October Events In Birmingham

The free jazz and improvised music scene in Birmingham continues to thrive. In the last fortnight we have witnessed two excellent concerts with Emil Karlsen’s Tern + Richard Scott solo for Fizzle at the Centrala Gallery, and the Ripsaw Catfish + Richard Foote Double Trombone Quintet for TDE Promotions in the lovely Hexagon Theatre at mac. We also partnered with the Flatpack Film Festival to create a special event for all ages with animation and live improvisation.

I think we can convincingly promise that the October programme will be equally good. It starts with Mark Sanders’ CollapseUncollapse with the Steve Saunders/Christos Stylianides Duo in support. That’s at Centrala on Sunday 3rd October, 2pm. Then we have the return of the Paul Dunmall Invites series on Thursday 7th October with Paul inviting Percy Pursglove, Olie Brice and Jeff Williams. On Thursday 14th October Andrew Woodhead launches the Cd of his Pendulums project with bellringers and improvising ensemble. Coming up at the end of the month are a duo + trio session with Xhosa Cole, Neil Charles and Mark Sanders in the Hexagon on Thursday 28th and then TDE Promotions moves into the Main Theatre at mac with Cleveland Watkiss’ The Great Jamaican Songbook on Saturday 30th.

A bit about each of the main acts:

CollapseUncollapse Sunday 3rd October, 2pm Centrala, Minerva Works, Fazeley Street, Digbeth Birmingham

This is essentially a percussion + electronics project led by Mark on the drums with support from Chris Mapp on electric bass and pedals, and Andrew Woodhead on electronics. The band made its first recording in a video session for TDE Promotions/Fizzle at Sansom Studios earlier this year; you can see this here. It’s a wonderful example of inventive drumming with very interesting interruptions and contributions from the electronic sounds of Chris and Andrew. They have continued to work on the project and have recorded a whole album’s worth of audio material that they are planning to put out on a CD. Live it should be amazing! Guitarist Steve Saunders and trumpeter Christos Stylianides are two of the top graduates from Birmingham’s jazz; they make an excellent pairing and will provide just the right support for the main act

Paul Dunmall Invites Thursday 7th October Support band at 6.30, Main act at 7.45 Details of how to book tbc

The invited guests for this first Paul Dunmall Invites post lockdown session will be trumpeter Percy Pursglove, bass player Olie Brice and drummer Jeff Williams. It is a group that came together for the 2020 Ideas of Noise Festival, and one dreamt up by Percy and Olie who wanted see what would happen if Paul and Jeff were brought together. It really worked and they recorded a CD titled Palindromes on Olie’s West Hill label. It turned out to be even more of a joy than we had imagined – Olie Brice

Andrew Woodhead’s Pendulums Project Thursday 14th October, 7pm St. Paul’s Church St Paul’s Square

The Pendulums project is one of the most original new projects devised in the UK for many years. It brings together an improvising group of musicians and a team of bellringers. The music initially contrasts the two groups, but over the piece there is a convergence with the bellringers taking on some of the rhythms of the improvisers, and the improvisers influenced by the bellringers’ patterns. It is a fascinating process. I am also looking forward to hearing Lara Jones‘ solo set. Should be great in the lovely St. Paul’s Church. Tickets at the http://www.fizzlebirmingham.com site

Xhosa Cole Duos and Trio Thursday 28th October 8pm Hexagon Theatre

Xhosa Cole has shot into prominence in the last year with a national tour and a debut album on Stoney Lane Records. He is a fine player in a style influenced by the great American saxophonists, notably Sonny Rollins. He is, however, extremely flexible, and also loves to play in a free style. He was a key member of Rachel Musson’s I Went This Way group and has played regularly with Mark Sanders. Here he continues his musical relationship with Mark and brings in bass player Neil Charles for a session of duos and a trio. Xhosa will play in duo with Mark, also with Neil, and Mark and Neil will play in duo. The second set will be a trio set. This could be the gig of the autumn! Early booking is recommended; you can do so here.

Cleveland Watkiss and the Great Jamaican Songbook Saturday 30th October, 8pm Main Theatre, mac

Cleveland Watkiss is the finest male singer on the British scene. He was born in London to Jamaican parents and grew up listening to the greats of Jamaican music, performers such as Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, The Wailers, Burning Spear, Delroy Wilson and Gregory Isaacs. Cleveland will be paying tribute to these great singers with a really strong band, which will feature Orphy Robinson, Byron Wallen and Ray Carless. Romarna Campbell Trio will play the support slot. Romarna has returned from her course at Berklee in USA, and from the drums leads a very creative trio. Tickets are available here.

Friday Night Jazz At Symphony Hall Birmingham Returns





The Friday night jazz sessions at Symphony Hall return this Friday at 5.30 after a long break during the lockdown period, and they return to a new, specially designed venue up one floor from the original foyer in what is named the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space. The new venue was used during the Jazzlines Summer School and JazzFest, and is looking and sounding good.

The Friday night sessions are a legendary part of the Birmingham music scene; they have been going since 2004, and have created a warm, welcoming atmosphere that has always attracted good audiences over the years. I always remember the first session when we booked Bryan Corbett and his then quartet. We had no idea whether a session at 5.30 would attract an audience, but were delighted when a large audience turned up, and really enjoyed both the music and the informal atmosphere of the event. They have been coming ever since in large numbers. There are various reasons for this: the music has always been varied and the audience know that if one week they are less keen on the band, there will be a different one the following week; also, a community has grown up among the regulars at the session. People enjoy meeting friends as well as the music itself. Finally, the informality means that people can sit and enjoy a drink while listening to the music.

I think it is probably right to say that the sucess of these events encouraged management at Symphony Hall to plan and build the new space, which will be used for various types of event as well as the Jazzlines Friday sessions.

The first session (this Friday, 25th September) will feature Reuben Reynolds, a young guitarist that has impressed in the various groups he has appeared with at Symphony Hall and other venues round the city. Jazzlines has been encouraging him for some time to form his own group, so we are delighted that he has finally done so. It is a strong group that features local hero Xhosa Cole on saxophone, and an excellent drummer in Chris Russell.

This particular session will begin at 5.30 and will run to 7, but future sessions will begin at the earlier time of 5pm and run to 6.30. They will run nearly every Friday with a few exceptions, and a list of the bands booked will be available this Friday. Entrance is free, but you do need to book a ticket in order to come. You can do this online at https://bmusic.co.uk/events/housewarming-reuben-reynolds

Two Newly Discovered Live Recordings of Tim Berne’s Bloodcount

As Tim Berne says in the notes to these recordings, he should definitely tidy up more often. A recent tidying session brought to light two recordings of Bloodcount, the quartet Tim led with fellow saxophonist Chris Speed, bass player Michael Formanek and drummer Jim Black, and which was often joined by guitarist Marc Ducret. These are two full recordings of concerts recorded, as Tim reports, by ‘someone, somewhere’, one with the quartet, the other with the quartet plus Ducret. The year of the recordings is given as 1997, and this is the year that Tim toured the UK with Bloodcount and Ducret under the auspices of the Arts Council’s Contemporary Music Network (CMN), so it just could be that the recordings were made in UK, possibly even in Birmingham!

The recordings, one with the title Attention Spam with the quartet, and one with Ducret added simply titled Bloodcount ‘5’, have excellent sound and show Bloodcount at its very best; indeed Tim describes them as the best examples of the band in a live situation. It’s a group that I heard quite often back in the late 90s, both on tour in the UK and at a festival in France, and I agree that these recordings are brilliant examples of Bloodcount’s live work. All the features that make the band so distinctive and creative are there: the extended pieces that truly take one on a journey through complex themes that may come at different stages in the work, the development of these themes over a strong pulse from Michael Formanek and Jim Black, the intense solos from Tim on baritone as well as alto saxophone, and from Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, the duets between the two saxophonists, the extra textures that Ducret adds to the sound of the quartet, and the very stimulating changes of direction in the music that come at various points and catch the listener by surprise. I have heard Tim use the term ‘maximalism’ to describe his music using it as a contrast to the minimalism of certain contemporary composers, such as Steve Reich,or Olafur Arnolds, and I feel that this term captures the essence of his music and the way that a given piece has a series of constantly evolving events.

Listening to these tracks (available at https://screwgunrecords.com/) having heard both Tim Berne’s earlier work on Fulton Street Maul, with Miniature and Caos Totale, and his later work with the Snakeoil group, it is interesting to reflect on how the music of Tim Berne’s groups has developed. The earlier work has many of the features of the Bloodcount recording, but there is less integration of the composition and the improvisation. The Caos Totale and Fulton Street Maul groups with players such as Bill Frisell, Herb Robertson, Bobby Previte, Joey Baron allow considerably greater space for the individual soloists. I see Bloodcount as a kind of interim group that is the forerunner of Tim’s current group Snakeoil in that the music in Bloodcount focusses much more on collective improvisation weaving in and out of the composition. We see this very clearly on the final two tracks on the Attention Spam album, Talk Dirty To Me and IRU.S. It should be mentioned that Tim has also led various other groups: the Paraphrase group which is devoted entirely to free improvisation, and the Science Friction and Sun of Goldfinger groups which create a more electronic sound. Recent duets with Mark Helias have also been largely improvised, see https://markhelias.bandcamp.com/album/not-for-the-multitudes.

In my opinion all these strands come together in Tim’s latest working group Snakeoil. For me, the greatest compliment is that in listening to Snakeoil one is frequently unsure as to whether a particular passage is composed or improvised. It all blends together in a wonderfully stimulating way. But this is not to dismiss the Bloodcount recordings; they are brilliant examples of creative music.

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Reflections on Five Cds Chosen At Random From My Collection

There is always a danger that Cds are bought or arrive in the post, played once or twice, and then filed away. So I have been selecting several Cds at random, listening to them, and writing a short piece about them. I don’t intend to write about them in detail, rather just summarising them in a few sentences.

Joe Henderson: The State Of The Tenor: Live At The Village Vanguard with Ron Carter and Al Foster

Blue Note Records

Joe Henderson leads a really strong trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster. The music is an excellent example of the style that developed in the 1960s, modal, post-bop. Henderson shows how creative one can be in that style with a beautiful range of phrases in each solo played over the always inventive rhythmic support from Carter and Foster. Carter also takes some excellent solos

Lotte Anker and Fred Frith Edge Of The Light

Intakt Records

Lotte Anker is a Danish saxophonist who playes in the free jazz/improvised music style. Here she appears in duo with Fred Frith on electric guitar. It’s a delightful album that features a very empathetic conversation between Anke and Frith which moves between the spiky, the charming and the melodic. Frith is as inventive as ever, and in the sleeve notes states that the duo is his favourite format, and that he was able to establish an immediate rapport with Anke on this recording.

Alcyona Mick Around The Sun Audio B Records

Alcyona Mick, or just Alcyona as she is listed here, was one of the students on the first jazz course run at Birmingham Conservatoire, There she was taught by Liam Noble, and his influence is apparent in her playing. The album dates from 2006 and features original compositions by Alcyona, and an excellent group featuring Robbie Robson on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Hanslip on tenor sax, Alcyona on piano, Phil Donkin on double bass, and Asaf Sirkis drums on most tracks and John Bleese on two others. Vocalist Olivia Chaney appears on one track.

It’s a fine album with excellent solos from the group, especially Alcyona and Mark Hanslip, nice Monkish compositions from Alcyona, and two brilliant solo piano improvisations from Alcyona, one, Black Notes, White Notes, showing an influence from classical music, the second, Discussion, equally good with more of jazz feel.

Alcyona seems not to be leading her own groups these days, but appearing in duo with Tori Freestone, and in groups led by Brigitte Beraha and Henry Lowther. Her appearances in these groups have been well reviewed. Alcyona also writes film scores and is listed as a film composer on the internet.

Finn Peters Su-Ling Babel Label

It was good to revisit the this debut album from 2006 by Finn Peters. Finn is an extremely versatile musician who has worked in contemporary classical ensembles as well as urban music contexts; in this album he focusses on his jazz roots, but reveals an openness clearly derived from his versatility. The album has a lot of variety, and we hear this in the opening track, Al Dar Gazelli, which has an attractive groove and an African feel created by guitarist David Okumu, bass player Tom Herbert and drummer Tom Skinner. The title track has a strong Chinese feel created by Nick Ramm on piano and Finn on percussion. It’s interesting that the album cover includes a quote from Gilles Peterson, and it is clear that the album will have had an appeal for Gilles’ radio audience as well as fans of contemporary British and European jazz. Sadly, Finn seems to have gone very quiet in recent years.

Herb Robertson Certified JMT Records

I like the description in the Guide to Jazz on CD of Herb Robertson as giving ‘the impression that he took up the trumpet only that afternon, discovered an aptitude for it, and has been having fun ever since‘. On this album he plays trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and valve trombone, often combining with bass trombonist David Taylor to create a splendid brassy sound. This album from 1991 presents music that is typical of the music of the so-called ‘downtown scene’ in New York; it’s very open, full of interesting twists as it moves in and out of composition and improvisation. It is quite often simply bonkers, occasionally indulgently so. But I am delighted to have rediscovered this album which is part of the short-lived but influential output of the JMT label under Stefan Winter.