Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Tony Woods Project

Tony Woods Project, Jazz Cafe Cardiff 24/09/2009

									<br />

					<div class=

by Ian Mann

September 27, 2009


Colourful, evocative music from one of the most distinctive groups on the UK jazz scene

Tony Woods’ most recent album “Wind Shadows” was recently reviewed on this site and I have to say that it’s one of my favourite albums of the year thus far. Woods’ compositions mix jazz, folk and world elements to create a music that simultaneously enchants and fascinates. His tunes are eminently melodic and accessible but at the same time are full of complex and clever ideas that help to keep listeners on their toes. This is music with a pronounced pictorial quality- Woods often draws on the elements for his inspiration- (hence the title “Wind Shadows”)- and every piece seems to tell a story. These qualities together with an unusual instrumental line up that teams Woods’ various reeds with vibraphone and guitar help to make his music unique. Although sometimes casually dismissed as “folk jazz” (a criticism I don’t buy into) the Tony Woods Project is one of the most distinctive sounding groups on the UK jazz scene.

Woods brought his five piece Project to Cardiff as part of a Jazz Services tour that had seen him play the previous night at Swansea’s Jazzland venue. At Cardiff he was rewarded with a sizeable, knowledgeable, listening crowd and this made for an excellent gig. Joining Woods were album personnel Mike Outram (guitar) and Milo Fell (drums) with vibraphonist Martin Pine and bassist Dave Mannington replacing Rob Millett and Andy Hamill respectively.

The band drew on material covering their three releases “High Seas” (FMR, 1997), Lowlands (Basho, 2004) and the current “Wind Shadows (33 Records, 2009). Woods obviously views these albums as a body of work and was keen to present something taking in his whole repertoire rather than just concentrating on promoting the most recent album. Thus jazz combined with elements of folk, world music and even rock over two sets of fascinating music exploring the whole gamut of Woods’ work.

The Project began by seguing the title tracks of “Lowlands” and High Seas” into one heady melange. Several tracks on the “Lowlands” album are rooted in traditional British folk music including the sea shanty “Lowlands” itself. Here Woods stated the melody on alto sax as Fell’s shakers, Mannington’s arco bass and Pine’s vibes combined to approximate the sound of the sea.
In High Seas Outram’s guitar took off soaring stratospherically before coalescing with Woods’ alto as the piece built to a climax.

“The North Wind Doth Blow” from “Wind Shadows” is Woods’ adaptation of another folk source, in this instance a children’s song. His treatment is highly unusual, the piece opens with Woods playing the Chinese hulusi flute, the instrument a gift from regular bassist Andy Hamill. It’s an instrument I’ve never seen deployed before and it’s probably worth taking a little time to describe it here.

The hulusi is a free reed pipe made of a gourd (shaped rather like a pear) with three bamboo pipes fixed at the bottom. The central pipe is the main or melody pipe and has seven finger holes, six at the front one at the back. The other two pipes are drone pipes which allow for overtones. The instrument is common throughout South East Asia and there are also African equivalents. In Woods’ hands the instrument sounded beautiful, ethereal and exotic- at times reminiscent of a melodica, at others of small bagpipes. Fell, using soft head sticks, Mannington on arco bass and Pine on shimmering vibes added atmospheric support. Woods subsequently switched to alto before reverting to hulusi at the conclusion of the piece.

“Driftwood”, the opening track on “Wind Shadows” featured Woods on alto clarinet, another rarely seen instrument. This is a shame as it’s a beautiful sounding instrument that combines the warm woodiness of the more common bass clarinet with the flexibility of a saxophone. Woods’ duet with Pine was superb with the reed man demonstrating a real ability to soar on his chosen instrument. Inspired by a short film “Driftwood” is one of Woods’ most cinematic pieces and as the piece grew Outram’s guitar once again took flight.

“The Meeting Place” from “High Seas” is an attempt to illustrate in Woods’ words “maybe a market square where different bands compete with each other, or maybe a big city where different cultures clash and fuse”. In any event it proved to be rich cocktail with an effervescent solo from Pine at the vibes, deploying two mallets rather than the now customary four, but no less dazzling for it. Pine is a theatrical performer also wielding shakers as he played. Eventually he put down the mallets as Woods alto took over entering into a dialogue with Fell’s drums. The effect of this section for sax, drums and percussion was powerful, almost shamanic. Outram eventually joined the proceedings and a series of breakneck unison runs for saxophone and guitar took us into the break.
The band had built up an amazing head of steam on this number and thoroughly deserved a breather.

The second half commenced with Woods deploying yet another instrument in his arsenal, the wood flute. It’s wispy tones introduced “Bitter Sweet” from “Wind Shadows”. As the piece grew in momentum he switched to alto but the instrumental honours were taken here by the excellent Mannington with a lyrical and dexterous bass solo and Fell with a more dynamic drum feature. As the title of the piece suggests “Bitter Sweet” is a piece that embraces several changes of mood and pace. Like so much of Wood’s writing it tells a story and transports the listener.

The title track of “Wind Shadows” is another example of this process. It began with Woods’ feathery soprano shadowed by Pine’s vibes chording. Bassist Mannington then took over with a liquid but resonant solo. The entry of Outram marked a shift in gear, the guitarist’s trademark soaraway solo supported by Fell’s powerful rock based drumming.

Also from “Wind Shadows” “Air” is inspired by the great Eric Dolphy. This began with an astonishing passage of unaccompanied soprano sax from Woods, all that circular breathing made me feel tired just watching it. The main melody when it kicks in is catchy and infectious but the spirit of Dolphy is captured in the free jazz interludes that punctuate the piece. Others to shine here were Loop Collective bassist Mannington with his nimble solo above Fell’s implacable drum groove and vibist Pine with an extrovert solo that saw him deploying both ends of the mallets.   

Finally came the magnum opus “Prayer” from the album “Lowlands”. Opening with a beautiful folk jazz melody sketched by Woods on alto the song mutated through powerful alto and guitar solos before finishing serenely with restatement of the theme in an almost hymnal coda. Yet again we had been taken on a musical odyssey but this was to be the last one of the evening. Sadly the band had a more prosaic journey to make-back up the M4 to London.

It had been a superb evening’s music with all five members of the group making distinctive contributions. One thing that surprised me was how “full on” the band had been. On record the music comes across as almost pastoral but live the group, particularly guitarist Outram can really rock out when the occasion demands it. Contrast, dynamics and colour are all part of Tony Woods’ music and this group demonstrated these qualities in abundance. Fans of Jan Garbarek or Andy Sheppard should find plenty to enjoy in Tony Woods’ work- visit for details of albums and live appearances. Sadly this was the penultimate date of the tour but the Tony Woods Project is due to appear at Jagz Club, Ascot on 11th October see

For details of future jazz events at Café Jazz see


blog comments powered by Disqus