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Dan Lockheart Quintet

Dan Lockheart Quintet, ‘Roots to Leaves’, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 21/09/2023.

by Ian Mann

September 24, 2023


This was colourful, intelligent and imaginative music that was well performed by an excellent band.

Dan Lockheart Quintet, ‘Roots to Leaves’, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 21/09/2023.

Dan Lockheart – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute, voice, Alex Hitchcock – tenor saxophone, Torin Davies – electric guitar Josh Vadiveloo – double bass, Jonno Gaze – drums

The Music Spoken Here Club’s September event featured a quintet led by the Birmingham based saxophonist, composer and poet Dan Lockheart.

Lockheart is a recent graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and I first heard his playing at the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he appeared at the annual Jazz Exchange event, on this occasion featuring students from the Conservatoires in Birmingham and Siena. Lockheart and tonight’s guitarist, Torin Davies, appeared as part of a quintet featuring fellow Birmingham students Joe Kessell (double bass) and Dom Johnson (drums), together with Italian trumpeter  Iacopo Teolia. The group’s short, three tune set forms part of my Festival coverage here;

Tonight’s performance was presented in conjunction with the Jazz Central Mentorship Scheme, which is supported by Jazz Midlands, the consortium of West Midlands based promoters of which Music Spoken Here is a member.

The Scheme is designed to assist young Jazz Graduates and is overseen by  the leading jazz bassist Arnie Somogyi, a tutor on the jazz course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  Five young Birmingham based jazz musicians have been commissioned to write new works, working in conjunction with a more established jazz musician acting as a ‘mentor’. Typically the mentors have also passed through a Jazz Conservatoire education and although now well established on the international jazz scene some are still relatively young themselves.

The participants on the scheme are;

Shiv Singh – ‘Loophole’  - with mentor Soweto Kinch
Lucy Mellenfield – ‘Songs of the Understory’ – with mentor Neil Yates
James Owston – ‘Songs from An Imaginary Childhood’ – with mentor Trish Clowes
Liam Brennan – ‘Collidescope’  - with mentor Laura Jurd
Dan Lockheart – ‘Roots to Leaves’ with Alex Hitchcock

The new commissions were premiered at the recent Jazz Central Festival, held at the 1000 Trades venue in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quartet over the weekend of 8-10 September 2023. The Festival was reviewed by Tony Dudley-Evans for London Jazz News and his account of the event, which includes more details about the Scheme itself in addition to summaries of the performances, can be found here;

Following their successful premieres at 1000 Trades the commissions will now be performed at various jazz venues around the Midlands at venues that form part of the Jazz Midlands consortium. In addition to covering tonight’s event featuring Dan Lockheart I’m also intending to review Lucy Mellenfield’s performance with Neil Yates at the Corn Exchange Jazz Club in Ross on Wye on Thursday 28th September 2023. Further details of Jazz Midlands events can be found at

Lockheart grew in Southampton and developed a love for the sea and also for the neighbouring New Forest. This affinity with nature informed his writing for the digital only EP “TreesSpeakWords”, which features the playing of an octet of Birmingham based musicians. The line up includes two of the members of tonight’s group with Torin Davies appearing on guitar and Jonno Gaze on drums. The EP is available via Bandcamp and can be ordered here;

Lockheart’s involvement with the Jazz Central Mentoring Scheme has allowed him to develop the next chapter of this project, this time writing for a quintet under the mentorship of fellow saxophonist Alex Hitchcock.

Hitchcock still a relatively young jazz musician himself but one who has established an excellent reputation for his playing and writing, both in the UK and abroad. He is also something of a ‘mover and shaker’ who has previously worked as a promoter and programme co-ordinator at various London jazz clubs. He’s also one of the nicest guys you could possibly wish to meet.

Hitchcock is one of the hardest working musicians in jazz and tonight typified that. He’d flown in to Birmingham in the morning from Barcelona, where he’d been touring with his own group the Dream Band. Having linked up with Lockheart and the other members of the quintet to play tonight’s gig he then had to dash off to Worcester’s Foregate Street Station to catch the 10.48 back to Paddington. Despite having all this going on he still made time to chat with my wife and I during the interval. Top man.

And so to tonight’s music, which included pieces from the “TreesSpeakWords” EP plus the whole of the newly commissioned “Roots to Leaves”, a tree inspired suite based on the five prompts “Seed”, “Roots”, “Trunk”, “Branches”, “Leaves”.

The first set largely featured material from the “TreesSpeakWords” EP, a title that Lockheart would like to use as a band name, but which hasn’t really caught on. The more formal Dan Lockheart Quintet is is then, at least for now.

The quintet commenced with the as yet unrecorded “Kestrel”, another composition inspired by the natural world. The beguiling twin tenor sax melodies of Lockheart and Hitchcock were followed by the first genuine solo of the night from Davies on guitar. I remember being very impressed by Davies during that Cheltenham performance. A highly versatile musician he has also played rock and blues guitar in addition to being an accomplished drummer. Towards the close of the piece the soaring tenor sax exchanges between Lockheart and Hitchcock captured something of the spirit of that kestrel in flight.

From the EP “It Gets Better” saw Lockheart moving to soprano sax for an upbeat tune that found Vadiveloo’s bass prominent in the arrangement during the early stages. Soprano and tenor sax blended effectively on the airy melody, before Lockheart embarked on a more exploratory soprano sax solo, probing incisively as Hitchcock provided an appealing tenor sax counterpoint. Hitchcock then took over to solo with his customary power and fluency on tenor. Eventually the two saxes coalesced once more, working together as they surfed on the bow wave of Davies’ underpinning guitar roar. Davies was then provided with his own opportunity to cut loose, and this typically multi-faceted composition also included something of a drum feature for the excellent Gaze towards the close.

Also from the EP “Amongst the Gorse and Birch” was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, with Davies making judicious use of his array of effects pedals. Lockheart had moved back to tenor but the next solo went to Vadiveloo, who had impressed me earlier in the year on the couple of occasions (at Ross and Kidderminster) when I’d seen him performing with saxophonist Xhosa Cole. His melodic soloing here was similarly convincing. The momentum of the music then began to increase, the intensity building via Lockheart’s tenor solo, the leader eventually putting down his horn to give a passionate spoken word recital of his poem that gave this piece its name, the words a reflection on the cycle of death, decay and renewal in the forest. This was followed by a powerful Hitchcock tenor solo, accompanied by some clangorous guitar from Davies and the vigorous drumming of Gaze. Finally the music subsided gently, completing the cycle.

The final offering from the EP was “Topside”, introduced by guitar and double bass, these combining to create a rhythmic pulse, to which Gaze’s drums were eventually added. With the entry of the two tenors the piece began to develop a considerable head of steam as the two tenors traded solos above a rock influenced rhythmic backdrop. The rock element was then to come even more prominent during Davies’ powerful guitar solo.

The first set concluded with the first movement of Lockheart’s “Roots to Leaves” suite with the rest of the work featuring in the second set. “The Seed Part 1” was introduced by Lockheart’s spoken words underscored by bass and guitar, before the leader took up his soprano sax to blend effectively with Hitchcock’s tenor. The interplay between the two horns was integral to the success of the piece, whether gently and melodically intertwining or subsequently entering into a series of more intense exchanges. Hitchcock has established himself as one of the UK’s leading saxophonists in the last few years. Lockheart’s performance this evening suggested that he has the capacity to join him.

“The Seed Part 2” opened the second set, a further combination of words and music but with Lockheart switching to tenor sax as he shared the solos with guitarist Davies.

For the “Roots to Leaves” project Lockheart had commissioned two Birmingham based poets, Bradley Taylor and Hayley Francis, to write words based on the theme of the suite. “The Root of It” featured Taylor’s poetry, his words describing the roots of a tree in a Birmingham park that formed an integral part of the writer’s youth and drawing parallels between the physical roots of the tree and the roots of human experience. Lockhart’s reading of Taylor’s words was accompanied by the earthy drone of Vadiveloo’s bowed bass. Instrumentally Lockheart was featured on flute, his soloing on the instrument mellifluous and melodic. Hitchcock followed on tenor prior to a further spoken word section, including the chorus like mantra “Roots I love, Roots I know, Roots I’ve lost, Roots still grow”.

The “Trunk” prompt inspired Francis’ words for “Vertical Wise”, which saw the return of the twin tenor configuration as Lockheart shared the solos with Davies. Hitchcock then took over as the music segued into “Branches”, the next movement of the suite.

Lockheart’s own poem featured on the closing movement “Leaves”, the words reflecting on the cycle of autumn death and spring renewal common to all deciduous trees. The music was upbeat and celebratory with the two tenors soaring above Gaze’s military style rhythms. Lockheart and Hitchcock worked both in unison and as counterpoint to each other, their playing becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progressed.

This new music was very well received by a small but knowledgeable and supportive audience at The Marr’s Bar, but with Hitchcock having to rush off to catch his train there was no chance for what would have been a deserved encore.

I was very impressed by Lockheart as both a player and as a writer. This was colourful, intelligent and imaginative music that was well performed by an excellent band. The presence of Hitchcock was obviously a huge bonus but Davies, Vadiveloo and Gaze were all hugely impressive and the blend of the various reeds with Davies’ guitar was highly effective throughout. The spoken words were skilfully integrated into the performances and generally worked well. The next step forward for Lockheart will be to record the music of the “Roots to Leaves” suite and to hopefully tour it more widely.

My thanks to Dan for speaking with me after the show. For those curious to know, as I was, he is the nephew of the celebrated saxophonist and composer Mark Lockheart and the brother of guitarist Alex Lockheart, who studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. One senses that something of a ‘Lockheart Musical Dynasty’ is beginning to emerge.

For details of future Music Spoken Here events at The Marr’s Bar please visit


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