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Liam Noble’s Brother Face - Liam Noble’s Brother Face, The Hive Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/10/2013. Rating: 4 out of 5 Five musicians at the peak of their powers playing to an attentive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience. This is music that emphatically deserves to be documented on disc, the time is right.

Liam Noble’s Brother Face, The Hive Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/10/2013.

Pianist, composer and educator Liam Noble can be considered one of the unsung heroes of British jazz. A professional musician of some twenty years standing he has developed a style that is both individual and versatile, individual enough to be instantly recognisable, versatile enough to be effective in a variety of contexts ranging from re-interpreting Carole King material with vocalist Christine Tobin on the album “Tapestry Unravelled” to playing spiky free jazz with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey in the trio Sleepthief. He’s a regular member of saxophonist Julian Siegel’s excellent quartet and has also worked with guitarist Phil Robson and saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Chris Biscoe and Bobby Wellins.

For many years Noble has run a regular trio with the two Daves, Messrs Whitford and Wickins on double bass and drums respectively. This line up recorded “Brubeck” (Basho Records, 2007) a convincing re-examination of the works of yet another Dave, the celebrated Mr. Brubeck.

In 2012 Noble decided to augment the trio with two talented horn players from different jazz generations, the vastly experienced trumpeter Chris Batchelor, famously once of Loose Tubes, and that young lion of the reeds Shabaka Hutchings, leader of buzz band of the moment Sons Of Kemet.
Appearing as the Liam Noble Quintet the new five piece performed at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The focus was on original compositions by the pianist/leader with many of the pieces played on that occasion featuring again tonight. I was lucky enough to witness that Cheltenham performance, only the second gig with the new expanded line up, and my review of that show can be found in our Festival coverage in the Features section of this site.

Although I enjoyed the Cheltenham show and noted the potential of the group it was clear tonight just how much the band have kicked on since then. The Cheltenham gig was a little formal with the group carefully navigating their way through Noble’s often complex compositions.  Tonight in a case of glorious paradox the group sounded simultaneously tighter and looser. By that I mean tighter and more assured in the ensemble sections, freer and less inhibited in the many inspired solos. Both Noble and Batchelor have both worked with New York based musicians, the pianist with Tom Rainey and bassist Drew Gress on the album “Romance Among The Fishes” and Batchelor with drummer Jim Black and pianist Myra Melford in the superb Trans-Atlantic collaboration Big Air. Noble has also worked with trumpeter Peter Evans, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland and I sensed a bit of that New York attitude in Shrewsbury tonight. This was a band that since those early days in Cheltenham has developed a belief in its own abilities, a sense of swagger if you will, these guys are good, and they know it. Even the newly acquired group name Brother Face reveals a sense of purpose and belief.

Having said that there’s no arrogance about the group. Noble has retained his wry, witty very English announcing style and it speaks volumes for his integrity that he spent part of the money received from an Arts Council grant for this tour on hiring a Kawai grand piano for the evening. Pianists at The Hive, among them John Turville and Alex Hutton have previously brought their own electric models with them. I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it was for the Shrewsbury audience to see a “proper” piano at this venue. I’m also delighted to report that there was a very healthy audience turnout for this gig -sixty to seventy at a guess- and when I first entered the hall I felt a genuine sense of audience anticipation, fuelled perhaps by Peter Bacon’s warmly effusive review of the band’s Birmingham show (at the Midlands Arts Centre) on his Jazz Breakfast blog. Noble and his colleagues didn’t disappoint.

Although this time spread over two sets the evening followed a broadly similar course to the Cheltenham festival performance. In Noble’s words they proceeded to “steam right in” to “The Witch”, the title bestowed upon the piece by Noble’s young daughter. It was Noble’s piano style, a blend of Brubeck, Monk and Cecil Taylor yet very much his own, that inspired that title. Noble himself took the first solo, his angular phrasing quickly developing into something simultaneously chunky, percussive and tumbling , his left hand rhythmic figures as significant as his right hand runs. However in the current edition of the band Noble is prepared to give his two star horn men their head and over the course of the evening the leader actually took relatively few solos. Nevertheless his piano was at the heart of the music, a sophisticated, almost omnipresent source of harmony and rhythm which brought out the best in his colleagues. Thus we also heard from Batchelor on trumpet, initially with just the two Daves before Noble began to add succinct piano commentary to the trumpeter’s opening salvo. Next came Whitford at the bass with gentler piano and brushed drum accompaniment. Playing a distinctive silver clarinet Hutchings added a folk/ethnic element to the proceedings, something emphasised by Wickins’ use of exotic percussive devices, over the course of the evening he deployed small cymbals, bells, shakers, woodblocks and more to highly imaginative effect.

Following the rousing start “Essays In Idleness” offered something more freely structured and impressionistic. The piece drew its inspiration from the somewhat surreal writings of a mediaeval Japanese monk, a work that Noble described as the 14th Century equivalent of Twitter. It began gently with the soft, breathy, vocalised murmurings of clarinet and trumpet with Batchelor’s sound occasionally reminiscent of the Norwegian, Arve Henriksen. He also made effective use of the cup mute to extend his range, at one time using it to mimic a duck call as the music hinted at the extended techniques of free improvisation.

“Poachers Pocket” offered something more earthy, demonstrating that at times Noble is happy to keep things simple. With Hutchings switching to tenor sax the unison horn lines were bright and punchy, as the younger man blended effectively with Batchelor on the theme. Whitford’s bass solo represented a brief pause for breath before powerful statements from Hutchings and Batchelor, the trumpeter’s bravura solo testing the limits of both his breath control and his instrument.

A new tune, “The Beautiful Situation” was dedicated to the late trumpet and flugel maestro Harry Beckett, the title culled from one of Beckett’s favourite sayings. The piece opened with a flurry of quicksilver bebop phrases but Hutchings’ tenor solo also included elements that acknowledged his and Beckett’s Caribbean roots. There were moments when only Wickins was keeping him company that I was reminded of the saxophonist’s own Sons Of Kemet group. Batchelor followed, his solo subsequently entering into an inspired dialogue with Noble at the piano before the leader took over and rounded things off. This was a life affirming tribute to a much missed figure on the UK jazz scene.

The first set concluded with “Clint”, named in honour of both Kyle Eastwood’s dad and a pet cat. Hutchings moved back to clarinet, taking the first solo before an extraordinary feature from Batchelor on his freshly unveiled soprano cornet, his sound running the full gamut between muted , flute like breathiness to full on growling vocalisations as Whitford flourished the bow behind him. An excellent end to a frequently stunning first half.

Set two began with an extended feature from the excellent Wickins, an immaculate time keeper but also something of a showman with his idiosyncratic collection of exotic percussion instruments. At one point he pored water from one pot to another, striking the respective vessels as the pitch and tone varied with the transference of the liquid. Percussive techniques featuring water are also used by the Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu and the Brazilian Nana Vasconcelos. Further solos came from Hutchings on clarinet and Batchelor on trumpet with the trio of Noble, Wickins and Hutchings also entering into an inspired musical discussion with the clarinettist demonstrating his slap tonguing technique.

“Then Again” offered another example of the more impressionistic side of Noble’s writing. Whitford’s unaccompanied pizzicato bass opened the piece, joined first by Wickins’ percussion shadings and then by the piano motif that shaped the later direction of the piece. Batchelor and Hutchings on trumpet and clarinet respectively played the theme in unison before making solo statements, Batchelor plaintive and emotive and making maximum use of space, Hutchings light and feathery as the two horn men enjoyed the freedom bestowed by Noble’s writing.

It seemed appropriate that an inspired passage of solo piano introduced “Geri”, Noble’s celebratory homage to the American pianist, composer and educator Geri Allen. Here the quintet delivered a kind of cerebral funk which provided the framework for solos from Hutchings on tenor and Batchelor on blazing, open horn trumpet. The rhythmic drive of Wickins’ drums was fundamental to the success of the piece.

Noble’s range of influences is broad and he cited the inspiration of the cult American band The Residents on “Theory Of Obscurity” . Here Hutchings’ slow burning tenor solo was followed by Batchelor’s brilliant trumpet feature, a beguiling mix of Nordic cool and wild, often humorous Bubber Miley style vocalisations, the latter enhanced by the use of a plunger mute.

This was the last scheduled number of the night but the enthusiastic reception afforded to the band ensured that an encore was inevitable. “We’ll start from where we were and see what happens” said Noble and it would seem that the encore was entirely improvised building from a free form opening featuring Wickins’ percussive exotica and Noble’s interior piano scrapings. Solos came from Hutchings on tenor and Batchelor on trumpet, the latter deploying a variety of mutes and producing more low down and dirty sounds with the plunger, terrific stuff.

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen at The Hive with five musicians at the peak of their powers playing to an attentive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience. The presence of a “proper” piano was a huge plus, maybe Liam can be persuaded to leave it there for future events! Peter Bacon’s review of the quintet’s Birmingham performance suggested that the concert was being recorded. Regardless of whether it’s a live or studio recording this is music that emphatically deserves to be documented on disc, the time is right.


The remaing dates on the Brother Face tour are;

18 October
8.30pm
SHEFFIELD Jazz Millennium Hall, Polish Centre, 520 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PY  
£14/£7/£2 http://www.sheffieldjazz.org.uk/index.php?option=com_events&view=event&id=108

1 November
8.30pm
BRIGHTON The Verdict, 159 Edward St, BN2 0JB  
£10/£8 http://www.verdictjazz.co.uk

8 November
8.30pm
LONDON The Vortex 11 Gillett Street N16 8AZ 020 7254 4097
£12.50 http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/  https://www.wegottickets.com/event/211818

Liam Noble’s Brother Face, The Hive Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/10/2013.

Liam Noble’s Brother Face

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Liam Noble’s Brother Face, The Hive Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/10/2013.
Photography: Photograph of Liam Noble by Helena Dornellas

Five musicians at the peak of their powers playing to an attentive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience. This is music that emphatically deserves to be documented on disc, the time is right.

Liam Noble’s Brother Face, The Hive Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/10/2013.

Pianist, composer and educator Liam Noble can be considered one of the unsung heroes of British jazz. A professional musician of some twenty years standing he has developed a style that is both individual and versatile, individual enough to be instantly recognisable, versatile enough to be effective in a variety of contexts ranging from re-interpreting Carole King material with vocalist Christine Tobin on the album “Tapestry Unravelled” to playing spiky free jazz with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey in the trio Sleepthief. He’s a regular member of saxophonist Julian Siegel’s excellent quartet and has also worked with guitarist Phil Robson and saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Chris Biscoe and Bobby Wellins.

For many years Noble has run a regular trio with the two Daves, Messrs Whitford and Wickins on double bass and drums respectively. This line up recorded “Brubeck” (Basho Records, 2007) a convincing re-examination of the works of yet another Dave, the celebrated Mr. Brubeck.

In 2012 Noble decided to augment the trio with two talented horn players from different jazz generations, the vastly experienced trumpeter Chris Batchelor, famously once of Loose Tubes, and that young lion of the reeds Shabaka Hutchings, leader of buzz band of the moment Sons Of Kemet.
Appearing as the Liam Noble Quintet the new five piece performed at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The focus was on original compositions by the pianist/leader with many of the pieces played on that occasion featuring again tonight. I was lucky enough to witness that Cheltenham performance, only the second gig with the new expanded line up, and my review of that show can be found in our Festival coverage in the Features section of this site.

Although I enjoyed the Cheltenham show and noted the potential of the group it was clear tonight just how much the band have kicked on since then. The Cheltenham gig was a little formal with the group carefully navigating their way through Noble’s often complex compositions.  Tonight in a case of glorious paradox the group sounded simultaneously tighter and looser. By that I mean tighter and more assured in the ensemble sections, freer and less inhibited in the many inspired solos. Both Noble and Batchelor have both worked with New York based musicians, the pianist with Tom Rainey and bassist Drew Gress on the album “Romance Among The Fishes” and Batchelor with drummer Jim Black and pianist Myra Melford in the superb Trans-Atlantic collaboration Big Air. Noble has also worked with trumpeter Peter Evans, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland and I sensed a bit of that New York attitude in Shrewsbury tonight. This was a band that since those early days in Cheltenham has developed a belief in its own abilities, a sense of swagger if you will, these guys are good, and they know it. Even the newly acquired group name Brother Face reveals a sense of purpose and belief.

Having said that there’s no arrogance about the group. Noble has retained his wry, witty very English announcing style and it speaks volumes for his integrity that he spent part of the money received from an Arts Council grant for this tour on hiring a Kawai grand piano for the evening. Pianists at The Hive, among them John Turville and Alex Hutton have previously brought their own electric models with them. I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it was for the Shrewsbury audience to see a “proper” piano at this venue. I’m also delighted to report that there was a very healthy audience turnout for this gig -sixty to seventy at a guess- and when I first entered the hall I felt a genuine sense of audience anticipation, fuelled perhaps by Peter Bacon’s warmly effusive review of the band’s Birmingham show (at the Midlands Arts Centre) on his Jazz Breakfast blog. Noble and his colleagues didn’t disappoint.

Although this time spread over two sets the evening followed a broadly similar course to the Cheltenham festival performance. In Noble’s words they proceeded to “steam right in” to “The Witch”, the title bestowed upon the piece by Noble’s young daughter. It was Noble’s piano style, a blend of Brubeck, Monk and Cecil Taylor yet very much his own, that inspired that title. Noble himself took the first solo, his angular phrasing quickly developing into something simultaneously chunky, percussive and tumbling , his left hand rhythmic figures as significant as his right hand runs. However in the current edition of the band Noble is prepared to give his two star horn men their head and over the course of the evening the leader actually took relatively few solos. Nevertheless his piano was at the heart of the music, a sophisticated, almost omnipresent source of harmony and rhythm which brought out the best in his colleagues. Thus we also heard from Batchelor on trumpet, initially with just the two Daves before Noble began to add succinct piano commentary to the trumpeter’s opening salvo. Next came Whitford at the bass with gentler piano and brushed drum accompaniment. Playing a distinctive silver clarinet Hutchings added a folk/ethnic element to the proceedings, something emphasised by Wickins’ use of exotic percussive devices, over the course of the evening he deployed small cymbals, bells, shakers, woodblocks and more to highly imaginative effect.

Following the rousing start “Essays In Idleness” offered something more freely structured and impressionistic. The piece drew its inspiration from the somewhat surreal writings of a mediaeval Japanese monk, a work that Noble described as the 14th Century equivalent of Twitter. It began gently with the soft, breathy, vocalised murmurings of clarinet and trumpet with Batchelor’s sound occasionally reminiscent of the Norwegian, Arve Henriksen. He also made effective use of the cup mute to extend his range, at one time using it to mimic a duck call as the music hinted at the extended techniques of free improvisation.

“Poachers Pocket” offered something more earthy, demonstrating that at times Noble is happy to keep things simple. With Hutchings switching to tenor sax the unison horn lines were bright and punchy, as the younger man blended effectively with Batchelor on the theme. Whitford’s bass solo represented a brief pause for breath before powerful statements from Hutchings and Batchelor, the trumpeter’s bravura solo testing the limits of both his breath control and his instrument.

A new tune, “The Beautiful Situation” was dedicated to the late trumpet and flugel maestro Harry Beckett, the title culled from one of Beckett’s favourite sayings. The piece opened with a flurry of quicksilver bebop phrases but Hutchings’ tenor solo also included elements that acknowledged his and Beckett’s Caribbean roots. There were moments when only Wickins was keeping him company that I was reminded of the saxophonist’s own Sons Of Kemet group. Batchelor followed, his solo subsequently entering into an inspired dialogue with Noble at the piano before the leader took over and rounded things off. This was a life affirming tribute to a much missed figure on the UK jazz scene.

The first set concluded with “Clint”, named in honour of both Kyle Eastwood’s dad and a pet cat. Hutchings moved back to clarinet, taking the first solo before an extraordinary feature from Batchelor on his freshly unveiled soprano cornet, his sound running the full gamut between muted , flute like breathiness to full on growling vocalisations as Whitford flourished the bow behind him. An excellent end to a frequently stunning first half.

Set two began with an extended feature from the excellent Wickins, an immaculate time keeper but also something of a showman with his idiosyncratic collection of exotic percussion instruments. At one point he pored water from one pot to another, striking the respective vessels as the pitch and tone varied with the transference of the liquid. Percussive techniques featuring water are also used by the Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu and the Brazilian Nana Vasconcelos. Further solos came from Hutchings on clarinet and Batchelor on trumpet with the trio of Noble, Wickins and Hutchings also entering into an inspired musical discussion with the clarinettist demonstrating his slap tonguing technique.

“Then Again” offered another example of the more impressionistic side of Noble’s writing. Whitford’s unaccompanied pizzicato bass opened the piece, joined first by Wickins’ percussion shadings and then by the piano motif that shaped the later direction of the piece. Batchelor and Hutchings on trumpet and clarinet respectively played the theme in unison before making solo statements, Batchelor plaintive and emotive and making maximum use of space, Hutchings light and feathery as the two horn men enjoyed the freedom bestowed by Noble’s writing.

It seemed appropriate that an inspired passage of solo piano introduced “Geri”, Noble’s celebratory homage to the American pianist, composer and educator Geri Allen. Here the quintet delivered a kind of cerebral funk which provided the framework for solos from Hutchings on tenor and Batchelor on blazing, open horn trumpet. The rhythmic drive of Wickins’ drums was fundamental to the success of the piece.

Noble’s range of influences is broad and he cited the inspiration of the cult American band The Residents on “Theory Of Obscurity” . Here Hutchings’ slow burning tenor solo was followed by Batchelor’s brilliant trumpet feature, a beguiling mix of Nordic cool and wild, often humorous Bubber Miley style vocalisations, the latter enhanced by the use of a plunger mute.

This was the last scheduled number of the night but the enthusiastic reception afforded to the band ensured that an encore was inevitable. “We’ll start from where we were and see what happens” said Noble and it would seem that the encore was entirely improvised building from a free form opening featuring Wickins’ percussive exotica and Noble’s interior piano scrapings. Solos came from Hutchings on tenor and Batchelor on trumpet, the latter deploying a variety of mutes and producing more low down and dirty sounds with the plunger, terrific stuff.

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen at The Hive with five musicians at the peak of their powers playing to an attentive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience. The presence of a “proper” piano was a huge plus, maybe Liam can be persuaded to leave it there for future events! Peter Bacon’s review of the quintet’s Birmingham performance suggested that the concert was being recorded. Regardless of whether it’s a live or studio recording this is music that emphatically deserves to be documented on disc, the time is right.


The remaing dates on the Brother Face tour are;

18 October
8.30pm
SHEFFIELD Jazz Millennium Hall, Polish Centre, 520 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PY  
£14/£7/£2 http://www.sheffieldjazz.org.uk/index.php?option=com_events&view=event&id=108

1 November
8.30pm
BRIGHTON The Verdict, 159 Edward St, BN2 0JB  
£10/£8 http://www.verdictjazz.co.uk

8 November
8.30pm
LONDON The Vortex 11 Gillett Street N16 8AZ 020 7254 4097
£12.50 http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/  https://www.wegottickets.com/event/211818


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