Mark Lockheart

mark lockheart

Mark Lockheart is a beautiful tenor player, always involved in highly creative projects, be they with Kenny Wheeler, Django Bates or his own fine ensembles. I have known Mark’s playing ever since I was a teenager, first getting into jazz and listening to Loose Tubes… Here I chat to him about all things musical…

 

So, lets do the saxophone thing first – what’s your favourite note on the saxophone?

I love the top notes on the tenor so would say top E, perhaps I like the upper notes because I started on alto and hear the upper range more. Coltrane’s Ballads album was a big inspiration for a tenor sax sound and on that record Coltrane plays all the tunes quite high.

 

That’s reminded me also of that album Coltrane did with Ellington – with that famous version of ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ – more on Ellington shortly…

… If you could add one modification to the saxophone what would it be?

I wouldn’t its perfect as it is just needs lots of work to control it!

 

How can we ever solve the one-useful-reed-per-box problem?

Can’t see a way but I practice on crap reeds and keep the one good one for gigs. I’m hoping they’ll discover a new type of cane on Mars one of these days… 😉

 

Any other interesting thoughts about the saxophone you’d like to share?

Don’t know why so many people sound the same on the saxophone, you can do anything on it, it’s such an expressive instrument.

 

Food for thought indeed…

Where to go next? Let’s talk about your new release and go back to Ellington… whose music is a big topic – how did you approach the arranging?

I started improvising around some of the melodies like Satin Doll and Mood Indigo and followed my nose trying not to think of the original harmony but go where the melody led me. I was never interested in trying to recreate, so to me the end result sounds like new music – although heavily based on Ellington’s source music. I love Ellington and the way he writes so hopefully I’ve done it in a respectful way.

 

I think we’d all agree you have!! The themes of Ellington drift in and out of the music like motifs, the album tracks are like chapters in a book…

I think the writing was very instinctive and when I set off I purposely didn’t want to follow any lead sheets etc. as it might stifle the ‘following my nose’ approach I was enjoying at the time. I basically followed the melodies not worrying at all about the type of harmony the original had. Interestingly enough when the arrangements started to take shape I noticed that some of the harmony was nothing to do with Ellington’s and some other things were exactly Ellington’s harmonies.

I think sometimes people get too bogged down in harmony for the sake of harmony, counterpoint is the key to interesting harmony for me.

 

How did you decide on the order of the tracks, did that come later? Or did you have an idea of how you wanted them to flow between each other before the recording began?

The order of a record is always really important to me possibly as I was brought up on LPs. Whenever I got into a new record I’d listen from beginning to end following the story through the chapters. It’s a shame with CDs sometimes that they are so long as it’s really hard to write an epic and I would always prefer a CD under 60 minutes with no ‘fillers’ unless its completely earth shattering. With this album I knew what I wanted to start and finish with and felt keen to start with something that would draw people in so ‘Don’t Mean A Thing’ ticked that box. For the next track I wanted to immediately take the listener somewhere else, almost to force them out of their expectations of what was coming up next so ‘My Caravan’ with its worldly almost Bedouin sound world fitted that role perfectly.

Mood changes and solo order was important too and I wanted to finish with a ballad so Indian Summer worked for that.

 

From your liner notes I understand this started as a Trinity College of Music student project that evolved… That’s a really great story about how modern jazz education and its contribution to the UK scene has had a really positive impact on established players as well as the students.

It was great to be able to workshop some of these ideas at Trinity and it was a really important part of the process. For me as a musician it’s really important that I develop still while teaching otherwise I wouldn’t want to do it.

So ‘Ellington In Anticipation’ started as a bit of an educational challenge as a lot of students hadn’t listened to Ellington much before and saw little relevance to their development. I rose to the challenge and started fiddling around with the melodic shapes in Satin Doll. Through a process of deconstruction and manipulation this became my own composition (as I changed it almost beyond recognition!) Jungle Lady. Satin Doll was the first victim then I tackled Creole Love Call and Mood Indigo.

 

Let’s go back to Loose Tubes now (I guess part of your jazz education!), how did that group start/how did you become involved with it?

Graham Collier got the band together as he had the idea of forming a big band that was an antidote to NYJO, basically a band playing good original current music rather than bland generic big band jazz. I knew Graham a bit from working in his band and Roger Dean’s ‘Lysis’. Graham also knew that I worked with Django Bates and a band called ‘Lets Eat’ with Steve Berry, John Parricelli and Dave Patman. The idea I guess was getting like minded people together for the first rehearsals so when we all turned up in Queensway one night to rehearsal we were all sort of linked through various bands and friendships.

 

Have you been influenced by any saxophonists outside the Jazz world?

I get influenced by all sorts of music and jazz is just one strand of my listening. All the saxophone players I like best are from the jazz world though. I studied classical alto sax at college so appreciate the technique that goes into being able to play classical sax repertoire and try and impress this on my sax students as classical articulation and flexibility is really important to all saxophone players.

 

Which is the most surprising piece of music you have discovered you like (i.e. something you wouldn’t normally go for!)?

This is a hard one as I’m constantly discovering things I didn’t know about. I’m often surprised how good something sounds when its basically put together in such a simple way – Kind Of Blue for example. As I get older I realise more and more that its not how much you know but how you use your tools that makes really interesting music.

I’m really interested in different textures and use of space, recently been listening to music other than jazz for example John Adams, Burial etc. Polar Bear is a big influence on my music and the way things can be put together, I love the way we play improvised music in a way that avoids the typical jazz language but is still jazz. By that I mean that you can play jazz without being hung up with playing jazz language, why not put the language together in your own way? That’s always how jazz has developed.

 

That’s an interesting co-incidence as I’ve been listening to a couple of pieces by John Adams recently too! A friend put me onto ‘Gnarly Buttons’ and I’ve also been checking out ‘John’s Book of Alleged Dances’…

 Moving on now… what’s happening with Perfect Houseplants?

Hoping to start working on another Perfect Houseplants record in the summer – it’s been a long while since we recorded something and its probably overdue.

 

And gigs-wise, what’s coming up?

Ellington In Anticipation project:

14th July, Swanage Jazz Festival (This Sunday!)

29th Sept, Scarborough Jazz Festival

23rd Nov, London Jazz Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall

 

I’m also working on new music for an album of duets that I’m looking forward to.

 

It’s been so great to talk to you Mark, I look forward to hearing all your future musical musings as always…

Mark’s website:

www.marklockheart.co.uk/

Huw Warren

 

huw warren

Huw Warren is a much cherished musician amongst the great British jazz players of his generation and it is a joy to see him receiving the ultimate recognition, an ECM release. His deeply considered piano playing, together with saxophonist Iain Ballamy and vocalist June Tabor make the exquisite Quercus… Here is a link to the ECM website: http://player.ecmrecords.com/quercus

 

How did music start for you? Piano?… Singing?( Being Welsh?!)

Like many of my generation, my first music was at primary school playing recorder and banging chime bars. I can remember trying to organise the other kids in a little ensemble, telling them when to play and not play etc. Worrying early signs of a rampant ego, but I honestly have no idea where that concept came from! I briefly played violin, then started cello and piano lessons when I was about 10. Right at the start, an accordionist  friend of my dad’s showed how to make a pub style vamp on the piano-and from then on I was off; studying classical music alongside “made up” stuff (the word Jazz would crop up quite a few years later!) I still feel grateful for that little moment back then of being able to be liberated from the notes and dots….something I now see as an educator really holding some people back.

 

Absolutely, I hear young classical musicians speaking of a desire to start improvising and understanding chords/groove more and more…

So how did things move forward from there? As ‘jazz degrees’ didn’t exist until fairly recently…

My jazz education was pretty much self taught until I went to the Guildhall in 1983. Before that I took a music degree at Goldsmiths where I specialised in classical cello, contemporary music and composition! Looking back on it all now, I think definitely that all that diversity has fed back into my musical whole; as did working with such a wide variety of jazz and world music players in the years immediately following college. I remember being amused back then, when Jazz musicians would suggest making an arrangement more “modern”. I would be thinking Cage, Feldman, Partch or the like; they would be thinking post bop piano, maybe Kenny Kirkland! Studying jazz in a more organised way certainly brought a clearer focus to my playing and improvising, but like so many of us, I felt that I learnt more from my contemporaries and hearing the music happening in real time around me. Way before I got to play with them, I was completely blown away and inspired by the music and vibe of people like Django Bates, Steve Arguelles, Iain Ballamy and others. It seemed to celebrate its own independence in a particularly joyous way.

 

Those sound like some fairly pivotal musical influences, have there been any other defining moments for you or pieces of crucial advice at various points through your career?

My musical life has constantly surprised me, ranging from the everyday (gravitating towards other players with similar musical values and then forging musical relationships that in some instances have lasted ever since) to the other wordly (such as meeting Mcoy Tyner in 1983-whose beautiful parting words were “keep tinkling!”)

 

Could you talk to us about Perfect Houseplants? How it started, how to buy the CDs, is there new stuff in the pipeline?

Perfect Houseplants started in1989 when Mark Lockheart, Dudley Phillips and myself realised that we each had projects with each other and a different drummer. Not the most pragmatic of plans really! After playing with Martin France we realised that he was the perfect drummer to combine our joint visions. Co led bands are always interesting. In Houseplants we had the challenge of merging the music of 3 different composers who already had a pretty eclectic outlook and one way of dealing with this was by workshopping the material extensively. I think this brought a different kind of identity to the music, and made the compositions stronger than if we’d all arrived with fully notated pieces. We also seemed to be somewhat ahead of our time in the cross genre collaborations (which are now much more prevalent) that we made with The Orlando Consort, Andrew Manse and Pamela Thorby. The debut album Perfect Houseplants is now available as a download http://huwwarren.bandcamp.com/album/perfect-houseplants .Some of the other recordings are available via http://www.linnrecords.com, but the great thing is that we have remained very close friends; and despite being busy with numerous solo projects, we hope to record new music later this year for release in 2014.

 

I know that Hermeto Pascoal’s music is a passion of yours, what’s your favourite tune? And album?

Hermeto Pascoal is another of my musical obsessions! I just remember falling in love with the spirit of his music when I first heard it. It’s something to do with that mix of NE Brazilian earthiness and groove with crazy ideas- a sort of high art meets low art at a really funky party thing? Some of his slow tunes are just stunningly and endlessly beautiful – such as Santa Catarina (from his Lagoa da Canoa Município de Arapiraca record) or Desencontro Certo (from my own Hermeto+ record on basho) and then there are his traditional-but with a harmonic twist chorinhos such as Chorinho Pra Ele or Harmonia sem Chronologia, and the out and out groove madness of tunes such as O Galo do Airan or  Viajando pelo Brasil (both from Festa dos Deuses). Music from the Heart not the head……

 

And moving onto some other hearty music – folk tunes… did you choose to explore them or were they something you were raised with?

My relationship with Folk music is definitely something I’ve grown into rather than being raised with. Having said that, there’s an emotional side to music making that guides our choice of material, and I’ve often said that I’m less interested in where the material actually comes from and more interested in “does it speak to me directly?”  For me this has meant taking classical music, early music, world music, new music, standards etc all as equally valid starting points. Coincidentally, June Tabor – with whom I’ve been fortunate to learn so much about the power of song both traditional and contemporary – takes a similar view on lyrics (her starting point for the emotional connection she has with her material). I suppose looking back on some of my earlier influences such as Jarrett, Abdullah Ibrahim or Charlie Haden it’s not too hard to see the appeal of a simpler, direct musical language as a stepping off point for improvisation. I’m also attracted to ways of making music that might be able to connect in some shape or form with distant collective experiences without losing the integrity and here and now feel of improvising. This was something I felt in my Welsh Hymn project with Lleuwen Steffan (Duw Y Wyr on Babel) even though I certainly didn’t connect to the hymns from a religious perspective (as an ardent atheist!) or even really know them before making the record.

 

And so when did you first work with June Tabor? And how did the trio ‘Quercus’ come about/when did Iain join the picture?

Well, I’ve been working with June for 25 years! During that time we’ve worked in all kinds of formats from Duo to Chamber Orchestra, and I suppose have been gently but steadfastly creating a distinct way of arranging and performing the material. In a word this has been minimalism…..June only sings songs that really speak to her (and I mean REALLY speak to her!) so when we rehearse she already has a strong picture of the emotion of the song. Also, everything that she sings to me sounds completely mega unaccompanied! My challenge is how to add to it emotionally, not detract from it. One of the first things I learned was how to avoid anything that was just there for its own sake or for conventions sake – you really don’t need any of that. Hence the minimal approach, and allowing the voice to breathe; to tell the story. Of course I don’t want to be bland either, so it ends up being a balance between an understated approach to accompaniment that still has an interactive role whilst still respecting the emotional direction of the song. Welcome to my world!

One of June’s albums At the Wood’s Heart included Iain Ballamy (as well as Mark Lockheart) and soon after those sessions I was asked by Berlin Jazz festival to put a project together which featured June as well as my own material. The band included June, Iain, Tim Harries and Martin France and also played the following year in Poland. I think this experience lit the spark for Iain to suggest Quercus, linking June’s material with both our own music in a collaborative project.

 

In my personal opinion, the new album Quercus is pretty much musical perfection. What can you tell us about the making of the album? Was Manfred Eicher there for the whole thing? What was it like to work with him?

The ECM album is a live recording from a tour a few years back. The venue (The Anvil in Basingstoke) had a really great piano – lovely and rich – even when played so quietly. (I love being able to play like this with June, sometimes the better the gig the softer and softer I want to play!). Manfred Eicher was interested in the recording we sent him (miraculously, not only was the performance good, but no one coughed!) and after originally setting up a recording session to make the record he decided that the tape we had was good enough to mix and release. We went over to Oslo to mix at the famous Rainbow studios, and I have to say (once I’d pinched myself to check I wasn’t dreaming….) that working with Manfred and Jan Erik was wonderful. An easy experience, made even easier by Manfred’s evident enthusiasm for the project and the recording. He lives every note of all the records that come out on ECM, definitely an inspiring guy. It was also easy to forget whilst chatting to him over dinner, or coffee, that here was the man responsible for producing a huge amount of the music that had influenced me (and in some cases still does) for over 30 years.

 

Wow, I can’t believe that album is a live gig! And so wonderful to hear about your experiences with Manfred, and your thoughts shared in this interview. Thank you for your time Huw and all the best with the new album and all future endeavors.

 

Huw’s website: http://huwwarren.wordpress.com/

Quercus album tour:

14 April The Stables, Milton Keynes Box office: 01908 280800

25 April St George’s Bristol Tickets: £18; £15; £12 Box office: 0845 402 4001

27 April The Sage Gateshead Box office: 0191 443 4661

29 April Warwick Arts Centre Box office: 024 7652 4524

30 April LSO St Luke’s, London Box office: 020 7638 8891

Hans Koller

hans koller

I first met Hans Koller when he came into the Royal Academy of Music to do a big band project with us (the students at the time). I immediately loved his music, the melodies and sounds he was finding in the big band setting, his approach and explanation of the music to us. I remember particularly enjoying an arrangement of ‘Marshmallow’ by Warne Marsh. This incredible, giving musician has quite a biography which you can read here. But just to pick out a few highlights: touring with the Mike Gibbs big band feat. Steve Swallow, Bill Frisell and Adam Nussbaum (which I remember being a very awesome gig); commissions for Birmingham Jazz and Freden International Music festival; writing for Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Bob Brookmeyer, and the WDR big band…. The list goes on!

 

How did you find music – playing and composing – growing up in a rural part of Germany?

Well, I hope that Bavarian Beer Tent music didn’t influence me too much, although it’s true I heard a lot of that stuff. There were/still are? Lots of 200-500 inhabitants villages in Bavaria, each has a football team, failing that, a fire brigade or a bee-keepers’ club, and there are always some get-togethers, jubilees, cup competitions, et cetera, and there are always brass bands involved. I thought they looked much nicer than they sounded, though. It’s sort of an inverse Gil Evans: Lots of instruments and a thin sound.

Anyway, I cared so much about football, that the music didn’t bother me.

By contrast, at home, my family played classical music, and we sang a lot, before every meal, and although I didn’t follow this with any enthusiasm, I have a few fairly early memories that I cherish:

My mother writing down a piece that I came up with on the piano, my late father playing Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis, and then going off improvising freely, one of my sisters bringing home The New Tristano on vinyl, also Organ lessons in the cold church on a Saturday morning at 7.30. (last bit I didn’t cherish so much at the time…)

After all that, at around age 16 I got the jazzbug, and then it goes all very quickly: At a jazz summer school in Ingolstadt, a sleepy town near Munich, I played alto saxophone in a small band led by Harrison Smith. He brought in Herbie’s Eye of the Hurricane. I stared into it for a whole week, scared to death, but it changed everything for me, and I knew jazz had to be my life.

 

Do you find you have had ‘phases’ through your career, perhaps focusing on a particular instrumentation or method of writing, or different styles?

In hindsight, yes, you go through phases although for me it’s never really been about styles. I must admit I’m not the most open-minded, never was, when it comes to embracing every kind of music on the planet (and of the spheres), especially a commercially driven kind, so from the beginnings to today it’s been about understanding and trying to communicate in the essence of jazz, whatever that may be. I feel very protective of our music, and I don’t like it very much when people attack jazz, and make divisions between say Sonny Clark and say Alex Schlippenbach. Let’s moan about the fat cats running the banks, not paying taxes et cetera instead.

In terms of composition, I have been trying to learn about pretty much the same things for many years now: How to get from one note to the next, how two notes sound good together, how rests can sound amazing and also crap sometimes, why certain things sound big, other small, how a phrase can make a bar line disappear, how sometimes a bar line is a beautiful lifeline and so on.

It’s so tough that I felt I couldn’t really do it, so I got help from the old masters, and also making friends and getting bands together, and learning by trial and error.

I got my harmony together from learning tunes by Kenny Wheeler and Ralph Towner, and other ECM people that I was totally hooked on from around 1991 when I came to London, and started writing purely intuitively but influenced by that music. After I studied music formally I met Mike Gibbs, and he gave me some A3 manuscript, and wrote out the instrumentation of the big band on it. He said, quoting Carla Bley, ‘all the high notes to the little instruments, all the low notes to the big ones’. I can’t think of a better orchestrator than Mike, a real master of colour.

In 2006 I studied with Bob Brookmeyer, who actually had a method of composition, a method of developing lines which relates to both the old counterpoint and the serial writing of the 20th Century/Contemporary music – but like George Russell, another hero of mine, the folk/blues element of the music is always there.  He was an inspired and inspiring teacher, and I have my work cut out for the rest of my time.

 

Do you yo-yo between practising and writing or does it all happen together?

I practise trombone every day, I can’t afford to miss a beat. The piano is more forgiving, and unlike the trombone, I grew up with it. I’m not a chopsy piano player, which can be a bit depressing but the advantage is that when I’m very rusty, nobody notices! I have had my spells in the past, one summer I studied the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, I was on my own, I literally played all day and part of the nights, too. I had a ball, but you go mad after a few months! Writing’s a bit different for me, I think about it a lot, so when it’s eventually ready it goes quick, and it’s a bit of mystery lasting for a short time only while the basic stuff appears. Then the long while is the question of what to do with it, how and where to start chipping away, making something meaningful of it all. This involves a lot of fretting, and wishful thinking, but most importantly, full consciousness and patience.

 

Which players/composers do you feel have influenced you the most? (Directly or indirectly)

In 2003 I made a record with Steve Lacy, and I would say today that he was the single most important musician for my personal development because I learnt something about the finite but endless process of learning, about the (spiritual?) relationship of music to art and life. After that you don’t want to open your car window anymore to drop an empty bag of crisps on the floor.

 

Any musical guilty pleasures?

I love the cheesy keyboards on Vince Mendoza’s early records.

 

Thank you Hans for such a fascinating interview…

Hans Koller is performing with a new ensemble at Kings Place on February 9th 2013 and I would urge you all to go!

Line-Up:

Hans Koller (piano, trombone, compositions)

Jakob Bro, Phil Robson (guitars)

John O’Gallagher, Francois Theberge (saxophones)

Percy Pursglove, Robbie Robson (trumpets)

Christine Tobin (voice)

Jim Rattigan (French horn)

Jeff Williams (drums)

Oli Hayhurst (bass)

 

Tickets here: www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/hans-koller-ensemble

 

 

Hans’ website: http://www.hanskoller.co.uk

 

 

Meeting Barbara Thompson

barbara thompson

Last Saturday I went to meet the saxophonist/composer Barbara Thompson. I also got to meet her lovely husband Jon Hiseman (drummer, engineer, sometimes gardener). I had such a good time that I wanted to share it with all of you.

Barbara has been in this business a long time. You can read all about her impressive array of projects here: http://www.temple-music.com/tm05on/html/barbara.html so I won’t repeat what is already available to read.

The first thing that struck me was how welcoming and calm both Barbara and Jon are. I guess that’s something that comes from being at one with one’s self, knowing that you’ve achieved quite a lot of your goals in life. Barbara gave me a CD of vocal works she had written and showed me this line: “Where roads are made I lose my way”, pointing out that it’s only worth taking the roads you make for yourself. That line was taken from “The Unseen Way” by Tagore and the album of vocal music is called “Journey to a Destination Unknown”.

We got a cup of tea and listened to Barbara’s new works for the Apollo Saxophone Orchestra which have been recorded and are being mixed at the moment. The pieces that really stuck in my mind were her piece called “Dear Bach” and a new arrangement of “Green” which I believe has taken many forms in recent years. The orchestra will be promoting the new album at their debut  concert at the World Saxophone Congress on Thursday 12th July. The congress this year takes place over 6 days at St Andrews in Scotland –  800 saxophone players from all over the world are expected to attend.

I then put on some of my new album material and we discussed possible album titles etc. Barbara is a generous listener – instantly listening for all the right stuff and pointing out the things that only an experienced musician would observe. Later Jon had a listen too and an extremely helpful discussion about how to carve a career ensued. Such lovely, helpful and interesting people.

I was given a tour of the house – it’s the kind of house you always dream of owning. Open plan kitchen and huge space with a grand piano looking onto the garden… a studio out the back filled with microphones, drums, another beautiful piano, engineer’s room… upstairs Barbara’s study is filled with scores, works in progress, the latest in Mac technology, an upright piano and another room filled with saxophones. And it’s so clearly an amazing family home too.

We had some lunch, discussed how important it is to do your albums, write your music, play gigs and not worry about whether you’re going to change the world with it – just do it – and inevitably over time you’ll realise which is your best work and you’ll get to know yourself as a musician.

Barbara has written most of her large works in the last 10 years or so. Some have been performed, some not. She has a website where you can download quite a lot of music for free and I would encourage any group looking for some interesting new music to perform to have a look, there are all kinds of line-ups there including orchestral works. http://www.barbara-thompson.co.uk/index.php

I get the impression Barbara and Jon are people I will see a lot more of now that I’ve met them. I hope you all enjoy checking out Barbara’s websites and having a look at all the amazing things she has done with her life.

Chris Montague

Chris Montague

Chris has taken some time out from his busy touring schedule to talk to me about life and that…

How do you like your eggs? (just for future reference when I’m ordering breakfast for everyone on tour because you’re all about to miss the deadline for food)

Fertilised.

 

How many guitarists does it take to change a light bulb?

10.  1 to actually do it and the rest to stand around saying, “well I could have done that much faster”

 

How many chords can you stack on top of each other in 10 seconds?

I only know G, C and D, oh and the Hendrix chord but it hurts my fingers.

 

In your dream studio, how many guitars would there be?

I only need my strat, that’s how rock n roll I am.  As long as a studio, or any venue has hot running water Im fine, I HATE not being able to warm my hands up properly.

 

And in your studio, who would be recording with you? (Dead or alive)

It’s a tough question.  At the moment Im really into this slide guitarist called Lowell George who fronted the band little feat, they were a southern country/rock band who sounded a bit Sly and the family stone also.  He also played saxophone on some Sinatra sessions and played for a while in Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, and played the guitar part on just kissed my baby by the meters. He was an unbelievable musician.  He died by the time he was 34 weighing 22 stone due to his many addiction problems.  I reckon he would have so many cool stories to lighten the mood when you’re on your 4 millionth take and you still can’t nail it.

 

When you’re writing how do you come up with the tunes?

It depends very much on the band Im writing for.  Most of the times it comes from a more abstract place, such as films or characters in a book. I try to imagine what the soundtrack to them would be like and start working ideas from that (apologies if that sounds pretentious).  If Im writing for Troyka everything comes from a more rhythmic framework.  I try to use rhythmic counterpoint across the keys and guitar, placing things in the gaps of the other and trying to come up with a clave we can use to improvise in.  Often this music is more atonal than other ways I tend to write, but having played with the guys in that band (Kit Downes, Josh Blackmore) a lot I know exactly what sort of devices they enjoy improvising on, and to be honest they often come up with better ways of playing it than I could ever write it.  In something like the Threads Orchestra, which uses strings, I need to focus more on strong melodies.  I’ve written several character pieces of actors that I loved as a kid, really eccentric types like Gene Wilder and Oliver Reed.  I’d love to have the balls to write proper country songs though, I just wish I could sing!

 

Any interesting gigs you’ve got coming up?

Yeah, thanks for the chance of a plug!

30th October with you actually, and Ryan Trebilcock and Tim Giles at the Riverhouse Arts Centre (Walton on Thames)

6th Nov is the debut of Colin Towns new project (Bluetouchpaper) with Benny Greb, Stephan Maas, Edward Mclean and Mark Lockhart at Berlin Jazz festival.

London Jazz Fest dates:

14th Nov Purcell Room with your band Tangent supporting Regina Carter

16th Nov The Greennote (Camden) with Troyka

17th Nov Oliver’s (Greenwich) with Rory Simmons trio project Monocled Man

18th Nov Mike Roberts band at the Forge (Camden)

19th Your band at the Clore Ballroom

21st Nov Nick Smart’s Cuban project Jazz Matanzas at the Oxford (Kentish Town)

 

How much are they to get in then?

No idea!  Can’t be that much, it’s jazz.  If you text me I’ll put you on the door.

 

How do you know when its the right time to crowd surf?

Trish, it’s always surfin’ time.

 

http://www.editionrecords.com/ednmusicpublishing/chris-montague/

 

Gail Macleod

Gail with the big bass at Truck 2011

Gail is a founding member of the recorder ensemble Consortium 5. Having met her many years ago through mutual friends (and study) our paths seem to cross more and more frequently. She has also just set up a new company with some other innovative types who say this of themselves:

“Soundcastle is a pioneering arts collective which creates original music by engaging first and foremost with the people and the place in which the music is to take place.  Our mission is to:

Explore exciting and inspiring approaches to music making

Promote music as an individual and collective voice

Make links within and between communities”

 

Let’s find out a bit more about this talented and motivated woman…

 

You have ended up in some very specialist specialisms Gail! What made you stick with the recorder?

It was a bit of an accident!  I played the recorder, as most people do, learning in groups, chugging along and waiting to play something much cooler like a clarinet.  But when I was ten a new music teacher came to my Saturday school and she was a real recorder player who had studied in London.  She began to pull me out of lessons and give me extra pieces to learn.  I was completely distracted from moving on to any other wind instrument!  I also played the violin so I could play in all the youth orchestras where all my friends were so I was very happy.  Suddenly I was 18 and a recorder player!  It is an ongoing battle to make people appreciate what a wonderful instrument it really is.  It is definitely my home and my natural voice.  Was there a point when you realised saxophone was the one for you?

It came to me over time really, I had been playing various instruments for a while and then when I was 17 I realised I just loved composing and wanted to play music full-time. After that it was a matter of focusing on the instrument which felt most like my natural voice – and it was the saxophone…

 

 …Knowing what it’s like to run a band, I envy the way Consortium 5 works! Could you talk to us a bit about how that group got together and how you operate week to week?

We were the five recorder players at RAM all leaving together in 2006.  I was leaving my undergrad and the others their masters course.  I can’t remember how to conversation started but at some point we all caught the consort playing bug and decided to continue after we left.  Our teacher, Daniel Bruggen, is an amazing consort player and really helped us especially once he saw we were keen. It’s a very time consuming thing to commit to!  We needed Renaissance instruments to begin tackling the bulk of our repertoire so we applied for the Deutsche Bank Award and won.  It was an enormous boost which helped us set ourselves up in quite a business-like way.  They encouraged us to think very realistically about how we were going to operate and expectations etc.  Not always the easiest conversations but much easier before you start than once problems arise.  We’ve rehearsed weekly since then.  I’m sure you know there is an incredible amount of admin involved in ensemble life so we have to tackle all that too.  We are all equally responsible for making C5 work so try to share out tasks as much as possible.  Sometimes decision making can be a bit long winded but we’re all so invested in our progress that it’s important everyone is on board.  How do you run your band?  I always want to know how other groups work too!

For me, it’s about creating some music which really engages all the different personalities in the group. The other members of the group play in other ensembles/bands, which gives them a wealth of musical experiences to draw on. But it also means that when I get them all together I want to make the most of it! I run the group by myself which makes it easier to make decisions, but sometimes the work involved in organising performances and promotion is quite overwhelming… We might be working with some different composers next year which is quite new for us but I know this is an integral part of C5. How do you decide what to play and who to commission/work with?

At the beginning the motivation was simply to get some interesting modern repertoire.  There has been a lot of work on quartets but not quintet.  Our first commission was by Luke Styles who had already written a concerto for Roselyn so we knew he was interested in our instruments.  Gradually as we spread the word that we were keen to play new music we found more and more people who were extremely excited by our unusual line up which has so much flexibility.  We ran composers workshops at TCM when we were fellows which taught us a lot about how we help composers understand how our various arrays of instruments work.  Now there is a dialogue both ways – sometimes we approach, sometimes composers get in touch with ideas.  Tangled Pipes (our CD on the Nonclassical label) really boosted our presence in the contemporary scene.  Now we have so much music we have to be careful about taking too much on!  It’s a nice place to be considering there was almost no repertoire when we started.  We’re pretty good at getting a new piece and playing it more than once as can often happen.  The repertoire can be extremely challenging technically so most pieces really benefit from time to breath and develop in performance.

 

Is there any music that has worked really well for C5 that you wouldn’t have expected?

Recently we played at Truck festival and branched out into Drum and Bass, created by my Soundcastle cohort, Jenni Parkinson.  It’s certainly not our regular genre but it sounded remarkably convincing!  New repertoire has often pushed us to create new sounds and textures and push extended techniques over our huge range of instruments.  I’ve really enjoyed creating new music with the Renaissance consort.  Darren Bloom wrote us a piece called ‘Consorts’ which uses all the big ones.  When we first learnt it I would feel faint every time we played the end (I play the six foot sub bass!).  But now it’s totally fine and this strength training gave me a lot more power when we went back to the Renaissance repertoire.

All this work has showed me not to underestimate what is possible with a recorder.  Over the past two years, studying for my masters at the Guildhall, I have had to adapt and find ways to work with mixed modern instruments often in band settings, classical, world and jazz influenced.  It was another massive learning curve.  At first I felt so weak but it’s about understanding how your voice works and making an impression isn’t always about being the loudest!

 

I can relate to that…!

…You had a most excellent album review from a paper in New York a little while ago, any plans to visit the US, or tour anywhere else?

Yes, the reviews were so exciting!  We were invited to SXSW but sadly the cost was much more than we could manage.  Like most groups we’d love to go stateside or indeed further round Europe it’s just balancing the old time/money thing.

 

So you have some very new projects to talk about.  You have recently started a company called Soundcastle.  What inspired you to start yet another innovative company (the first being C5)?

Soundcastle is an arts collective which has evolved out of the masters in leadership course which I have just finished at the Guildhall.  As the course progressed we found that four of us had a meeting of minds in terms of how we would like to create new work and why understanding the context you are creating in is extremely important.  It’s early days but we happily won the Guildhall Deutsch Bank Award so we’re just getting under way.  As a group we excite each other with our ideas and creative processes. We’ve been extremely involved in each others work over the past year, including running improvisation workshops, creating a community parade, making acoustic dance music (Joy To Filth Ratio) and working on cross arts and site specific pieces.  It’s a very different outfit to C5 in terms of output but like C5 it’s full of talented motivated people!

 

I like the sound of ‘Acoustic Architecture’ – is that going to happen again?

Yes!  Just confirmed for the Bloomsbury Festival on Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd October at 5.30pm.  I’m delighted this is getting another showing as it took months working in the incredible acoustic of St George’s Bloomsbury to put this experience together.  Please come and tell me what you think!  It’s my first large scale music piece and I’m always keen for loads of feedback.

 

I shall endeavour to be there… Do you think you can start a recorder revolution then? Or have you already done that?

The revolution is well under way!  But there is still a lot of work to do to get rid of all the prejudices that exist against our amazing instrument in this country.  It’s definitely an exciting time to be breaking boundaries and changing people’s minds.

 

Gigs

C5:

Sunday 25th, 11am, The Forge, Camden

Tuesday 27th, 7.30pm, St George’s Bloomsbury (C5 collaboration with Soprano, Siona Stockel)

Saturday 15th October, 11.30am, Little Missenden Church, Little Missenden, Bucks.

 

Soundcastle:

Acoustic Architecture@the Bloomsbury Fesivs

Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd October, 5.30pm, St George’s Bloomsbury, London.

 

Websites

www.consortium5.com

www.soundcastle.co.uk

 

You can buy ‘Tangled Pipes’ here: http://nonclassical.greedbag.com/buy/tangled-pipes-1/

 

Barry Douglas

barryI first came across Barry Douglas through my husband who plays in his chamber orchestra, Camerata Ireland. Barry is one of the most incredible concert pianists out there with a biog that most of us could only dream of. He’s also a great socialite and banishes all the myths about soloists who can’t talk to us normal folk. What a guy.

So Barry, where can we start? Do you like garlic snails (being an inhabitant of Paris)?
No I’m not a great fan though I have tried them a few times. I like riz de veau which I thought I’d never like- but I like small portions.

What’s the weirdest complement someone’s ever given you?
“You have really made me rethink how I view that piece and I used to like it a lot”
“Can I touch your hand to get some of your power!!??”

Which audiences give you the best atmosphere to play in?
All audiences are human (usually!!) and so it is really down to the hall, time of year and the mood everyone is in – including me!

At what age did you feel the drive to dedicate your life to the piano? Or was it just the way it turned out?
I was 16 and a pupil of a pupil of Liszt, Felicitas LeWinter from Vienna inspired me to concentrate and practice and stop mucking around with the clarinet

Are there any unusual piano pieces/composers you’ve come across that the world doesn’t know too much about?
I have just recorded a piano concerto by Nino Rota-it’s coming out next month on Chandos – he wrote the music for “the Godfather” – this music is divine and gorgeous.

Have you ever improvised a cadenza?
Yes a few times- but I decided to write them down as they seemed to work very well – they are all for Mozart Piano Concertos

After living the life of several pianists’ dreams, what aspirations do you have for the future?
I would like to expand my festivals in Ireland- teach a little more- at the moment I do 4 days a year in Dublin Conservatory and one day in Royal College of Music London. I could take a few more days. I would like to record all the Beethoven piano Sonatas- I have done the Beethoven Concertos with Camerata Ireland and that worked very well. I will be recording the complete Brahms and Schubert for Chandos and so that is extremely exciting. I have a Celtic project which is a kind of spectacle also that I’m developing at the moment- it will tour very extensively if all goes well.

Do you ever feel the need to pull out the old Hanon?
Never- I worked very hard as a teenager and your fingers never forget – I like to play challenging music – but in a sense all great music is a challenge if you really aim to uncover it’s secrets. I’m playing all Rachmaninov Concertos next month in S America in 2 concerts- I have a new piece at the Proms this year– Kevin Volans wrote it for me

What music is best suited to morning piano playing?
Bach and Chopin

Your speciality seems to be the big Russian piano concertos, but I know from your work with your own orchestra, Camerata Ireland, that you’re quite the master of the likes of Beethoven and Mozart too – how many piano concertos do you have rattling around upstairs? Do you have to remind yourself of the notes every so often?
I have 40 or so I could play tonight or tomorrow – I am very lucky with my memory. Often I go back to the notes and see what I can change or develop to make it fresher. I like to change repertoire often so it never becomes a routine

I see you have a Bartok piano concerto performance coming up. Do you find yourself in different moods whilst performing depending on the style/personality of the composer/music?
Yes – good question- I do have to try and be a slightly different person/musician- it’s like acting I guess. But at the heart of it all is to make sure the preparation is done and you are focused.

And finally, do you prefer black or white notes?
They feel different and so I need and like them both. I like the narrowness and height of the black keys – white keys used to be nicer to touch when they were ivory- but they don’t allow ivory anymore and so it is a king of composite plastic- sometimes slippery!

For lots more information please visit Barry’s website at http://www.barry-douglas.com/

Liam Noble

liam noble

Liam Noble is an incredibly inventive pianist and composer, praised most recently by Dave Brubeck for  ‘going so far into the unknown’. I saw Liam on many gigs while I was studying but I didn’t meet him until I graduated – at the time I was taking the odd lesson with various musicians as a way of continuing my study. I had a great time with Liam talking about many interesting things, approaches to playing music, how to think about music and the jazz scene – he also introduced me to Henry Threadgill…

 

Tea or Coffee?

One coffee a day (normally about mid morning, is all I can take…cups of tea help measure the day’s progress if I’m at home, but I’m sure I don’t need them really!)

 

How did you find jazz – or did jazz find you? Did your parents listen to it when you were a child or did you find it later in life?

My parents got me into Scott Joplin when I was about 12 I think, maybe even earlier…they liked that film “The Sting”, which has Joplin’s music all the way through.  From there I traced a random path through the records my parents had (Miles Davis “Someday My Prince”, Jimmy Giuffre “Travellin’ Light” and Cannonball “Live At The Lighthouse”.  These are all still favourites of mine, more so than the established records like “Kind Of Blue”;  I think the way you hear stuff at a certain age and obsess over it determines its role in your development.  Of my parents’ collection, “Louis Armstrong Meets Duke Ellington” was my favourite though; Ellington’s approach to sound, ideas and bandleading is still foremost in my imagination most of the time.  And he represented a more playable, improvised version of the stride players like Fats Waller and Jelly Roll that I was into.  Then I found the Ellington and Coltrane record in Bromley library and I was off into a whole new thing.  So I guess I was always into jazz and classical music as a kid, and pop music existed in a kind if parallel, more socially acceptable part of my brain. I liked The Specials and The Beat, then heavy metal…it was a strange time, but I always saw it all as part of the same thing; it’s all about finding the right sounds for the thing you’re trying to do…

 

Jazz became a symbol of freedom for black Americans in the early 20th century. Due to its liberal and creative nature, jazz has previously been banned in countries where – at the time – the government had/wanted strict control over its people (such as Cuba, Poland, Russia  and Nazi Germany). What does the freedom of jazz mean to your average un-oppressed British person?

Hmmmmm, that’s a good question…I don’t have a simple answer, except to say that people enjoy making things for all kinds if reasons.  I’ve always felt that oppression exists for individuals as well as social, ethnic or religious groups; it starts in your brain.  Everyone has their reason for taking themselves out of the external world in order to focus on something within them that then (hopefully) emerges as something artistic.  I feel that this tendency is important to draw upon if you are trying to make good art in any area.  Of course, in conditions of widespread social or racial oppression this can be much more potent, necessary even…but…I certainly wouldn’t dare liken my personal situation to that.  It just feels potent and necessary to me too.  Woody Allen once likened making films to the raffia baskets that inmates of psychiatric hospitals used to be given; something to quieten the mind I suppose!

 

Speaking of music that has the power to affect the mind, I know you’re a fan of the ‘Rite of Spring’… Have you ever thought of adapting that in some way for jazz performance? (or is that just sacrilege?)

Funnily enough I’ve got an Alice Coltrane recording where she does just that…Stravinsky’s sonorities and rhythms seem to be all over the jazz vocabulary already, just think of those two triads a tritone apart in “Petroushka”.  But I think there’s still a lot to be drawn from his later work, some of the chord structures and polytonal lines fit right in with a jazz approach; primarily, it seems to make everything more rhythmic.  I used to have a tape with Ellington’s “Far East Suite” and Stravinsky’s “Symphony In 3 Movements” back to back.  It’s amazing how, if you listen to things obsessively like that, they become more and more alike.  Stravinsky’s use of the piano isn’t that different to Ellington’s in many ways, it seems to punctuate the main action with bell-like glints of light…I like this process of trying to tie things together in my head.

Sacrilege seems a good evaluation of a “jazz” Rite Of Spring, but there’s always the possibility that someone will turn that preconception upside down.  Not me though!

 

Your ‘Brubeck’ album has found a truly special musical place. What drew you to Brubeck’s music?

Thanks, that’s very kind of you to say so.  Brubeck was one of my early influences, he had lots of modern classical influences in his playing; I liked the contrasts in his music, nobody played like him.  And nobody seems interested in covering his music, yet he’s incredibly popular and edgy at the same time.  Those ingredients seemed interesting fodder for investigation…I suppose it was partly quite practical too, I wanted something I could gig with in the UK that people actually liked.  It can be hard introducing people to original music here; but Brubeck’s tunes are so strong that you don’t need to play by the book….there’s a live album with him playing with Lee Konitz and Anthony Braxton where he out – weirds everyone else…I like people that can do that without it seeming contrived.  It’s a balancing act that has always inspired me….

 

You worked with Michael Rosen (the poet) a few years ago, have you ever turned your hand to writing lyrics?

Good grief no; I’m a big fan and ignoramus when it comes to poetry.  I don’t understand how it works, what it means or whether it’s any good or not.  But I do like some of it, for reasons I can’t fathom.  I feel like I just recently discovered the idea of sounds in words, it’s a whole new world.  With regard to my own writing potential, if I had anything to say I would say it.

 

So amongst other things, you’re playing with a trumpet player, Peter Evans on May 5th at Café Oto?

Yeah, he’s pretty amazing, can sort of play everything on the instrument (which I normally don’t like, but he really can)

 

You’ve just been on tour with Julian Siegel’s band to promote his new album “Urban Theme Park”, are there any other recordings on the horizon?

Yeah, with Zhenya Strigalev, hopefully recording with Eric Harland, Larry Grenadier and Tim LeFevre in June. And there’s a new “Sleepthief” album with Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock coming out…

 

How many jazz musicians does it actually take to change a light bulb?

A new light bulb is normally just a rehash of one of the old ones.

 

You can buy Liam’s albums at jazzcds.co.uk and his website is www.liamnoble.co.uk/

And as well as the gig at Café Oto, Liam is playing with Kenny Wheeler and bassist Andrea Di Biase at the Vortex on the 9th and 10th of May.

 

 

 

Rory Simmons

fringemagnetic

Originally posted on March 17th 2011

 

Rory Simmons runs Fringe Magnetic, plays regularly for Jamie Cullum and is also a member of the Loop Collective.

We’re two of many musicians living on South East London and hope to collaborate on a project next year, celebrating new music and improvisation.

 

Could Catford be the next ‘place to be’ for Jazz in London?

Catford spawned the career of Billy Jenkins I think. That’s a good accolade for any suburb of south east london. Apart from that, we have a giant plastic cat looming over our shopping centre, this architectural triumph is a constant inspiration to my music.

 

How many different instruments have you played with Jamie Cullum’s band?

Mainly I just play trumpet and guitar with jamie, although there is the odd bit of keyboards, aux percussion and backing vocals too. The tambourine fill I play in one tune is a key part of the set.

 

You must have met quite a few interesting characters on your travels…

Meeting Clint Eastwood in LA was definitely an amazing moment. It was brief but great to meet such an iconic character. Meeting Dave Douglas as a wide eyed young trumpet player was great too. Another great character was Jeff Garlin, Larry’s manager from ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. He was at our show at Newport Jazz Festival in 2010, I am a massive Curb fan so ended up chewing his ear off about the show for most of the night. My girlfriend got very bored with this……

 

The loop festival gets bigger every year, will it run to a week next year?

I hope so, some times its hard to cram in all the great new projects we have from members of the collective as well as guests we want to invite. Some of the highlights this year are some great guests such as ‘kindergarten’ from france, arthurs/hoiby/ritchie and jeanne added. Every night is going to be packed with great music. We are doing a extended fringe magnetic special featuring alex bonney and jim hart. Also, I’m playing with the jim hart and ivo neame project duo plus, which features me and oren marshall. Looking forward to this alot.

 

Being a fan of string quartet music myself, could you tell us a bit about the quartet music you’ve been writing recently?

The music I have been working on is a mix of contemporary classical sounds (that phrase is massively over-used now!) And electronica-ish noises. It came about through writing some string quartet music whilst getting into the programming thing and thinking more about a cinematic approach to the production, but still really thinking about it as a piece of music rather just a textural gesture. Been listening to nicolas bernier and max de wardener- that’s influenced it a bit I guess, as much as all the obvious classical composers!

 

Have you had any defining moments whilst listening to music or listening to an inspirational musician speaking about his or her experiences?

Everytime I speak to Barak Schmool about any music I’m listening to or working on, he always says something insightful. He is definitely someone inspirational who always opens up my ideas about different elements of music. Listening to Bjork, Tom Waits, Dave Douglas, Christian Wallumrod, and many others are always a massive inspiration to me. But always the music around me from musicians of my generation in London is massively inspiring. Hearing the music of bands like Outhouse, Troyka, World Sanguine Report, Gemini and many others makes me realise what a great standard of music there is in the city at the moment.

 

Do you have a dream project you’d like to put together at some point in your life?

I would love to work with some of the great electronic musicians I listen to, like Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus, Mira Calix. Something collaborative with them would be very exciting. Possibly something with Fringe Magnetic at some point…. who knows. I have a new trio with Chris Montague of Troyka and Jon Scott of Karios 4tet. Its called ‘Monocled Man’, and I have ideas of wanting to do an album with some guests with that band at some point in the future. Watch this space…..

 

Rory plays at the Loop Collective Festival on Thursday 17th and Saturday 19th March at The Forge…

www.rorysimmons.com

Iain Ballamy

iain ballamy

Originally posted on March 9th 2011

 

I first heard Iain on a recording of Loose Tubes when I was a teenager and I think I was about 18 when I had my first lesson with him. I have quite a few memories of Iain playing – here are a couple I’d like to share:

Django Bates was touring with his Quiet Nights band and I went to hear them in Birmingham. They were playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and there was this incredible moment where the voice of Josefine Cronholm merged into the sound of Iain’s tenor and that memory has stayed with me for life (you can hear it on the album too). In fact it inspired me to mimic that effect in my own band Tangent, but blending sax into cello instead.

Another great memory was hearing Iain play with Kenny Werner at the Wigmore Hall. Iain only played a few tunes but it made such a huge impression on me – they called a few tunes on the spot – one of them was Giant Steps… I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else reinvent that tune so successfully.

To see Iain’s full biography click here

So, to the interview…

 

What’s your favourite kind of jam?

– Blackcurrant

 

I was asked to ask you ‘Why did you pose as a caveman on the cover of All Men Amen?’

– It was a holiday photo taken in Italy – not a posed photo. The city background was added by a designer. I just liked it (unlike my mum who was horrified!)

 

I understand you like going to auctions, what was the most recent one you went to? And what did you bid on?

– It was a Gorgona Anchovy paste pot at an auction in Chelsea – I was out bid!

 

How many saxophones do you own?

– I have quite a few but some of them don’t work – they’re like rescue donkeys that I felt sorry for and gave a home – obsolete, redundant or with bits missing (retirement projects)

 

Can you talk a little about your introduction to music? I believe your father knows quite a considerable number of tunes!

– My father Mark is a semi pro jazz pianist. He can’t read a note but knows about 1500 tunes and is into Herbie, Brad, Bill Evans, John Taylor etc

 

If you could bring back one musician, who would it be?

– Art Tatum or Jaco

 

What’s your favourite folk song?

-There are so many – I love one I picked up a devotional song called a Bhajan in Kerela a few years ago which I am very fond of but I like Danny boy as well!

 

Do you feel your music has ever been mis-understood? Is there anything you’d like to clear up?

– Not really – its more about what other people make of it than what is supposed to “mean” I think…

 

Or is it good to create a bit of confusion?

– Not something I strive to create, perhaps it’s a by-product?

 

So you’re in Norway right now, what are you up to?

– Choosing material for our next Food CD from concert performances last year and studio sessions at Rainbow

 

And when can we expect it to be released on ECM?

– Hopefully in the autumn!

 

Has Manfred bought you a drink yet?

– No but he gave me a beautiful book of Arvo Part scores from Tabula Rasa for Christmas and that was better than any sherry!

 

So could you see yourself recording some Arvo Part at some point in the future?

– That would be a dream come true – and I believe they can!

 

People are always telling us to think outside the box, should we ever be looking inside?

– Assuming there is a box at all, then I’d say yes

 

Iain will be playing at the Forge on March 28th with Thomas Stronen

‘Food’ on ECM

Iain’s website