By coincidence both Watkiss brothers, Cleveland Watkiss and Trevor Watkis (they spell the surname differently!) bring their current projects to Birmingham this week, Cleveland on Thursday 24th in the Hexagon Theatre at mac and Trevor on Saturday 26th at the CBSO Centre.
In an interview for both the Birmingham and the Birmingham mail, also posted on the Town Hall Symphony Hall website, Cleveland and Trevor talk about how they got into music. Cleveland talks about how the family home in East London was always full of music, and Trevor describes how they were both strongly influenced by a middle brother, Anthony, who had a natural ability to just pick things up and play. He played reggae and also in the church. You can read the full interview here.
It’s interesting how music in the church has had an important influence on young Afro-Caribbean players.
Cleveland’s project has an amazing all star band with Orphy Robinson on vibes and electronics, Jason Yarde on sax and electronics, Neil Charles on double bass and Mark Sanders on drums. In the interview Cleveland talks of how the music is largely improvised and creates ‘something really beautiful in the moment. Also how when things happen, they just happen’. As part of this, Cleveland in his vocals and the band in their improvisations draw on different styles of music current today in UK cities. Their music is a true reflection of the ‘ world’s most cosmopolitan epicentre, that is the UK’.
Trevor’s project focusses on the legacy of a great UK trumpeter Dizzy Reece, who relocated to New York at the invitation of Miles Davis back in the 60s and the band will be playing some of Dizzy’s compositions. Trevor also has a great band with Byron Wallen on trumpet and three players from the USA, saxophonist Ralph Moore, who is actually British but long resident over there, bass player Dezron Douglas and one of the finest drummers in the modern mainstream style, Willie Jones III.
I thought I would share a few thoughts about the music I listened to last night.
Decoy and Joe McPhee (Weavil42Cd)
Prompted by an excellent article about Joe McPhee in the latest issue of The Wire magazine, I dugout this Cd, recorded live at Café Oto in 2009. Decoy is Alex Hawkins, on this occasion playing Hammond Organ, John Edwards on bass and Steve Noble on drums. Joe McPhee joins them on tenor and soprano saxophones. It is fascinating to hear Alex Hawkins on a full Hammond B3 Organ with the Leslie speaker; as Richard Williams states in the liner notes , his playing on the organ reminds one of that of Larry Young on the Tony Williams’ Lifetime recordings. There are three improvisations, two quite long and one very short. The interaction between Joe McPhee and Alex Hawkins is magnificent throughout with some very beautiful gentler passages as the more intense climaxes. The contributions of John Edwards and Steve Noble underpin it all with great rhythmic drive. I’d love to hear Alex Hawkins on Hammond Organ again!
The Johnny Dodds Story 1923/1929 (The Jazz Archives Collection Vol 3)
Looking for the Decoy/Joe McPhee Cd I came across this album. I always loved Dodds’ bluesy playing and the way his clarinet weaves lines round the statements from the cornet or trumpet and trombone in the traditional New Orleans frontline; there are good examples of this here in Canal Street Blues by the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band and in My Baby by The Chicago Footwarmers. There is also a fine solo by Dodds on the latter. I probably agree with Andre Hodeir quoted on the sleeve notes when he says that Dodds is not at his best on the Hot Five and Hot Seven tracks where he is outshone by Louis Armstrong. But there are some interesting small group tracks with Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards and the Jelly Roll Morton Trio where Dodds seems at his most relaxed and fluent.
Random Dances and (A)tonalities Don Byron and Aruán Ortiz (IntaktCD Ortiz (Intakt CD 309)
Thinking about the clarinet in jazz took me back to Don Byron, always my favourite contemporary clarinettist. He seems to have been quiet recently, but this recently released album on the Swiss Intakt label is a delight and well worth waiting for. It is a duet album with pianist Aruán Ortiz which focusses on material by the two members of the duo, plus two tracks by classical composers, Federico Mompou and J.S. Bach, and two tracks by other jazz artists, one by Geri Allen and one based on Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty. The interaction between Byron and Ortiz is exquisite throughout. Interestingly, Byron plays tenor sax on three tracks with a tone reminiscent of the tenor sax sound of the 1930s.
Key Words: jazz, New Orleans Jazz, contemporary jazz, clarinet in jazz, the Hammond B3 Organ, Alex Hawkins, Joe McPhee, John Edwards, Steve Noble, Johnny Dodds, Aruan Ortiz, Don Byron
Paul Dunmall has recently brought two new Cds on the FMR Label: As One Does (FMR CD512-1018) and Inner and Outer (FMR CD513-1018). The first features a double sax front line with Julian Siegel joining Paul on tenor sax and also bass clarinet on two tracks, plus Percy Pursglove on double bass and on trumpet on two tracks, and Mark Sanders on drums. The second features Paul with Philip Gibbs, a guitarist that Paul has recorded with on many occasions, James Owston on double bass and Jim Bashford on drums. Both albums were recorded at the Rain Studios in Kings Heath, Birmingham and were mixed by Luke Morrish-Thomas.
Both albums capture Paul at his very best, forceful on the double sax album, more contemplative on the album with guitar. It is all freely improvised, and it always strikes me how fluent Paul’s playing is in this context; he always creates a solo that is original and full of fresh ideas that never seem to be repeated. There is a coherence and logic to these solos that remind me of the same phenomenon in Sonny Rollins’ solos. Paul seems to enjoy the joisting of a double sax frontline and has in recent years toured and recorded with John O’Gallagher, played the Herts Jazz Festival with Alan Skidmoreand recorded with Jon Irabogan, who seems to have come over from the US with the specific aim of recording with Paul. But it is fascinating to hear Paul in the very different context of a quartet with an improvising guitarist on the second Cd.
The Cd As One Does with Julian Siegel, Percy Pursglove and Mark Sanders has six tracks the length of which ranges from about 8 to 13 minutes. The pattern is mostly one of interaction between the two horns that leads into individual solos from both Paul and Julian and then back into the call and response interaction. There is a strong and varied groove from Percy and Mark throughout. It is interesting how Julian’s playing is often quite similar to Paul’s and sometimes it is difficult to decide who is actually taking the solo. Paul is generally just that little bit more forceful than Julian, but there isn’t a lot in it. Interestingly, I believe that Paul has had quite an influence on players of both Julian’s generation and the next generation.
This pattern of interaction leading into individual solos and then back into the interaction is followed on the first three tracks. Paul solos first on Track 1 As One Does and Track 3, Talk with me. Julian leads off on Track 2 Woe is me, FO. Track 4, Fine lines of expression is different and lives up to its title with a beautiful solo from Percy Pursglove on trumpet, initially over a drone from Julian on bass clarinet which leads into a duet between the trumpet and clarinet. Paul enters and we have a three way interaction before a very powerful duet between Mark Sanders on the drums and Julian on bass clarinet. Again Paul enters for the final part of the track.
Track 5, Ever new down the avenue is at 13 minutes the longest track and each soloist is able to stretch out. Julian is again on bass clarinet and both his and Paul’s solos really build up impressively. Percy is on trumpet and there is a fine duet passage with him and Mark that eventually segues into a three way interaction with the three horns.
Track 6 is back to the two tenor sax front line and follows the pattern of interaction leading in and out of solos. Julian takes the first solo on this track.
On the Inner and Outer album there is a similar pattern of interaction leading in and out of solos. Track 1, the title track, begins with a gentle bluesy feel led by Paul with strong support from James Owston on bass and Philip Gibbs, on guitar, that leads into a passage of interaction between Paul and Philip. What I find particularly interesting in this is the way Paul interacts with the guitar. I have noticed that on a gig he always listens intently to what is going on and will often come in with a response that reflects what the other players are doing. In this quartet Paul’s lines often have a skittering feel very similar to those of the guitar with the result that his playing is very different from that on the As one does CD. Philip Gibbs is impressive throughout, both in interaction with Paul and in his individual solos, especially on Track 2 Outer Space and Track 3 Inner Space. But the real revelation for me is the playing of James Owston on double bass. James is in his final year at Birmingham Conservatoire and was recently in the final of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year event. This recording was his first real contribution to an improvised music performance, but he sounds really at ease in it. The duet between James and Paul on Track 4 Inner Time is particularly impressive.
Track 5, Outta Time, is the outstanding track. It is at just over 20 minutes by far the longest track and Paul is at his most forceful best as he stretches out. James Ownston is again impressive topping and tailing the track with opening and closing bass solos. Jim Bashford gives particularly strong support throughout the track and also takes a very enjoyable solo.
Fizzle and TDE Promotions have an exciting programme coming up in the first three months of 2019 as does the Jazzlines Programme in the same period. I outline the key gigs here.
Fizzle starts its 2019 programme in January with two rather special gigs at the Lamp Tavern: the first on Tuesday 15th January features improvising pianist Veryan Weston with drummer/percussionist Yusuf Ahmed and two brilliant string players, Hannah Marshall on cello and Pei Ann Yeoh on violin. Pei Ann is from Malaysia, studied on the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire and is now completing a PhD at Kings College London. She was always a fine player while in Birmingham, but has really blossomed in London where she has been a member of the London Improvisers’ Orchestra. It will be great to hear her back in Birmingham. The music of the quartet is improvised, but leans towards folk rather than jazz.
The second gig, also at the Lamp Tavern, this time on Tuesday 29th January, features the Not On The Guest List duo of Natalie Sandtorvand Ole Mofjell on vocals and drums. They will be over from Copenhagen for several days setting up a special event for Fizzle working with Andy Woodhead on keys and electronics and Lee Griffiths on alto sax. I heard Not On The Guest List a year or so ago and loved the energy of their interactions and think that this project with Andy and Lee will create some amazing music.
Fizzle continues its collaboration with the Flatpack Film Festival on Tuesday 5th February with an evening of short silent films to which key improvisers from the Birmingham scene will react to the films in live performance. The first in December at Centrala was a great success and drew a very healthy crowd. This one takes place at Artefact at 1464 Pershore Road, Stirchley, B30 2NT.
Fizzle gigs take every other Tuesday in the Lamp Tavern (excellent beers!) in Barford Street off Sherlock Street, B5 6AH. On 12th February it is Mick Beck and Philip Marks, plus Sarah Jane Summers, and on February it is a group put together by bass player Shivraj Singh featuring Xhosa Cole, Harry Weir, Will Markham Rob Harper-Charles and a second group led by bass player Si Paton called Machete Squad.
These gigs take place more or less monthly, usually, but not always, in the Hexagon Theatre at mac, an intimate venue with great acoustics that works well for improvised music. The January February March programme is probably the strongest I have put on yet.
It begins on Thursday 24th January in the Hexagon Theatre with Cleveland Watkiss’ Allstars featuring Cleveland on vocals, Jason Yarde on sax, Orphy Robinson on vibes and electronics, Neil Charles on bass and electronics and Mark Sanders on drums. That really is an allstar band and its music draws on the diversity of music in UK today, jazz, improv, soul, rap. Cleveland describes their music as ‘a sonic blend that could only come from the cosmopolitan epicentre of the world, that is the UK’
The second TDE Promotion in the Hexagon Theatre comes on Tuesday 19th February when the Riot Ensemble make their Birmingham debut. They are an ensemble that specialises in contemporary music, and on this occasion with key improvisers from the UK. They have commissioned two pieces, one with the Evan Parker/Alex Hawkins Duo and the other for Kit Downes’ ENEMY.
March sees two TDE Promotions. The first involves a number of UK trombone and brass players led by trombonist Richard Foote working with American trombonist Jacob Garchik to recreate the music of Garchik’s Gospel Trombone Choir. That group recorded a wonderful album entitled The Heavens of brass interpretations of gospel songs and the project will interpret the music of that album. This project is a co-promotion with Jazzlines and will take place on Saturday 16th March at the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street. It will also play Sheffield at the Yellow Arch on Sunday 17th March and London Vortex on Monday 18th.
Then back at the Hexagon Theatre on Thursday March 28th TDE Promotions will present Uncanny Valley, a trio with Tom Challenger on sax, Phil Donkin on bass and Oliver Steidle on drums. Both Phil and Oliver are based in Berlin.
By coincidence Jazzlines is presenting a new project by Trevor Watkis, the brother of Cleveland Watkiss, just two days after Cleveland’s gig at the mac. His project takes place on Saturday 26th January at the CBSO Centre and focusses on the music of trumpeter Dizzy Reece, a fine player who went off to hone his skills in the US back in the 1950s. His music will be celebrated with a fine group with Byron Wallen on trumpet, saxophonist Ralph Moore, another fine UK player who settled and made his name in the US, plus two Americans, Dezron Douglas on bass and Willie Jones III on drums.
The Friday foyer sessions start on 11th January at 5pm with a band led by trumpeter Ray Butcher; this has to take place in Hall 5 in the ICC rather than the usual foyer area. On the second week, 18th January, Jazzlines has something rather special: Handswoth born but now Georgia USA based singer Julie Dexter makes a very rare appearance in her home town with a group that features Soweto Kinch on alto sax. That’s back on the foyer at 5pm.
Jazzlines had great success in autumn 2018 with the co-promotions with Leftfoot at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath. One of the biggest successes was with the Ezra Collective group and its pianist Joe Armon-Jones returns to the Hare on Sunday 3rd February with his own project and band.
Then Tin Men and the Telephone return to the Birmingham Conservatoire to play the Eastside Jazz Club on 7th February. More on that later.
I have enjoyed 2018! Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2018 was one of the best yet and it’s great that the programme with its mix of cutting-edge jazz, more mainstream jazz and jazz related musics continues to attract big audiences. In Birmingham I have the privilege to be advising on the Jazzlines programme, working initially with Phil Woods and then with Mary Wakelam Sloan on her return from maternity leave. I always feel that a year round programme is more difficult to run and to attract audiences to as compared with festivals, but Birmingham has a thriving scene and a loyal following. It has fascinating to observe the upsurge in audiences for the current wave of young bands, such as Sons of Kemet and Ezra Collective; these concerts attract young diverse standing audiences at the Hare and Hounds who cheer and whoop during solos. It has been great to work with Leftfoot on these gigs.
I have also enjoyed working with Andy Woodhead on the Fizzle programme and on the TDE Promotions events in the Lamp Tavern, the lovely Hexagon Theatre at mac, in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and at the Hare and Hounds.
These were my favourite gigs and events in no particular order:
The 4-date tour with Paul Dunmall Quintet with Percy Pursglove, Steve Tromans, Dave Kane and Hamid Drake (TDE Promotions)
Two residencies for American artists in the Jazz Department at the Conservatoire: Peter Evans and Sam Pluta in February, and Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell in October. Both culminated in wonderful gigs with the jazz students. (Jazzlines and TDE Promotions)
Mark Guiliana Quartet at CBSO Centre (Jazzlines)
Jim Bashford Quartet at Eastside Jazz Club (Jazzlines)
Rachel Musson’s It Went This Way commission (TDE Promotions in the Surge Festival)
Lucia Cadotsch, Kadri Voorand and Elaine Mitchener/Alex Hawkins Quartet at Cheltenham Jazz Festival
Yazz Ahmed’s Hafla Band at CBSO Centre (Jazzlines)
The two tours set up by Jez Matthews of Jazz at the Lescar and the Jazz Promotion Network with Samantha Wright Quintet, Bela Horvath Trio, Josh Schofield Quartet and Morpher
A whole series of European bands in the Hexagon Theatre at mac : Malaby/Bonnet/Darrifourcq, Leila Martial’s Baa Box, Velvet Revolution (all TDE Promotions) plus Pablo Held Trio with special guest Percy Pursglove at Eastside Jazz Club (Jazzlines) and Tin Men and the Telephone’s residency in The Lab at the Conservatoire.
The 6 co-promotions at the Hare & Hounds between Leftfoot and Jazzlines with Sons of Kemet, Youssef Dayes, Kamaal Williams, Alfa Mist, Ezra Collective and Soweto Kinch
Luis Vicente and Lori Freedman at Lamp Tavern, both playing with Mark Sanders (Fizzle Gigs)
Amir el-Saffar’s Rivers of Sound at Kings Place (London Jazz Festival)
Jason Moran’s tribute to James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters at the Barbican (Serious)
A few negatives:
The loss of the Jazz Breakfast blog site
The ever decreasing coverage of jazz in the national media
The small crowd for Snack Family at the Hare and Hounds in October; it’s a great band mixing a kind of gothic rock with free improvisation. It was one of my gigs of the year.
I go to so many gigs and prefer to get my fix with live music, so do not have much time for listening at home. So I am yet to catch up with recent discoveries of albums by Coltrane, Dolphy et al. and the latest from Wayne Shorter. But in recent weeks I have enjoyed albums from the Hubro label in Norway, especially one entitled Brødløs by guitarist Geir Sundstøl and another entitled Building Instrument by the Mangelen Min group. I have also listened to and enjoyed an album led by SamuelHällkvist, the guitarist who appeared at the recent gig with Yazz Ahmed’s Hafla Band. It’s on the Swedish Boogie Post label and features a large ensemble which includes guitarist producer David Torn, who has had a clear influence on Samuel’s wonderfully expansive writing.
Some Nice Surprises
I picked up two albums on vinyl with Stan Sulzmann in duo format at the celebration of Stan’s 70th Birthday, both with pianists, one with John Taylor and the other with Tony Hymas. Both are delightful albums: the one with John Taylor is called Everybody’s Song But My Own, an album of tunes written by Kenny Wheeler, and the other with Tony Hymas is called Krark on which Tony Hymas plays some stunning solos on keyboards as well as grand piano.
At the time of writing The Baggies are third in the Championship and scoring goals!
Last week the Amsterdam based trio Tin Men and the Telephone spent a week in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire developing new material, playing a live broadcast and running three sharing sessions to present their work including the new material to audiences, and finally running a workshop for Conservatoire students of Music Technology, Composition and Jazz. This residency is part of a three year programme of residencies that is being co-ordinated by the Third Ear organisation.
I had heard Tin Men and the Telephone a couple of times at European festivals, and, although I found their shows to be very entertaining and good fun, I remained unsure about whether their approach of engaging with the audience through their app was a really important contribution to jazz. I then heard them at Ronnie Scott’s London earlier in the year and began to be convinced; they had developed new material that really did engage the audience in creating something with the band. I was also struck by the enthusiasm of the audience and their willingness to participate in the various activities.
The residency at The Conservatoire finally convinced me. What brought this about? I felt that the interaction with the audience through the app has become much more natural and fully integrated into the show. I loved the new ideas and the refinements of their different approaches: firstly, the development of a process by which pianist and leader of the group Tony Roe can use his piano keyboard to type words onto the screen, so that, for example, he can start the show by typing Hello onto the screen from the piano. By the end of the week Tony could react to and play random words put on the screen by the audience through the app. Then there was the use of recordings of world leaders of a populist persuasion to create musical representations of their speeches. I was really taken by the way their creation showed how rhythmic Trump’s speeches are. They took his announcement of the withdrawal of the USA from the Climate Accord and played on his short asides and showed how they can be translated into a rhythmic pattern played by the piano trio. It struck me that they have captured something that political analysts have not focussed on, and pinpointed one of the reasons why he has been successful in elections. The Democrats should immediately sign up the trio to work on their 2020 campaign.
Then there is the creation of a whole piece of improvised music from the input from the audience, again through the app. I had first heard this at the Ronnie Scott’s gig mentioned above. The app presents the audience with the chance to create a melody, then the harmony for it, and finally a rhythmic pattern. It does this through presenting on the app a circle and series of dots which the audience member moves into the circle, firstly for the melody, then for the harmony and finally for the rhythm. Each of these is done separately, and the trio improvises on each one before improvising a whole piece based on the three aspects. I particularly enjoyed the way that drummer Jamie Peet (depping for the regular drummer Bobby Petrov who was on paternity leave) interacted with the rhythms created by the audience. Also I have to admit to a feeling of triumph when my particular melody was chosen as part of the piece on one of the nights. I should also mention a very exciting duet between Jamie Peet and Brian Duffy of the Modified Toy Orchestra, who came in to advise on the third day of the residency.
The improvisations generated through this process are generally fresh and attention holding, but, of course, there is the danger that they just don’t come together on a particular night. That seemed to be the case on their third night when perhaps the melodies, harmony and rhythms created by the audience weren’t so interesting, or maybe the band just had an off night.
The live broadcast on the BBC3’s Jazz Now show attracted a good audience with up to 200 listeners from several countries downloading the app and participating. It is available on the BBC IPlayer, you can listen here.
There was also a short feature on the residency on BBC Midlands Today, you can access that here.
Tin and the Telephone will return to the Birmingham Conservatoire next year on Thursday 7th February for a full concert.
In a recent article on his The Blue Moment website, Richard Williams commented on the phenomenon of large, young standing crowds attending gigs with the so-called new London Wave of young jazz groups. He commented on the sense of excitement in the audience, and the way that whoops and cheers greet some of the more spectacular moments of the solos. You can read the article here.
The same phenomenon is occurring in Birmingham. This autumn Leftfoot promoters and the Jazzlines programme at Town Hall Symphony Hall have collaborated to run a series of concerts with key bands of this new generation, Sons of Kemet, Yussef Dayes, Kamaal Williams, Ezra Collective and Alfa Mist. These have taken place in the ideal setting of the Hare and Hounds pub (plus one at the larger Crossing venue); the Hare has an eclectic music programme and has a following among music fans in Birmingham. Each gig has sold out in advance to a young, mostly diverse audience who are clearly enjoying the mix of jazz, Afro-beat and urban music. And these bands are creating the same response that Richard Williams noted, that is, a noisy but supportive response both during and after the solos. The atmosphere created is vibrant and much appreciated by the bands themselves. Birmingham’s own Young Pilgrims also drew a good crowd in a separate strand of programming at the Hare and Hounds.
However, this is not the only thing happening in Birmingham. Co-promotions between Jazzlines and the Eastside Jazz Club in the new Birmingham Conservatoire building have generated good crowds for Julian Arguelles Tetra Group, Jean Toussaint’s Brother Raymond project as well as the Paul Dunmall Quintet with Hamid Drake on drums. The latter was a TDE Promotions/Fizzle promotion. And there have been wonderful concerts in different venues with Stan Sulzmann’s NEON Orchestra, Phronesis, Sara Colman and Brian Jackson.
Of course not every concert has sold as well as expected, but the situation today is reminiscent of the 1980s when the emergence of Courtney Pine, Loose Tubes and the Jazz Warriors and other groups brought a whole lot of new people to contemporary jazz and a certain amount of media attention. Like all surges of interest in the music, that came and went. It did almost certainly create a new set of fans who have stayed with the music since then.
Will the latest surge last? I feel optimistic; there are many more groups today attracting these new audiences than there were in the 1980s. And there is some evidence that some of these new audiences are checking out both more mainstream jazz gigs and some of the interesting developments in improvised music.