February to April Jazz Programme at B:Music

B:Music Jazz (Jazzlines) has a nice set of gigs coming up in various venues in Symphony Hall in the period from February to April. They reflect the strength of the Brtitish scene with a range of styles and formats, from great big band jazz through to two small groups, one coming from the thriving Bristol scene with a great guest from the USA, the other coming out of the very lively London scene that is blending jazz with elements of African music, especially Afrobeat.

Two aspects of the gigs catch the eye. One is that the three bands are led by women bandleaders who have composed the music for the group. Jazzlines under the sadly missed leadership of Mary Wakelam Sloan has always had a commitment to gender balance in its programming, and I believe that this set of gigs shows that it is becoming easier to achieve that balance. The other is that the programme is being presented in innovative ways in the spaces of Symphony Hall. We think of the Main Hall as a large venue suitable for orchestral concerts and other events such as pop concerts or comedy shows. However, the ‘flipped stage’ that will be used for two of these concerts offers a much more intimate experience that is more suitable for jazz. The flipped stage in the Hall has both the band and the audience on the stage, the band with its back to the main auditorium and the audience facing the band with its back to the choir seats and the organ. The other concert will be upstairs in the Justham Family Room; this room is small and intimate, and has something of a club feel. It also has a great view over Centenary Square and is often referred to as the Glasshouse.

More details on the gigs:

Olivia Murphy Jazz Orchestra Sunday 27th February 8pm

Symphony Hall Flipped Stage

Olivia Murphy is a recent graduate from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire, but she is rapidly becoming a known figure on the UK scene, especially for her composition work. While on the jazz course she won the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) Jazz Composition Prize two years running, in 2018 and 2019, and is the only person to have achieved that. She has arranged Amy Winehouse songs for the NYJO (the National Youth Jazz Orchestra), and that show toured last year, and will continue to do so this year. Also in December 2021 the University of Birmingham Big Band premiered a number of Olivia’s own compositions. These were impressive and showed that she has developed her own voice, but that she also acknowledges influences from composers such as Kenny Wheeler, Maria Schneider and Miho Hazama, the latter the New York-based Japanese composer. Many of these compositions will be featured in the February show. The band is made up of top players from both the Birmingham and London scenes; it’s slightly invidious to mention just a few of the line up, but it will be good to hear trumpeter Charlotte Keeffe, pianist Olly Chalk and vocalist Becca Wilkins in the context of a big band. The concert will be recorded, and the whole project is being supported by a Help Musicians Peter Whittingham Development Award

Camilla George Quartet Tuesday 15th March, 8.30

Symphony Hall Flipped Stage

Camilla George is a Nigerian born, London based saxophonist and composer whose music draws on her African heritage as well as jazz. Her album The People Could Fly brings together these influences, and is dedicated to the Ibibio people in Nigeria. Described as the ‘golden girl of jazz’ by the Evening Standard, she is also a key member of Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilization Orchestra. It is expected that the quartet will be joined for part of this gig by Birmingham’s own MC Lady Sanity who performed in Australia at the launch of Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games. Expect upbeat jazz and the rhythms of Afrobeat plus rap from Lady Sanity.

Rebecca Nash Quintet Thursday 21st April, 8pm

The Glasshouse (Justham Family Room)

In this concert Rebecca Nash presents her Bristol Jazz Festival commission Redefining Element 78, a project that builds musical themes around the topic of Plutonium and related elements. This composition shows influences from various classical composers, e.g. Debussy, Tavener and Michael Tippett, as well as from contemporary jazz. Rebecca’s quintet has a really strong line up with Nick Malcolm on trumpet, Jamie Leeming on guitar, Paul Michael on on bass and Matt Fisher on drums, and for this special gig they will be joined by alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher, formerly one of New York’s top players, then tutor on the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire, but now based in Portugal.

There is a special offer for these gigss, which you can access here.

The new foyer, the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space, is working well for the Friday Housewarming sessions. Housewarming is the new, rather odd name for the Friday 5pm sessions that used to be called Rush Hour Blues. These sessions are working well in the new foyer despite some rather unusual architectural features; the sound is good and it is an attractive space.

Coming this Friday Chris Bowden returns after a long absence with a great quartet with Jim Watson on piano, James Owston on bass and Jiom Bashford on drums. Booking is recommended at https://bmusic.co.uk/events/housewarming-sessions-chris-bowden-quartet, but come even if you don’t have a booking.

Coming up in future weeks:

28/1 Steve Banks Group

4/2 Maria Grapsa Quintet

11/2 Kate Luxmore Group

18/2 Rosie Frater-Taylor (Stepping Tiger)

25/2 Jazzlines Ensemble Showcase

4/3 Rise Up

11/3 Gabriella Liandu

18/3 Nishla Smith

25/3 Ibou Tall

1/4 Delano Mills Group

8/4 Bryan Corbett Group

I should mention that I am still Programme Adviser to the Jazzlines programme.

Review of Steve Tromans’ Album Launch: Duos & Remixes

I do not think it is right that promoters review their own concerts; a comment or two is fine, but a full review cannot be impartial.

I am therefore grateful to James Tartaglia who has sent me the review below of the Steve Tromans concert at mac last Thursday. I should mention that the interview with Steve referred to in the review was conducted by Mike Fletcher who is conducting research into the effectiveness of pre- and mid-concert talks and interviews that aim to present and demystify the music.

Steve Tromans and Friends: Duos and Remixes Review by James Tartaglia

Thursday 13 January, 2022, Hexagon TheatreMidlands Arts Centre (MAC)

Steve Tromans – Piano

Piera Onacko – Synthesizers

Sarah Farmer – Violin

Sonia Granger – Flute and Piccolo

Si Paton – Electric Bass

Tymoteusz Jozwiak – Drums and Percussion

This concert was held to mark the launch of Steve Tromans’ DUOS & REMIXES album, which was released online that very day (soundartphilosophy.bandcamp.com), as Tromans proudly related to the audience in the Birmingham MAC’s Hexagon Theatre. The album consists of thirty-six tracks produced in collaboration with thirty-six musicians; a number of these musicians were in the audience, myself included, in addition to all those on stage. The project was conceived in the darkest days of lockdown, when Tromans was struggling to get by both materially and psychologically, as was the fate of many professional musicians at that time. The idea for the album was that his musician friends would email him a short recording which he could add to and alter in order to produce a piece of music. Like so much of life during this period, then, Tromans’ new album happened on the internet. And yet this concert was to transpire in the flesh. Tromans’ first priority was to explain how this transition would be enacted.

Art Farmer’s 1989 album “Ph.D.” was named in reference to Farmer’s scholarly mannerisms, as the sleeve notes explain, but Doctor Stephen Tromans really does have a Ph.D. – and it shows. Looking a model of relaxation, with his chair turned to face the audience, his chats to the audience are becoming increasingly integral to his concerts. This is a natural development for a jazz musician who takes seriously the ideas that earned him his ‘Doctor’ title, ideas about the philosophy of time and its application to the world of the improvising musician. He wants to explain what he is doing, not only in order to share the ideas which fascinate him, and which drive his music forward, but also because he cares about his audience, and feels that the understanding he is imparting will aid their appreciation and enjoyment. His philosophical chats are conceptual improvisations designed to lay the ground for the musical improvisations to come.

So before playing a note, Tromans felt the need to explain how he had made the transition from the online concept of DUOS & REMIXES to a live performance. His solution was as follows: he used the five possible combinations of three duets that a sextet can be divided into, in order to form the basis of the five performances of the concert. So, for example, in one of the five performances, Tromans paired with Onacko, and in another he paired with Farmer, etc.; the other four members of the sextet were also paired differently on each performance. By ‘paired’ I mean that, for example, Tromans and Onacko would be primarily focused on interacting with each other in their improvisations, with their awareness of what the other four musicians were doing more peripheral for the duration of that particular performance, and thus generating less responses in their own improvisations. In this way, the close interaction between two musicians that generated each of the thirty-six tracks on DUOS & REMIXES was represented within the live performance, and yet the distancing effects of having to use internet technology, due to Covid lockdowns, was represented, in parallel, by the fact that this was a sextet improvising together, not just a duet, with four of the musicians thereby isolated to some extent. It was this thought – which I hope I have not completely butchered (Steve will veto this review if I have!) – which made the concert possible. This idea-led improvisational approach provides an excellent illustration of how Tromans’ music and philosophy are merging, with the more obvious manifestation of this same phenomenon being the increasing importance to his concerts of chats with the audience, as remarked upon before.

So what did the music sound like? If you are familiar with the abbreviation ‘improv’ being used in the context of avant-garde jazz, then you’ll know the territory, and to hone that down a little more, I was reminded of Tim Berne’s Bloodcount band, albeit without the pre-arranged passages which Berne’s band worked towards, or away from. To try to describe the music directly, I would say that all the performances were marked by an incremental rising of intensity until, at some point, it climaxed in something like the chaotic improvisational fireballs pioneered in the 1960s by the likes of John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler (the Father, Son and Holy Ghost respectively, as Ayler once said). The big difference, however, was that the performances of Tromans’ sextet never featured a dominant voice – no one person was the dominant voice even at the peak of intensity, and nobody was even vying to be, these were thoroughly democratic simmerings and infernos.

Acolytes of this kind of music will know the satisfactions to be had, and there were a steady succession of these on this memorable evening. The performance was visually interesting too, mainly due to Onacko twisting and turning to coax contortions from her synthesizer, Jozwiak’s faces of sheer joy, and Tromans looking at turns puzzled and deeply satisfied by the music – I think that his movements as a pianist are acquiring the visual unnaturalness, due to auditory originality, of Thelonious Monk. Two moments stood out. One was when Tromans set up a groove by slapping his hands on the top and sides of the piano – the band went along with it and for a time they were grooving. They were grooving because Tromans allowed the music to be conventional, but not for long, and the unconventional way he did this (by slapping the top and sides of the piano) was surely an intended irony. The other moment was the very end of the concert, when Tromans rounded off proceedings by improvising like the British Keith Jarrett that he is. It was only a minute or so, it was conventional jazz, it was brilliant, and after all that had come before, it was otherworldly.

The Fizzle and TDE Promotions Season

See the list of forthcoming concerts promoted by Fizzle and TDE Promotions in the images below. The two organisations work very closely together, and are effectively one organisation; Fizzle promotes at Centrala in the Digbeth area of Birmingham, while TDE Promotions promotes in the Hexagon Theatre at mac, the Eastside Jazz Club in Birmingham Conservatoire and occasionally other venues.

Please note that the collaboration with Club Integral at The Edge on January 28th has had to be postponed as a result of concerns about the pandemic. All other gigs should go ahead.

The first gig of the year, the launch of Steve Tromans’ Duos & Remixes album last night, was a great start to the season. Steve had set up a way of representing the approach of the album by booking a sextet, and creating five extended pieces in which ‘secret duos’ improvised together reacting to each other, and gradually to what the other members of the group were playing. The result was music with many beautiful moments and some fascinating textures. Credit goes to Steve for the idea and his own playing, but also to the other five improvising musicians: Piera Onacko on synthesizer, Sarah Farmer on violin, Sonia Granger on flutes, Si Paton on electric bas and Tymek Jozwiak on drums. They made the gig work so well.

You can access Steve’s new album on Bandcamp at https://soundartphilosophy.bandcamp.com/

Steve Tromans: Duos and Remixes

Pianist and composer Steve Tromans is always coming up with fascinating new projects, and is undoubtedly one of the most creative and active musicians on the Birmingham scene. A quote from the late Keith Tippett captured a key aspect of his music when he described it as ‘vital, passionate, fresh’.

Steve is an excellent pianist with a totally original style; we heard this on his solo piano album issued on FMR Records, and at the album launch at the Silvershine Club back in the summer 2021. There is a huge variety of music and many different moods on this album in which Steve presents a series of reactions to the pandemic.

During his career Steve has written a number of memorable commissions. A particular favourite is his setting to music of Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl; this built up a powerful set of themes that accompanied the declaiming of the actual poem by Sid Peacock. This work was well received by both Jazz and Literature festivals, for example, it was performed at the both Cheltenham Jazz Festival and the Cheltenham Literature Festival as well as at the StAnza Poetry Festival in St. Andrews. Less well known is his tribute to the Chilean poet and singer Victor Jara, The Last Words of Victor Jara. Victor Jara was murdered by the army during the military coup d’etat in Chile, and Steve’s tribute to him is a moving piece that captures the beauty of Jara’s songs. Another memorable commission came from Symphony Hall as part of the venue’s Sounds of Space weekend; this was Musickosmos in which Steve drew on his love of Sun Ra’s music.

During the last lockdown period Steve came up with another totally original idea; he asked friends and colleagues to come up with recordings of short pieces, from two to five minutes in length, of music or spoken word to which that he could react. The result was either a duo performance with Steve adding to the piece submitted, or a remix by Steve of the piece, hence the title of the new CD, Duos and Remixes. This album will have 35 short tracks with players such as Chris Mapp, Sarah Farmer, Xhosa Cole, Olivia Murphy and many others. For the gig – Thursday 13th January in the Hexagon Theatre at mac – Steve will be playing with five of these colleagues to create a live version of the album. The plan is to play as a sextet, but as the music develops there will be a series of duos within the sextet performance. Steve refers to these as ‘secret duos’ as it may not be immediately apparent to the audience that they are acting as a duo, because they will be reacting to what the rest of the sextet is playing within the overall mix.

It all sounds fascinating. I expect that the music will be on the edge for much of the time, and that this way of working will create an exciting and refreshing experience for the band and the audience.

The line up is Steve Tromans, piano and monotron, Piera Onacko, synthesizers, Jude Rees, oboe, vocals & loop synthesizer, Tymoteusz Jozwiak, percussion, Sarah Farmer, violin, Si Paton, electric bass

The concert will take place in the Hexagon Theatre at mac in which social distancing will be possible. You can book here.

Jazz and Improvised Music Gigs Off To An Early Start In Birmingham

The burgeoning scene for jazz and improvised music in Birmingham bursts into life again in January with the launch of a new season for Fizzle and TDE Promotions, and the start of the 2022 Housewarming BMusic Jazz Series in the new foyer at Symphony Hall.

Fizzle and TDE Promotions managed to be very active last year once the Covid regulations were eased, and between them promoted 19 gigs from late May at various venues, notably at Centrala, the Hexagon Theatre at mac, the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire. Before that during the lockdown period, the two organisations combined to set up five video recording sessions at Sansom Studios. These plus the one made in late 2020 have now been watched by nearly 4500 viewers. Attendances at the live gigs run since May have also been good.

Steve Tromans

The new season begins on Thursday 13th January in the wonderful Hexagon Theatre at mac where Steve Tromans launches his new album Duos and Remixes. The line up is Steve Tromans – piano & monotron, Piera Onacko – synthesizers, Jude Rees – oboe, vocals & loop synthesizer, Tymoteusz Jozwiak – percussion, Sarah Farmer – violin, Si Paton – electric bass. The concert will feature a series of solos, duos and trios, and I well remember a duo performance between Steve and Sarah Farmer a year or so ago. That was brilliant and I expect the various configurations at the January gig will create similar exciting combinations. Steve Tromans himself is very active at the moment; he has finished his PhD so is now Dr. Stephen Tromans, and he has an excellent solo piano album out on FMR Records.

You can book for this here. You can rest assured that social distancing will be possible in the Hexagon Theatre.

Also coming up in January is a collaboration between Fizzle and Club Integral at The Edge venue on Cheapside in the Digbeth area. Club Integral have a really good track record of promoting interesting experimental music and are natural partners for Fizzle. The joint event will take place on Friday 28th January and will feature various acts suggested by the two organisations. They will include an exciting new trio with two improvising violinists, Angharad Davies and Sarah Farmer plus saxophonist Rachel Musson. Also appearing are Aaron Diaz, solo trumpet and effects, Semay Wu, solo cello, voice and electronics and books, formerly known as Micronormous featuring Matt Eaton from Pram + a film-maker.

Information about booking to follow. Again numbers will be restricted so that social distancing will be possible.

Steve Ajao

I would also like to mention the Friday BMusic Jazz sessions on the new foyer at Symphony Hall. They begin on Friday 14th January with a particular favourite of the Friday audience: Steve Ajao and the Blues Giants and continue on the 21st with another firm favourite Chris Bowden leading a quartet with Jim Watson on piano, James Owston on bass and Jim Bashford on drums. Guitarist Steve Banks leads a strong quintet on Friday 28th January. These sessions run from 5 to 6.30pm. The Notebenders are also back for their first Saturday afternoon session on 22nd January; that starts at 1.30. Go to http://www.bmusic.co.uk Jazz for details.

There are also some great gigs coming up in February: a double bill of Lara Jones, solo saxophone and electronics, and a duo of Andy Woodhead and Hannah Marshall (piano + cello) at Centrala on Sunday 6th February at 2pm. Then Ruth Goller’s Skylla and Mark Sanders’ CollapseUncollapse in the Hexagon Theatre at mac on Friday 18th February. And Paul Dunmall continues the Paul Dunmall Invites series at the Eastside Jazz Club on Thursday 3rd February (6.30 support, 7.45 main band). On this occasion the invitees are Liam Noble, piano, John Edwards, bass and Mark Sanders, drums. More on those gigs in future posts.

If new Covid regulations are introduced in the future, we will announce any changes to the programme immediately on this site and the Fizzle website. But let’s remain optimistic!