by Ian Mann
July 30, 2020
A work comprised of eight movements written by the Yorkshire based pianist, composer & educator Jamil Sheriff to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Ilkley Jazz Festival, which took place in 2018.
Jamil Sheriff Quintet featuring Beverley Beirne
“The Ilkley Suite”
Jamil Sheriff – piano, composer, Beverley Beirne – vocals, Nadim Teimoori – tenor saxophone,
Garry Jackson – bass, Dave Walsh – drums
“The Ilkley Suite” is a work comprised of eight movements written by the Yorkshire based pianist, composer and educator Jamil Sheriff to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Ilkley Jazz Festival, which took place in 2018.
The suite was performed live at the 2018 Festival and the music was also recorded during the same summer at Chairworks Studio in Castleford by engineers Dave Watts and Sam Hobbs.
Sheriff is a prominent figure on the jazz scene in the North of England and is also the Head of Jazz at Leeds College of Music. A prolific composer he has led his own projects ranging from trio to big band, releasing a number of albums under his own name as well as appearing on the recordings of others in his capacity as an in demand sideman. His considerable abilities have ensured that he has become a musician with a national reputation, who has appeared at many leading venues and festivals. For further details of Sheriff’s musical career please visit https://jamilsheriffmusic.wordpress.com/
For “The Ilkley Suite” Sheriff has assembled a quintet featuring some of the leading musicians from the North of England, including Nadim Teimoori on tenor sax, Garry Jackson on bass and Dave Walsh at the drums. The music is centred around the vocals of Ilkley based jazz singer Beverley Beirne, who is also the Artistic Director of Ilkley Jazz Festival.
Beirne has released two albums as a leader, 2012’s standards based “Seasons of Love” and 2018’s “Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun”, the latter a collection featuring jazz arrangements of 70s and 80s pop songs that was particularly well received. A follow up is said to be imminent. She has also been involved with the Duncan Lamont Songbook project, founded by London based singer Esther Bennett. Beirne runs Ilkley Jazz Festival with her husband, Mark Beirne-Smith and I’m grateful to Mark for forwarding this album to me for review.
It was Mark and Beverley who commissioned Sheriff to write “The Ilkley Suite” and the Leeds based pianist and composer made numerous visits to Ilkley to research the landscape and legends of the town. In the album liner notes he comments;
“The Ilkley Suite has taken me on a fascinating journey of the town and its surroundings, giving me an excuse to research the richness of its history and to try and make sense of the mysteries and fables that tell the story of the moors. This is truly a magical place.”.
Sheriff’s compositions focus on two of the main natural resources that define Ilkley, stones and water, with the individual pieces named after local landmarks and legends.
The first two movements celebrate the river, the Wharfe, upon which Ilkley stands. “The River Where We Live” celebrates the river as a sanctuary and also references Ilkley’s history as a spa town, the healing quality of its waters popularised by the endorsement of Charles Darwin.
This opening piece is an instrumental, with Sheriff’s piano arpeggios, allied to Teimoori’s sax melodies approximating the sometimes turbulent flowing of the waters as Jackson and Walsh provide loosely structured accompaniment.
“Verbeia” introduces Beirne’s vocals and honours the mythical “Verbeia” or “The Wharfe Goddess”, who “watches over as all”. The lyrics praise a river deity that is “twisted and constant” and which “rages, but tenderly”. Beirne’s singing is warm and emotive, expressing an obvious love of her home town. The instrumental honours go to Teimoori and Sheriff. The saxophonist’s sometimes powerful performance reflects the changing moods of the river, while Sheriff continues to play with a water inspired liquidity and fluency.
The next piece references the stones that form part of the dramatic moorland landscape around Ilkley. The title of “Cup and Ring” refers to the Bronze Age markings found on the rocks of the moors surrounding the town. The moors around Ilkley have the second highest concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age stone carvings in Europe.
Densely arpeggiated, circling piano and saxophone motifs introduce the piece, now evocative not so much of water but of swirling wind in this wild landscape. With the addition of bass and drums the music becomes even wilder and more freely structured, with the hint of wordless vocals buried deep within the mix. There’s a primal, elemental feel about this short, essentially instrumental, episode that feels entirely appropriate to the subject matter.
“The Healer” is another ‘water’ song, the lyrics again paying homage to Ilkley’s heritage as a spa town. Playful and reflective by turns the music features more fine soloing from Teimoori, a Yorkshire born musician who studied at Leeds College of Music before moving on to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Teimoori is a highly versatile performer and another player with a national reputation. His playing throughout “The Ilkley Suite” is outstanding and showcases the full range of his capabilities.
“Solstice With The 12 Apostles” takes its title from a druid stone circle in the locality of Ilkley. Here, Beirne demonstrates her vocal flexibility on an atmospheric, but loosely structured, composition.
The title of “Rombald” derives from the legend of Rombald the Giant, who is said to have formed the famous Cow and Calf rocks by stamping on them in a drunken rage and splitting them into two. The giant’s temper was stirred by the wrath of his angry wife - “well, we’ve all been there!” jokes Sheriff.
Beirne’s conversational vocal, sung from the point of view of the giant’s wife, tells the tale - “even giants lose, their rag from time to time”, especially when Mrs Rombald comes at him with a gargantuan rolling pin! It all makes for a highly entertaining story, with the instrumentalists illustrating Beirne’s words with great wit and aplomb.
Even people who have never been to Yorkshire will remember the famous folk song “On Ilkley Moor Baht At”. Behind the apparent jollity is the frankly macabre tale of a man courting his lover (Mary Jane), who dies of exposure after failing to wear a hat when out on the moor. He dies, is buried and is eaten by worms. The worms are then eaten by the ducks that live out on the moor, ducks that are subsequently hunted and eaten by the townspeople. In this cycle of life and death they have effectively eaten their one time friend.
Sheriff’s slowed down jazz arrangement restores an element of solemnity to the song, with a lyric sung in standard English rather than Yorkshire dialect. It all works surprisingly well, casting a fresh eye on a very old subject. Beirne and the band deliver the piece with a winning mix of wit, pathos and great musical skill. I bet it went down a storm at the Suite’s première.
The suite and the album conclude with “Cut From Stone”, a reference to “our current carvings, perhaps an attempt at cheating mortality”. The lyric compares the transitory nature of human life with the relative permanence of stone and the markings humans leave upon it. There’s a suitably wistful quality about the music, which includes characteristically fluent solos from Teimoori and Sheriff. A word too for Jackson’s melodic and subtly swinging bass lines and Walsh’s deft, predominately brushed, drum accompaniment. Walsh is one of the leading jazz drummers in the North of England, whose work has been heard to good effect with leaders such as bassists Ben Crosland and Gavin Barrass, clarinettist Arun Ghosh and saxophonist Rod Mason. He and Jackson were also members of the group Outside Line, led by guitarist Jamie Taylor.
“The Ilkley Suite” represents an essential purchase for fans of Ilkley Jazz Festival and will be an invaluable souvenir for all those lucky enough to have attended its première.
It also represents an excellent work in its own right, even for those of us who have never had the good fortune to visit Ilkley. I can certainly say that the music to be heard on this album certainly makes me want to go! Sheriff’s evocative compositions and lyrics conjure up a real sense of place and are given voice by Ilkley resident Beirne.
The “Ilkley Suite” is very different to Beirne’s two solo recordings and demonstrates her skill and versatility as a singer. Her deep, soulful and highly flexible vocals have attracted justifiable comparisons with Cleo Laine, but Beirne is very much her own woman as this recording helps to demonstrate.
Sheriff is also well supported by his hand picked group of instrumentalists, who interpret his compositions with great sensitivity and skill, with Teimoori, in the role of main soloist particularly impressive. The composer anchors everything from the piano and delivers some excellent solos of his own.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this recording, which is due to receive an official release from 33 Records later this summer. In the meantime it is currently available via various streaming platforms;
Amazon - https://www.amazon.co.uk/…/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_t1_pZUaFbG35…
Apple - it’s in Apple Music search Ilkley Suite
Spotify - https://open.spotify.com/album/2Fy7zAJcruSHMbvtMFhYzE…
Soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/ilkley-jazz/sets/the-ilkley-suite
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