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James Kitchman

First Quartet

by Ian Mann

June 07, 2022


Kitchman’s skills as an instrumentalist are matched by his abilities as a composer. This is a remarkably mature first album that features intelligent, multi-faceted compositions.

James Kitchman

“First Quartet”

(Ubuntu Music UB0097)

James Kitchman – guitar, Bruno Heinen – piano, Tom McCredie – double bass, Shane Forbes – drums

“First Quartet” is the début album release as a leader from the London based guitarist and composer James Kitchman.

I first became aware of Kitchman’s playing when I saw him perform with saxophonist Jonathan Chung’s group Glasshopper at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. This was a hugely impressive performance and Kitchman also appears on all of the group’s recordings, including the 2016 EP “Glasshopper” and the full length album release “Fortune Rules” (2020). My review of the “Fortune Rules” album can be found here;

Glasshopper’s music can perhaps be described as ‘electro-jazz’ and the use of electronics represents an important element of that band’s sound. Kitchman’s guitar is frequently utilised as a textural device and his distinctive playing style includes the skilful deployment of a wide array of effects.

However Kitchman is a highly versatile guitarist whose playing defies easy categorisation. He has also guested with the Old Hat Jazz Band, a young London based ensemble playing original compositions in the style of the jazz from the 1920s and 1930s. Led by drummer Lizzy Exell the OHJB album “The Sparrow” is reviewed here;

Currently Kitchman is working with Exell as part of the trio Sallix.

Originally from Northumberland Kitchman studied at Newcastle College’s Performance Academy before moving to London where, he graduated from Trinity Laban.

His other current projects include duos with pianist Bruno Heinen and with vocalist Sylvia Schmidt. He is also part of the quintet Little Weaver Bird, featuring vocalist Lauren Kinsella, saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan, bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Phelan Burgoyne. He has also recorded with Burgoyne’s quartet and with the duo BirdWorld (percussionist Adam Texeira and cellist Gregor Riddell).

Previous projects have included work with the London Soundpainting Orchestra and with the Orpheus Sinfonia, the latter performing Tarik O’Regan’s electro-acoustic opera “The Wanton Sublime” at the marvellously named Grime-Born Opera Festival.

Kitchman was a co-leader of the Southern Cone Quintet, a chamber music style take on traditional Chilean, Argentinian and Uruguayan folk music. He has also written for cinema and has performed with Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of the rock group The Libertines.

Current sideman engagements include The Cinematic Orchestra and work with vocalist Heidi Vogel and pianist / vocalist TJ Johnson.

As his CV suggests Kitchman is a highly versatile musician with a huge range of influences, many of which inform his leadership début. He has this to say regarding the varied influences that have inspired this recording;
“I didn’t want to shy away from sharing certain aspects of myself, nor from my jazz tendencies. There are nods to my beginnings in folk and psychedelic rock, harmonies derived from the melancholy and romanticism of Astor Piazzolla, melodies inspired by Chopin and Satie, the expansive textures of the ‘ECM’ sound, and of course the many masters of jazz who continue to inform my playing: Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Bill Frisell. Hopefully what comes out is my personality.”

The band that Kitchman has assembled for this recording features some of the leading musicians on the contemporary London jazz scene and includes pianist Bruno Heinen, a band leader in his own right, bassist Tom McCredie, perhaps best known for his work with pianist Elliot Galvin, and drummer Shane Forbes, of Empirical fame.

The title of album opener “Making The World Disappear” was inspired by the loneliness of the deserted London streets during lockdown. It is distinguished by its intertwining guitar and piano melody lines, with Kitchman immediately making judicious use of his range of effects. His solo is a rich, spiralling invention that quickly establishes his credentials as a fluent, inventive and distinctive guitar soloist. The piece also includes a remarkable drumming performance from Forbes, whose playing is both informed and inspired by that of the late, great Tony Williams.

“World Uncharted” expands upon the slightly dystopian air of the opener with an atmospheric intro featuring the extensive use of guitar FX, allied to McCredie’s grainy bowed bass and Forbes’ mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Heinen’s piano later brings a balancing lyricism to the sinister atmosphere as the piece continues to unfold. Kitchman’s own solo is another virtuoso offering, underpinned by another richly colourful drum performance from Forbes. This is music that exhibits a strong cinematic quality and it’s easy to see why Kitchman has been asked to write for film and why he has been in demand for multi-media projects.

The upbeat “Once For R.A.” is a more obvious ‘jazz’ composition featuring Kitchman’s jazzy chording and agile bebop inspired soloing. Heinen also relishes the opportunity to stretch out with an expansive piano solo. There is also a dynamic drum feature for the brilliant Forbes, it represents quite a coup for Kitchman to have the experienced Empirical drummer on this recording.

“Bees” commences with a passage of unaccompanied finger picked guitar inspired by the Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger’s use of ‘bariolage’ – an 18th century bowing technique requiring the player to produce a ‘multi-coloured’ sound. Reijseger has since described Kitchman’s piece as being “wonderful, sensitive, and well-proportioned”, and it’s hard to disagree with him. The rest of the band later join to enhance this lyrical contemporary jazz ballad, with Kitchman continuing to solo on guitar before handing over to Heinen. Forbes shows a more sensitive side of his playing, mainly deploying brushes. The piece concludes as it began with the sound of solo guitar.

“Why Did He Show Her His Face?” features the sound of a guitar approximating the sound of a church organ, courtesy of Kitchman’s mastery of his range of effects. When he subsequently adopts a more conventional guitar sound the piece morphs into another contemporary ballad with McCredie’s double bass coming to the fore, alongside the leader’s guitar. Forbes wields the brushes once again, before eventually graduating to sticks as the tune embraces a Metheny-like anthemic quality in its closing stages.

“I Control The Weather” opens with the sound of a sampled speaking voice, which I took to be that of John Lennon. An implacable pedal point style groove frames inventive solos from Heinen and Kitchman on the most obviously rock influenced track on the album. Kitchman’s solo is again subjected to some skilful sonic manipulation and his playing here has evoked comparisons to that of John Scofield.

FX are also prominent on “The Melt”,  the introduction to which sees Kitchman exploring more obviously ambient territory.  Paradoxically, the piece also includes the sound of acoustic guitar as it mutates into something more conventionally jazz like. A sense of lyricism informs the playing with McCredie’s double bass prominent in an arrangement that includes fluent solos from Heinen and Kitchman. This is a typically multi-faceted composition that embraces a number of twists and turns before eventually resolving itself with a return to the guitar atmospherics of the intro.

The introduction to “Recluse” tips its hat in the direction of Erik Satie. This is another gorgeous ballad that incorporates flowingly lyrical solos from Kitchman and Heinen, both sympathetically supported by the warm, woody sound of McCredie’s double bass and the gentle swish of Forbes’ brushes.

“Connoisseur Of Clouds” explores broadly similar ballad territory, albeit in slightly more animated fashion. There’s more shared lyricism from Kitchman and Heinen, who intertwine skilfully throughout. Given the level of their rapport it comes as no surprise to learn that they sometimes perform as a duo. There is however something of a sting in the tail as the piece erupts with a powerful drum feature from Forbes, the musical equivalent of a sudden thunderstorm perhaps, before resolving itself more gently.

The album closes with “First Day”, introduced by a passage of lyrical solo guitar from the leader that establishes the mood of the piece. Fluent solos from Heinen and Kitchman are again sympathetically supported and the piece is concluded by a further passage of solo guitar.

Kitchman’s solo début has been rapturously received by the specialist jazz press, and rightly so, it really is a stunning album. The leader impresses both as an instrumentalist and a composer. As a guitarist he combines a high level of technical skill with innate good taste. He doesn’t seek to impress via sheer technique but instead uses his skills to create atmosphere, colour and texture, playing in a variety of guitar styles and deploying his various effects wisely. He’s well supported by a well balanced quartet, with Forbes delivering a particularly impressive performance.

Kitchman’s skills as an instrumentalist are matched by his abilities as a composer. This is a remarkably mature first album that features intelligent, multi-faceted compositions full of unexpected twists and turns and delightful sonic details. These are enhanced by a pristine production, by Kitchman himself, but with engineers Nick Taylor, Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann also playing key roles.

My thanks to James for forwarding me a copy of this album and my apologies to him for taking so long to get around to writing about it. I hope he’ll agree that it was worth the wait, this really is a splendid recording. 

Kitchman cites Jim Hall as a key influence while Heinen has been inspired by Bill Evans. Hall and Evans famously worked together and one suspects that they would be proud of what Kitchman and his quartet have made of their legacy, with the guitarist updating it for the 21st century via the astute use of modern musical technology. Kitchman may have drawn inspiration from his idols but ultimately this album finds him sounding like himself and achieving that aim of expressing his own musical personality.



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