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David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali - Alphabets Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

“Alphabets”

(Self Released)

David Ferris is a Birmingham based pianist, organist and composer and is a graduate of the acclaimed Jazz Course at the city’s Conservatoire, something of a breeding ground for imaginative young jazz musicians.

Originally from Cornwall Ferris also studied with the National Youth Jazz Collective founded by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt and credits his attendance at two of the NYJC’s summer schools as the inspiration for going on to Birmingham to study the music to degree level. His tutors have included fellow pianists Nikki Iles, John Turville, John Taylor, Liam Noble and Hans Koller, saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake, Mark Turner and Joe Lovano, bassists Dave Holland and Percy Pursglove and drummers John Hollenbeck and Jeff Ballard.

As an in demand sideman on both piano and organ Ferris has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, initially as a student as part of the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Playing piano he was part of the acoustic Jazzlines trio that opened for US alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s band at Birmingham Town Hall in 2015. This trio has subsequently evolved into Tell Tale, a piano trio inspired by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau and featuring bassist James Banner and drummer Ric Yarborough.

Also in 2015 he featured on piano as part of a quintet co-led by saxophonists Amy Roberts and Richard Exall in a performance that formed part of the ‘jazz strand’ at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Ferris has also played and recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and appears on “Green”, the excellent début album from trumpeter and composer Tom Syson.

As an organist Ferris has performed with Zwolfton, a quintet of former Birmingham Conservatoire students led by tenor saxophonist Claude Pietersen who specialise in jazz interpretations of the music of Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, the group of composers collectively known as “The Second Viennese School”.

Ferris recorded on organ as part of guitarist and composer Ben Lee’s band, appearing on Lee’s excellent début solo album “In The Tree”, released in 2016. These two also perform with drummer Billy Weir as part of the Larry Goldings inspired organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir.

Ferris has also gigged extensively with the funk organ trio Three Step Manoeuvre, featuring Lee and drummer Ben Reynolds, and appears on their 2016 début album “Three Step Strut”.

“Alphabets” represents Ferris’ recording début as a leader and features his septet, a collection of mainly Birmingham based musicians that includes Hugh Pascall (trumpet), Richard Foote (trombone), Chris Young (alto and baritone saxes), Vittorio Mura (tenor and baritone saxes) Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). They are joined by Estonian born guest vocalist Maria Vali on a selection of original compositions by Ferris that include settings of words by the famous poets Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats and WH Auden.

It’s an ambitious but largely successful project that has been greeted with considerable critical approval. The album was partly financed by Help Musicians UK, the organisation that grants the annual Peter Whittingham Award with Arts Council England funding the subsequent tour (which took place in March 2018, the album found its way to me sometime later).
The album commences with the instrumental “Chorale” which immediately establishes Ferris’ credentials as a composer and arranger. Initially we hear just the four horns in a beautiful, quasi chamber/orchestral setting before the rest of the band come in on this multi faceted piece. Ferris’ writing is impressively free of cliché and it’s Jurd’s melodic double bass that takes the first solo before the horns return, vying for supremacy in thrilling fashion as Palmer drums up a storm behind. No solo from Ferris you’ll notice, instead he’s the glue that unselfishly holds the ensemble together.

Ferris and Vali first worked together on the Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchanges when the Tallinn based singer was studying in Norway. She infuses the bitter words of Ted Hughes’ “On Crow Hill” with a chilly beauty, accompanied only by Ferris’ sympatico piano. She later reprises the stanzas in an ensemble context which emphasises the flexibility and sheer musicality of her vocalising. Again Ferris demonstrates his arranging and orchestrating skills, the seven musicians plus Vali make an impressively big and powerful sound. But there’s also room allowed for individual expression as Young delivers a lengthy, skilfully constructed alto solo that progresses from thoughtful, delicate probing to incisive full on blasting yet does so in a manner that sounds perfectly natural and unforced.

Ferris next turns to the writing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Like Hughes his words are rooted in nature but Heaney’s landscape is less harsh and unforgiving and this is reflected in Ferris’ arrangement, the warm, rich horn textures giving the music an authentically bucolic quality. Vali delivers a coolly elegant vocal that again demonstrates her flexibility and range while Pascall impresses with a fluent, lyrical trumpet solo that unfolds gradually and gracefully. Ferris allows himself some solo space with an expansive piano solo that exhibits similar qualities.

The title track also features the poetry of Heaney, the words of which describe the poet’s experiences of learning to read and write and subsequently falling in love with words and language while learning the rules and traditions of literature. It’s a lengthy text encompassing some sixteen stanzas so the focus here is very much on Vali’s voice, albeit with space found for another incisive saxophone feature, this time from Mura on tenor whose playing becomes increasingly full blooded as his solo progresses, creating an effective contrast with the more reflective vocal sections.

Ferris continues to mine Irish literature for his setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Hawk”, a brooding, swirling piece whose arrangement seems to owe more to previous jazz and poetry projects (Westbrook, Garrick etc) than the rest of the collection. Vali delivers the poet’s words above the fan-faring of the horns in the manner of an incantation prior to an improvised trombone solo from Foote underscored by the loosely structured rhythms generated by Ferris, Jurd and Palmer with the latter’s drums playing a prominent part in a passage that contains some of the free-est playing on the album. The piece resolves itself with a closing vocal passage that reprises part of the first section.

The album’s second wholly instrumental piece is “Fred”, Ferris’ dedication to one of his musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hersch. The piece is very much a celebration of Hersch with its uplifting melodies, bright ensemble arrangements and delicately sparkling piano solo. With further features for saxophone and drums it’s a welcome reminder of the instrumental abilities of the core septet.

The album concludes with a joyous, rollicking interpretation of W.H. Auden’s “The Willow-Wren and the Stare”. Vali’s playful vocal performance is augmented by a lively, percussive piano solo from Ferris. The horns carouse like a mini big band and the excellent Palmer is again featured at the drums.

“Alphabets” represents an impressive leadership début from Ferris. His writing is consistently engaging and the playing and singing is excellent throughout. Wanting to write for Vali’s voice but not trusting himself as a lyricist he decided to turn to the works of others and “some of the most beautiful words I know”. This proved to be a wise and inspiring choice with the excellent Vali more than doing justice to the words of Heaney, Hughes, Yeats and Auden.

Jazz and poetry won’t be to everybody’s taste but there’s nothing “earnest” or “worthy” about Ferris’ music, it all sounds a perfectly natural and unforced and most jazz fans should find much to enjoy in these performances. Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

 

Alphabets

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Alphabets

Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

“Alphabets”

(Self Released)

David Ferris is a Birmingham based pianist, organist and composer and is a graduate of the acclaimed Jazz Course at the city’s Conservatoire, something of a breeding ground for imaginative young jazz musicians.

Originally from Cornwall Ferris also studied with the National Youth Jazz Collective founded by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt and credits his attendance at two of the NYJC’s summer schools as the inspiration for going on to Birmingham to study the music to degree level. His tutors have included fellow pianists Nikki Iles, John Turville, John Taylor, Liam Noble and Hans Koller, saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake, Mark Turner and Joe Lovano, bassists Dave Holland and Percy Pursglove and drummers John Hollenbeck and Jeff Ballard.

As an in demand sideman on both piano and organ Ferris has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, initially as a student as part of the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Playing piano he was part of the acoustic Jazzlines trio that opened for US alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s band at Birmingham Town Hall in 2015. This trio has subsequently evolved into Tell Tale, a piano trio inspired by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau and featuring bassist James Banner and drummer Ric Yarborough.

Also in 2015 he featured on piano as part of a quintet co-led by saxophonists Amy Roberts and Richard Exall in a performance that formed part of the ‘jazz strand’ at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Ferris has also played and recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and appears on “Green”, the excellent début album from trumpeter and composer Tom Syson.

As an organist Ferris has performed with Zwolfton, a quintet of former Birmingham Conservatoire students led by tenor saxophonist Claude Pietersen who specialise in jazz interpretations of the music of Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, the group of composers collectively known as “The Second Viennese School”.

Ferris recorded on organ as part of guitarist and composer Ben Lee’s band, appearing on Lee’s excellent début solo album “In The Tree”, released in 2016. These two also perform with drummer Billy Weir as part of the Larry Goldings inspired organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir.

Ferris has also gigged extensively with the funk organ trio Three Step Manoeuvre, featuring Lee and drummer Ben Reynolds, and appears on their 2016 début album “Three Step Strut”.

“Alphabets” represents Ferris’ recording début as a leader and features his septet, a collection of mainly Birmingham based musicians that includes Hugh Pascall (trumpet), Richard Foote (trombone), Chris Young (alto and baritone saxes), Vittorio Mura (tenor and baritone saxes) Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). They are joined by Estonian born guest vocalist Maria Vali on a selection of original compositions by Ferris that include settings of words by the famous poets Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats and WH Auden.

It’s an ambitious but largely successful project that has been greeted with considerable critical approval. The album was partly financed by Help Musicians UK, the organisation that grants the annual Peter Whittingham Award with Arts Council England funding the subsequent tour (which took place in March 2018, the album found its way to me sometime later).
The album commences with the instrumental “Chorale” which immediately establishes Ferris’ credentials as a composer and arranger. Initially we hear just the four horns in a beautiful, quasi chamber/orchestral setting before the rest of the band come in on this multi faceted piece. Ferris’ writing is impressively free of cliché and it’s Jurd’s melodic double bass that takes the first solo before the horns return, vying for supremacy in thrilling fashion as Palmer drums up a storm behind. No solo from Ferris you’ll notice, instead he’s the glue that unselfishly holds the ensemble together.

Ferris and Vali first worked together on the Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchanges when the Tallinn based singer was studying in Norway. She infuses the bitter words of Ted Hughes’ “On Crow Hill” with a chilly beauty, accompanied only by Ferris’ sympatico piano. She later reprises the stanzas in an ensemble context which emphasises the flexibility and sheer musicality of her vocalising. Again Ferris demonstrates his arranging and orchestrating skills, the seven musicians plus Vali make an impressively big and powerful sound. But there’s also room allowed for individual expression as Young delivers a lengthy, skilfully constructed alto solo that progresses from thoughtful, delicate probing to incisive full on blasting yet does so in a manner that sounds perfectly natural and unforced.

Ferris next turns to the writing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Like Hughes his words are rooted in nature but Heaney’s landscape is less harsh and unforgiving and this is reflected in Ferris’ arrangement, the warm, rich horn textures giving the music an authentically bucolic quality. Vali delivers a coolly elegant vocal that again demonstrates her flexibility and range while Pascall impresses with a fluent, lyrical trumpet solo that unfolds gradually and gracefully. Ferris allows himself some solo space with an expansive piano solo that exhibits similar qualities.

The title track also features the poetry of Heaney, the words of which describe the poet’s experiences of learning to read and write and subsequently falling in love with words and language while learning the rules and traditions of literature. It’s a lengthy text encompassing some sixteen stanzas so the focus here is very much on Vali’s voice, albeit with space found for another incisive saxophone feature, this time from Mura on tenor whose playing becomes increasingly full blooded as his solo progresses, creating an effective contrast with the more reflective vocal sections.

Ferris continues to mine Irish literature for his setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Hawk”, a brooding, swirling piece whose arrangement seems to owe more to previous jazz and poetry projects (Westbrook, Garrick etc) than the rest of the collection. Vali delivers the poet’s words above the fan-faring of the horns in the manner of an incantation prior to an improvised trombone solo from Foote underscored by the loosely structured rhythms generated by Ferris, Jurd and Palmer with the latter’s drums playing a prominent part in a passage that contains some of the free-est playing on the album. The piece resolves itself with a closing vocal passage that reprises part of the first section.

The album’s second wholly instrumental piece is “Fred”, Ferris’ dedication to one of his musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hersch. The piece is very much a celebration of Hersch with its uplifting melodies, bright ensemble arrangements and delicately sparkling piano solo. With further features for saxophone and drums it’s a welcome reminder of the instrumental abilities of the core septet.

The album concludes with a joyous, rollicking interpretation of W.H. Auden’s “The Willow-Wren and the Stare”. Vali’s playful vocal performance is augmented by a lively, percussive piano solo from Ferris. The horns carouse like a mini big band and the excellent Palmer is again featured at the drums.

“Alphabets” represents an impressive leadership début from Ferris. His writing is consistently engaging and the playing and singing is excellent throughout. Wanting to write for Vali’s voice but not trusting himself as a lyricist he decided to turn to the works of others and “some of the most beautiful words I know”. This proved to be a wise and inspiring choice with the excellent Vali more than doing justice to the words of Heaney, Hughes, Yeats and Auden.

Jazz and poetry won’t be to everybody’s taste but there’s nothing “earnest” or “worthy” about Ferris’ music, it all sounds a perfectly natural and unforced and most jazz fans should find much to enjoy in these performances. Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

 


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