by Ian Mann
March 30, 2021
A highly enjoyable and informative evening that included some excellent playing from the duo, allied to an impish sense of humour and a general air of eclecticism.
Alicia Gardener-Trejo / Andrew Woodhead Duo, Livestream presented by Jazz at The Lescar, Sheffield, 26/03/2021.
Alicia Gardener-Trejo – flute, baritone sax, Andrew Woodhead – piano, organ
I’m grateful to Jez Matthews of Jazz at The Lescar for inviting me to the organisation’s first livestream event of 2021.
This took the form of an intimate duo performance by saxophonist and flautist Alicia Gardener- Trejo and keyboard player Andrew Woodhead from their home in Birmingham.
Both musicians have strong connections with Sheffield and The Lescar. Woodhead was born in the city but has settled in the Midlands following his studies on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire. Gardener-Trejo also studied at Birmingham and relatively recently performed at The Lescar with her eleven piece ensemble Bobtail. She was also part of the exceptional quintet led by clarinettist Samantha Wright that Matthews, in his role as promoter, presented at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival.
Both musicians have appeared elsewhere on the Jazzmann web pages. Gardener-Trejo has featured on recordings by the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, under the leadership of composer Tom Haines, and by pianist Mark Pringle. She also leads her own quintet, the standards trio Hepcat and the Project Ensemble, a fluid line up dedicated to playing the music of Gerry Mulligan, Benny Golson, Miles Davis and others. She has also written a suite for the drummer-less ensemble Images in Black & White.
Woodhead has featured in bands led by vocalist Anthony Marsden, saxophonist Claude Pietersen (the quintet Zwolfton) and has been a member of the trio Snapdragon featuring vocalist Holly Thomas and reeds player Lluis Mather. Other musicians with whom he has worked include trombonist Richard Foote, trumpeters, Percy Pursglove and Kim Macari, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, cellist Hannah Marshall, bassist Olie Brice and drummer Mark Sanders.
During his student days he appeared at the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Out of this grew a collaboration between the duo ELDA (Woodhead and trumpeter Aaron Diaz) and the Norwegian vocalist Kari Eskild Havenstrom. This trio recorded the album “Shiny/Things”, released in early 2019. Review here;
The ELDA duo regularly collaborate with other musicians and have also recorded with saxophonist Faye MacCalman, trumpeter Sam Wooster, bassist Chris Mapp and synthesiser player / vocalist Georgia Denham.
In addition to his work as a musician Woodhead is also a promoter and event organiser, one of the movers and shakers of the vibrant Birmingham Jazz Scene. Pre-Covid he organised the regular Fizzle free improvisation sessions held at The Lamp Tavern, Digbeth, a series of events that has attracted leading improvisers from Birmingham, London and beyond.
In early 2020, together with violinist Sarah Farmer, he was one of the driving forces behind the Ideas of Noise Festival, a celebration of experimental music that took place at various venues across The Midlands. All of the planned events were able to take place before the first Covid lockdown, one of the highlights being a performance by a trio led by the New York based drummer Tom Rainey and featuring saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Mary Halvorson at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham in January 2020. Review here;
Gardener-Trejo and Woodhead work together in the trio Bobhowler, a project with theremin player Tom Mills. I had hoped to see Bobhowler’s performance at the sadly now defunct Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry 2020, but inevitably this fell victim to the pandemic. Tonight’s livestream show went some way towards compensating for this.
The Bobhowler album “Figures” plus the Bobtail album “Frolic” are both available from Gardener-Trejo’s Bandcamp page here;
Details of Woodhead’s numerous recordings with ELDA, Bobhowler and as a solo artist can be found via his website http://www.andrewwoodheadmusic.com/, from which links can be found to the appropriate Bandcamp pages.
Tonight’s event featured the duo of Gardener-Trejo and Woodhead performing a programme comprised of entirely original music, with both players contributing compositions. Many of the pieces were given titles specific to the evening, even when previously called something else, a cunning plan designed to counter any potential PRS ramifications.
The duo had great fun with their new titles, interacting with their online audience who were in contact with the musicians via the interactive comment feed.
They began with Gardener-Trejo on flute and with Woodhead playing an upright acoustic piano. In the intimate setting of the couple’s living room the music inevitably had something of a ‘chamber jazz’ quality as the duo doubled up on the melody line of “The Danish Long Baby”, a piece written by Woodhead that they dedicated to their friend Sofie Baekdal, who was watching online, Danish born but now resident in the UK.
The fact that the decisive France v Scotland rugby match was taking place at the same time wasn’t lost on the duo. A Gardener-Trejo tune, retitled as “Stuart Hogg’s Spiral Kick” was dedicated to the duo’s Welsh friends Rhian and Ben, who were doubtless keeping an eye on the TV as well as the livestream. Alicia and Andrew both declared themselves to be rugby fans and requested “no spoilers”. Like me they had recorded the match and intended to watch the game in full later on. And what a game it was with the Scots making the Welsh contingent very happy!
What about the music I hear you ask – well this saw Gardener-Trejo moving to baritone sax and displaying a commendable fluency on the instrument as she and Woodhead continued to share melodies and trade phrases.
Gardener-Trejo’s “Almost Sixty”, the title an in joke, was dedicated to her sometime bandmate clarinettist Samantha Wright, who is currently resident in Hamburg. Nevertheless the piece featured the composer on baritone sax, who stretched out expansively, adding blues tinged elements and avant garde flourishes, both of which emphasised the baritone’s familiar ‘rasp’.
Next came a “three in one”, a segue of pieces with the first inspired by a story from the book “365 Stories”, a collection of short stories by the Scottish author James Robertson, which saw him writing a short story on every day of the year throughout 2013, with every tale containing precisely 365 words.
Gardener-Trejo and Woodhead are not the only musicians to be inspired by Robertson’s book. The Scottish fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, best known for his work with the folk trio Lau, followed Robertson’s example by writing a tune on every day of the year, eventually composing 365 tunes. Twenty of these were released on the double CD “365 Volume 1”, which saw O’Rourke performing in the company of the jazz musician Kit Downes, who appeared on both piano and organ. The duo also took the project out on the road, sometimes in the company of Robertson himself, who had given his approval for the project. A review of a 2018 performance in Shrewsbury by the duo of O’Rourke and Downes, the latter playing harmonium, can be viewed here;
In his introduction to his book “365 Stories” Robertson states “I hope they (the stories) have many more lives to come”. In the hands of O’Rourke and Downes and now Gardener-Trejo and Woodhead they most certainly have.
Gardener-Trejo’s “Jack And The Moon” was inspired by Robertson’s 365 story of the same name and the musical performance was accompanied by a recording of the Scottish bassist Brodie Jarvie reading the tale, his recitation delivered in the style of the late, great Ivor Cutler. Gardener-Trejo featured on flute while Woodhead performed on a cheap, plastic, Italian manufactured toy organ called “The Major Companion”. This was deployed to give a drone effect, similar in style to that of a harmonium. This helped to five the music an authentic Celtic feel, but sometimes spilled over to incorporate something of an Indian influence.
Like the Manchester based pianist Adam Fairhall Woodhead harbours a fascination for toy pianos and organs and other arcane keyboard instruments. His solo albums include 2016’s “Pocket Piano Improvisations”, the eight pieces performed on a tiny keyboard and subjected to substantial electronic manipulation.
“Jack And The Moon” segued into “Flute Thing Over Loops” before Woodhead moved back to the piano for the closing “10 Per Cent Game”, a composition that he dedicated to Jez Matthews, the title an oblique reference to the PRS. This proved to be the liveliest piece of the entire set with Gardener-Trejo’s flute dancing lithely and skipping lightly above the sound of Woodhead’s busy, highly rhythmic piano accompaniment.
The duo signed off at this point, each giving a plug to their respective Bandcamp pages and the forthcoming release of “Pendulums”, Woodhead’s new solo album which features a suite composed for the Ideas Of Noise Festival that incorporates the sounds of bell ringing with electronics and improvised jazz. The ensemble includes saxophonists Gardener-Trejo and Helen Papaioannou on baritones and Sam Andreae and Lee Griffiths on altos, plus trumpeters Sam Wooster and Charlotte Keeffe.
Following the performance Gardener-Trejo and Woodhead joined members of the audience in an interactive Zoom, which included Woodhead fielding questions on his two Italian chord organs, The Major Companion and a Bontempi that he recently acquired on E-bay for twenty quid, but which is currently severely out of tune!
Meanwhile Jez Matthews revealed that Jazz at The Lescar has recently received a Jazz North Bursary which will be deployed to;
“Put together a compilation album that provides a lasting snapshot of the amazing and varied music being created and played now by musicians from the UK, and in particular the northern, jazz and improvised scenes. We hope that this will give musicians and audiences a chance to connect with each other; that musicians deprived of gigs and tours can showcase their music, and that audiences can hear the music that is being created during this difficult time for everyone.”
Overall this was a highly enjoyable and informative evening that included some excellent playing from the duo, allied to an impish sense of humour and a general air of eclecticism. The audience, including a number of other musicians and promoters, was drawn from far and wide with the raffle won by Ian McMillan, “The Bard of Barnsley”. Jez Matthews presided over the event with his customary enthusiasm and on the Friday evening before the easing of lockdown restrictions there was an appropriate sense that this livestream event was very much a coming together of friends.
I intend to visit the appropriate Bandcamp pages of Gardener-Trejo and Woodhead on the next Bandcamp Friday with the view to investigating some of their recorded output.
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