by Ian Mann
June 02, 2017
An album that deserves to establish Syson firmly on the UK jazz map. It’s a bold and thoroughly convincing début.
Tom Syson Sextet
(Self released – TSYSCD01)
The young Bedford born trumpeter and composer Tom Syson is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and still has strong ties with the “Second City”.
Syson, who qualified in 2015, has now returned to his native Bedford where he co-ordinates the Conscia Jazz club programme and the associated Festival, which is due to take place in September 2017.
As well as leading his own groups Syson has played with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO), the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and is currently lead trumpet in the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra. He has also worked with pianist Hans Koller, bassist Arnie Somogyi, saxophonist Alex Garnett and vocalist Jacqui Dankworth.
Syson has toured the UK with this sextet and also as part of a duo with pianist and composer Mark Pringle, the latter now resident in Berlin but also a Birmingham alumnus.
Syson’s sextet is largely comprised of Birmingham based musicians and includes tenor saxophonist Vittorio Mura, guitarist Ben Lee, pianist David Ferris and drummer Jonathan Silk, all graduates of the Conservatoire. The group is completed by bassist Pete Hutchison who studied at the Guildhall School of Music in London. The voice of Lauren Kinsella, another musician with close Birmingham links, graces one track.
Syson names the trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire as a seminal influence on his music after witnessing the American musician perform at Ronnie Scott’s. Meanwhile the album title, “Green”, reflects Syson’s determination to pursue a successful and viable jazz career from a location outside the usual London hub. The record may be self released but it was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios near Bath with Syson’s former tutor, Percy Pursglove, himself a highly accomplished trumpeter (and bassist), in the producer’s chair.
The material to be found on “Green” consists of ten original compositions from Syson, all of them with a very contemporary feel. Syson is a forward looking musician and composer who resists the temptation to hark back to former jazz virtues. There are no tired retreads of old bebop licks here.
Syson introduces himself with a stentorian trumpet blast over the rolling thunder of Silk’s drums. But there’s more to his playing than this. The opening “Constant” embraces extreme dramatic contrasts with Syson’s unaccompanied trumpet becoming almost a whisper at times. It’s a short but episodic piece that squeezes a lot of incident into its brief duration.
“Constant” acts as a kind of overture for the following “Bamberg” with Ferris’ solo piano acting as the bridge between the two pieces. “Bamberg” is more formally structured and combines a strong melodic and lyric sense with inventive and imaginative soloing. Ferris features first with an expansive pianistic exploration and he’s followed by the fluent dynamism of the leader’s trumpeting. The piece closes with a melodic cameo from Hutchison and it’s also the bassist who introduces the following “Wary Warrior”, a brief atmospheric duet between double bass and trumpet. In fact the album is structured almost like a suite with the compositions sometimes almost running into one another. One suspects that Syson has considered the running order and the overall structure of the album very carefully.
“Far From Boundaries New” builds from minimal piano and shimmering guitar atmospherics to embrace moments of almost epic grandeur. But there are more reflective episodes too, including Mura’s tenor sax ruminations, as Syson continues to explore a variety of moods and dynamics with some genuinely inventive and adventurous writing. The trumpeter’s own solo soars fluently above the rich panoply of sounds generated by his bandmates with Lee’s guitar FX an integral part of the arrangement.
The title track commences with the ripple of Ferris’ piano introducing us to an oasis of calm. His gently lyrical playing is joined by the slurred whisper of Syson’s trumpet and subsequently by the shimmer of Silk’s cymbals. The mood of the piece changes as the track progresses and other band members become involved. The sound becomes more angry and less structured, an instrumental squall suggesting a disturbance in paradise. Eventually the storm subsides and the piece resolves itself with the lonely cry of Syson’s solo trumpet.
“Leroy’s Tiger” features the sound of Silk’s drums chattering and clattering around Syson’s forceful trumpet lines in a brief but highly animated duet.
Singer Lauren Kinsella guests on the song “Raindrops” deploying her adventurous wordless vocal techniques as well as expertly delivering Syson’s highly personal lyrics.
“Farewell To Paradise” is one of the album’s lengthier items, a richly textured composition featuring the whole sextet and possessing a strong narrative arc. Mura, Syson’s long term associate, impresses with his robust tenor explorations while Ferris also stretches out imaginatively at the piano with Lee and Silk also fulfilling key roles in the arrangement.
The lovely “Bluebells” has a suitably bucolic feel and features the melodic bass soloing of Hutchison and the soaring, fluent guitar inventions of Lee. The warmth of Syson’s own playing is also integral to the success of the performance.
Syson’s unaccompanied trumpet gymnastics introduce the concluding “POW”, a hard driving fusion styled piece featuring Ferris on Fender Rhodes. There’s a powerful solo from Mura on tenor and some highly imaginative and inventive rock influenced guitar pyrotechnics from the consistently impressive Lee.
“Green” represents a remarkably mature début artistic statement from Tom Syson. As a trumpeter he has technique to burn and as a composer he’s already strikingly original. Yes, there’s something of a debt to Akinmusire, Miles Davis and maybe other contemporary trumpeters such as Dave Douglas and Christian Scott but Syson already has plenty to say on his own account.
This is a particularly well crafted album and the playing from all the members of the ensemble is exceptional throughout. As a Midlands resident I’ve been lucky enough to see Lee, Ferris and Silk performing live in other jazz contexts, they are all players that I admire and are musicians with huge potential, a statement that could be applied to all the contributors to this record.
Most of the musicians on “Green” will have been tutored at some point by producer Pursglove and the album is a tribute to the quality and success of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire.
“Green” is an album that deserves to establish Syson firmly on the UK jazz map, wherever his chosen place of residence may be. It’s a bold and thoroughly convincing début.
The Tom Syson Sextet is touring the UK once more in June, July and August 2017. The scheduled performances are detailed below;
Friday 9 June
Bedford - Quarry Theatre, 26 St Peter’s Street MK40 2NN * Album Launch *
Tickets: £10 (£8) http://www.quarrytheatre.org.uk/shows/tom-syson-sextet-album-launch/
Friday 23 June
Glasgow Jazz Festival - Dukes Bar, 41 Old Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G3, 8RB
Tickets: £10 (£7) http://www.dukes-bar.co.uk
Monday 26 June
Manchester - Wonder Inn, 29 Shudehill, United Kingdom M4 2AF
Tickets: Free https://www.facebook.com/jazzatthewonderinn/
Friday 30 June
Birmingham - Symphony Hall Foyer, The International Convention Centre, Broad St, B1 2EA Tickets: Free https://www.thsh.co.uk
Sunday 2 July
London - Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden NW1 7AN
Tickets: £8(£5) https://www.facebook.com/groups/greennotejazz/
Sunday 23 July
Southampton Modern Jazz Club - The Talking Heads 16-22 The Polygon SO15 2BN
Tickets: Free http://www.southamptonmodernjazzclub.com
Tuesday 25 July
Birmingham - Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth B12 0NH
Tickets: Donation http://jazzatthespotteddog.co.uk
Weds 26 July
Leeds - LS6 café bar, 16 Headingly Lane LS6 2AS
Tickets: Free http://www.ls6cafe.com/upstairs.php
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Sunday 6 August
Manchester Jazz Festival - Salon Perdu Spiegeltent, Albert Square M60 2LA
Tickets £8.50 Adv/£10 door http://www.manchesterjazz.com/artist/tom-syson-sextet/