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Tam de Villiers Quartet - Tam de Villiers Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/03/2015. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian enjoys a live performance by guitarist and composer Tam de Villiers and his quartet and takes a look at his latest album "Panacea".

Tam de Villiers Quartet, The Hive Music and Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/03/2015.

The English born guitarist and composer Tam de Villiers has been based in Paris for the past ten years and leads his own quartet which has released a total of three albums, “Alba Lux” (2008), “Motion Unfolding” (2011) and the recent Whirlwind Recordings offering “Panacea” (2015).

He has also featured on recordings by harpist Isabelle Olivier,  the Cinematics ensemble led by pianist Olivier Calmel and as a guest on the album by former de Villiers Quartet bassist Bruno Schorp. An album is also due from the trio Morgen Naughties, an acoustic collective featuring de Villiers an acoustic and nylon guitar alongside French flautist Sylvaine Helary and German cellist (and occasional guitarist) Karsten Hochapfel. 

De Villiers studied at Leeds College of Music before moving to France, his guitar tutors including Jez Franks and Mike Walker. Ludlow based guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Simon King was a fellow student but was unfortunately unable to attend tonight’s gig. De Villiers has also acknowledged saxophonist Tommy Smith and guitarist Marc Ducret as other significant figures in terms of his musical development.

As a sideman de Villiers has a lengthy CV that includes both British and French musicians, names that may be familiar to UK listeners include saxophonist Julian Arguelles,  vocalist Norma Winstone and pianists Nikki Yeoh and Cedric Hanriot. He also has an ongoing project with pianist and musical maverick Mathew Bourne, a fellow Leeds alumnus.

However it is the quartet that remains de Villiers’ main focus. The present line up includes founding members David Prez (tenor sax) and Canadian national Karl Jannuska (drums) plus new bassist Frederic Chiffoleau. “Panacea” is a hugely ambitious album that also includes the voice of Hungarian guest singer Gabor Winand but it was the core instrumental unit that we were to hear tonight.

The music of the quartet is composed almost exclusively by de Villiers (Winand contributes one piece to “Panacea”) and his writing embraces many sources including progressive rock and contemporary classical compositional techniques including the use of trichords. The music is knotty and complex and makes ready use of bizarre time signatures and rhythms yet still possesses an energy and visceral urgency that is able to communicate itself to audiences. This is complicated but thrilling music that sometimes recalled that of a less jazzy Partisans, the instrumental configuration is essentially the same, but I was also reminded of such prog rock outfits as King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator with Radiohead also coming to mind. The pairing of guitar and saxophone also suggested the influence of Ducret and his long running partnership with the New York saxophonist Tim Berne.

Most of tonight’s programme was drawn from the new “Panacea” album although the quartet did dip briefly into the back catalogue by performing pieces from both of the previous albums. From the outset it was apparent that de Villiers is a player with an enormous technical facility, the kind of musician who is able to make even the most complex music look relatively easy. And make no mistake much of this was pretty tricky stuff, - despite the fact that this group is a long running working unit sheet music was still the order day, such is the density of de Villiers’ compositions.

De Villiers and Prez proved to be a highly effective unit with both musicians frequently doubling up on melody lines while at other times providing an intriguing counterpoint to the other’s playing. Each was equipped with a floor mounted pedal board that allowed for the subtle but productive use of electronic effects, de Villiers’ arsenal including delay, echo and extensive use of the tremolo arm.
Meanwhile Chiffoleau and Jannuska proved to be a powerful, flexible and adaptable rhythm section as they tackled the demands of de Villiers’ writing with apparent ease, Jannuska in particular appearing to grow in stature as the evening went on, his playing of even the most fiendishly difficult rhythms becoming increasingly assured.

The quartet opened with “As Above, So Below”, a piece from the new album that also includes voice and lyrics on the recorded version. A sombre intro featuring guitar, arco bass and baleful tenor sax gave way to a passage of angular, jagged rock riffs with de Villiers making use of a plastic finger slide, echoes here of his mentor Ducret or even the glissando guitar of Gong’s Daevid Allen to labour the French connection. The air of glowering malevolence that imbued much of this piece in its instrumental incarnation also brought Crimson and VDGG to mind.
There was a smattering of applause before it became clear to the audience that the band intended to segue straight into the next composition, this being the title track from “Alba Lux”. De Villiers’ spell binding solo guitar introduction was hugely effective on both an emotional and technical level and paved the way for further features from the able Chiffoleau on double bass and the powerful but fluent Prez on tenor sax. 

“Panopticon”, the opening track from “Panacea” featured driving rhythms and a catchy melodic hook that first recalled Partisans and later VDGG as the riffing became more staccato and abrasive. A more abstract central section featuring shadowy guitar and tenor sax above anchoring bass and furtive drum shuffles then morphed into an urgent guitar solo underpinned by a circling tenor sax before the piece concluded with a powerful drum feature from the excellent Jannuska.

Also from “Panacea” the thematically linked tracks “Totem Tona” and “Tona Totem” were presented here as a kind of suite. Both pieces borrow from 20th century classical composition devices such as the twelve tone row and the trichord but whatever the technicalities this was still absorbing and satisfying music with de Villiers making judicious use of his range of guitar effects on the compelling solo that constituted most of “Totem Tona”. Another smattering of spontaneous audience applause presaged the segue into the more ensemble based “Tona Totem” which saw de Villiers and Prez working closely together as part of a convincing group performance.

For the final number of the first set de Villiers announced that the quartet would be playing a cover by “a band we all like” and challenged us to guess what it was. I was anticipating something by Radiohead, an act that is a particular favourite among many contemporary jazz musicians, or even a blast through the mighty Crim’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”. I certainly hadn’t expected “Message In A Bottle” by the Police, a piece that as it turns out, appears as a bonus track on the mp3 edition of “Motion Unfolding”.  As de Villiers later told me, “it’s that opening arpeggio, you can go anywhere with it”. Most of us soon picked up on the tune thanks to Prez’s sax melody over Jannuska’s muffled drum grooves but the quartet were soon transforming’ Sting’s cheerful ditty into a snarling prog metal freak out with towering solos from Prez and de Villiers and a final rousing drum flourish from Jannuska. It was no less intense than anything that had preceded it but the familiarity of the tune still made it feel like bit of (relatively) light relief.

Set two began with “Plato’s Cave”, one of the best tracks from “Panacea” with its accessible jointly guitar/saxophone stated theme providing the jumping off point for de Villiers’ subsequent solo, his Frisell like twangs underscored by Jannuska’s insistent rhythms and Chiffoleau’s muscular bass.

“Wolf (in Sheep’s Clothing)” also featured a guitar/tenor theme but was most noteworthy for an extended bass and drum dialogue between Chiffoleau and Jannuska.

The simply titled “Soup” re-introduced de Villiers’ classical leanings as it developed out of a solo guitar episode to embrace another brief drum and bass interlude plus a fascinating series of exchanges between de Villiers and Prez as their lines intertwined.

The recorded version of “Morse Code Fantasie” features the wordless, Robert Wyatt style vocals of Gabor Winard. However it worked equally well as an instrumental with its quirky theme emerging from an opening guitar/tenor sax duet. Things later took a more angry turn with a series of powerful exchanges between de Villiers and Prez as Jannuska stoked the fires.

The quartet’s second album was represented with the set closer “Duplex” , yet another piece with a jointly stated guitar/tenor theme but with subsequent solos from both instruments. De Villiers delivered a truly epic performance on guitar, deploying a range of different techniques as he was driven forward by sturdy bass and powerful drums. Prez’s feature was a more brooding, atmospheric affair with Chiffoleau picking up his bow.

The group’s adventurous, rock tinged music had gone down well with the Hive audience and Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s ebullient MC Claudia Lis had little difficulty in persuading the band to return for a deserved encore. This saw them returning to their first album for (I think) “Infinity Fragment” which combined semi abstract improvisational passages with features for each member of the band.

This was the third month running that SJN had presented music by young jazz musicians with links to the acclaimed jazz course at Leeds College of Music following the visits of saxophonist Matt Anderson’s Wildflower Sextet and pianist Dominic J Marshall’s trio. All the groups delivered adventurous original new music and all were gratifyingly well received.

As an event this live performance was probably the pick of them (by a short head). All four members of the de Villiers band impressed with their musicianship but with de Villiers taking the lion’s share of the solos and with his highly skilled guitar playing at the heart of the arrangements there was no doubt about just whose band this was. Having said that there was a still a strong collective spirit about the group and the sense that this was a real team effort.

This had been an exciting if sometimes challenging live performance with the Shrewsbury crowd responding well to de Villiers adventurous, often complex material. However much as I enjoyed the show I do have my reservations about the new album. De Villiers clearly enjoys working with singers and David Linx featured as a guest vocalist on two pieces on the quartet’s second album. With “Panacea” de Villiers has gone a stage further and Winand appears on four of the album’s ten tracks and receives the sole writing credit for “Freedom” which, like “Morse Code Fantasie” features his wordless vocal style, a kind of European extreme scatting. “Panacea” itself, plus “As Above, So Below”, features him singing portentous lyrics (presumably written by de Villiers) that the press release states as being derived from “symbolic archetypes found in European esoterica, alchemy and Jungian writings”.  I’m afraid I found the lyrics a bit too reminiscent of Jon Anderson’s excesses with Yes and frankly the vocal tracks don’t do that much for me at all (sorry Tam!). Nevertheless these experiments do exhibit a laudable sense of ambition and there is still much to enjoy on the album from a purely instrumental viewpoint. I also treated myself to a copy of the all instrumental “Alba Lux” and from a personal point of view this is the album that seems more likely to be set for “repeat play”.

Vocal reservations aside the core instrumental quartet are a superb live band and I’d urge UK audiences to check them out before they return to Paris. The remaining live dates are;

17 March - Dempsey’s, Cardiff

18 March - Leeds College of Music Workshop

18 March - Lescar, Sheffield

20 March - Bebop Club, Bristol

22 March - Schmazz/Splinter Newcastle


       

Tam de Villiers Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/03/2015.

Tam de Villiers Quartet

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Tam de Villiers Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/03/2015.

Ian enjoys a live performance by guitarist and composer Tam de Villiers and his quartet and takes a look at his latest album "Panacea".

Tam de Villiers Quartet, The Hive Music and Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/03/2015.

The English born guitarist and composer Tam de Villiers has been based in Paris for the past ten years and leads his own quartet which has released a total of three albums, “Alba Lux” (2008), “Motion Unfolding” (2011) and the recent Whirlwind Recordings offering “Panacea” (2015).

He has also featured on recordings by harpist Isabelle Olivier,  the Cinematics ensemble led by pianist Olivier Calmel and as a guest on the album by former de Villiers Quartet bassist Bruno Schorp. An album is also due from the trio Morgen Naughties, an acoustic collective featuring de Villiers an acoustic and nylon guitar alongside French flautist Sylvaine Helary and German cellist (and occasional guitarist) Karsten Hochapfel. 

De Villiers studied at Leeds College of Music before moving to France, his guitar tutors including Jez Franks and Mike Walker. Ludlow based guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Simon King was a fellow student but was unfortunately unable to attend tonight’s gig. De Villiers has also acknowledged saxophonist Tommy Smith and guitarist Marc Ducret as other significant figures in terms of his musical development.

As a sideman de Villiers has a lengthy CV that includes both British and French musicians, names that may be familiar to UK listeners include saxophonist Julian Arguelles,  vocalist Norma Winstone and pianists Nikki Yeoh and Cedric Hanriot. He also has an ongoing project with pianist and musical maverick Mathew Bourne, a fellow Leeds alumnus.

However it is the quartet that remains de Villiers’ main focus. The present line up includes founding members David Prez (tenor sax) and Canadian national Karl Jannuska (drums) plus new bassist Frederic Chiffoleau. “Panacea” is a hugely ambitious album that also includes the voice of Hungarian guest singer Gabor Winand but it was the core instrumental unit that we were to hear tonight.

The music of the quartet is composed almost exclusively by de Villiers (Winand contributes one piece to “Panacea”) and his writing embraces many sources including progressive rock and contemporary classical compositional techniques including the use of trichords. The music is knotty and complex and makes ready use of bizarre time signatures and rhythms yet still possesses an energy and visceral urgency that is able to communicate itself to audiences. This is complicated but thrilling music that sometimes recalled that of a less jazzy Partisans, the instrumental configuration is essentially the same, but I was also reminded of such prog rock outfits as King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator with Radiohead also coming to mind. The pairing of guitar and saxophone also suggested the influence of Ducret and his long running partnership with the New York saxophonist Tim Berne.

Most of tonight’s programme was drawn from the new “Panacea” album although the quartet did dip briefly into the back catalogue by performing pieces from both of the previous albums. From the outset it was apparent that de Villiers is a player with an enormous technical facility, the kind of musician who is able to make even the most complex music look relatively easy. And make no mistake much of this was pretty tricky stuff, - despite the fact that this group is a long running working unit sheet music was still the order day, such is the density of de Villiers’ compositions.

De Villiers and Prez proved to be a highly effective unit with both musicians frequently doubling up on melody lines while at other times providing an intriguing counterpoint to the other’s playing. Each was equipped with a floor mounted pedal board that allowed for the subtle but productive use of electronic effects, de Villiers’ arsenal including delay, echo and extensive use of the tremolo arm.
Meanwhile Chiffoleau and Jannuska proved to be a powerful, flexible and adaptable rhythm section as they tackled the demands of de Villiers’ writing with apparent ease, Jannuska in particular appearing to grow in stature as the evening went on, his playing of even the most fiendishly difficult rhythms becoming increasingly assured.

The quartet opened with “As Above, So Below”, a piece from the new album that also includes voice and lyrics on the recorded version. A sombre intro featuring guitar, arco bass and baleful tenor sax gave way to a passage of angular, jagged rock riffs with de Villiers making use of a plastic finger slide, echoes here of his mentor Ducret or even the glissando guitar of Gong’s Daevid Allen to labour the French connection. The air of glowering malevolence that imbued much of this piece in its instrumental incarnation also brought Crimson and VDGG to mind.
There was a smattering of applause before it became clear to the audience that the band intended to segue straight into the next composition, this being the title track from “Alba Lux”. De Villiers’ spell binding solo guitar introduction was hugely effective on both an emotional and technical level and paved the way for further features from the able Chiffoleau on double bass and the powerful but fluent Prez on tenor sax. 

“Panopticon”, the opening track from “Panacea” featured driving rhythms and a catchy melodic hook that first recalled Partisans and later VDGG as the riffing became more staccato and abrasive. A more abstract central section featuring shadowy guitar and tenor sax above anchoring bass and furtive drum shuffles then morphed into an urgent guitar solo underpinned by a circling tenor sax before the piece concluded with a powerful drum feature from the excellent Jannuska.

Also from “Panacea” the thematically linked tracks “Totem Tona” and “Tona Totem” were presented here as a kind of suite. Both pieces borrow from 20th century classical composition devices such as the twelve tone row and the trichord but whatever the technicalities this was still absorbing and satisfying music with de Villiers making judicious use of his range of guitar effects on the compelling solo that constituted most of “Totem Tona”. Another smattering of spontaneous audience applause presaged the segue into the more ensemble based “Tona Totem” which saw de Villiers and Prez working closely together as part of a convincing group performance.

For the final number of the first set de Villiers announced that the quartet would be playing a cover by “a band we all like” and challenged us to guess what it was. I was anticipating something by Radiohead, an act that is a particular favourite among many contemporary jazz musicians, or even a blast through the mighty Crim’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”. I certainly hadn’t expected “Message In A Bottle” by the Police, a piece that as it turns out, appears as a bonus track on the mp3 edition of “Motion Unfolding”.  As de Villiers later told me, “it’s that opening arpeggio, you can go anywhere with it”. Most of us soon picked up on the tune thanks to Prez’s sax melody over Jannuska’s muffled drum grooves but the quartet were soon transforming’ Sting’s cheerful ditty into a snarling prog metal freak out with towering solos from Prez and de Villiers and a final rousing drum flourish from Jannuska. It was no less intense than anything that had preceded it but the familiarity of the tune still made it feel like bit of (relatively) light relief.

Set two began with “Plato’s Cave”, one of the best tracks from “Panacea” with its accessible jointly guitar/saxophone stated theme providing the jumping off point for de Villiers’ subsequent solo, his Frisell like twangs underscored by Jannuska’s insistent rhythms and Chiffoleau’s muscular bass.

“Wolf (in Sheep’s Clothing)” also featured a guitar/tenor theme but was most noteworthy for an extended bass and drum dialogue between Chiffoleau and Jannuska.

The simply titled “Soup” re-introduced de Villiers’ classical leanings as it developed out of a solo guitar episode to embrace another brief drum and bass interlude plus a fascinating series of exchanges between de Villiers and Prez as their lines intertwined.

The recorded version of “Morse Code Fantasie” features the wordless, Robert Wyatt style vocals of Gabor Winard. However it worked equally well as an instrumental with its quirky theme emerging from an opening guitar/tenor sax duet. Things later took a more angry turn with a series of powerful exchanges between de Villiers and Prez as Jannuska stoked the fires.

The quartet’s second album was represented with the set closer “Duplex” , yet another piece with a jointly stated guitar/tenor theme but with subsequent solos from both instruments. De Villiers delivered a truly epic performance on guitar, deploying a range of different techniques as he was driven forward by sturdy bass and powerful drums. Prez’s feature was a more brooding, atmospheric affair with Chiffoleau picking up his bow.

The group’s adventurous, rock tinged music had gone down well with the Hive audience and Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s ebullient MC Claudia Lis had little difficulty in persuading the band to return for a deserved encore. This saw them returning to their first album for (I think) “Infinity Fragment” which combined semi abstract improvisational passages with features for each member of the band.

This was the third month running that SJN had presented music by young jazz musicians with links to the acclaimed jazz course at Leeds College of Music following the visits of saxophonist Matt Anderson’s Wildflower Sextet and pianist Dominic J Marshall’s trio. All the groups delivered adventurous original new music and all were gratifyingly well received.

As an event this live performance was probably the pick of them (by a short head). All four members of the de Villiers band impressed with their musicianship but with de Villiers taking the lion’s share of the solos and with his highly skilled guitar playing at the heart of the arrangements there was no doubt about just whose band this was. Having said that there was a still a strong collective spirit about the group and the sense that this was a real team effort.

This had been an exciting if sometimes challenging live performance with the Shrewsbury crowd responding well to de Villiers adventurous, often complex material. However much as I enjoyed the show I do have my reservations about the new album. De Villiers clearly enjoys working with singers and David Linx featured as a guest vocalist on two pieces on the quartet’s second album. With “Panacea” de Villiers has gone a stage further and Winand appears on four of the album’s ten tracks and receives the sole writing credit for “Freedom” which, like “Morse Code Fantasie” features his wordless vocal style, a kind of European extreme scatting. “Panacea” itself, plus “As Above, So Below”, features him singing portentous lyrics (presumably written by de Villiers) that the press release states as being derived from “symbolic archetypes found in European esoterica, alchemy and Jungian writings”.  I’m afraid I found the lyrics a bit too reminiscent of Jon Anderson’s excesses with Yes and frankly the vocal tracks don’t do that much for me at all (sorry Tam!). Nevertheless these experiments do exhibit a laudable sense of ambition and there is still much to enjoy on the album from a purely instrumental viewpoint. I also treated myself to a copy of the all instrumental “Alba Lux” and from a personal point of view this is the album that seems more likely to be set for “repeat play”.

Vocal reservations aside the core instrumental quartet are a superb live band and I’d urge UK audiences to check them out before they return to Paris. The remaining live dates are;

17 March - Dempsey’s, Cardiff

18 March - Leeds College of Music Workshop

18 March - Lescar, Sheffield

20 March - Bebop Club, Bristol

22 March - Schmazz/Splinter Newcastle


       


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