Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Chris Montague

Warmer Than Blood, Livestream presented by Jazz Steps from Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham, 12/03/2021.

by Ian Mann

March 16, 2021


An enjoyable and highly rewarding performance from this consistently intriguing trio that revealed just how much they have developed over the course of the last few months.

Warmer Than Blood, Livestream presented by Jazz Steps from Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham, 12/03/2021.

Chris Montague – electric guitar, Kit Downes – grand piano, Ruth Goller – electric bass

This latest livestream production from the Nottinghamshire based organisation Jazz Steps featured the trio Warmer Than Blood, led by guitarist and composer Chris Montague.

I’m grateful to Carl Billson, the Jazz Steps Chair, for inviting me to cover this event, which once again came from the Peggy’s Skylight venue in Nottingham.

Something of the history of Jazz Steps and of the Peggy’s Skylight venue was included in my review of the performance by the Dave Storey Trio on 5th February 2021, which can be viewed here;

“Warmer Than Blood” was the title of Montague’s first album under his own name, released on Whirlwind Recordings in 2020. Review here;

Recorded with the husband and wife team of Downes and Goller the album title has now taken on the status of a band name. The trio were due to tour the album in the summer of 2020, but like everybody else their plans were thwarted by the Covid pandemic.

Among the venues that Warmer Than Blood were scheduled to play was Peggy’s Skylight, a gig promoted by Jazz Steps. Tonight’s livestream was arranged as a form of compensation for this cancellation and Montague expressed his thanks to Ian Perry of Jazz Steps and to the Peggy’s Skylight venue itself.

I was a little wary about reviewing this performance as I had already covered a livestream performance by Warmer Than Blood organised by the Sheffield based promoters Jazz At The Lescar, in conjunction with Listen, Cambridge, back in September 2020. Review here;

Having reviewed the album as well I was concerned as to whether I would be able to find anything fresh to say about the band. I needn’t have worried, with jazz being the fast moving, highly creative medium that it is the band had plenty of new things to say on their account.

In the six months or so since the Sheffield / Cambridge livestream Warmer Than Blood have developed their sound dramatically. The début recording featured Montague’s compositions exclusively but Downes and Goller are now bringing their own pieces to the WTB repertoire.
Isolation has clearly fired the creative impulses of these highly imaginative musicians and tonight’s performance included a number of previously unheard compositions, many of them written only very recently.

The previous livestream featured performances recorded at the homes of the musicians, including a number of solo guitar pieces filmed in Montague’s home studio. The Nottingham show was effectively a full on live gig, albeit without an audience, which allowed for greater group interaction and also allowed the trio to deploy their full range of electronic wizardry. Both Montague and Goller utilised a range of pedal generated FX, the sounds of the electric instruments contrasting well with that of the acoustic grand piano, even after making allowances for Downes’ occasional use of prepared piano techniques.

The performance began with album opener “Irish Handcuffs”, the title a jocular reference to Irish hospitality and the presence of “a Guinness in one hand and a whiskey in the other”.  The piece was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar that incorporated the use of a range of effects, these enabling Montague to loop and layer the music. In time he was joined by the sounds of piano and high register electric bass as the trio began to weave a compelling lattice of interlocking rhythms and melody lines. Downes and Goller continued to make subtle use of distortion and other electronic effects, while Downes introduced a percussive element through his use of prepared piano techniques.

As alluded to previously new material was to be a feature of this performance. “Spring Tide”, a new tune from Montague, had been written only a week before tonight’s livestream. The piece commenced with an extended guitar and bass duet. The addition of piano then saw Montague varying his sound, making use of the tremolo arm to achieve an almost ‘Hawaiian’ sound. Things then took something a darker turn as the sound of Goller’s fuzz bass was teamed with Montague’s Frisell like twang. Downes then took over at the piano as the piece played out, soloing above the sounds of guitar and fuzz bass.

A second new tune from the guitarist was still untitled and saw bass, guitar and piano intertwining, their interlocking lines buttressed by an underlying electronic drone. Downes then introduced a note of lyricism, his piano feature arguably the closest we were come to a conventional jazz solo, as the sounds of both his keyboard and then Montague’s guitar were thrown into sharper focus.

“Warmer Than Blood” itself followed, introduced by the gentle haranguing of guitar and electric bass arpeggios as Downes again provided melody and lyricism from the piano. Montague’s own solo featured a liquid melodicism before the piece played out as it began, with the delicate timbres of guitar and electric bass.

Working in a drummer-less group creates its own challenges as Montague has explained;
 “Writing for a band without drums made us work much harder to create dynamics and shape within each piece. This brought out a whole new dimension in the compositions.”

Warmer Than Blood may be a ‘chamber jazz’ trio but their music is never bland and could hardly be dismissed as ‘easy listening’. Perhaps Carl Billson’s observation on the interactive comments feed summed it up best - “challengingly mellow”. I got exactly what he meant.

“FTM” is a tune that Montague dedicates to his young son Finlay  “a beautiful ballad that morphs into a kind of horror show!” Introduced here by bass and guitar the piece made use of both electronics and prepared piano effects, the initial minimalist approach later leading to a series of spiky instrumental exchanges between piano and guitar and later between guitar and bass, these distinguished by a kind of feverish intricacy.

A new tune from Downes followed, “Webb’s Steps”, a piece dedicated to the saxophonist Joe Webb. Written only two days before tonight’s performance the piece began in highly melodic, gently whimsical fashion and included nimble solos from both Montague and Downes. The music then became darker in tone as Montague began to crank up his range of guitar effects, while the ‘steps’ of the title, as embodied by Downes’ piano motifs, became more and more frantic, moving from a fast walk into a run and then into a panicked gallop, before finally staggering, exhausted towards the finish.

Goller’s contribution with the pen was “M7”, a composition that Downes recorded as a solo church organ performance on his ECM album “Dreamlife of Debris”. Originally written for detuned electric bass and multi-tracked voice as part of Goller’s Skylla project the piece sounded different again here with Goller and Montague making effective use of feedback on the intro before each delivering solo episodes. The music then coalesced around Goller’s bass motif, with Montague adding a further guitar solo as Downes again provided prepared piano percussive effects.

Montague, Downes and Goller all live in the Chesham area, a fact referenced by the album track “C Squad”, sadly not performed this evening. However the C Squad, in collaboration with musical friends such as vocalist Nell Greco, violinist Thea Spiers and guitarist Pedro Velasco, have been performing regular livestream gigs from their homes under the banner This Is Our Music – Chesham.  These can be accessed via their Facebook page.

Warmer Than Blood’s performance for Jazz Steps concluded with a segue of the tunes “Moira” and “Rendered”, the last two tracks on the album. The former was performed by Montague as a gentle solo guitar piece before the distinctive introductory motif of “Rendered” saw the eventual addition of bass and drums. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, but sounding absolutely nothing like him, this performance featured the gentle melodic exchanges of Montague and Downes as the evening ended on a softly elegiac note.

Recorded in an authentic club environment and featuring a wealth of new material this was very different from the previous livestream and revealed just how much the trio have developed over the course of the last few months.

The sound quality was good and a number of different camera angles were deployed, although it would have been good to have seen a few more close ups highlighting playing techniques and the deployment of the various FX.

Nevertheless, minor quibbles aside, this was an enjoyable and highly rewarding performance from this consistently intriguing trio. Well done to the musicians and to everybody else involved with this production.

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