by Ian Mann
June 19, 2017
Ian Mann enjoys the music of this talented young quintet and also takes a look at their recently released eponymous debut album.
Jam Experiment, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 17/06/2017.
Shrewsbury Jazz Network, the organisers of this event, have an impressive track record with regard to their encouragement of young jazz British talent. In recent years emerging artists to feature on SJN’s monthly programme have included the Wildflower Sextet, led by saxophonist Matt Anderson and featuring trumpeter Laura Jurd, plus groups led by trombonist Tom Greene, pianist Dominic J Marshall and guitarists Leo Appleyard and Tam de Villiers.
Equally impressive is the way in which audiences have been prepared to turn out to support, listen to and appreciate new music from artists they may not have necessarily heard of before. This may be a ’provincial’ jazz club but the adventurousness of both the programmers and the audience is to be applauded, I’ve made some exciting new discoveries and heard some great music at The Hive.
With an average age of twenty one tonight’s quintet, Jam Experiment, must be one of the youngest bands that SJN has hosted. The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern roots even though most of them are now pursuing their musical education in London either at the Royal Academy of Music or at the Guildhall.
Jam Experiment is fronted by alto saxophonist Alexander Bone and trombonist Rory Ingham but one senses that the group is very much a collective with most of the band members contributing compositions to the repertoire with keyboard player Toby Comeau emerging as the most prolific writer. The group is completed by Joe Lee on electric bass and Jonny Mansfield at the drums. Although he doesn’t play the instrument in this group Mansfield is also a skilled vibraphonist and studies the instrument at college under the tutelage of Jim Hart. Mansfield leads a number of groups from the vibes including the eleven piece ensemble Elftet.
Bone is perhaps the best known member of the quintet to the wider jazz audience. In 2014 he was the inaugural winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award and more recently was the winner in the “Rising Star” category in the 2016 British Jazz Awards, just edging out band-mate Ingham. At the same awards Bone and Ingham were also adjudicated ‘runners up’ in the categories for their respective instruments. Collectively Jam Experiment have been recognised by the Jazz North Introduces Scheme.
Already a highly accomplished and professional unit with a strong group identity Jam Experiment issued their self released début album on June 2nd 2017 and are currently touring to promote it. Although the album was recorded as recently as November 2016 the group have already assembled an impressive raft of new material, much of which was played tonight alongside some of the album tracks. Bone and Ingham shared announcing duties, their cheerful between tunes bantering symptomatic of both the confidence of youth and a strong collective ethos, these guys are still young and enthusiastic enough to think of their band as a ‘gang’ - something exemplified by all of them (bar Comeau) sporting baseball caps under the heat of the lights on one of the hottest days of the year thus far. Paradoxically most of them were also wearing shorts.
Young enough not to be influenced by the musical snobberies of the past Jam Experiment’s music is unashamedly funky, harking back to 70s and 80s fusion but also embracing more contemporary grooves sourced from hip hop culture. If one were being hyper-critical one could accuse the band of being derivative but to these ears it’s refreshing to hear a young band playing a music that they obviously love rather than recycling the kind of neo-bop and post bop licks that they learnt at college.
The band’s enthusiasm for their chosen style quickly communicated itself to the Shrewsbury audience as the band commenced with the rousing Bone composition “It’s You”, also the opening track on the album. The two horns coalesced impressively on the theme before embarking on individual solos with Ingham’s agile trombone followed by Bone’s incisive alto sax. Lee also featured strongly, laying down an impressively funky groove in conjunction with Mansfield as well as soloing on five string electric bass.
Mansfield’s “Chorale”, the second track on the album, began more quietly with Bone’s gentle alto sax melody subtly shadowed by Lee’s bass. Warmly rounded trombone, textured keyboards and cymbal shimmers subsequently rounded out the sound of a piece that unfolded slowly and organically via a Bone alto solo and a further alto/bass dialogue to embrace an anthemic magnificence.
Two tunes in and Jam Experiment had already impressed with their versatility and with the depth of their music. These first two pieces, from different writers, explored different moods, colours and tempi with Mansfield’s composition in particular establishing that Jam Experiment were far more than just a ‘party’ band.
For all their youthful vitality there’s a real musical intelligence about their writing and playing, something exemplified by their innovative collaborative arrangement of one of Ralph Towner’s best known compositions “The Glide”. This was a remarkable transformation that once again revealed the sheer adaptability of Towner’s tune. Introduced by Lee at the bass Jam Experiment’s version incorporated funk and hip hop grooves and the spacey, ethereal sounds of both Comeau’s keyboards and Bone’s EWI (electronic wind instrument) as they traded solos followed by Ingham on trombone. This was “The Glide” as you’ve never heard it before, radically different from the original by Towner’s group Oregon or the vocalese version by British singer Norma Winstone.
The stop-start funk rhythms of the enigmatically titled “Vibey McRome”, a new Ingham/Comeau collaboration, upped the energy levels even further. Here we enjoyed powerful solos from Bone on alto and Ingham on guttural trombone followed by a funky excursion on electric bass from Lee and a closing drum feature from Mansfield.
Another new offering from Comeau, simply titled “Toby Composition No. 2” at this point of its development introduced a more mellow, impressionistic mood and again featured the synth like sounds of Bone’s EWI. Bone plays a dash of keyboard synthesiser on the album but now seems to have acquired a new toy. The much maligned EWI is rarely seen these days but Bone made good use of it, his playing of the instrument was consistently interesting, imaginative, inventive and convincing. And don’t forget the instrument has been deployed by jazz royalty such as Wayne Shorter and the late Michael Brecker in the past.
Composer Comeau, hitherto heard in a textural or rhythmic role, was the other featured soloist and it was good to see a keyboard player using his Nord as something far more than a replacement acoustic piano. The range of sounds generated by Comeau over the course of the evening allied to his imaginative use of them ensured that he genuinely deserved the title “keyboard player” as opposed to mere “pianist”.
An excellent first set closed with Bone’s “Messed Up Shape”, a three year old tune that mysteriously got left off the album. This was a pity as the tune’s agile, funky grooves featuring Lee’s use of wah wah electric bass combined well with the infectious two horn hook with solos coming from Ingham, Comeau and Bone. The latter’s playing on up-tempo material such as this has elicited comparisons with that of David Sanborn, and rightly so.
Set two began in lively fashion with Ingham’s “Enough For Me”, introduced by the composer’s unaccompanied trombone prior to a theme statement in conjunction with Bone’s alto. It was Bone who took the first solo on alto followed by an increasingly powerful trombone salvo from Ingham.
Finally we heard from Comeau at the keyboard.
Comeau’s “Toby Composition No. 1” proved to be very different from its impressionistic counterpart in the first set. Here the keyboard player demonstrated his versatility as a writer with a hard grooving piece with a punchy alto/trombone theme statement leading to solos from Ingham and Bone and a drum feature from Mansfield as Bone moved from alto to EWI.
Returning to the album repertoire Wakefield born Ingham’s “Get It On Target” boasted a football inspired title and an arresting melody that kept reminding me of Pat Metheny’s “James”. Solos heer came from Comeau on keyboards and the composer on trombone.
Bone and Ingham combined effectively all evening were particularly impressive on the new Bone composition “In The Bin”. The powerfully incisive individual solos from the hornmen plus Mansfield’s closing drum feature contrasted with the more thoughtful contributions of Comeau and Lee, the bassist’s guitar like tone on his five string instrument sometimes being reminiscent of that of the great Steve Swallow.
Bone’s “First Day” featured his gently emotive alto sax above an ethereal backdrop of spacey keyboards. liquid electric bass and cymbal shimmers. Later Ingham’s rich rounded trombone sound combined with Comeau’s keys to give the music an almost hymnal feel. Bone featured further on alto before moving to EWI to provide an unexpectedly atmospheric coda which was initially intended to conclude the evening’s entertainment on a surprisingly quiet note.
Instead the band remained on stage to provide a well deserved encore in the shape of Mansfield’s tune “Rory Rogers”, a vigorous funk workout started by Lee on bass and featuring the earthy clavinet like sound of Comeau’s keyboards. Solos came from Ingham on trombone and Bone on remarkably expressive EWI.
The Shrewsbury audience were delighted by Jam Experiment’s youthful ebullience and charm allied to some remarkably assured musicianship, with Bone arguably the star instrumentalist. The group also showed considerable compositional maturity, covering a wide stylistic and emotional range within an essentially fusion and funk template. True to the spirit of jazz they already had a wealth of new material to perform, no sitting on the laurels here even though the album represented a collective and individual recording début for all of them. I also noted that tonight’s versions of some of the album tracks differed substantially to those on the recording, revealing that improvisation is very much at the heart of the group’s music.
Five of the eight album pieces were played this evening. The pieces we didn’t hear were all from the pen of the prolific Comeau who has already contributed a substantial amount of worthwhile new material to the group, which I assume will appear on the inevitable second album. “We want to be doing this for the rest of our lives” declared Bone at one point in an admirable statement of intent.
Of the three Comeau pieces we didn’t hear the attractively melodic “You Are The Vibe To My Hang” and the closing ballad “Last Decade” represent the gentler, but by no means bland, side of the group. Meanwhile “Off On A Rant”, introduced by a salvo of drums from Mansfield, is more upbeat and energetic. All three pieces are well up to the high standard of the rest of the album, a recording that reveals fresh delights and hidden depths with each new visit. This is a group whose music is immediately accessible but which stands up to repeated listening.
There is surely much more to come from this talented group of young musicians and composers, both individually and collectively.
Jam Experiment are still touring their new album. For forthcoming dates please visit http://www.jamexperiment.com
Meanwhile Shrewsbury Jazz Network continue their successful youth policy with the visit of the Misha Mullov-Abbado Sextet on 15th July 2017. It should be another great evening.
Please visit http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk for full details.