by Ian Mann
February 25, 2015
A strong opening statement from Green, an impressively mature piece of work that fully justifies all the praise that has been coming his way.
Tom Green Septet
(Spark Records SPARK 001)
The young trombonist and composer Tom Green (born Cambridge 1988) studied music at his home city’s University before moving to the Royal Academy of Music in London for his Masters, graduating with Distinction in 2013. A frequent award winner Green was the recipient of the 2013 John Dankworth Prize for Composition and in the following year he received the Help Musicians UK “Emerging Excellence” Award. Jazzwise Magazine has regularly named him as “one to watch” and the release of “Skyline”, his début album as a leader, has been greeted with almost unanimous critical approval.
I have seen Green perform as a section player with the Royal Academy of Music Big Band, the Gareth Lockrane Big Band and Troyk-estra and he has also played and recorded with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO). He is also part of the recently constituted Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a large ensemble comprised mainly of former Academy personnel. He leads the small group Compass and plays as a sideman in a variety of other settings including the New Orleans style brass band The Brass Funkeys and the quintet led by bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado. Complete details of his musical activities can be found on his website http://www.tomgreenmusic.com
“Skyline” brings together many of Green’s varied musical influences together. As a composer Green views his group as “not so much a scaled up small group as a scaled down big band”. He continues; “the range of colours and textures I can get out of those four horns is very exciting to work with as a composer because I have at my disposal the core instruments found in a larger ensemble”. Indeed it is Green’s writing for those horns that has excited the critics with “Skyline” receiving ringing endorsements from such diverse jazz figures as Evan Parker and Dame Cleo Laine. Besides the music of the large ensembles in which he has played Green’s writing is also inspired by the New Orleans sound he purveys in Brass Funkeys and with folk and flamenco influences also entering into the equation.
Besides the leader on trombone the other horn players in this acclaimed septet are Sam Miles (tenor sax), Matthew Herd (alto & soprano sax) and James Davison (trumpet & flugelhorn). Pianist Sam James, bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer Scott Chapman complete a highly capable group. This line up has been together since 2012 and has toured extensively in the UK as well as playing a number of European festival dates.
Of the seven original compositions which form the bulk of the programme on “Skyline” Green says; “I have always been fascinated by light, colour, balance and harmony, both in nature and music. Many of the tracks are inspired by the interaction between natural landscapes and light in some way. I have attempted to use improvisation as a compositional tool to help tell the story of each tune, rather than using traditional head-solo-head structures”. The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios by Alex Killpatrick and his mix, allied to Green’s production, serves the album well.
And so to the music and from the off it’s immediately apparent that there’s a rare sophistication and maturity about Green’s writing and the way in which he combines the voices of the ensemble is striking. There’s some terrific interplay between the horns on the opener “Sticks And Stones” and at times the sound does indeed seem to be bigger than that of a mere seven instruments. The piece is essentially lively and spirited although there are moments of dynamic contrast. As Green has stated the solos are less clearly signposted than in some styles of jazz but there are fine individual moments here from Green and Davison plus Chapman on something of a drum feature. An impressive introduction.
Clocking in at just under thirteen minutes “Equilibrium” is an epic in all senses of the word and is the piece that has had the critics choking on superlatives. A richly colourful horn chorale introduces a piece which subtly adds some of those flamenco flourishes as the music slowly unfolds, shades here of Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Davison is in particularly fine form with an emotive trumpet solo and the two saxophonists also impress with their solo contributions. But it’s the ensemble playing that really counts on this often melancholy slow burner of a tune which gathers momentum incrementally before culminating in a squalling free jazz passage. A return to the earlier theme eventually resolves an impressively mature piece of writing.
Mullov-Abbado’s melodic bass playing introduces the charming “Arctic Sun”, one of Green’s most beautiful “nature tunes”. The leader’s languid but resonant trombone is the first featured instrument on a well constructed solo that has drawn comparisons with Robin Eubanks. There’s then a joyousness about Herd’s soaring soprano solo that lifts the listener’s spirits before a return to the lyrical theme.
“Peace Of Mind” combines lyricism with swinging ensemble passages in another piece full of twists and turns and dynamic contrasts. Green again demonstrates his fluency as a trombone soloist as he shares the solos with Herd and Miles who also make excellent individual contributions.
The beautiful “Mirage” features Green’s playing at its most warm and rounded on an extended trombone feature. He receives particularly sympathetic support from the rhythm section of James, Chapman and Mullov-Abado. A typically intelligent group arrangement also finds room for brief features for the saxophones of Miles and Herd.
A lush arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s enduringly popular “Skylark” represents the only outside material. Rich horn voicings and flexible rhythm playing distinguish the piece with solos coming from Davison on trumpet and the hitherto underused James on piano. The tune gathers momentum as it progresses and the music takes on more of a big band feel.
The descriptive “Winter Halo” is another eleven and a half minute epic and begins with a feature for Herd’s airy soprano that has been likened to Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”. The tune then enters more conventional jazz territory, unfolding slowly and elegantly while finding room for solos from Miles on tenor and from rising star bassist Mullov-Abbado, the latter’s playing combining melody and resonance with a great dexterity. James enjoys another moment in the spotlight before Herd’s soprano, more biting this time, returns to the fray. Miles enjoys a second excursion on tenor before the piece finally resolves itself . There may be a string of solos here but they are stitched so superbly into the fabric of the tune that they all sound perfectly natural and organic, each one representing the next logical step on a highly rewarding musical journey.
Green allows himself a bit of fun on the New Orleans inspired closer “DIY” as the four horns carouse raucously and joyously and the music enters classic “second line” territory. There’s rasping but fluent trombone from Green and effervescent high register trumpet from Davison in a thrilling series of exchanges plus some rousing full ensemble passages. James enjoys a passage of “professor” style solo piano and the two saxophones intertwine as vividly as the two brass instruments did previously. It’s a delightfully playful, high energy piece and a great way to round off a very successful début album.
“Skyline” represents a strong opening statement from Green, an impressively mature piece of work that fully justifies all the praise that has been coming his way. More importantly it’s an album of immense promise that suggests that there may even better work to come from this outstanding young talent.
The septet are currently on a Jazz services supported UK tour. The remaining dates are as follows;
4.3.15 9pm Jazz At The Lescar,
The Lescar, 303 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZF
5.3.15 9pm Matt & Phreds,
64 Tib Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1LW
6.3.15 8:30pm Jazz at the Priestly,
Glyde House, Glydegate, Little Horton Road Bradford, BD5 0BQ
13.3.15 5pm Rush Hour Blues,
Symphony Hall Foyer, Broad Street, Victoria Square, Birmingham B1 2EA
27.3.15 8pm Fleece Jazz,
Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Colchester CO6 4PZ