by Ian Mann
March 22, 2016
The Weave's blend of superb musicianship and slightly surreal Liverpudlian humour proved to be a winner all round.
The Weave, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 19/03/2016.
The Weave is a sextet from Liverpool led by trumpeter Martin Smith who also composes the bulk of the group’s material. Both of the group’s albums, their eponymous début recorded in 2012 and the 2015 follow up “Knowledge Porridge”, have been favourably reviewed on the Jazzmann and I was very much looking forward to seeing the group perform live for the first time.
The Weave’s music has its roots in bebop, mainstream and hard bop but has a very contemporary sensibility that is reflected both in the humour of the group’s song titles and their awareness of the musical history of their native city. There’s an irreverence and good humour about their approach that is genuinely refreshing and their music embraces a variety of styles despite the obvious jazz template.
The group’s début attracted a flurry of attention from the London based media and gained national airplay on programmes as diverse as Radio 3’s Late Junction and Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe show. Nonetheless most of the band’s gigging still takes place in the North of England and by comparison Shrewsbury constituted a visit to the South. I’m pleased to say that part of the reason that they were there was due to my recommendation to the members of Shrewsbury Jazz Network when they were looking for bands for the current season, my suggestion based on the strength of their music and the comparative closeness of Shrewsbury to Liverpool. I’m pleased to report that The Weave gave an excellent performance in somewhat trying circumstances (more on that later) and that the feedback relating to this show from both band and audience alike has been overwhelmingly positive. I felt relieved, excited and vindicated.
The Weave normally function as a sextet with an unusual twin trumpet front line featuring Smith and Anthony Peers. These two are experienced jazz and session musicians and were once members of the fondly remembered Brasshoppers outfit from around twenty years ago. The rest of the group are a little younger and include guitarist Anthony Ormesher, bassist Hugo ‘Harry’ Harrison and drummer Tilo Pirnbaum. The group’s sixth member is pianist Rob Stringer who was unfortunately taken ill with a virus on the day of the gig. However The Weave felt confident that they could perform as a quintet and they certainly didn’t disappoint as they triumphed in the face of adversity. Guitarist Ormesher was a busy boy, his superb soloing and accompanying skills helping to fill what Smith at one point described as a “big piano shaped hole”. The Weave’s two albums also include contributions from numerous guest performers so it was particularly impressive for tonight’s musicians to acquit themselves so well as a five piece.
The band’s two highly enjoyable sets drew upon both their albums as Smith hosted the show with a healthy dash of that famed Liverpudlian wit. The group began in what must have been very familiar territory for them by playing the first two pieces from their début album.
Smith has a great way with titles as exemplified by opener “Thou Spak A Mouthful”. He also has a way with a melodic hook, these often being quirky and infectious and seemingly informed as much by the very English eccentricities of the Canterbury prog rock scene as by classic jazz and bebop. “Thou Spak…” began with a propulsive bass and drum groove plus the fleet footed unison trumpet lines of Smith and Peers as Ormesher’s snaking guitar lines slithered around the spaces between them. Whether playing unison lines or dovetailing in counterpoint it was obvious from the very beginning that Smith and Peers work very much as a team. Yes, both enjoy their solo features but the spirit of co-operation, rather than competition, shines throughout. Both trumpeters are agile, fluent soloists and Smith was the first to demonstrate his skills here followed later by Peers. They were bookended by Ormesher, a highly imaginative soloist who adopts an orthodox jazz guitar sound but has clearly absorbed the influences of such contemporary New York based guitarists as Kurt Rosenwinkel and Gilad Hekselman. Ormesher visited The Hive in 2010 when he appeared with the Manchester based Magic Hat Ensemble led by Steve Chadwick, yet another trumpeter. Several of tonight’s audience remembered being impressed with Ormesher’s playing with the MHE, a band that at that time included bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner, now two thirds of the hugely successful GoGo Penguin.
Smith’s “Caresser Caress Her” features another of those memorable melodic hooks, this one a real ear worm. With its breezy melody and infectious Latin rhythms this joyous piece saw the twin trumpeters exchanging solos, this time with Peers going first, the pair subsequently being followed by Ormesher.
The Weave turned to their second album for Smith’s “I’m In Your House”, yet another tune with a catchy and quirky melody. When the solos started Ormesher threw down the gauntlet with a dazzling, fleet fingered guitar solo which dared the trumpeters to respond in kind. Peers went first with a similarly rousing solo that saw Smith shouting his approval and encouragement from the sidelines before delivering a characteristically fluent solo of his own.
Both albums have seen The Weave incorporating words into their music, either as spoken poetry or as sung vocals. For the new piece “I’m Glad You Had The Best Years”, written by Harrison, the bassist moved his instrument to the front of the stage playing and singing the melancholy words to his folkish melody in a fragile, Robert Wyatt like voice.
This segued directly into Smith’s composition “Never Better”, a tune from the group’s first album. Here Smith and Peers doubled up on flugel horns as Pirnbaum played brushed drums. The first solo here went to Harrison who sang along wordlessly with his playing, a characteristic that was to inform his other solos later in the set. Subsequently both Smith and Peers soloed on flugel, their contributions bisected by Ormesher’s solo on guitar.
Smith and Peers continued on flugels for the new Smith tune “Healed and Revealed” with the composer displaying a remarkable degree of fluency and agility on the instrument during the opening solo. He was followed by Ormesher and the still singing Harrison, and there was also a brief drum feature for the excellent Pirnbaum.
An excellent first set concluded with “Abram’s Air”, Smith’s dedication to the late trumpeter and composer Abram Wilson with whom he once briefly studied. Wilson died at a tragically early age in 2012 just before The Weave’s début album was recorded and Smith’s tribute is written in the style of Wilson’s native city of New Orleans. With Smith and Peers both back on trumpets the tune began as a slow funeral march before mutating into a ‘second line’ section featuring the vocalised sounds of growling, bluesy, plunger muted trumpets. One likes to think that Mr. Wilson would have approved.
The Weave were clearly enjoying their visit to Shrewsbury and, if anything, the second set was even better than the first as the band continued to loosen up. First up was the marvellously titled “Cold, Wet and Sockless”, the Smith tune from the début that was picked up on by Mark Radcliffe. This piece boasts a hypnotic “train like” hip hop inspired brushed drum groove and an infectious melody that was delivered here by the three pronged attack of twin trumpets plus guitar. Peers took the first solo followed by Ormesher and, finally, Smith.
From the second album came “Trumpet Ear” (another great title) with its complex but quirkily accessible twin trumpet introduction and engaging solos from Ormesher on guitar, Smith on trumpet and Harrison at the bass, the latter injecting a never far away element of humour into the proceedings.
Also from “Knowledge Porridge” came the wistful ballad “Our Fathers”, Smith’s dedication to his dad, Frank, and father figures everywhere. A haunting twin trumpet melody accompanied by brushed drums led to gently melodic solos from Harrison, Peers and Ormesher.
Sticking with the latest album the band delivered a segue of the Smith tunes “Our Day On The Mountain” and “Not On Your Nelly”, the latter paying homage to both Liverpool’s Irish heritage and the trumpeter Neil Yates, an innovative musician who has incorporated elements of Irish traditional music into his playing. For this sequence Peers remained on trumpet while Smith switched to flugel horn on which he delivered a sublime solo during the first piece, his contribution followed by Ormesher and Harrison. Peers also moved to flugel for the Yates inspired piece which achieved a genuine Irish feel through its twisting, jig like unison flugel melodies as Pirnbaum’s drumming approximated the rhythmic qualities of the bodhran. Solos here came from Peers and Smith on flugels, sandwiched by Ormesher’s feature on guitar.
In an acknowledgement of Liverpool’s pop and rock history “Knowledge Porridge” takes its title from a line in a La’s song. The tune itself also features a spoken monologue by Peers, itself perhaps a homage to Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Andy Roberts and the other poets and musicians of the fondly remembered Liverpool Scene. Punchy, quirky grooves accompanied Peers recitation of his own words in a “vocal style of his own” that managed to namecheck several other Weave tune titles.
The band concluded this second set with “Apart From That Mrs. Lincoln” the closing track from their début album. With the two trumpets leading the way this piece adopted an orthodox swing style that suggested a jazz influence dating all the way back to Louis Armstrong. This cheerfully infectious piece allowed all five members of the group to demonstrate their talents for one last time with Peers going first followed by Ormesher, Smith, Harrison and Pirnbaum. The last named was the unsung hero of the night, his crisp, precisely detailed drumming provided great energy and propulsion throughout the evening, never imposing but always helping the front line soloists to express themselves.
Thanking the band SJN’s Sue Watkins described their music as “uplifting”, a sentiment with which all those present were in agreement. She was able to coax the group back to the stage to perform an encore which proved to be Harrison’s “Para Parrot”, his sole writing credit on the group’s second album. Fitting neatly into The Weave’s aesthetic this piece was introduced by bass and guitar and included solos from Ormesher on guitar, Peers on plunger muted trumpet and the composer at the bass.
The audience reaction to The Weave was hugely positive and Martin Smith subsequently contacted the SJN committee to express just how much the band had enjoyed the occasion. All in all a great success with The Weave’s blend of superb musicianship and slightly surreal Liverpudlian humour proving to be a winner all round.
My thanks to the SJN committee for supplying my press ticket and providing me with a terrific front row seat. And thanks too to Martin Smith, Tony Peers and Tilo Pirnbaum for chatting with me during the interval.
The Weave made a lot of new friends tonight and the chances are that they’ll be visiting Shropshire again at some future date. In the meantime the new tunes in the first set suggest that The Weave’s eventual third album should be well worth waiting for.