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Tom Green Septet

Tipping Point

by Ian Mann

April 19, 2020


Green continues to mature as a composer and arranger and there is some exceptional writing on this record. This aspect of the music is enhanced by some excellent playing from all involved.

Tom Green Septet

“Tipping Point”

(Spark! Records SPARK 008)

Tom Green – trombone, Tommy Andrews – alto & soprano saxophones, Sam Miles – tenor saxophone, James Davison – trumpet & flugelhorn, Sam James – piano, Misha Mullov-Abbado – double bass, Scott Chapman – drums

“Tipping Point” is the second album release from this septet led by trombonist and composer Tom Green. It represents a follow up to 2015’s well received début, “Skyline”, also released on the Spark! imprint. The label was established by Green and drummer JJ Wheeler and “Tipping Point” represents its eighth release. My review of “Skyline” can be read here;

Green was born in Cambridge in 1988 and 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.  Meanwhile, Jazzwise Magazine has regularly named him as “one to watch”  and in 2017 he won the Eddie Harvey Arranger’s Award.

As an accomplished section player Green has appeared as a member of a variety of large ensembles, among them the Royal Academy of Music Big Band, the Gareth Lockrane Big Band, the London City Big Band, the Euroradio Jazz Orchestra, the Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra and Troykestra. He has also played and recorded with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO).

A particularly important connection for Green has been his membership of the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a large ensemble comprised mainly of former Royal Academy personnel, including several of the members of his current septet (Miles, Davison, Mullov-Abbado, Chapman). The PJO released an exceptional début album,  the quirkily titled “The Adventures of Me. Pottercakes” in early 2019. review here;  

Green also plays as a sideman in a variety of other settings including the New Orleans style brass band The Brass Funkeys and Mullov-Abbado’s own quintet. Green appears the bassist’s 2015 début “New Ansonia”. Review here;

I have been fortunate enough to witness Green perform live on a number of occasions in a variety of line ups, including the Royal Academy of Music Big Band, the Gareth Lockrane Big Band, Troykestra and Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. In July 2016 he brought a version of his septet to The Hive in Shrewsbury for a memorable live performance that is reviewed here;

“Tipping Point” features just one personnel change from Green’s previous septet release with Tommy Andrews, also a bandleader in his own right, replacing Matthew Herd. The album artwork, by Sam Barley, also represents a clear continuation from the previous recording, but I’ll let you check that out for yourselves.

On the choice of album title Green comments;
“’Tipping Point’ is a phrase that has become more and more common recently to describe global changes, whether the subject matter is climate change, politics or upheavals within society. These compositions celebrate the importance of hope and positive action when addressing individual and global challenges.”

With this in mind Green has decided that 20% of the income generated from album sales will be donated to two different environmental charities. The first of these, Trees For Life, is working towards the re-wilding of the Scottish Highlands by restoring the Caledonian Forest. Meanwhile Cool Earth is working alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation.

The album opens with the title track, the writing of which was directly influenced by the concerns Green outlines above, as he explains;
“It is unsettled, with shifting tonal centres and alto saxophone, trombone and trumpet solos building towards a climax before a quiet, unresolved ending.”
In terms of the structure and narrative of the piece Green has pretty much done my work for me, but what is immediately striking about the music is the size, depth and colour of the ensemble sound. At the time of the release of “Skyline” Green remarked that as a composer he viewed his septet as;  “not so much a scaled up small group as a scaled down big band, 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”.
It was the quality of Green’s writing for these components that attracted such positive critical acclaim for “Skyline” and “Tipping Point” sees him continuing to hone that approach, and displaying an even greater compositional maturity this time round. The near seven minute title track embraces a wide range of colours and textures and a similarly broad dynamic and emotional range, with fluent solos from Andrews, Green and Davison as stated, allied to some excellent playing from the other members of the ensemble, with Chapman delivering a particularly impressive performance behind the kit.

Sam James opens “Champagne Sky” at the piano, and there’s a hint of a sunrise in his lyrical playing, before an almost folk like melody emerges, alongside military style drums. The rich horn voicings then help to give the music a more obvious jazz feel, but that folk lilt remains, combining with the mini big band dynamics to give the music a warm, optimistic feel throughout. The leader again features as a soloist with a highly eloquent trombone excursion. James’ piano represents a thread that runs throughout the piece, and there’s something of a feature for the dynamic Chapman towards the close.

The breadth of colour that Green brings to so much of his writing and arranging makes “Kaleidoscope” an appropriate title. Again the collective bring an impressively warm sound to a richly melodic piece that provides soloing opportunities Miles, briefly and Mullov-Abbado with a more extended outing on melodic, highly dexterous double bass. Green himself is heard on warmly rounded trombone, his solo gathering power and momentum thanks to the prompting of Chapman at the drums, the latter again featuring strongly in the tune’s closing stages.

“Between Now And Ever” slows things down and represents the album’s first true ballad. Chapman switches to brushes as James’ lyrical piano comes to the fore in the opening passages, with the ensemble temporarily in piano trio mode. Davison’s velvety flugel then takes over, before another trio passage featuring James’ expressive pianism. The horns subsequently provide muted colour and texture but this piece is very much a feature for James, even allowing for an unaccompanied horn chorale, led by Davison.

The lengthy “Seatoller” was inspired by a late night drive in the Lake District and is a suitably episodic piece, some eleven and a half minutes in duration. There’s a strong sense of narrative about the music as the piece passes through several distinct episodes, embracing a rich series of colours, textures and dynamics along the way. The journey encompasses another horn chorale, as well as more turbulent passages featuring the full ensemble. Individual soloists include James with a percussive piano feature, but essentially the ensemble functions as an empathic, multi-limbed entity.

The only non-original piece on the album is Green’s attractive arrangement of the Joni Mitchell song “My Old Man”, from her classic “Blue” album, with its features for Miles on tenor and Davison on flugel.

A talented multi-instrumentalist Green also plays piano and is an accomplished folk fiddler. That folk influence comes into play with “Jack O’ Lantern”, introduced by Chapman at the drums. His simulation of the sounds of the bodhran leads to folk like melodies played on jazz horns with Andrews featured on soprano. The heady blend of folk inspired melody and jazz harmony makes for a complex, but satisfying mix with Davison and Andrews featuring prominently in the arrangement. James and Mullov-Abbado subsequently enjoy a spirited exchange of ideas, underscored by the chatter of Chapman’s drums.

The album ends on a reflective note with “Chorale”, an ensemble piece featuring the rich timbres of the horns above the gently rolling backdrop of the rhythm section, with Chapman’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers a particularly distinctive component. The leader’s vaguely melancholic trombone comes briefly to the fore, as does James on piano during a fleeting trio passage. At times there’s an almost hymnal quality to the music, befitting, perhaps, of the title.

“Tipping Point” is a worthy successor to “Skyline” and builds upon the promise of the earlier album. Green continues to mature as a composer and arranger and there is some exceptional writing on this record. This aspect of the music is enhanced by some excellent playing from all of the musicians involved. The ensemble is well served by the engineering team of John Prestage (also Green’s co-producer), Alex Ferguson and Donal Whelan, who combine to bring out the full richness and colour of the writing and playing.

All in all the album represents a triumph for Green, the only shame being that the septet will not be able to go out on tour in support of the album as planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All gigs are currently on hold for Green, but hopefully some of those scheduled for later in the year will still be able to take place, with earlier ones possibly re-arranged, including the proposed album launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on April 21st 2020.

In the meantime both “Tipping Point” and “Skyline”, plus other items from Green’s discography are available via his website

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