STEVE MELLING TRIO
SATURDAY 10TH MAY 2014
"To me it was sheer joy - a rare privilege to be up close to such brilliant creative and cohesive improv in the true spirit of jazz. " Laurie Grey
" They were outstanding. Steve's a world class pianist..." Geoff James
More to follow soon
CLARK TRACEY QUINTET
SATURDAY 12th APRIL 2014
Another sell out gig at The Hive with the marvellous Clark Tracey Quintet
See this very generous review by Ian Mann – The Jazz Man
SATURDAY 22nd MARCH 2014
“Ian Mann enjoys a live performance by saxophonist and composer Jean Toussaint and his long running quartet. He also takes a look at their new album "Tate Song".
Jean Toussaint 4, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 22/03/2014.
Saxophonist, composer and educator Jean Toussaint was born in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in 1957 and took up the tenor saxophone while still at high school. He subsequently studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and later moved to New York where he worked with many of that city’s leading jazz musicians. Toussaint was famously a member of the late, great Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, staying for four years (1982-86) and playing alongside musicians of the calibre of trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Wallace Roney, alto saxophonists Donald Harrison and Kenny Garrett, pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassists Peter Washington and Lonnie Plaxico. He still maintains close links with members of his “Jazz Messengers family”.
In 1987 Toussaint was invited to teach at the Guildhall School of Music in London and found that he liked the city so much that he decided to make it his base. In the years since Toussaint has become a much loved figure on the UK jazz scene both as a performer and an educator (he also teaches at Birmingham Conservatoire, Trinity Laban and the Royal Academy of Music). His recordings and live performances have featured both British and American musicians and Toussaint has two major projects planned for 2015 which will honour the memory of his former mentor Art Blakey in the year of the 25th anniversary of Blakey’s death.
In the meantime Toussaint has just released a new album on Irish drummer David Lyttle’s Lyte record label. Entitled “Tate Song” it features Toussaint’s long running working quartet, credited here as the Jean Toussaint 4. Besides the leader on tenor and soprano saxes the group includes the brilliant pianist Andrew McCormack, double bassist Larry Bartley and in demand drummer Troy Miller. These four formed the core band on Toussaint’s excellent 2009 live recording “Live in Paris & London” (Space Time Records), a set that amply demonstrates the quality and excitement of Toussaint’s live shows.
Those qualities were very much in evidence tonight in front of a capacity audience at The Hive. I’ve never seen the venue so full and although this caused a certain degree of chaos and congestion in the foyer it was great to see so many people supporting jazz in the town. This was the second sold out event of the week in Shrewsbury following the excellent (but very different) performance by Tcha Limberger’s Budapest Gypsy Orchestra at the Shrewsbury Coffeehouse the previous Monday. It’s probably fair to say that The Hive has been the beneficiary of the axing of the jazz programme at The Edge in nearby Much Wenlock. An upright piano had been brought in for McCormack’s use and although not quite as impressive as the grand hired for a recent show by Liam Noble it still sounded good, a vast improvement over even the best electric models.
“Tate Song” features liner notes by Toussaint’s old musical sparring partner Julian Joseph and the distinctive artwork of Gina Jennings. The programme consists of five Toussaint originals plus two pieces from the pen of McCormack, all of which were heard tonight, plus Milton Nascimento’s “Vera Cruz” and the standard “These Foolish Things” .
Tonight’s performance began with the album opener “Mood Mode”, a Toussaint original that found him paying homage to the modal jazz style pioneered by John Coltrane. Joseph’s liner notes describe it as “a medium tempo groove over a minor pedal into a short seven bar swing release with chord changes”. Whatever the technicalities of the piece this provided the springboard for strong opening solo statements from both Toussaint and McCormack above Miller’s fluid polyrhythmic flow and Bartley’s sturdy underpinning bass. Toussaint sounded authentically Coltrane-esque and the always interesting McCormack maintained a good balance between the hands by including some strong, attention grabbing left hand figures during the course of the first of many hugely imaginative solos. The piece closed with a feature for the excellent Miller, a final focus for the swing and energy he brings to this group. I’ve also seen Miller fairly recently (Brecon Jazz Festival 2013) bringing his rhythmic drive to bear in the very different bands of Soweto Kinch and Roy Ayers.
After the increasingly fiery opener the next item was more reflective in mood. “My Dear Ruby” is Toussaint’s dedication to his now seventeen year old daughter but knowledgeable jazz fans will also note the homage to Thelonious Monk alluded to in the title. The late, great pianist and composer is a particular Toussaint favourite and the saxophonist has recorded several of Monk’s pieces in the past.
Toussaint’s own tune brought out a more lyrical side to both his and McCormack’s playing and there was also a superb feature from Larry Bartley, a musician I hadn’t seen play in a small group context for far too long (Ingrid Laubrock’s “Phorensic” group back in 2006!).
“Mulgrew” was Toussaint’s tribute to the late pianist Mulgrew Miller (1955-2013), his former Jazz Messengers colleague. One might have expected a tender ballad or lament but instead this piece contained some of the spikiest “out” playing of the set, an unexpected nudging of the avant garde that was exploratory and relatively unstructured but not without soul and feeling on a piece that was essentially a feature for the leader’s insistently probing tenor.
An aside – I saw Miller give an excellent performance with his trio featuring bassist Ivan Taylor and drummer Rodney Green at the 2007 Brecon Jazz Festival. I’m glad I got the opportunity to see this top class musician, whose premature death following a stroke represented a tragedy for the entire jazz community.
Toussaint revealed that pianist McCormack is now living in Brooklyn, although Andrew later told me that he’s living a very Trans-Atlantic life, he’s back in the UK next month touring with bassist Kyle Eastwood. It was McCormack’s superb composition “Vista” which closed the first set, a real highlight that opened with a wonderfully absorbing dialogue between the composer at the piano and Bartley on brilliantly bowed bass. Toussaint sat on about the only spare chair in the house and watched his colleagues appreciatively from among the audience. Bartley subsequently put down the bow and soloed pizzicato for a while before the pair were subsequently joined by Miller and eventually by Toussaint who had switched to soprano which he played in keening, Coltrane-esque style, stating the theme before leaving the way clear for McCormack’s solo which developed from the circling two chord vamp around which the tune is based into something far more expansive, lyrical at first but then taking on a percussive, Monkish energy culminating in a series of powerful block chords, these fuelled by Miller’s explosive drumming and Bartley’s muscular underpinning bass. Toussaint’s biting, squiggling soprano solo maintained the energy levels, again recalling Coltrane’s playing on the straight horn, before the quartet gradually wound things down to bring the piece full circle and end with a gently lyrical coda. Despite its simple beginnings this was a piece with a strong narrative arc and a real sense of drama. It’s the final piece on the record and a real live and album highlight.
The second set began with Toussaint’s “Rice (For CR Peppers)”, a dedication to one of his buddies from his Boston days. Essentially hard bop in style it began with a series of quick fire exchanges between tenor, piano and drums before a sparky Toussaint solo incorporating a quote from the Wayne Shorter composition “Water Babies”. On this high energy tune McCormack’s solo was suitably rollicking, full of melodic and harmonic invention. Bartley’s solo bass feature demonstrated both muscularity and musicality and following a somewhat abstract group passage Miller’s drum feature was typically incendiary, triggering in turn a final tenor salvo from the leader.
“Tate Song” itself is Toussaint’s dedication to his twenty four year old singer songwriter son, now resident in Santa Cruz, California. It’s closer to a true ballad than the tune written for his daughter, albeit one with a very contemporary staggered sense of time which gives the piece an air of abstraction. Toussaint emoted soulfully above the scrabble of Miller’s drums and essentially this was his feature, with the exception of an economical solo from McCormack.
The pianist came into his own as the other band members left the stage for McCormack to deliver a stunning solo version of the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn composition “Prelude To A Kiss”. McCormack’s interpretation was exact and thoughtful with a very contemporary use of space and a subtle sense of harmonic adventure. He played with great sensitivity and the results were frequently beautiful. This unexpected bonus (it doesn’t appear on the “Tate Song” album) was rapturously received by an appreciative Shrewsbury audience.
The JT4’s interpretation of Brazilian singer songwriter Milton Nascimento took the composer’s gorgeous melody and added a modal jazz twist to the rhythms of the samba with expansive solos from Toussaint and McCormack, at first reflective but later more more forceful as tension was built and released. At one point Toussaint’s tenor whinnied impatiently as Miller replied with a lively commentary from the drums before everything was resolved with a return to Nascimento’s lilting melody.
The second set concluded, as the first had done, with a composition from the pen of pianist McCormack. “Tunnel Vision” proved to be medium tempo blues that variously recalled the music of Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and the Blue Note label in general. There was an extended passage of playing in saxophone trio mode with Toussaint’s playing reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, highly appropriate given Toussaint’s birthplace of St. Thomas and with the island also lending its name to one of Rollins’ most famous tunes). With Bartley and Miller providing a restless, relentless rhythmic drive Toussaint really took the opportunity to cut loose as McCormack rose from the piano and paused to admire the work of his colleagues. Eventually the composer returned to the piano for an equally bravura solo of his own , urged on by Miller’s powerful but crisp drumming and Bartley’s muscular bass. Perspiration broke out on Bartley’s brow during an extended passage of solo bass (McCormack wore a woolly hat all evening, he must have been baking) before Miller took over for a drum feature punctuated by sax and bass. Finally it was back to the Rollins style trio as Toussaint took his last solo of the evening, blowing up a storm behind McCormack’s piano vamp and Miller’s propulsive back-beat.
Despite a rapturous reception from the capacity crowd this was it for the evening although the band members spent a long time chatting with members of the audience post gig. Toussaint was careful to thank bassist Chris Levin and drummer Tony Bianco who were both in the audience. Hilary Hannaford of promoters Shropshire Jazz Network pronounced herself delighted with the both the audience turn out and the quality of the music on one of SJN’s most successful nights. It is to be hoped that this will be repeated on April 12th 2014 when drummer and band leader Clark Tracey will visit The Hive with his quintet. There will be a degree of continuity as Clark will be fulfilling his “British Art Blakey” role by leading a band packed with emerging jazz talent including the remarkable young pianist Reuben James. “Another biggie” as Hilary put it.
In the meantime “Tate Song” is well worth a listen. The quartet played virtually all of it tonight, the exception being their version of “These Foolish Things”, on album played at a pace slightly faster than a true ballad but with plenty of feeling and with Miller deploying brushes throughout.
The quartet are still touring the album visit http://www.jeantoussaint.com for details of forthcoming events.
MARTIN SPEAKE TRIO
SATURDAY 11TH JANUARY 2014
“Ian Mann enjoys an excellent live performance by the Martin Speake Trio and takes a look at their double album "Always A First Time".
Alto saxophonist Martin Speake and his trio got Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s 2014 programme off to a great start at this well attended gig at The Hive. Speake is one of the UK’s most versatile alto players and has recorded prolifically, often on his own Pumpkin label which he founded in 2007. Born in 1958 Speake came to prominence during the 1980’s jazz boom, initially as a member of the saxophone quartet Itchy Fingers. He later established a solo career and has worked with like minded musicians from all over the globe in a variety of different jazz styles and line ups, from the mainstream to the experimental, duo to jazz orchestra. A keenly intelligent musician Speake defies categorisation or pigeon holing.
Among his current projects is his innovative trio featuring guitarist Mike Outram and Speake’s long time collaborator, drummer Jeff Williams. In 2012 these three recorded the adventurous double album “Always A First Time”, a lavishly packaged collection that was released on Pumpkin in 2013. Largely recorded “live in the studio” the material includes an impressive collection of Speake originals, four jazz standards and an arrangement of a piece by Puccini (of which more later). Many of the pieces were first takes, hence the title, I guess. The style ranges from chamber jazz to more experimental, subtly rock tinged pieces, the music often beautiful but always fiercely intelligent.
Each tune is dedicated to a person, these ranging from Speake’s childhood jazz heroes and contemporary musical colleagues to more personal family dedications. There’s even a piece dedicated to Fidel Castro. The packaging is liberally sprinkled with thought provoking quotes from a wide variety of sources, musical, political, literary and philosophical, a reflection of Speake’s wide range of interests ( parallel to his musical career he practises Nutritional Medicine).
The material played at Shrewsbury was largely sourced from “Always A First Time” but there was one enforced change from the album line up. American born Williams had been obliged to return to the US to be with his father who is currently seriously ill. Here at the Jazzmann we wish Jeff and Mr. Williams Sr. well at this difficult time.
For the Shrewsbury show Mark Sanders stepped into the breach and acquitted himself superbly. Speake and Sanders are old friends and colleagues and collaborated on the spontaneous duo album “Spark”, reviewed elsewhere on this site. I’ve seen Sanders perform live before in bands led by saxophonists Paul Dunmall and Ken Vandermark and as part of guitarist Alex Ward’s powerful quartet Predicate. On each of these occasions he’s been an energetic “driver” of the band, tonight represented a welcome opportunity to see Sanders in more of a “colourist” role and he responded magnificently, giving notice as to just what a versatile musician he is. Amazingly this was his first performance with this particular trio but one would never have guessed.
The first set began with Speake’s tune “Pumpkin”, from which his record label took its name, Speake’s alto dovetailed delicately with Outram’s spidery guitar lines above a backdrop of Sanders’ cymbal shimmers. Speake exhibited a purity of tone and inventive turn of phrase that recalled that of Lee Konitz, one of his major inspirations. Outram was the perfect foil, his textured guitar playing making subtle use of tone controls and other electronic effects.
The title track from “Always A First Time” began with a sax/guitar duet and introduced a folk like melody which formed the basis for solos from Speake on typically pure toned alto and Outram on guitar, the latter’s feature full of inventive and imaginative chord progressions. Sanders meanwhile grew into his role, colouring the music intelligently as he deployed a variety of sticks, brushes and mallets. The similarly versatile Williams performs a similar role on the recorded version.
Solo saxophone ushered in an innovative arrangement of Rodgers & Hart’s standard “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, Speake subsequently playing snatches of the melody as he soloed above the brushed bustle of Sanders’ drums. Outram’s solo saw him adopting a cleaner, more orthodox jazz guitar sound full of agile chording. Finally came a largely brushed drum feature from Sanders, which also saw him making imaginative use of his bass drum to convey complex rhythmic inflections.
Speake’s laconic announcing style saw him introduce the next tune as “this one’s by Puccini”. This proved to be the trio’s version of “O Mio Babbino Caro”, which also appears on the album. Saxophone and guitar gently ushered in Puccini’s memorable melody with Sanders later adding delicate brush work. However an innovative twist later saw the trio gradually steering the music in a more contemporary direction and flirting with atonality as Sanders swapped his brushes for sticks and mallets and Outram effected bass lines on the top strings of his guitar.
Bud Powell’s “Audrey” doesn’t appear on “Always a First Time” but the title suggests a dedication and the tune therefore seemed an appropriate choice. Another sax/guitar intro announced the boppish theme, this leading to a series of thrilling exchanges between Speake, Outram and Sanders and finally an extended solo from the drummer.
Returning to the album we heard “Folk Song For Paul”, Speake’s homage to the late, great drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011), with whom he collaborated on the 2006 ECM album “Change Of Heart”. Outram’s extraordinary solo guitar intro made subtle use of layering and looping effects before Speake’s alto stated the lovely, almost naïve, folk like melody. Gentle but imaginative solos by Outram and Speake were sympathetically supported by Sanders’ sympathetic brush work. Dedicated the piece to Motian, Speake revealed what a significant influence the older man had been on him.
The first half ended with an unannounced standard, most likely the album’s “When Your Lover Has Gone”, which included solos from Speake and Outram, exchanges with Sanders, and finally a drum featuring Sanders’ familiar use of brushes and bass drum.
The second set was equally fine, but by this time Speake seemed to be getting bored of tune announcements and the trio seemed to be enjoying themselves too much to let such niceties get in the way of their music making. Most people didn’t seem to mind but it’s not quite so easy for a reviewer!
The first piece began with an alto/drum duet and took the music into powerful, free jazz waters barely hinted at in the first set culminating in a stunning solo from Sanders that demonstrated the high octane style of his that I was more familiar with. Summoning an astonishing array of sounds from his kit Sanders produced a percussive tour de force that went down a storm with the Shrewsbury audience. The piece proved to be “In Code”, Speake’s spiky tribute to the great Ornette Coleman.
A change of pace for “Best Laid Plans”, an original piece with a melody that wouldn’t have disgraced a standard.
This pensive rendition included a wonderfully imaginative solo from Outram, reminiscent at times of Pat Metheny at his best, and an equally thoughtful and absorbing dialogue between old sparring partners Speake and Sanders.
The Speake original “15 Years Too Long” reintroduced the saxophonist’s bebop tendencies and included extended solo passages from each of the three instrumentalists.
“Country Boy” was Speake’s dedication to the American bassist Charlie Haden (one time colleague of Paul Motian, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Pat Metheny and many others). The title references Haden’s upbringing in rural Missouri (also Metheny’s home state) but behind the attractive melody the playing possessed a grit that reflected Haden’s later political activism.
Next up (I think) was “Secret Wood”, Speake’s dedication to his trio colleague Mike Outram. Song like in construction, the piece opened with Outram alone, establishing a hypnotic guitar motif which locked in with Sander’s drum groove to provide a backdrop for Speake’s opening solo. Outram’s own solo evidenced a strong rock influence, one that I’ve seen surface in his playing many times over the years in bands led by drummer Asaf Sirkis and others. As versatile as his colleagues Outram has worked extensively in other fields including pop, rock and theatre.
The second set concluded with two airy, gossamer light ballads which saw Outram playing without a pick to increase the overall air of tenderness and fragility. The second of these exquisite pieces was the standard “If I Loved You” by Rodgers and Hammerstein which saw the musicians expertly letting the music fade away to nothingness, as dramatic in its own quiet way as Outram’s earlier guitar pyrotechnics.
An attentive and enthusiastic audience summoned the trio back for a deserved encore and the band raised the energy levels once more with a free-wheeling excursion based around bebop styled motifs and with a final brilliant solo from Speake. This was later revealed to have been “Tom”, Speake’s dedication to the contemporary jazz drummer Tom Skinner (Sons of Kemet, Hello Skinny etc.).
Overall this was a performance that, for me, confirmed Speake’s continued reputation as one of the UK’s best saxophonists, a player with a particularly fertile musical mind. It also introduced me to fresh aspects in the playing of Outram and Sanders, both of whom were superb tonight.
SJN’s Hilary Hannaford was delighted with both the quality of the music and the size and enthusiasm of the audience. Once again the jazz listeners of Shrewsbury and beyond had proved their enthusiasm for top class adventurous contemporary jazz. A terrific start to 2014.
Meanwhile the trio’s album “Always A First Time” is highly recommended, an immaculately recorded double set full of imaginative and intelligent originals and similarly inspired arrangements of outside material. Retailing at just £10.00 on Speake’s website it represents excellent value for money – and the music is superb too.
SUNDAY 8TH DECEMBER 2013
Another great afternoon at what is a traditional highlight of the Jazz Network's year, the Annual Jazz Jam.
Much enjoyed by those taking part as well as those who came to watch.
Away from the hectic Christmas shopping and mince pies at the ready, the audience were entertained by some top local talent.
Julian Dean was MC and music leader for the afternoon. The house band support were Stuart Goodhew, piano, Gary Santry, drums, Deb Grey, electric bass and Dave Margaroni, bass.
We were pleased to welcome some newcomers who were much impressed by the high quality of jazz played.
Thank you to all those who came and helped us enjoy a jolly festive event!
Here are some pictures of the afternoon kindly sent to SJN by Kati Sheehan.