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Tom Green Septet

Tom Green Septet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/07/2016.

Photography: Photograph of Tom Green sourced from the Shrewsbury Jazz Network website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

July 12, 2016


Green and his colleagues all played immaculately throughout. The colour and variety of the writing was also impressivea and the septet made themselves a lot of new friends this evening.

Tom Green Septet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/07/2016

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 in 2015 the release of the septet recording “Skyline”, his début album as a leader, was greeted with almost unanimous critical approval and was the subject of a favourable review elsewhere on the Jazzmann website.

“Skyline”  brought many of Green’s various musical influences together. As a composer he views his septet 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”.

Green has plenty of experience with big bands and prior to his Shrewsbury visit (his first) I’d previously seen him 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.

Green also leads the ‘world jazz’ quartet 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. Green appeared on Mullov-Abbado’s acclaimed début album “New Ansonia” which was also released in 2015 and I was lucky enough to catch around twenty minutes of the quintet’s set on the Barbican Freestage at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

Complete details of all of Green’s musical activities can be found on his website

Green’s septet features no fewer than four horns with the personnel on the album including Sam Miles on tenor sax, Matthew Herd on alto and soprano sax and James Davison on trumpet and flugelhorn. The rhythm team features Mullov-Abbado on double bass with Scott Chapman at the drums. The line up is completed by the versatile pianist Sam James who moves easily between melodic and rhythmic functions behind the keyboard.

It is Green’s writing for those horns that has so 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, with folk and flamenco influences also entering into the equation.

Bringing Green and his septet to Shrewsbury proved to be an inspired decision. Much of the credit for this must go to Shrewsbury Jazz Network committee member Laurie Grey who had seen the band perform at one of the free early evening ‘commuter jazz’ events in the Café Bar at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Laurie was highly impressed and decided that the young septet would be ideal for the Hive and the group certainly didn’t disappoint despite a number of changes to the album line up. Given that they had a tough act to follow after the appearance in June of saxophonist Julian Arguelles’ Tetra quartet Green and his colleagues rose magnificently to the occasion.

The Shrewsbury line up included album personnel Green, Miles, James and Chapman with Tommy Andrews coming in on alto and soprano sax and Pete Hutchinson on double bass. Lichfield based musician Nick Dewhurst appeared on trumpet and flugelhorn and acquitted himself superbly on what what was actually his first ever gig with the band. He was familiar to Green from their time spent together in NYJO and dealt with the trombonist’s often challenging arrangements supremely well while still maintaining a smile on his face throughout. I first saw an eighteen year old Dewhurst perform at the Lichfield Jazz Blues and Real Ale Festival back in 2009 and it’s been pleasing to watch his progress in the intervening years. Together with his colleagues he certainly made plenty of new friends tonight as the septet’s original music drew a great reaction from a supportive audience numbering around seventy five or so, a highly creditable attendance at the height of summer and so soon after the visit of Arguelles.

It’s been a couple of years since the music on “Skyline” was recorded and it’s also taken a while for SJN to finally get the septet to the Hive. As a result Green has already introduced a number of new tunes to the group’s repertoire including the opening “Kaleidoscope”. This proved to be an appropriate title as Green is already adept at writing richly colourful arrangements for his band, particularly for the horn players. The first thing that struck the listener was just how BIG and full the band sounded, the seven instruments made a very impressive noise. But it’s also the subtlety of the arrangements that impresses, the rich horn voicings and multi-hued textures. Green’s episodic and highly varied compositions consistently engage the listener with their twists and turns and dynamic contrasts. Green is also adept at breaking the band down into smaller units as evidenced by the bass and piano introduction and the subsequent tenor sax and trombone exchanges. Unusually it was bassist Pete Hutchinson who took the first solo, his sound big and meaty but his playing unfailingly dexterous and melodic. Green followed him on trombone and there was also a closing drum feature from the excellent Chapman on this rousing and attention grabbing opener.

Green turned to the album repertoire for “Arctic Sun”, a beautiful “nature tune” with a richly lyrical theme inspired by the televisual work of David Attenborough. Hutchinson featured prominently again, both on the bass and drum intro and on a later extended solo. But it was Dewhurst who took the first solo on flugel, immediately impressing the audience with his poise and fluency. He was followed by Andrews who probed intelligently and incisively on soprano. Andrews is an accomplished composer and bandleader in his own right who released his own excellent quintet album “The Crux” in 2015. A second recording is in the pipeline but is currently subject to ‘funding issues’. Meanwhile the classically trained and highly versatile Andrews supplements his income with pop sessions and TV and theatre work.

The new tune “Jack O’ Lantern” introduced a folk influence to Green’s writing with Green’s hand drumming on the introduction approximating the sound of the Irish bodhran. The suitably folk like melody was sketched by Miles on tenor sax with trumpet and trombone providing appropriate punctuation. Andrews then took up the melody on soprano before Miles launched into an extended tenor solo, initially in sax trio mode with Chapman’s drums providing succinct commentary. With the addition of the other horn players the sound became fuller and more rousing before the piece took another dramatic turn with James and Hutchinson’s lively piano and drum exchanges accompanied by the hand claps of the four horn players as something of the flamenco influence that informed the album track “Equilibrium” was brought into play. It was a surprising and hugely enjoyable way to end this excellent new tune.

The “Skyline” album includes Green’s imaginative arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” - “one of my favourite standards” as the young trombonist informed us. James’ recurring piano motif formed the basis of the arrangement, which was a little too lively to truly be called a ballad. Andrews sketched the familiar melody on alto, initially with only Hutchinson’s bass for company before handing over to Green. James’ feature saw the group temporarily entering into piano trio mode and there was also a drum feature for Chapman whose crisp, neatly detailed and subtly propulsive playing impressed throughout the course of the evening.

Also from the album came “Peace Of Mind”, one of Green’s oldest tunes, which concluded an excellent first set. Written as a form of catharsis during a particularly stressful set of exams the piece combined an attractive melodic theme with a strong sense of swing. Green introduced the tune on trombone, later combining with trumpet, alto and tenor to produce a soothing, lushly textured sound which subsequently became more strident and formed the basis for extensive solos from Green and Andrews. Miles’ tenor solo developed out of his earlier dialogue with James as the septet finished the first half in style with the knowledgeable Shrewsbury audience giving them an excellent reception.

The second set began with the descriptive and episodic “Seatoller”, named after a village in the Lake District near the Honister Pass and with a narrative arc designed to depict something of the capriciousness of the climate in that part of the world. Chapman’s drum intro paved the way for some rich ensemble textures incorporating the collected horns allied to piano and bowed bass. Green took the first solo on trombone, this leading to a section featuring the four unaccompanied horns in thrilling counterpoint before James took over the reins at the piano.

Jimmy Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful” was the second standard of the evening, this time played as a genuine ballad with delightful features for Dewhurst on flugel and Miles on warm toned tenor, these two exchanging solos before coalescing at the conclusion of the piece.

“Sticks And Stones”, the spiky album opener raised the temperature once more with its rousing four horn opening salvo allied to lively solos from Andrews on soprano and Green on trombone plus a closing drum flourish from Chapman. Elsewhere James impressed in a series of exchanges with the leader as the pace relented temporarily. Green’s compositions cover a wide terrain with each piece admirably varied in terms of mood, style and pace.

The New Orleans inspired “DIY”, the album closer, maintained the energy levels as the band concluded this second set. Owing something to Green’s work with the Brass Flunkeys the piece was introduced by Green on the ‘bone and subsequently featured the leader in an effervescent set of Crescent City style exchanges with Dewhurst’s trumpet, these energetically propelled by Chapman’s marching drum grooves. “Professor” Sam James took over with a thrilling episode of unaccompanied piano before Miles and Andrews snatched up the baton for a fiery set of tenor and alto exchanges that mirrored the earlier dialogue between Green and Dewhurst. This was a great way to round off the evening and the audience absolutely loved it.

Such was the crowd reaction that the band needed no second bidding to come back for an encore. Green chose to cool things down a little with the new ballad composition “Between Now And Never” with James at the piano taking a particularly prominent role as he soloed in piano trio mode with Chapman deploying brushes. Green and the rest of the horn section limited themselves to few brief chorales and theme statements as the performance ended on an elegiac note.

I have to say that I was hugely impressed with Green and his colleagues who all played immaculately throughout. The colour and variety of the writing was also impressive and Green’s slightly hesitant, but always informative and occasionally amusing, presenting style also helped to endear him to the audience and keep them onside. The crowd were clearly highly impressed by this highly competent, but still comparatively young, band. 

As an event the gig was a triumph for Green and his colleagues who were clearly delighted to play to such an attentive, discerning and appreciative audience. Credit too, to the open mindedness of the Shrewsbury jazz public who responded warmly to two relatively lengthy sets of largely original music. The septet made a lot of new friends this evening and I feel certain that many of them will be returning to the Hive in the future, either with this band or as part of other line ups.

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