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Miles Spilsbury Trio

Miles Spilsbury Trio, Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury, 20/03/2024.

Photography: Photograph sourced from the Sy;Gigs Facebook page [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

March 21, 2024


I very much enjoyed this performance, particularly as improvisation clearly played a very important role in the proceedings. The mix of electronic & acoustic sounds was also consistently intriguing.

Miles Spilsbury Trio, Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury, 20/03/2024.

Miles Spilsbury – tenor saxophone, flute, electronics, percussion, Ollie Cadman – keyboards, Jake Long – drums, percussion

This evening’s performance represented my first visit to an event in the “Letting The Light In” series of experimental music events presented by promoter Sy.Gigs.

Now in its second season “Letting The Light In” stages its events at two Shrewsbury churches, the 100 seat Unitarian Church and the larger St. Alkmund’s Church, which can accommodate 240. Previous visitors in the current series have included the alt folk artist Cerys Hafana and the duo of percussionist Bex Burch and electronic sound artist John Biddulph. I recently enjoyed a performance by harpist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Hafana at the Courtyard in Hereford but was disappointed at having to miss Burch’s show due to prior commitments, particularly after having previously covered her work with her band Vula Viel.

I was first introduced to Chris Taylor of Sy;Gigs at a performance by trumpeter Matthew Halsall and his band at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury in October 2023, a show that I attended as a paying customer. I’m grateful to Chris for subsequently getting in touch and inviting me to cover some of the events in the current “Letting The Light In” series, tonight’s performance being the first one that I could actually manage.

Although I’ve covered many shows at other locations in Shrewsbury (The Hive, Gateway Arts Centre, Theatre Severn) the Unitarian Church was a new venue to me. Well appointed and with excellent acoustics it represented an excellent space in which to hear Spilsbury’s atmospheric blend of jazz and electronica, together with ‘new age’ elements.

I have to admit that prior to tonight’s performance I knew precious little about Spilsbury but he’s a musician who appears to have accrued a considerable following, if the size of the near capacity turnout is anything to go by. I was both surprised and delighted by the size of the crowd, with Taylor later informing me that the audience for Sy;Gigs events has proved to be remarkably loyal and adventurous. Spilsbury also has familial connections in Shrewsbury and a good number of family members were in attendance to help swell the crowd even further. The trio still had to drive back to London after the show though.

Spilsbury first began to make a name for himself with the Brighton based experimental rock group The Physics House Band, which he joined in 2018, augmenting founder members multi-instrumentalists Samuel Organ and Adam Hutchison and drummer Dave Morgan.
Spilsbury appears on the band’s two most recent album releases “Metropolis” (2020) and “Incident on 3rd” (2021), the latter recorded in a trio format following the departure of Hutchison.

In 2023 Spilsbury released his debut solo album “Light Manoeuvres”, which was released on the Amsterdam based record label New Dawn. Available in digital and vinyl formats only the music was written when Spilsbury was living in Marseilles, the title referring to the inspiration he drew from the unique light conditions that he encountered in Southern France. The recording has attracted a considerable degree of critical acclaim and tonight’s performance was centred around compositions from the album, alongside generous slices of spontaneous improvisation.

Tonight’s show was originally billed as a quartet performance, but the unavailability of bassist Cameron Dawson, who has previously performed with Spilsbury in a duo context, resulted in the music being presented in a trio format. The absence of Dawson freed up musical space for the other members of the group, so neither band nor audience seemed to mind too much. Also I don’t know quite where Dawson would have fitted on to a small stage area that was already crowded with musical and electrical equipment. In addition to Long’s drum kit Cadman was surrounded by keyboards, a Nord Electro 3, a Korg MS 2000 and a Juno 106, the three instruments producing a wide range of synth, organ and acoustic and electric piano sounds. Spilsbury, who remained seated throughout the performance, had his tenor sax and flute plus an array of foot pedals and a table that groaned under the weight of a sea of electronic gadgetry.

The performance began with “Gratitude”, the second track from the “Light Manoeuvres” album. Sounding substantially different to the recording this commenced with the atmospheric sounds of Cadman’s ambient keyboard drones and the rumble of Long’s mallets. Above this sonic backdrop Spilsbury delivered long, breathy tenor sax melody lines that brought something of a mournful quality to the music. As the saxophone began to gain more prominence, with Spilsbury’s playing fleetingly reminding me of that of Jan Garbarek,  Long’s mallet rumbles became more forceful and Cadman introduced an acoustic piano sound. In a further change of direction Spilsbury’s tenor was virtually left alone, with the ethereal shimmer of percussion representing the very sparest of accompaniment. There was then a change of dynamics as the full trio came together once more, seemingly bringing the performance to a powerful climax, but with a long improvised fade following as the music gently subsided.

The second piece is as yet untitled and is intended to feature on Spilsbury’s next album. This saw him switching to electronically enhanced flute with the use of live looping techniques helping to generate reed organ like overtones and helping to bring an air of mystery and a minimalist influence to the simple, folk like melody. The introduction of Long’s brushes and shakers and Cadman’s keyboard drones prompted Spilsbury’s move to tenor, his sax melodies soaring above a backdrop of spacey keyboards and a drum groove variously generated by brushes, shakers and mallets. Speaking to the audience for the first time Spilsbury described this “flute song” as “a work in progress”. It certainly sounded good to an audience brave enough to enjoy the sights and sounds of a band experimenting in public.

Sourced from the debut album “Light Theme” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied electric piano from Cadman, who plays keyboards on the recording.  Spilsbury subsequently added warm, breathy tenor sax that gave the music something of the feel of a jazz ballad as Long took up the brushes. The music then became increasingly abstract and diaphanous, but still possessed of a soft, gently luminous beauty. The ballad feel subsequently returned before the music, led by Spilsbury’s tenor,  gradually became more powerful and assertive, but still noticeably song-like in construction as it built towards what felt like an anthemic climax.
I’d guess that it was here that the band’s penchant for improvisation took over with Long delivering an extended drum passage that involved the use of dampened cymbals, the rumble of mallets on toms and the highly musical use of the bass drum. Cadman then added whistling synth sounds as Spilsbury introduced snatches of tenor sax melody and washes of ambient electronica. The leader subsequently moved to flute as this lengthy sequence gradually began to draw to a close, with Long adding a wide variety of always totally apposite sounds courtesy of his deployment of a wide range of small percussion.

At the conclusion of this extended performance Spilsbury explained that much of it had been entirely improvised and he was quick to praise the contribution of Long, a drummer he described as having “a keen textural ear”. Indeed Long’s sensitive performance behind the kit was a thing of wonder and beauty throughout the evening as he always seemed to find just the right sound for any given situation.

Long was the only one of tonight’s line up that I had seen play before, having witnessed him with the bands Maisha and Nerija, albeit only as a ‘dep’ with the latter. The most memorable of these performances was when Maisha performed with the veteran American saxophonist (and occasional vocalist) Gary Bartz at the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, a superb gig and a definite Festival highlight. Although the drums on the album are played by Finn Booth Long seems to be a particularly effective foil for Spilsbury.

The Spilsbury trio concluded a very lengthy first set with “Uig”, another composition from the leader’s debut album. This piece was actually inspired by a location on Skye, but fitted in neatly with the “light” theme. This was another item to display something of a folk element with soaring sax melodies underpinned by the gently rolling thunder of mallets on toms and ethereal ‘In a Silent Way’ style keyboard textures. A brief unaccompanied passage from Cadman featured a combination of synth and electric piano sounds with Long subsequently introducing a softly brushed martial rhythm that provided the stimulus for further tenor sax explorations. A long, slow fade featuring the sounds of keyboard washes and mallet rumbles saw Spilsbury briefly wielding a shaker, hence the percussion credit. This was a richly atmospheric and evocative way to end an intriguing first set. The recorded version of “Uig” features the sounds of sampled bird song, suggesting that Spilsbury harbours a genuine love of nature.

It had been intended that the trio should play two forty minute sets but the lengthy improvisations of the first had extended it to well over an hour, something that the band were blissfully unaware of until Taylor pointed it out to them.

The second set was therefore much shorter,  with just three numbers played and presumably a lot less improvisation. There was also less electronica in a series of performances that were now more obviously ‘jazz’ in nature.

From the album the trio kicked off with “Tungsten”, a track that has also been issued as a single. This commenced with Spilsbury’s unaccompanied tenor sax musings and saw him establishing an orthodox jazz sound. Long joined in to create a rolling, polyrhythmic groove that provided the impetus for the leader’s increasingly animated tenor sax probing. With Cadman sitting out entirely the ghosts of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali came to mind. Cadman eventually came to the party to deliver an electric piano solo as Spilsbury now sat back. Effectively featuring two different duos this was the first piece to really feature conventional jazz soloing.

Next we heard “Emvau”, the closing track on the “Light Manoeuvres” recording. A sparse and spacious electric piano intro was later augmented by wisps of sax melody with Long now temporarily sidelined. The drummer did eventually join to provide typically sensitive accompaniment on a driftingly ambient piece that saw Spilsbury alternating between saxophone and electronics.

The evening concluded with the as yet unrecorded “The Senses Are Unruly”, another piece scheduled for the forthcoming second album. This was a more forceful item that featured a looped electronic pulse allied to a fluid drum groove and an electric piano sound that hinted at a kind of cerebral funkiness. Topped by an accessible melody this was the most immediate piece of the evening and also included some relatively conventional soloing with Spilsbury going first on tenor, followed by Cadman on electric piano.

Although the second set had been shorter we had still had more than an hour of a half of music and the evening finished much later than expected, so nobody could feel short changed.

Despite the occasional electronic / new age longueur I very much enjoyed this performance from Spilsbury and the trio, particularly as improvisation clearly played a very important role in the proceedings. All of the tunes from the album sounded very different to the recorded versions and the mix of electronic and acoustic sounds was consistently intriguing, with some listeners describing the music as “spiritual”. It certainly whetted my appetite for the new album and also sharpened my curiosity with regard to the Physics House Band.

My thanks to all three band members for speaking with me during the interval and after the show and for supplying me with valuable information regarding tune titles etc.

“Light Manoeuvres” by Miles Spilsbury is available here;

Addressing the audience before the show Chris Taylor announced that he hopes to present a total of ten events during 2024. Sy;Gigs’ “Letting The Light In” series continues with;

April 18th – Audrey Carmes & Roberto Biffarini – Unitarian Church

May 23rd – Tara Clerkin Trio + Haress, St. Alkmund’s Church

June 28th -_Group Listening + Bazmatron, Unitarian Church

For more information please visit;

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