautifully. Andy Woodhead added beautiful rippling effects on electronics. Two of the best pieces came in the second set, one involving reaction on the part of the players to randomly selected Tarot cards (one of bass player John Pope’s contributions) and the other involving spoken word with a short story from James Robertson’s 365 collection declaimed very effectively by drummer Christian Alderson.
Clearly there were many other gigs last week, at, for example, The Spotted Dog, Corks Eastside Jazz Club. I was very sorry to miss Rebecca Nash’s gig at the Hare & Hounds as it clashed with the Tim Berne gig.
Look out for the visit of the Jensen Sisters, trumpeter Ingrid and saxophonist Christine who will be appearing with the Whirlwind Recordings Jazz Orchestra at the CBSO Centre with the on Saturday 16th November, see https://www.thsh.co.uk/event/ingrid-christine-jensen-with-the-whirlwind-recordings-jazz-orchestra.