A very Successful Opening Night for Malvern Jazz

It was really pleasing to be present last night at the opening concert of the new Malvern Jazz organisation. They have programmed three events for the autumn in the attractive Emslie House venue near the Great Malvern railway station, and the first of these attracted a good crowd who clearly know their jazz.

The Sundown Jazz Society quintet from Hereford opened the concert with an impressive set. They are led by guitarist Josh Lamdin who has been studying online with Steve Coleman, and indeed they started with a Steve Coleman composition which set the mood for the set. Thereafter, they featured a lot of their own material that made effective use of the singer’s wordless vocals and the solos on guitar and keys. This was a very refreshing set from a young band not afraid to tackle quite contemporary material.

The main act was the Michael Janisch Quintet. Janisch has until recently concentrated on touring the UK with visiting American artists, but now he has stepped back from constant touring to focus on his own group and to compose for it. It is a fine group with a double saxophone front line, Nathaniel Facey on alto sax, and George Crowley on tenor sax, Rick Simpson on piano and Shane Forbes on drums. Janisch leads the group on double and electric bass. Their music has a lot of variety; the compositions are interestingly quirky, and the solo pattern is nicely varied with a lot of interaction between the members of the quintet and an avoidance of cliche.

Everything to do with the concert was well organised and presented, and we even had a large cake to mark the launch of the club.

Coming up they have Alan Barnes on Wednesday 10th November and another saxophonist Rachael Cohen leading a group that features pianist Deschanel Gordon, winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year. That’s on 8th December.

For more details visit their website: http://www.jazzinmalvern.co.uk/

Gigs In October: Pendulums, Vula Viel, Xhosa Cole and Cleveland Watkiss

October continues to see an excellent number of jazz and improvised gigs round Birmingham; we’ve seen and heard a fine double bill at Centrala with Mark Sanders’ CollapseUncollapse and the Steve Saunders/Christos Stylianides Duo and two blistering sets from Paul Dunmall as the latest in the Paul Dunmall Invites series in the Eastside Jazz Club; his guests on this occasion were Percy Pursglove, Olie Brice and Jeff Williams. Then Ari Hoenig was at the Silvershine Club last Friday playing with Tom Ollendorf on guitar and Conor Chaplin on bass.

Pendulums Installation

Coming up this week, Andrew Woodhead is launching the album of his Pendulums project with two gigs, the first at Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter Birmingham on Thursday 14th October at 7pm , the second in London at Clement Danes on the Strand on Saturday 16th at 6pm. There is an excellent taster for these concerts in the entrance to Symphony Hall by the new Box Office: an installation which creates the sound of bells, and develops an attractive 5-minute piece in which the bells create a number of different sounds ands rhythms. It is definitely worth catching on the hour at 9am, 11am and every two hours up to 5pm. It is in place up to 14th October, and of course it is free to the public.

The full Pendulums project is a wonderful, totally original concept which brings together an improvising group of two trumpets, four saxophones and Woodhead himself on electronics, and a group of eight bellringers. The album has been described as’ a quite stunning achievement’ (Richard Williams) and ‘one of the more unexpected and intriguing releases of the year’ (Adrian Pallant). The most impressive aspect of the music for me is the way that, as the music develops, the improvisers begin to take on some of the sounds of the church bells, and the bellringers take on certain rhythmic aspects of the improvisation. Moreover, it is great to hear the piece in its entirety plus an opening solo set from Lara Jones in the beautiful St. Paul’s Church. You can buy tickets here. London tickets are available here.

Two gigs that TDE Promotions is putting on at mac fit nicely with Black History Month. Saxophonist Xhosa Cole, winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2018, plays the Hexagon Theatre at mac with drummer Mark Sanders and bass player Neil Charles on Thursday 28th October at 8pm. There will be a series of duos: sax and drums, sax and bass, bass and drums before all three come together as a trio in the second set. This is part of a project of Xhosa’s in which he works together with a number of drummers and percussionists in duos; one of those is with Mark Sanders with whom Xhosa has a very strong musical relationship, but on this occasion they form a trio with Neil Charles. You can book here.

Then just two days later vocalist Cleveland Watkiss brings his The Great Jamaican Songbook project to the Main Theatre at mac. He’s bringing an awesome band with Orphy Robinson, Jason Yarde, Ray Carless, Dennis Rollins, Byron Wallen, and will be performing songs of the great Jamaican singers, such as Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, Delroy Wilson and Gregory Isaacs. Drummer Romarna Campbell, now back from her course at Berklee, will be in support with her trio. You can book here.

Jazzlines at Symphony Hall will be using another of the new spaces there on Wednesday 20th October, 8pm: the Justham Family Room, which is up on the top floor with a fabulous view of Centenary Square and the city centre. The gig is with Vula Viel, led by percussionist Bex Burch with two brilliant band members in electric bass player Ruth Goller and drummer Jim Hart. Bex spent a long period in Ghana studying African percussion and in particular the gyil, an West African xylophone, and this music is at the centre of Vula Viel’s repertoire. You can book here.

Stop press: Eddie Henderson, the great trumpeter who played with Herbie Hancock, and led his own projects will be in Birmingham on Sunday November 14th at the Pizza Express in Brindley Place. The Pizza Express there has an attractive upstairs venue, and this is where they will play. For the Birmingham we have reached agreement that the basic quartet with Eddie, M?tyas Gayer on piano, Arnie Somogyi on double bass and Stephen Keogh on drums will be joined by three of the most exciting Birmingham based players, namely Xhosa Cole and Chris Young on saxophones and Richard Foote on trombone. More details to follow.

Mujician 10 10 10: A Review

After attending the excellent Keith Tippett Weekend in Bristol (see my review here), it was good to be able to come home and listen to the recording that was made by one of Tippett’s key groups, Mujician, during their tour in 2010 marking Tony Levin’s 70th Birthday. It is their last studio recording and, after having already played two gigs on the tour, the quartet was on top form. This is undoubtedly one of their finest recordings.

Mujician was Paul Dunmall on saxophones and bagpipes, Keith Tippett on piano, Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums, and the name comes from one of Tippett’s children’s mispronunciation of ‘musician’. It’s a very powerful group with four strong individuals; it’s an improvising group, but much more than that, given that it would on occasion move into other styles. It worked together for 22 years until Levin’s death, not all the time of course, and each member of the group had their own projects, but they built up a mutual understanding such that they could take the music in many different directions.

All this apparent on this recording made on 10th October 2010 at the University of Bristol Studios; there are just two extended tracks, 10 10 10 at 25.52 mins, and Remember at 30.48 mins. Although I’m not keen on the journey metaphor, it seems appropriate to say that both tracks take the listener on a journey through a number of very different passages. The first track, 10 10 10, starts with the drums and Tippett comes in with a characteristic and entirely appropriate reaction. A call and response sequence between drums and piano follows before Dunmall comes in with the flow of ideas which always seem to characterise his playing. Gradually the tension builds up with all four players interacting. This leads into a more thoughtful passage also notable for the interaction between the players, but then this gradually builds up again into a very forceful and high energy passage with Dunmall leading and Tippett providing dramatic piano support. Interestingly, the mood then changes, and the music goes into a gentler passage that has an air of mystery with rumbling piano, repeated notes from the tenor saxophone, high notes on the bass and a warm sound from the drums played with mallets. And so it goes on in different directions until the track concludes with an intense passage which gradually winds down at the end of the improvisation.

Track two, Remember, follows a similar pattern with the mood and energy levels constantly changing. Interestingly, the track begins with a dialogue between Dunmall and Tippett which has more of a jazz feel to it before the music becomes much free-er. This jazz feel re-emerges about a third of the way through the track. There are intense passages and quiet passages, the latter with bowed bass from Rogers, a drum solo from Levin, and Dunmall leads the conclusion on bagpipes.

Throughout the music retains its cohesion and coherence through all the changes of mood, and it is fascinating to hear how a structure emerges from the improvisation as the players negotiate the different passages.

Andrew Woodhead Re-Interprets The Music of Louis Armstrong And Duke Ellington

Jazz At The Spotted Dog was back inside on Tuesday after the summer sessions outside in the courtyard. Initially, I had enjoyed the space and openness of the courtyard and the early start, but eventually the level of conversation noise interfered with my enjoyment of the music. So I was happy that the sessions have moved back inside where the listeners are separated from the chatters.

The return to the inside of the Spotted Dog was marked by an original and very creative session. Andrew Woodhead has formed an excellent new group to revisit the music of Louis Armstrong and a couple of tracks from the Duke Ellington repertoire. The gig started with a rousing version of St. James Infirmary with trumpeter Sam Wooster and saxophonist George Crowley capturing something of the bravura and exhuberance of the original. They continued with Red Sails In The Sunset where I detected a touch of Earl Hines and stride piano influence in Andrew’s playing on the new Spotted Dog piano. They went into a great and moving version of Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? before bringing the intensity down with Duke Ellington’s Warm Valley. The set then moved into Just A Gigolo, Mop, Mop and Ellington’s Dual Highway. They played one through set rather than two sets.

Andrew Woodhead has mostly focussed on free and improvised music, and has played a key role in developing the free scene in Birmingham. His totally original Pendulums project involves a group of church bellringers interacting with an improvising group. The music has been recorded, and the album will be launched at St. Paul’s Church on 14th October. But here he was setting up something quite different; he was drawing on the collective improvisation that was the feature of the early New Orleans bands, particularly those such as the New Orleans Wanderers with clarinettist Johnny Dodds and his brother drummer Baby Dodds. Louis Armstrongs’ Hot Five and Hot Seven still had this collective improvisation with Armstrong interacting with Dodds, and trombonist Kid Ory punctuating it all. Andrew sees a parallel with today’s improvised music, and this was what the group was building on. They did this with great respect for the original music, but with a certain amount of irreverence.

It all worked really well on the gig; the tunes were great, and the soloists seemed inspired by the approach. As ever, Jeff Williams drove it all from the drums providing a very contemporary basis for the interpretations of the material. He was ably supported in this by bass player Nick Jurd.

This project has legs!

New Video With Paul Dunmall Coming

I was extremely privileged to be able to sit in as the ‘professional listener’ on the recording and filming session on Sunday that Paul Dunmall led fronting a quartet with guitarist Steve Saunders, double bass player Dave Kane and drummer Miles Levin. This was at the excellent Sansom Studios on the edge of Birmingham near Solihull.

Dave Kane and Miles Levin have played with Paul fairly regularly, Dave with the quintet Paul leads with Hamid Drake, and Miles mostly in a duo setting with Paul. Steve Saunders, however, is a relatively new discovery of Paul’s, and this was the only the second or third time he has played with Paul. His joining Paul’s groups came about as a result of Mark Sanders hearing Steve’s Glitch trio and recommending him strongly to Paul.

The playing on the session was really strong, and this will make an excellent video when it is mixed. What I found particularly interesting was that Paul asked the band to come in to have a kind of rehearsal on the day before the recording. Rehearsal is not really the right word for what they were doing; the music was totally improvised, and it was more of run through or getting to know each other musicially than a usual rehearsal in which tunes are rehearsed. It might be thought that an improvised session does not need a run through, but after the actual recording Paul was clear that the ‘rehearsal’ on the previous day had set up the actual recording, and the music was all the stronger for it.

Paul was on top form, creating long fascinating solos on his various saxophones and clarinet. He played the tenor, the alto and also the saxello that he inherited from Elton Dean. Paul has an amazing ability to listen to what is going on musically around him, and to react to it with creative, in-the-moment ideas. What was also very interesting to me was that in the ‘rehearsal’ it emerged that the quartet and, particularly Dave Kane and Miles Levin, were generating a strong pulse by going into time in certain passages. This continued during the actual recording and gave the music a distinctive character that made it less abstract compared with other improvised music. Both Dave and Miles are great time players as well as improvisers.

Steve Saunders reacted in all sorts of ways to what Paul, Dave and Miles were doing and created his own totally original, attention grabbing contributions, both in the collective improvisation passages and in his own solos.

The recording will be out in a month or so and will be on the Fizzle YouTube Channel. The date will be publicised on this site and on social media. It is strongly recommended!