by Ian Mann
March 27, 2016
A terrific representation of the vibrant Birmingham Jazz Scene. Ian Mann enjoys the music on this fundraising compilation in support of the weekly jazz nights at The Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham.
“Jazzdosnaygrowontrees” - Jazz at the Spotted Dog
This compilation CD is a fund raising initiative designed to showcase the quality of the music that can be heard every Tuesday night at the Spotted Dog in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Jazz at The Spotted Dog is hosted by two young musicians, trombonist Richard Foote and drummer Jonathan Silk, who like to describe themselves as ’ The Spotted Bros’. Both were born in Scotland but are graduates of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire who have stayed on in the city to make major contributions to the Birmingham jazz scene in their dual capacities as performers and promoters.
Jazz at the Spotted Dog began in 2011 and was the creation of Miriam Pau and saxophonist Mike Fletcher. At first the idea was just to host local bands and jam sessions but the night soon gathered a good reputation and the Dog found itself part of the national touring circuit with a more formal gig stating at 9.00 pm followed by a late night jam.
Foote and Silk took over the reins in 2013 and continue to host Jazz at the Spotted Dog with an indefatigable and infectious enthusiasm. The venue continues to accommodate both local and touring bands and during the ‘concert set’ a jar is passed round to collect the suggested donation of £5.00 – something of a bargain considering the quality of the bands the venue attracts – but nominally admission is free.
The pub itself is a friendly institution situated in what was traditionally the Irish quarter of Birmingham and the décor still has an Irish theme. However the pub is also listed in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and offers a good range of beer at sensible, and sometimes bargain, prices - £2.10 for a pint of Holden’s Mild anyone?
I’ve visited the Dog on a couple of occasions, just staying for the ‘concert’ sets, and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. On both occasions it’s been to see bands featuring trumpeter Laura Jurd, first Blue Eyed-Hawk and more recently, Dinosaur – I’m not stalking you Laura, honestly! Both gigs were excellent but as I’d put my fiver in the pint pot I didn’t actually review them.
If I lived a little closer I’d happily visit the Dog more frequently but it’s on the East side of the city, basically the wrong side for me, and not particularly easy to get to by car. However for any jazz fans living in Birmingham and its environs and who haven’t found their way to the Spotted Dog yet a visit is highly recommended.
Among the nationally known names who have played at the Spotted Dog are saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Julian Arguelles and Iain Ballamy and pianist/vocalist Lianne Carroll. The venue’s forthcoming programme can be viewed at http://www.jazzatthespotteddog.co.uk
Turning now to this compilation CD which has been compiled in association with the Birmingham based label Stoney Lane Records and which is available for a fiver each Tuesday evening at the Spotted Dog gigs. The album title comes from ex-pat Scotsman Foote’s exhortation to punters to put five pounds in the pot “Jazzdosnaygrowontrees!”
The ten pieces are all by Birmingham based bands and some of them come from albums that have already been reviewed on the Jazzmann so I’ll be doing a bit of cutting and pasting (the “Jazz Will Eat Itself” process when I come to look at those).
However we start with the rousing big band sounds of the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra under the baton of composer and arranger Sean Gibbs. In 2015 the BJO released the album “Burns”, a set of compositions by the Edinburgh born Gibbs inspired by the works of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. On this compilation album we hear “Tam O’Shanter” with its dynamic and highly contemporary big band charts, reminiscent perhaps of Mike Gibbs or even Loose Tubes. There’s a pronounced rock influence about this piece with guitarist Ben Lee turning in a dramatic, bluesy guitar solo and the Orchestra personnel also includes both Foote and Silk, the latter in fine form behind the drum kit. It all makes for a highly invigorating start to this collection.
For the record the BCO lined up;
Sean Gibbs: conductor; Tom Syson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Hugh Pascall: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Dewhurst: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Adlington: trumpet, flugelhorn; Elliot Drew: alto saxophone; Dan Searjeant: alto saxophone; John Fleming: tenor saxophone; Lluis Mather: tenor saxophone; Alicia Gardener-Trejo: baritone saxophone; Richard Foote: trombone; Tom Green: trombone; David Sear: trombone; Andrew Clennell: bass trombone; Ben Lee: guitar; David Ferris: piano; Stuart Barker: bass; Jonathan Silk: drums;
Things quieten down a little with “An Orderly and Beautiful Escape” by Hansu-Tori, the band led by keyboard player and composer David Austin Grey. The piece is sourced from the group’s 2014 début album “An Improvised Escape”, a recording that earned a four star review and a recommendation from the Jazzmann. Here’s what I said about this track in December 2014;
An Orderly And Beautiful Escape”, effectively the title track, takes its title from a quote by Bruce Lee - “forms are vain repetitions which offer an orderly and beautiful escape from self-knowledge with an alive opponent”. The piece evolves slowly and includes an incisive and impressive alto solo from Chris Young followed by the composer on acoustic piano. The strong narrative arc and rich dynamic contrasts again combine to good effect. All of Grey’s pieces have strong sense of form and structure, this is intelligent music that the composer has thought about deeply, however the excellence of the performances ensures that it sounds fresh and spontaneous.
This track also features trumpeter Sam Wooster, bassist Nick Jurd and drummer Jim Bashford.
Next up is “A Real Bombshell” from the 2015 album “A Moveable Feast” by the pianist and composer Mark Pringle. Released by Stoney Lane Records this recording is an interesting and innovative blend of jazz and classical influences featuring a twelve piece ensemble led by Pringle which was constituted as follows;
Mark Pringle - piano
Percy Pursglove - trumpet
Chris Young - alto sax
Dan Serjeant - tenor & alto saxes, flute
Alicia Gardener-Trejo - bass clarinet, baritone sax, alto flute
Christine Cornwell - violin
Sarah Farmer - violin
Megan Jowett - viola
Lucy French -cello
Ben Lee- electric guitar
James Banner - double bass
Euan Palmer - drums
Here’s what I said about this track (the album opener) in September 2015;
“The first of the eight original Pringle compositions is “A Real Bombshell”, the title inspired by Messiaen’s reaction upon first seeing a score written by Claude Debussy. It begins relatively loosely with Pringle’s skittish pianism augmented by Banner at the bass and Palmer at the drums but subsequently takes on more of a big band feel with the addition of horns and strings as Django Bates and the whole Loose Tubes thing suddenly becomes a far more tangible influence. Pursglove emerges from this to deliver a striking and powerful trumpet solo that embraces a wide dynamic range and a variety of trumpet techniques. Palmer’s drums then provide a linking passage into a more impressionistic section featuring piano, flutes and strings.”
The Spotted Bros., Foote and Silk are both part of a six piece group led by pianist and composer Toby Boalch. They appear alongside bassist Nick Jurd and saxophonists Chris Maddock (alto) and John Fleming (tenor) on “State of Play” by the Toby Boalch Sextet, the title track of the group’s début album. Rooted in the classic hard bop sound but with a contemporary twist (Boalch himself features on electric piano) this enjoyable composition also seems to tip its hat briefly in the direction of South African ‘Township’ jazz and features some first rate ensemble playing alongside excellent solos from Boalch and Fleming with Silk again again showing up strongly in the drum chair.
Jazz at the Spotted Dog founder Mike Fletcher is represented by a live version of “Aire”, the opening track from his 2015 Stoney Lane release “Vuelta”, another album accorded a four star rating and a recommendation from the Jazzmann. “Vuelta” features Fletcher playing the rare C melody saxophone plus flute and also features the talents of the London based musicians Olie Brice (double bass) and Jeff Williams (drums). This version was recorded at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham in January 2015, a show that I reviewed for the Jazzmann. Here’s what I said about this version of “Aire” at the time;
“The music began with Brice’s bass introducing “Aire”, the opening track on the trio’s new album. Fletcher has spent a lot of time in Iberia, the album title “Vuelta” is Spanish for “return” and “Aire” was inspired by the light of the sun on the Spanish coast. The wispy, faintly Moorish melody was a vehicle for Fletcher’s coolly elegant, gently probing improvising above Williams’ trademark “polyrhytmic flow”, a consistently unfolding and fluid display of rhythmic invention yet with the drummer’s style never seeming to be busy or cluttered. He’s a master of playing in this chordless context as evidenced by the recent “Valence”, a live recorded trio session led by Williams and featuring British bassist Sam Lasserson and American alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher”.
The Outward Quartet is led by alto saxophonist Chris Young. Their contribution to this compilation is the quietly elegant “Spring”, an excellent piece of contemporary jazz writing that features coolly eloquent solos for alto and guitar. The group line up seems to be fairly fluid but I’m fairly certain that the guitar soloist is probably Thomas Seminar Ford. Silk has been part of this group and that may well be him at the drums.
It’s certainly Silk on the traps as he leads his own Big Band on a rumbustious live version of his own tune “Fragment” recorded at a performance at the CBSO Centre. The hard driving arrangement hits like a juggernaut with Silk urging his bandmates on from behind the kit. There’s a series of powerful horn solos featuring trombone, trumpet and various types of saxophone plus features for guitar and piano too. It’s not possible to pinpoint everybody but the collective line up was;
Mike Fletcher, Chris Maddock, John Fleming, Joe Wright and Colin Mills on saxophones and woodwind; Sam Wooster, Matt Gough, Mike Adlington and Tom Walsh on trumpets, Kieran McLeod, Richard Foote and Tom Dunnett on trombones; Andy Johnson on tuba, Tom Ford on guitar, Andy Bunting on piano and Nick Jurd on bass.
The Jonathan Silk Big Band released their début album “Uncouth” in 2013.
FRIDA is a seven piece group led by pianist Stella Roberts that combines the sound of a jazz piano trio with a classical string quartet. Their contribution here is a delightfully quirky and inventive arrangement of the Pat Metheny tune “James” featuring concise but effective solos from Roberts and an uncredited guitarist. Roberts is also responsible for drawing the appealing front cover image of this compilation CD.
Spotted Bro Richard Foote leads Young Pilgrims, a punchy brass heavy ensemble that pops up at gigs and residencies all over the city (they describe themselves as “a sort of brass band thing”). Their hard hitting but joyous “Le Poisson Rouge” (presumably named after the New York jazz venue of the same name) features a line up of
Richard Foote trombone
Kieran McLeod trombone
Matt Gough trumpet
Sam Wooster trumpet
Andy Isherwood saxophones
Andy Johnson sousaphone
Euan Palmer drums
“Little Things”, the band’s début album is due for release on Stoney Lane Records in April 2016 and should be well worth hearing. I’ve not seen this band perform live yet but I suspect that they’d be a highly exciting and enjoyable proposition.
Finally we come to “Niandra” by the electro jazz outfit Autumn, sometimes known as Delta Autumn, which features electronic musicians Robbie Moore, and Luke Morrish-Thomas alongside jazzers Thomas Seminar Ford (guitar) and Ric Yarborough (drums). This atmospheric, heavily sampled piece draws heavily on the worlds of electronic and experimental music and even hip hop and is very different to anything else on this compilation. It’s a little outside my usual listening zone but is undeniably effective. Morrish-Thomas is the owner of the Flood recording studio in Birmingham where this and several other tracks on this compilation were recorded.
The Young Pilgrims and Delta Autumn tracks are intended to convey something of the flavour of the regular ‘Pilgrimage’ nights that Young Pilgrims host at The Sun at The Station in Kings Heath.
This CD is a terrific representation of the vibrant Birmingham Jazz Scene. There’s some superb music here, much of it fresh and innovative, and not one duff track. For a fiver it represents an absolute bargain and I’d urge all our readers in Birmingham and beyond to get yourself down to the Spotted Dog to see a gig and buy a copy. The Spotted Bros. are doing a great job and deserve your support.
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