I’m excited to have been given a 25 minute slot in the Exeter Respect Festival on 7th June to perform a new piece for saxophone and soundscape. Thing is there is, as yet, no such piece so will be knuckling down to it in the coming weeks. I’ve promised them something ‘summery’ and suited to the vibe of the festival which is an annual celebration of diversity in the city.
In case you were wondering, my original pitch to the organisers was for a duo slot with singer Jules Yount so from the diversity point of view it was a Yank and an old bloke. In the end Jules couldn’t do it but fortunately they liked my alternative idea.
My plan is to record some ostinati on double bass, some easy fingerpicking on guitar, some piano chords, congas and drums (I knew all my dabbling with other instruments would come in handy one day!) mix it all up with some found sounds (bird song, etc) and write some sax lines and improv sections to play live over it. What could go wrong? Like my last piece Clock Works for improv ensemble which was controlled by stop watches this piece also will be totally pinned down in terms of duration and procession of musical events, this time by the soundscape. I’m not yet sure how to reflect the vibe of the festival in the piece. The obvious thing would be to incorporate elements of “ethnic” music but it might feel a bit phony to incorporate what would probably amount to pastiche. I’m pretty sure that whatever I set out to do it will end up having a strong jazz influence!
Catch the performance at 11.15am on the Cafe Stage at the Respect Festival on Sun 7th June in Belmont Park, Exeter.
I really enjoyed playing double bass with the wonderful EMG Symphony Orchestra in Exeter Cathedral on Saturday night. The programme of French music (Ravel, Faure, Debussey, Saint-Saens) was beautiful and the cathedral was packed: somewhere between 600 and 700 people! We rehearsed on Friday evening and on Saturday morning before the concert and things got a bit dicey in the double bass section. On Friday evening, we were one down from five to four players in the section because of illness and by Saturday morning we had lost another one too. Both of the missing ones are among the stronger players in the section so I for one was feeling very much on the spot especially in the quieter movements where we were quite exposed. I think that all three of us raised our game somewhat for that final rehearsal but nevertheless it was a great relief when both of our absent colleagues managed to drag themselves in for the performance itself. The marked increase in sound and confidence in the bass section for the performance made everything so much easier and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.
The concert more or less coincides with the end of my second year of playing double bass. This time last year I had just done my first big concert with the orchestra, a Vaughan Williams programme also in the cathedral. I enjoyed that one too but my confidence and facility have both grown enormously over the course of the year. I’m so glad I took the plunge and bought a double bass two years ago and I really appreciate the opportunity to play with such a good amateur orchestra: playing almost any other instrument, the competition from much more experienced and accomplished players would definitely have kept me out.
It’s been a good week for jazz gigs. The Bridge Jazz Club 4th Birthday celebration on 1st April was a great success: after an enjoyable opening set from the house band of myself on tenor sax and congas, Bob Martin on trombone, Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul on double bass and Jim Newton on drums played to a packed house, we were treated to some original poetry by Bard of Exeter, Mantie Lister before the jam session. The jam kicked of with some very sweet salsa type music from Caroline and friends with two female voices, two flutes, Rich on congas plus keys and bass. Raddon on trombone (yes another one after four years without hearing one at the club) with Tony on alto and Marius on tenor gave us Blue Bossa and we were off for a night of top latin jazz – even Blue Monk performed by the two trombonists was given a latin twist. Thanks to all who played and those who made this another record attendance. My thanks to the Friends of BJC who continue to help with regular donations towards room hire and raffle prizes and to volunteers Steve and Guy who cover the door each month. Here’s to another year of the Bridge Jazz Club. Next club night is Wed 6th May when the house band will be myself with fine young pianist Matt Carter, the excellent Al Swainger on double bass and Ron Jones on kit.
The next day I was up in Bath playing with the excellent house trio at St James Wine Vaults. I can’t remember enjoying a gig so much for a long time and as the guest I received a really warm reception from the audience packed in under the low vaulted cellar ceiling. The sound was great and Vyv Hope-Scott on keys, Trevor Davies on drums and Wade Edwards were all on top form, responding most creatively to the tunes I put in front of them. As well as another packed house and selling CDs I was happy to receive a sketch made by gifted amateur artist Linda Gamlin who was in the audience. I’m hoping that I will be able to bring the house trio down later in the year to play at the Bridge JC here in Exeter.
This Monday I was at the Clifford Arms in Shaldon with my Latin jazz quartet Lightflight playing to a good bank holiday audience, happy after a couple of days of Easter sunshine. It was a hell of a squeeze getting four of us plus my congas into the tiny playing space at the Clifford and as usual I was pretty deaf by the interval: although not that loud out among the diners and drinkers the acoustics there have the effect of boxing in the sound around the band. Also as usual, Matt Johns on keys was inspiring me to play hard and wild and most of the tunes really took off. Another very enjoyable gig! Also on the gig were top bass player Jim Rintoul and fine drummer/percussionist Ron Jones. It was great to be back in Shaldon.
I’m out for one more jazz gig this week doing a duo at Frou Frou on Thursday in Tiverton with excellent pianist Philip Clouts. Catch us from 7.30pm in what is a bijou French style bistro. It’s definitely a case of quiet and controlled playing in the tiny space there.
On Saturday I will be wrestling the double bass through a concert of beautiful French works by Ravel, Debussy, Faure and Saint-Saëns with the excellent EMG Symphony Orchestra in Exeter Cathedral. Really looking forward to that one. The acoustics in the cathedral are fantastic; the orchestra is rammed with fantastic musicians; and the pieces are really beautiful!
Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune
Ravel – Rapsodie Espagnole
Fauré – Pelléas et Mélisande
Saint-Saëns – Symphony No. 3 ‘Organ Symphony’
Tickets £15/£12/£10/£8 – discounts available for students/U16s.
This Wednesday sees the fourth birthday of the Bridge Jazz Club which meets on the first Wednesday each month at Exeter Phoenix. We are celebrating with a latin jazz special and a house band expanded from the usual quartet to a quintet. Not only will the house band include a trombone player for the first time this month, this will be the first time, as far as I can remember, that a trombone has ever been heard at the club despite the thriving jam session which always follows the opening set from the house band.
The house band will be myself on tenor sax and congas, Bob Martin on trombone, Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul double bass and Jim Newton on drums. The presence of congas has also excited interest from some of the jam session regulars who are into the latin Jazz/salsa scene so it promises to be a fun night.
In a another first for the club we will be treated to a poetry reading in the break by the newly appointed Bard of Exeter, Mantie Lister. This is something I’ve wanted to try at the club for ages and I’m so glad to have found someone so keen as Mantie to give it a go. The young poet has free reign so I can’t wait to hear what she decides to read.
Jammers are asked to bring latin jazz tunes for this one. As always, the music starts at 8.30pm in the Voodoo Lounge at Exeter Phoenix and door entry is £6 or £4 for jammers.
Friday saw the first performance of my new guided improvisation suite Clock Works at Exeter Phoenix as part of the Vibraphonic Festival. The band was jazz-meets-contemporary-music ensemble Off the Cuff made up from musicians I play jazz with, members of Exeter based composers group Echoes and members of previous ensembles like the Scratch Orchestra. The suite in four movements, each exactly 10 minutes long is controlled by stopwatch (phone apps). Although we were making no attempt to hide the phones or disguise the countdown to set the stopwatches going at the start of each movement, the audience were clearly puzzled and intrigued by how, amidst such apparent free and chaotic playing, there were still clear points when the feel or harmony changed and where certain players stopped or started to play. In fact, at the end of the piece I was asked to explain to the audience how the piece worked. The musicians were paying close attention to the score throughout and this clearly gave the impression to some of the audience that it might all be written. This is also something that happens in jazz gigs: people new to jazz assume that musicians are reading the dots rather than just following chords or a melody which they haven’t yet got around to learning.
Rather than create 10 different parts for the suite I had opted to produce just three: a concert part and parts for the Bb horns and Eb alto sax. This had the advantage of letting all the musicians see everything that was supposed to be happening at any point. The disadvantage is that the musicians are seeing a lot of information which isn’t directly about what they have to play themselves and because the piece was played completely unrehearsed, there were a few instances when people were playing who shouldn’t be and visa versa. In a largely improvised piece this is no disaster. It is also impossible for musicians to be lost for long in Clock Works: you just look at the stopwatch and slot right back into the score. Hopefully it’s a piece that will evolve with repeated playings. I don’t plan to rehearse it for future performances either: better to keep it fresh and unpredictable. The intention was always to compose a piece which keeps the energy and freedom of free improvisation but adds shape and contrast. The logistics and economics of a band that large always prohibited rehearsal. What I will do is go through each of the 10 copies of the score highlighting specific instructions for the instrument in question. There are also a few places where the instrumentation in the background needs paring down to bring the soloists out more.
In the second half of the concert, we played a short piece by Emma Welton called Generation: Water Study (Wave), part of a series of compositions she is writing based on the sounds created during electricity generation and in this case by wave power. It involved a lot of key clacking on the saxophones and brass and swelling glissandi and was very effective. This was followed by a live coding session by Tim Sayer: as the musicians improvised following a set of simple rules in response to cues generated by his laptop, Tim generated electronic sounds and triggered samples in real time. We ended with a 10 minute free improvisation session in which a couple of the audience members also participated.
My thanks to all the musicians involved, to Exeter Phoenix who hosted the event and also to the Vibraphonic Festival who helped promote it.
The Bridge Jazz Club which I host each month at Exeter Phoenix had another great turnout on Wednesday. The house band was myself on tenor sax with James Clemas on keys, Kevin Sanders in double bass and Gary Evans on drums so quite a classy rhythm section. As well as new faces amongst the listeners we were treated to performances by previously unheard musicians in the jam session. Among these was another new double bass player to the area, Valere Speranza who sounded great on Kevin’s bass. A couple of months ago we discovered the fantastic Ron Phelan in the same way. As usual I was struggling to fit in all the jammers who wanted to play: 3 saxes, flute, trumpet, 2 guitars, vox, 2 pianists & 2 drummers! I had to get the house band to ration their solos to get everyone in.
Next month is the fourth birthday of the club which we are celebrating with a latin Jazz evening. I will be playing sax & congas along with fiery trumpet player Tim Sayer, the awesome Matt Johns on keys, fine double bassist Jim Rintoul and the excellent Jim Newton on drums. Jammers are asked to bring latin tunes for this one on Wed 1st April. Don’t forget your bongos!
As well as my new suite Clock Works for improvising ensemble, 10-piece band Off the Cuff will be performing a new work by composer Emma Welton. “Generation: Water Study (Wave)” is part of a series of works based on sounds created during the generation of electricity. The score is due to arrive in the post soon but I do know it is scored for piccolo, 2 alto saxes, 2 flugelhorns, bass clarinet, washboard and unplugged keyboard!
Also on the bill is live coding by electronics whizz Tim Sayer. Tim is promising a simple score for the ensemble and during the performance he will be manipulating the sound and at the same time projecting the computer code he is using to do so onto the wall. Tim’s piece is called “The Cue Garden”.
My own 40 minute piece in 4 movements, has Off the Cuff playing amongst many other wonderful things, “time no changes”, “changes no time” and the syllabic structure of latin text as a rhythmic framework for improvised solos against a wash of rising and falling lines in the other instruments.
The event is part of the Vibraphonic Festival and is on Fri 20th March 8.30pm in the Top Studio at Exeter Phoenix. Tickets are £7.50 on the door or in advance from me. Only 40 tickets are available and they are already selling so it’s probably a good idea to get in touch with me (email@example.com) and buy yours now!