by Ian Mann
February 16, 2016
Ian Mann enjoys a first visit to Birmingham Jazz at their new HQ for the music of guitarist Vitor Pereira's quintet. He also takes a look at the group's recently released album "New World".
Vitor Pereira Quintet, Birmingham Jazz, The Red Lion UAB, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, 12/02/2016.
Originally from Porto, Portugal and initially classically trained the guitarist and composer Vitor Pereira (born 1979) moved to London in 2004 to study on the Jazz Course at Middlesex University. He has remained in the UK ever since and has firmly established himself on the British jazz scene releasing two albums as a leader on the F-ire Presents label, “Doors” (2012) and the recently issued “New World” (2016).
Both albums feature Pereira’s compositions exclusively and both have the same instrumental configuration with the leader’s guitar joined by alto sax, tenor sax, double bass and drums. Led Bib’s Chris Williams (alto sax), who was a fellow student at Middlesex, appears on both albums with James Allsopp (tenor), Ryan Trebilcock (double bass) and Eddie Hick (drums) completing the line up on “Doors”. I remember being forwarded a copy of this and playing it and enjoying it yet somehow managing to let it slip through the reviewing net. My apologies for that, Vitor.
“Doors” made enough of an impression for me to seek out “New World” which sees George Crowley (tenor), Andrea Di Biase ( double bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) joining Pereira and Williams. Once again the album is highly impressive and contains a strong rock element alongside the more obvious influences of jazz and Portugese traditional music.
As a guitarist and composer Pereira has studied with such luminaries as fellow guitarists Pat Metheny, Gilad Hekselman and Jonathan Kreisberg plus pianist Aaron Goldberg. Other UK collaborators have included saxophonists Josh Arcoleo and Binker Golding plus drummer Asaf Sirkis.
I’m grateful to Vitor for arranging for my wife and I to be put on the guest list for tonight’s performance promoted by Birmingham Jazz. Although I’ve attended many shows at different venues across Birmingham over the years this was my first at the Red Lion. This characterful multi roomed Victorian pub in the city’s Jewellery Quarter is the HQ of Birmingham Jazz and hosts regular events in the comfortable upstairs function room, an intimate space with good acoustics that is pretty much perfect for jazz.
The fact that the Red Lion is a CAMRA Good Beer Guide pub represented a real bonus for me (especially as the wife was driving) and I availed myself of a pint from Black Country favourites Bathams plus beers from as far afield as North Wales and Buckinghamshire. The Lion operates an adventurous and rapidly changing guest beer policy – it isn’t cheap, as the rather pretentious UAB suffix to the pub’s name suggests (it stands for ‘Urban Art Bar’), but it is quality. The food looked good too with several of the gig goers enjoying a meal before the music got under way.
I was impressed with both the venue and the warmth of the welcome I received from Birmingham jazz, thanks guys. It was now up to Vitor and his band to deliver, which of course they did. The line up was different to that on the new album with Pereira and Williams joined by Ryan Trebilcock from the “Doors” album on bass plus Alam Nathoo on tenor sax with Canadian born drummer Adam Teixeira making it a truly international line up.
A number of the pieces on “New World” are inspired by the global political climate, they are, effectively, protest songs without words and the intensity of the quintet’s playing tonight often reflected this. There was an urgency about the music and an agreeably abrasive edge but the quality of Pereira’s writing allied to the high standard of musicianship helped to keep the audience onside. This was a listening crowd, but perhaps one generally used to something a little more mainstream.
The programme was drawn entirely from the “New World” album and the quintet commenced with “Empire of Lies”, the title referring to the double standards routinely applied by the United States with regards to matters relating to democracy and human rights. The dovetailing saxes and Pereira’s hard edged guitar sound left one in no doubt as to the sentiments behind the title. The leader’s guitar was effective as both a rhythmic component and as a solo instrument as Pereira shared the spotlight with Nathoo’s tenor as both delivered expansive, hard hitting solos.
The following “Bohm’s Hologram” was inspired by the altogether more esoteric subject of quantum physics. The piece began with the sound of Williams’ alto, this subsequently intertwining with Nathoo’s tenor in a beguiling display of saxophonic counterpoint accompanied by the chatter of Texeira’s sticks on rims. Williams was the featured soloist here, initially quiet and thoughtful but becoming increasingly forceful and unfettered as he expertly developed his solo. No less pleasing were the vibrant, lucid exchanges between Pereira’s guitar and Nathoo’s tenor sax.
“Simple Disguise” featured Nathoo as the main soloist, initially with just Trebilcock’s double bass for company but growing in intensity with the addition of guitar and drums. Nathoo subsequently locked horns with Williams’ alto before the piece embraced a quieter episode with an atmospheric passage of solo guitar from the leader.
The first half concluded with “Age of Austerity”, another politically informed piece and the composition that opens the album. This was introduced by an extended solo drum passage from the excellent Texeira, a highly accomplished musician who divides his time between Toronto, Paris and London. Eventually Texeira settled on the martial rhythm that drives the tune, this in turn fuelling a blistering alto solo from Williams who brought something of the nascent power of his other band, Led Bib, to the music. Meanwhile Pereira’s guitar solo cleverly combined the subtlety and sophistication of jazz chording with a harsh, metallic rock edge that again helped to express the anger behind the composition.
Set two began with the title track from the “New World” album, an expression of hope for a new world order in the wake of the current failing socio-economic system. This tight, riffy, hooky tune incorporated some typically sharp and focussed ensemble playing plus another powerful solo from Williams.
The tune “Miranda” was written for the town of Miranda in the Douro Valley of Portugal and is informed by the folk music of that area, music that has many similarities with the Celtic folk musics of Ireland and Scotland. Introduced by just guitar and bass plus the patter of Texeira’s hand drumming the piece featured swirling folk inspired sax melodies before shading off into more orthodox jazz territory for the solos. Trebilcock went first on double bass, his playing shadowed by Pereira’s Bill Frisell like guitar and the patter of Texeira’s hand drumming, later upgraded to sticks on rims. Tonight was something of a homecoming gig for Trebilcock who graduated from the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire before moving on to become a professional musician in London. Subsequent solos came from Williams on alto and Pereira on guitar as the music retained its ‘Celtic tinge’ to the end.
“Gangsters Undercover” was written “with the political class in mind” and was the last of the pieces to be inspired by world events. Introduced by a quiet but eloquent twin sax discourse the piece quickly gained passion and momentum with Pereira expressing his displeasure with our leaders through a guitar solo that was urgent, metallic, angry and abrasive. This was followed by a towering tenor solo from Nathoo, his most powerful, and arguably his best, of the night.
The performance concluded appropriately enough with the album’s closing track “Surfing Mini Waves”, a title actually inspired by the sport, rather than by science or politics. With the group on the crest of a wave by now the solos came from Pereira and Nathoo, the latter throwing flamingo style shapes during his lengthy tenor excursion.
The deserved encore was “Under The Pillow”, the only ballad on the new album, and a piece that finally demonstrated the gentler side of the band and their music. Pereira adopted a more languorous guitar sound as Texeira made a rare switch to brushes. Williams stated the theme on alto before passing on the torch to Nathoo and finally Trebilcock.
Pereira and the quintet had played the whole of the new album, albeit in a different running order, and it’s a recording that is highly recommended. Pereira’s writing is sophisticated and often complex yet always melodic and accessible. The personnel that he chooses to perform his music is highly skilled and the playing both on the album and tonight here in Birmingham was of the highest standard.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Birmingham Jazz at their new HQ and having discovered the Red Lion it should only be a matter of time before I return. Details of the forthcoming programme can be found at http://www.birminghamjazz.co.uk
My thanks to Birmingham Jazz for making me so welcome and to Vitor, Chris and Alam for chatting with me before and after the show. Chris Williams’ enthusiasm for the music never fails to amaze and inspire me.
In the meantime I’d urge you to check out “New World”, an album whose appeal grows greater with each subsequent listen.
The Vitor Pereira Quintet will be playing at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London on Wednesday 2nd March 2016.