by Ian Mann
June 13, 2022
“Two hours in a magical world”. A subtle and beguiling blend of melody and rhythm, one that clearly delighted the Shrewsbury jazz audience.
Chris Batchelor’s Zoetic, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/06/2022.
Chris Batchelor – trumpet, corneta, Margrit Hasler – viola, John Parricelli – guitar, Steve Watts- double bass, Paul Clarvis – percussion
Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s last event of the current season, before a well deserved summer break for its organisers, saw a pleasingly large attendance for the visit of Zoetic, a still relatively new quintet led by former Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor.
This was a gig that had been postponed from May 2020, at a time when Zoetic’s spring tour had barely started before the majority of it had to be cancelled due to the outset of the Covid pandemic.
I was one of the lucky few in tonight’s audience to have seen Zoetic before, having caught the band at a performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff in late February 2020, the quintet’s last performance before lockdown. The group is currently making up for lost time with a UK tour that includes visits to some of the venues that missed out on seeing them two years ago.
Batchelor is a popular figure with Shrewsbury jazz audiences following previous visits to The Hive as part of pianist Liam Noble’s Brother Face quintet back in 2013 and more recently as the co-leader of the quartet Total Vibration in 2019, a band featuring a rare twin trumpet front line (Batchelor and his one time pupil Laura Jurd).
My account of Zoetic’s Cardiff gig can be found here;
I’m shamelessly going to plunder the Cardiff review to provide the following biographical details regarding Batchelor;
I first became aware of Batchelor’s playing in the late 1980s when he was a vital part of Loose Tubes, the anarchic big band who have, over the years, transformed from iconoclasts into icons. Although not the most prolific composer in the band’s ranks (that honour fell to keyboard player Django Bates and bassist Steve Berry) Batchelor still wrote such Tubes classics as “Arriving”,“Sticklebacks” and “Would I Were”. He was part of the reformed Loose Tubes who played a series of festival gigs and even recorded a batch of new material in 2014.
Since the initial break up of Loose Tubes in the early 1990s Batchelor’s main creative projects have included a quartet with fellow ex-Tube Steve Buckley (reeds) and the Trans-Atlantic quintet Big Air, a stellar line up that also included Buckley plus tuba player Oren Marshall and the American musicians Myra Melford (piano) and Jim Black (drums). Big Air released an excellent eponymous album in 2009 and appeared at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Batchelor has subsequently worked with Melford in a trio that also includes drummer / percussionist Mark Sanders.
Batchelor later formed Pigfoot, a quartet that took a playful, post-modern look at the traditional jazz of the 1920s and 30s, updating the music but never disrespecting it. The title of their 2014 début album “21st Century Acid Trad” was both highly descriptive and something of a mission statement. The first version of the group featured Batchelor, Marshall, pianist Liam Noble and drummer / percussionist Paul Clarvis. Marshall was subsequently replaced by saxophonist James Allsopp and the 2019 follow up “Pigfoot Shuffle” featured the new version of the group, but retained all of the quartet’s trademark exuberance and irreverence, allied to a formidable musical sophistication. Loose Tubes and Pigfoot may sound very different but they share the same spirit of musical adventure.
Meanwhile the quintet Zone B re-unites the trumpeter with Buckley and also includes the talents of guitarist Rob Luft, bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Gene Calderazzo.
Elsewhere Batchelor has been a prolific sideman on the London jazz scene. Prior to Loose Tubes he worked with the exiled South African musician Dud Pukwana’s Zila group and Batchelor has always maintained a love of South African music, also working with the bands Township Comets, Dedication Orchestra and various editions of Brotherhood of Breath. He has also worked as a sideman in groups led by the pianists Liam Noble, John Taylor, Hans Koller and Simon Purcell and by ex Loose Tubes saxophonist Mark Lockheart. He also appeared as a guest on the Partisans album “Max”.
An acclaimed educator Batchelor has taught on the jazz courses of various London music colleges and enjoys collaborations with younger musicians, among them Jurd and vocalist Lauren Kinsella. He has also been part of the Portuguese born, London based guitarist and composer Paolo Dias Duarte’s large ensemble Overground Collective, appearing on the album “Super Mario” (2019).
Batchelor has described Zoetic as “a new band of old friends, in some ways a mirror image to Pigfoot - quieter and lyrical, and playing mostly original material”.
The front line of trumpet and viola is unusual, and possibly unique, and the presence of Hasler in the band’s ranks allied to the absence of a regular drum kit suggests that Zoetic’s music could be categorised as ‘chamber jazz’. There’s also a strong ‘world music’ element with Batchelor drawing inspiration from Africa, the Middle East, Brazil, India and Spain in addition to more conventional American and European jazz and classical sources.
The 2020 Cardiff date was only the second of a tour that was later totally abandoned. The current tour is about half way through and although the repertoire of pieces that was performed tonight was similar to the set list in Cardiff there was the sense that the pieces were now fully ‘played in’. The quintet were also able to feed off the energy of a supportive crowd in an intimate venue and for me tonight’s event represented an improvement over the (very good) Cardiff show.
It should be stated that despite the ‘chamber jazz’ line up Zoetic is actually a surprisingly rhythmic ensemble with Hasler and Parricelli also performing rhythmic functions in addition to Watts and Clarvis. Zoetic’s pieces typically feature tapestries of subtly interlocking rhythms performed on a dizzying range of percussion, allied to fourteen strings. Batchelor’s role, in conjunction with Hasler, Parricelli and even Watts, is essentially melodic and he also provides the majority of the group’s material, compositions written specifically for this line up. It all makes for a subtle and beguiling blend of melody and rhythm, one that clearly delighted the Shrewsbury audience.
The performance began with a quirky Batchelor composition simply titled “Luck”. This featured a typically complex rhythmic lattice that included the sounds of plucked viola plus Clarvis, always a highly visual performer, on an array of percussion that included tabla and various shakers. Batchelor and Parricelli were the featured soloists, with the guitarist making judicious use of his various effects.
“Telling The Tale” has been described by its composer as “Burt Bacharach Goes To Cairo” and this piece was to see Hasler coming increasingly to the fore as she and Batchelor exchanged interactive melody lines, the violist eventually emerging as the first soloist. Hasler is a highly versatile musician, who has worked with various classical orchestras and opera houses, but who is also fully versed in many aspects of jazz and folk musics. In addition to her work with Zoetic she is also a part of the duo Rasa, with guitarist Pedro Velasco. Her solo here was suitably captivating as she wove a spell with her bow, before eventually handing over to Parricelli for the second solo feature.
Batchelor described “Dromo” as “a musical palindrome” as played by “an Italian circus band”. Introduced by guitar and viola the piece featured a particularly exotic and arresting percussive display from Clarvis, which saw him playing a tambourine worn around his neck. I heard that Liam Gallagher tried to do same but that his head was too big. However, I digress. Clarvis was also featured on cajon – as at Cardiff he largely performed using his bare hands, rarely utilising sticks or beaters. Solos came from Watts on melodic double bass, Parricelli on guitar and Batchelor on trumpet. Watts was an immaculate presence all night, a grounding figure right at the heart of the music.
“Huckster”, named for a fictitious character “riffing his way through life”, introduced a harder edged sound courtesy of Parricelli’s jagged, rock influenced guitar chording. This, allied to Watts’ bass and Clarvis’ percussion, provided the bedrock for fluent and incisive solos from Hasler on viola and Batchelor on trumpet. Parricelli’s own soaring solo drew even more strongly on rock and blues influences before yielding to a feature for Clarvis on cajon, still underpinned by that taut rhythmic guitar. What appeared to be a long, slow fade following the sound and fury proved to be a segue into the composition “Odessa”, written by saxophonist Arthur Blyth, which saw Parricelli’s atmospheric guitar effects giving way to the shadowy, mysterious sounds of Hasler’s viola. Both pieces had been performed at Cardiff as stand alone items but here they were combined to create a very effective segue.
Batchelor has a particular fondness for the music of the Brazilian guitarist, singer and songwriter Eduardo de Góes Lobo (born 1943). The first of two Lobo pieces to be performed was “Canto Triste”, which sounded suitably dolorous and featured the haunting sound of Hasler’s viola as Clarvis temporarily sat out. Batchelor’s trumpet also sounded suitably mournful as he and Hasler combined to create long, melancholic, subtly intertwining melody lines.
The final item of the first set featured another change of mood as Batchelor introduced the sound of the corneta, a one valved trumpet-like brass instrument from Southern Spain. Designed for use with marching bands this was, as Batchelor cautioned us, “an outdoor” instrument. It certainly produced a level of volume that was at odds with its small size. Following an opening fanfare on the corneta Batchelor switched back to conventional trumpet as Watts and Clarvis established a groove that provided the platform for mesmerising solos from Hasler and Parricelli, with Batchelor’s trumpet providing the link between the two. This was an exciting and exotic group performance that brought the first half to a thrilling close.
Set two commenced with the sound of Parricelli deploying live looping techniques to loop and layer his sound, thus creating an atmospheric introduction to “Carson McCullers”, a Batchelor tune named for the American novelist; the author of author of the novel “The Moon is a Lonely Hunter” and the novella “The Ballad of the Sad Café”. Batchelor informed us that McCullers, a skilled pianist, had once planned to study music at Julliard but turned to writing after losing the money earmarked to pay her college fees on the New York subway. Parricelli’s Frisell like guitar introduced an appropriate element of Americana while Hasler’s courtly viola suggested the classical music that McCullers had planned to study, while also adding a hint of folk melody. Solos came from Batchelor on trumpet and Watts on double bass before the interlocking melody lines of Batchelor and Hasler brought this evocative composition to a close.
“Shanzu” was inspired by a trip that Batchelor made to Mombasa and featured a suitably African feel with Clarvis featuring on a type of frame drum (not entirely dissimilar to the Irish bodhran, but played without beaters), presumably of African origin. He also played qraqebs, the metal castanets
deployed by the Gnawa musicians of Morocco. Batchelor took the first solo on trumpet, followed by Hasler on viola, whose playing did introduce a Celtic element to the music as Batchelor clapped joyfully along. Finally Parricelli featured on guitar, accompanied by Watts on bass and Clarvis on frame drum.
The Batchelor original “Washington Lyon” was written for a Victorian inventor and philanthropist and was introduced by the sounds of double bass and viola only. Batchelor subsequently soloed on trumpet above the sound of Hasler’s viola drone, plus bass and percussion. Parricelli subsequently took over on guitar, soaring above a dense rhythmic lattice. Hasler’s viola solo then introduced a Celtic element. I seem to recall that at Cardiff the piece borrowed from the traditional tune “Cindy”, and it was probably a fragment of this that we heard here.
The second Edu Lobo tune of the evening was the ballad “Mariana”, another piece that saw Clarvis sitting out. “I couldn’t decide which Lobo tune to leave out, so I decided to play them both”, explained Batchelor. This featured the breathy sound of the leader’s trumpet as he exhibited his ballad skills, his melodic lines answered by Hasler’s viola as Watts and Parricelli provided understated rhythmic support.
Set two concluded with the lively “Elephant Lane”, written for an illegal jazz club at the end of a dark alley in Rotherhithe that the youthful Batchelor used to play at in his pre- Loose Tubes days. Clarvis returned to introduce the piece with Watts, the bassist’s muscular but melodic motif later doubled by Parricelli on guitar. There was an upbeat feel about the piece that reflected Batchelor’s love of South African music as trumpet and viola doubled up on the melody line and Parricelli took the first solo, swiftly followed by Batchelor as the tempo continued to increase.
This brought the evening to a terrific close and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. The inevitable encore saw the quintet calming things down again with the fragile, noirish atmospherics of “The Road, The Sky, The Moon”. The ensemble didn’t get the chance to play this piece at Cardiff, so it was good to hear it at last.
The evening was perhaps best summed up by SJN Chair Mike Wright who rather poetically thanked Zoetic for giving us “two hours in a magical world”, which expressed the feelings of the audience perfectly.
When reviewing the Cardiff show I observed that this was still a relatively new ensemble that was likely to get better and better and this was certainly borne out by tonight’s excellent performance, which rounded SJN’s current season off on a high note.
My thanks to Chris Batchelor for speaking with me after the show and for clarifying some of the tune titles. He also informed me that the band plan to record this music after completing their current tour, not the usual sequence of events for jazz musicians, but I suspect that the resultant album will be all the better for it. After a two year hiatus it will be great for this music to finally be made available on disc.
I guess it will probably be 2023 before it’s out there, but it’s going to be well worth the wait.
Zoetic are still on tour with dates as follows;
June 17th 2022 – 1000 Trades, Birmingham
June 27th 2022 – The Yard, Manchester
July 2nd 2022 – Kings Place, London
Please visit http://www.chris-batchelor.com/diary.html for further details.
Shrewsbury Jazz Network will return to The Hive on Saturday, September 17th 2022 with a performance by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and her Lucid Dreamers quartet.
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