Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

October 18, 2022


The music is an effective amalgam of jazz and classical music that draws on the traditions of both genres, “Ria” represents a substantial achievement for Sophie Stockham,

Sophie Stockham


(Self released)

Sophie Stockham – saxophone, compositions, string arrangements
Paul Barrett, Hugh Blogg – violins, Frances Higgs – viola, Juliet McCarthy – cello, Dave Ayre- double bass

Bristol based saxophonist Sophie Stockham has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of the groups Dakhla Brass and Sefrial.

I first encountered her playing at a live performance by Dakhla Brass at The Hatch in rural Worcestershire, the venue run by guitarist Remi Harris.  My account of that occasion can be read here;

Subsequently I reviewed the third Dakhla Brass album, the excellent “Murmur” (2018).

I was also highly impressed by Sefrial’s eponymous début, released in 2020.

Stockham’s other projects include the chordless jazz quartet Orphic, featuring trumpeter Pete Judge, bassist Chris Jones and drummer Matt Brown. This group explores the repertoire of jazz composers such as Thelonious Monk, Don Cherry, Johnny Dyani, Joshua and Dewey Redman and more.

She is also a member of the all female quartet Starlings, a Bristol based group specialising in jazz, funk and Latin and featuring Ruth Hammond on keyboards, Emma Holbrook on drum kit and Lisa Cherian on percussion.

Stockham has also been part of the nine piece band Cut Capers, a Bristol based outfit mixing jazz, swing, funk and hip hop that has acquired a considerable reputation for its exciting live shows. 

“Ria” is Stockham’s first album under her own name and like so many other recently released recordings it is very much a product of lockdown. During the pandemic Stockham decided to study the art of composing and arranging for strings under the mentorship of the film and TV composer Andrew Morgan. She had previously arranged a couple of Dakhla Brass pieces for a concert that the band played with the Bristol Symphony Orchestra at Bristol Cathedral in 2019. This performance was subsequently released as a live album and is available in digital format via the Dakhla Brass Bandcamp page.

The Dakhla / BSO concert was undoubtedly the seed for the “Ria” album but it’s unlikely that the project would have come to fruition without the hiatus imposed by the pandemic. Under Morgan’s expert guidance Stockham has learned quickly, despite having had no previous formal classical music training.

Featuring six original compositions by Stockham “Ria” is an album featuring Stockham’s saxophone in the company of a string quintet, with the conventional classical string quartet augmented by double bass. Stockham states that the compositions are “inspired by life’s cycles, the experience of being a woman in society and the beauty of our oceans and rivers”. She names her influences as including Bjork, Stan Getz, Mary Lou Williams and the Polish modern classical composer Henryk Gorecki (1933 – 2010).

Many of the pieces were written with the aid of Sibelius software and the music was only performed live for the first time at the recording session.

“Ria” was recorded at Totterdown Methodist Church in Bristol in July 2021 and mixed by Nicholas Dover at Canyon Sounds before being mastered by Pete Maher. Released in September 2022 the album was launched with a live performance in The Glass Room at St. George’s, Bristol which saw Stockham and the string quintet performing under the baton of Andrew Morgan. I believe there has since been another live performance in Stroud.

The album commences with “Sooke”, which features minimalist style string arpeggios and the sound of Stockham’s sax. For this project she plays tenor rather than her usual alto, its deeper tone contrasting more satisfactorily with the timbres of the strings. During the course of the piece the string players deploy both arco and pizzicato techniques and the music is an effective amalgam of jazz and classical music that draws on the traditions of both genres, including the call and response of jazz.

Pizzicato double bass introduces “Aber”, the vigorousness of Ayre’s plucking contrasting effectively with the sweetly bowed timbres of his string playing colleagues. Stockham’s sax lines wend their way gracefully through the textures laid down by the string quintet, the piece taking a variety of stylistic and dynamic twists and turns in the course of its duration. Stockham’s sax soloing is clearly rooted in jazz, the context in which it appears obviously less so.

Stockham describes “Flo” as being about “an exploration of a female musician overcoming the pressures to conform and instead finding her own voice”. Her tone here is harsher more confrontational, with the strings responding in kind in a series of increasingly dynamic exchanges. A passage of unaccompanied saxophone suggests Stockham finding her own path while further sax and string exchanges are generally more cordial, but not without the occasional musical ‘confrontation’ as Stockham consolidates her role as ‘leader’.

“Blue Fern” finds Stockham’s breathy tenor floating on a bed of diaphanous string textures, these becoming increasingly sumptuous as the piece progresses. There’s a melancholy quality about the music that suggests that this piece is some kind of lament for the environment. Eventually the strings drop out and Stockham performs an extended, and highly emotive, passage of unaccompanied tenor. When the strings eventually return the mood of the piece is even more sombre than before.

“Dream Pin”, which was released as a single, lightens the mood as it opens with bright pizzicato strings, the quintet subsequently mixing plucked and bowed techniques as Stockham’s sax enters the proceedings. The piece includes a call and response section between saxophone and double bass, with other pizzicato strings added later. Thus this is the most vibrant and rhythmic piece on the record with some exhilarating exchanges between horn and strings. Even so it concludes with a rather melancholic diminuendo.

The album concludes with “Tarn”, another piece inspired by the environment. Lush strings combine with increasingly incisive saxophone on a piece that sometimes has an almost hymnal quality about it. There’s something highly appropriate about the fact that this album was recorded in a church. The second half of the piece is more reflective and achingly beautiful. The final melancholy phrases are played by the strings alone.

“Ria” represents a substantial achievement for Sophie Stockham, especially bearing in mind that this is pretty much her first attempt at writing for strings. The album represents a highly effective fusion of jazz and chamber music with Stockham’s melodic saxophone playing leading the way. She’s undeniably the main instrumental voice and one could be inclined to think of “Ria” as a kind of saxophone concerto but the strings still have plenty to say on their own account. Thus the work represents more than this with the exchanges between the sax and the other instruments demonstrating a real jazz sensibility. The string players are fully attuned to Stockham’s vision and their playing never becomes overly sweet or cloying, even during the lushest moments. The writing is intelligent and admirably varied, combining strong melodies with sophisticated arrangements.

Since the recording Stockham has continued to write for the ensemble and several new pieces were premièred at the hugely successful Bristol performance, a show reviewed by Tony Benjamin for the B24/7 website. Tony’s account can be read here;

Previously Tony had interviewed Sophie about the project for the same website.

Both these articles are well worth reading and helped me in the course of writing this review. Thank you, Tony.

“Ria” appears to have been very well received and one assumes that Stockham will record a second album in this format at some point in the future.



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