The Jazz Mann | Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt - Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 15/04/2017. | Review | The Jazz Mann

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Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt - Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 15/04/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Sansom is certainly an emerging talent and he and his quartet tackled their chosen material with considerable aplomb.

Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 15/04/2017

The latest event in the Jazz at the Arena series featured Birmingham based pianist Elliot Sansom (born 1994) leading his regular trio of bassist Ben Muirhead and drummer Nathan England-Jones together with guest tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt. 

A graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire Sansom is still based in the city and is an increasingly busy presence on the Midlands jazz scene performing in a variety of different line ups ranging from trio to big band.

In 2016 Sansom was a finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition, acquitting himself well in a televised performance accompanied by bassist Yuri Golubev and drummer James Maddren, both members of the Gwilym Simcock Trio. Sansom lost out to eventual winner Alexandra Ridout (trumpet) but he clearly enjoyed the opportunity of playing alongside such a stellar rhythm section and the exposure on national TV will have done his career no harm at all.
Sansom has also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event, as have his colleagues Muirhead and England-Jones.

Sansom has played piano since an early age and was initially inspired by Ray Charles before discovering the music of Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. More contemporary jazz influences include fellow pianists John Taylor, Paul Bley, Herbie Hancock and Pablo Held plus classical composers Olivier Messiaen, Federico Mompou and Igor Stravinsky.

Sansom composes his own material but for his Wolverhampton performance he chose to pay tribute to the writing of one of his former tutors and mentors, the late great John Taylor ( 1942 – 2015) with whom he studied at Birmingham Conservatoire. The programme also honoured the work of another recently departed great, Taylor’s close friend and collaborator the Canadian born trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014), a musician who became a hugely influential presence on the British jazz scene and beyond.

A small but knowledgeable and highly appreciative audience of around forty showed up at the Arena to support the young quartet. Guest saxophonist Merritt remained on stage throughout and was an integral part of the proceedings. The young Cambridge born, London based musician is a band-leader in his own right and released his début recording “Anatta” on the F-ire Presents label in early 2016, a quartet set featuring the considerable talents of pianist John Turville, bassist Sam Lasserson and drummer Jeff Williams.

Merritt, also a Birmingham Conservatoire alumnus, names Warne Marsh among his list of inspirations and the young saxophonist’s cool school leanings found expression in his imaginative but undemonstrative playing as exhibited on the quartet’s opening number, a version of Taylor’s “Ambleside”. Sansom described one of Taylor’s best known compositions as “a British Giant Steps” before adding that it was notoriously difficult to play. However the youthful quartet more than rose to the challenge with Merritt, Sansom and Muirhead sharing the solos between them.

Ralph Towner’s tune “Al Tramonto” represented the only departure from the Taylor/Wheeler canon but was sourced from “Verso”, an album recording dating back to 2000 that featured the composer alongside Taylor and Italian vocalist Maria Pia de Voto. This relatively little known Towner composition was a delight, a kind of abstract ballad with a gorgeous folk inspired melody that featured some of Sansom’s most lyrical playing in conjunction with Muirhead’s melodic bass accompaniment. Merritt’s solo saw him probing gently but intelligently and Muirhead’s use of the bow at the end also represented a nice touch.

Next the quartet explored the complex harmonies of Wheeler’s “Nicolette”, the opening track from the trumpeter’s celebrated 1996 ECM album “Angel Song” featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz,bassist Dave Holland and Guitarist Bill Frisell. Sansom’s arrangement gave the young pianist plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his impressive technique, he’s a hugely accomplished and intelligent pianist with an enormous technical facility whose playing is often surprisingly percussive.

Taylor’s “Witchhazel” began with an absorbing duet for piano and double bass to which was added wispy tenor sax while drummer England-Jones deployed a delicate touch in his role of colourist. Later the music became more knotty and complex as the musicians delved deeper into the harmonies with solos from Sansom and Merritt.

An absorbing first set concluded with Wheeler’s “Mark Time” which saw Sansom’s most animated playing thus far as he undertook a bravura solo at the piano followed by Muirhead at the bass. Muirhead also leads his own quartet, of which Sansom is a member, and also plays in several other Birmingham based bands. He is a skilled and versatile player, an accomplished soloist and accompanist with a big, powerful tone.

The engaging complexities of Taylor’s “Weimar” opened the second half with solos coming from Merritt and Sansom and with a vigorous bass and drum dialogue between Muirhead and
England-Jones.

Wheeler’s celebrated “Introduction To No Particular Song” demonstrated its composer’s gift for melody and featured lyrical solos from Sansom and Merritt accompanied by England-Jones’ brushed drums. Meanwhile Muirhead’s bass solo combined sensitivity with melodiousness.

The gentle mood continued with Sansom and Merritt’s charming duet on Taylor’s “Coniston Fells” from the composer’s “Ambleside Suite”. Introduced by a lengthy passage of solo piano this supremely intimate musical conversation was so concentrated that even the flutter of Merritt’s sax pads seemed to become an integral part of the performance.

The Lakeland theme continued with Taylor’s “Drystone” which featured a lengthy solo from Merritt, the understated ‘whisper’ of his tone also suggesting the influence of the acclaimed saxophonist Mark Turner, a sometime visitor to Birmingham and the Conservatoire.

I found the second set to be more varied and better balanced than the first and was saddened to hear Sansom announce the last number, which proved to be a winning take on Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, a piece that has become something of a modern day standard – and rightly so. The familiar, but always arresting, melody provided the framework for final solos from Sansom and Merritt as Murhead and England-Jones continued to provide characteristically sympathetic and intelligent support as well as enjoying their own features.

Such was the success of the performance that despite the sparsity of the crowd the enthusiasm of those that had gathered was sufficient to coax the quartet back on stage for a deserved encore. The Taylor/Wheeler template was abandoned as the quartet tackled an unannounced jazz standard - “Someday My Prince Will Come”, if memory serves. Here Merritt adopted a fuller, more mainstream tone as Muirhead and England-Jones layed down an orthodox swing rhythm for the first (and only) time this evening. Muirhead’s muscular bass grooves and England-Jones’ fizzing cymbals propelled solos from Sansom and Merritt and the drummer again relished a series of closing drum breaks. After the complexities of some of the Taylor and Wheeler material there was a general air of tension being released and this unexpected bonus was warmly appreciated by the crowd.

Overall this was an enjoyable evening of music making, and one that I hope Sansom thought was successful and worthwhile. The young pianist is certainly an emerging talent and he and his quartet tackled their chosen material with considerable aplomb.

I’m a long term fan of Taylor, Wheeler and, indeed, Towner but nevertheless I’d have liked to have heard at least some of Sansom’s own compositions and to have seen the young man bringing even more of himself to the proceedings. Next time, perhaps.

Good stuff though, even so. 

Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 15/04/2017.

Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 15/04/2017.

Sansom is certainly an emerging talent and he and his quartet tackled their chosen material with considerable aplomb.

Elliot Sansom Trio with Alex Merritt, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 15/04/2017

The latest event in the Jazz at the Arena series featured Birmingham based pianist Elliot Sansom (born 1994) leading his regular trio of bassist Ben Muirhead and drummer Nathan England-Jones together with guest tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt. 

A graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire Sansom is still based in the city and is an increasingly busy presence on the Midlands jazz scene performing in a variety of different line ups ranging from trio to big band.

In 2016 Sansom was a finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition, acquitting himself well in a televised performance accompanied by bassist Yuri Golubev and drummer James Maddren, both members of the Gwilym Simcock Trio. Sansom lost out to eventual winner Alexandra Ridout (trumpet) but he clearly enjoyed the opportunity of playing alongside such a stellar rhythm section and the exposure on national TV will have done his career no harm at all.
Sansom has also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event, as have his colleagues Muirhead and England-Jones.

Sansom has played piano since an early age and was initially inspired by Ray Charles before discovering the music of Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. More contemporary jazz influences include fellow pianists John Taylor, Paul Bley, Herbie Hancock and Pablo Held plus classical composers Olivier Messiaen, Federico Mompou and Igor Stravinsky.

Sansom composes his own material but for his Wolverhampton performance he chose to pay tribute to the writing of one of his former tutors and mentors, the late great John Taylor ( 1942 – 2015) with whom he studied at Birmingham Conservatoire. The programme also honoured the work of another recently departed great, Taylor’s close friend and collaborator the Canadian born trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014), a musician who became a hugely influential presence on the British jazz scene and beyond.

A small but knowledgeable and highly appreciative audience of around forty showed up at the Arena to support the young quartet. Guest saxophonist Merritt remained on stage throughout and was an integral part of the proceedings. The young Cambridge born, London based musician is a band-leader in his own right and released his début recording “Anatta” on the F-ire Presents label in early 2016, a quartet set featuring the considerable talents of pianist John Turville, bassist Sam Lasserson and drummer Jeff Williams.

Merritt, also a Birmingham Conservatoire alumnus, names Warne Marsh among his list of inspirations and the young saxophonist’s cool school leanings found expression in his imaginative but undemonstrative playing as exhibited on the quartet’s opening number, a version of Taylor’s “Ambleside”. Sansom described one of Taylor’s best known compositions as “a British Giant Steps” before adding that it was notoriously difficult to play. However the youthful quartet more than rose to the challenge with Merritt, Sansom and Muirhead sharing the solos between them.

Ralph Towner’s tune “Al Tramonto” represented the only departure from the Taylor/Wheeler canon but was sourced from “Verso”, an album recording dating back to 2000 that featured the composer alongside Taylor and Italian vocalist Maria Pia de Voto. This relatively little known Towner composition was a delight, a kind of abstract ballad with a gorgeous folk inspired melody that featured some of Sansom’s most lyrical playing in conjunction with Muirhead’s melodic bass accompaniment. Merritt’s solo saw him probing gently but intelligently and Muirhead’s use of the bow at the end also represented a nice touch.

Next the quartet explored the complex harmonies of Wheeler’s “Nicolette”, the opening track from the trumpeter’s celebrated 1996 ECM album “Angel Song” featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz,bassist Dave Holland and Guitarist Bill Frisell. Sansom’s arrangement gave the young pianist plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his impressive technique, he’s a hugely accomplished and intelligent pianist with an enormous technical facility whose playing is often surprisingly percussive.

Taylor’s “Witchhazel” began with an absorbing duet for piano and double bass to which was added wispy tenor sax while drummer England-Jones deployed a delicate touch in his role of colourist. Later the music became more knotty and complex as the musicians delved deeper into the harmonies with solos from Sansom and Merritt.

An absorbing first set concluded with Wheeler’s “Mark Time” which saw Sansom’s most animated playing thus far as he undertook a bravura solo at the piano followed by Muirhead at the bass. Muirhead also leads his own quartet, of which Sansom is a member, and also plays in several other Birmingham based bands. He is a skilled and versatile player, an accomplished soloist and accompanist with a big, powerful tone.

The engaging complexities of Taylor’s “Weimar” opened the second half with solos coming from Merritt and Sansom and with a vigorous bass and drum dialogue between Muirhead and
England-Jones.

Wheeler’s celebrated “Introduction To No Particular Song” demonstrated its composer’s gift for melody and featured lyrical solos from Sansom and Merritt accompanied by England-Jones’ brushed drums. Meanwhile Muirhead’s bass solo combined sensitivity with melodiousness.

The gentle mood continued with Sansom and Merritt’s charming duet on Taylor’s “Coniston Fells” from the composer’s “Ambleside Suite”. Introduced by a lengthy passage of solo piano this supremely intimate musical conversation was so concentrated that even the flutter of Merritt’s sax pads seemed to become an integral part of the performance.

The Lakeland theme continued with Taylor’s “Drystone” which featured a lengthy solo from Merritt, the understated ‘whisper’ of his tone also suggesting the influence of the acclaimed saxophonist Mark Turner, a sometime visitor to Birmingham and the Conservatoire.

I found the second set to be more varied and better balanced than the first and was saddened to hear Sansom announce the last number, which proved to be a winning take on Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, a piece that has become something of a modern day standard – and rightly so. The familiar, but always arresting, melody provided the framework for final solos from Sansom and Merritt as Murhead and England-Jones continued to provide characteristically sympathetic and intelligent support as well as enjoying their own features.

Such was the success of the performance that despite the sparsity of the crowd the enthusiasm of those that had gathered was sufficient to coax the quartet back on stage for a deserved encore. The Taylor/Wheeler template was abandoned as the quartet tackled an unannounced jazz standard - “Someday My Prince Will Come”, if memory serves. Here Merritt adopted a fuller, more mainstream tone as Muirhead and England-Jones layed down an orthodox swing rhythm for the first (and only) time this evening. Muirhead’s muscular bass grooves and England-Jones’ fizzing cymbals propelled solos from Sansom and Merritt and the drummer again relished a series of closing drum breaks. After the complexities of some of the Taylor and Wheeler material there was a general air of tension being released and this unexpected bonus was warmly appreciated by the crowd.

Overall this was an enjoyable evening of music making, and one that I hope Sansom thought was successful and worthwhile. The young pianist is certainly an emerging talent and he and his quartet tackled their chosen material with considerable aplomb.

I’m a long term fan of Taylor, Wheeler and, indeed, Towner but nevertheless I’d have liked to have heard at least some of Sansom’s own compositions and to have seen the young man bringing even more of himself to the proceedings. Next time, perhaps.

Good stuff though, even so. 


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