by Ian Mann
January 19, 2015
Ian Mann enjoys an appearance by the young Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet and takes a look at their forthcoming album.
Wildflower Sextet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 17/01/2015.
Wildflower Sextet is a new band led by tenor saxophonist Matt Anderson, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music. The group also includes other former Leeds alumni including pianist Jamil Sheriff, bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner plus London based musicians Laura Jurd (trumpet) and Alex Munk guitar.
For this project Anderson’s chief source of inspiration is the music of the peerless saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter and the sextet’s soon to be released début album consists of four arrangements of Shorter tunes drawn from all stages of his long and illustrious career plus four Anderson originals partly inspired by Shorter’s music - a very equitable fifty-fifty split.
The album will be released in February 2015 on the increasingly influential independent label Jellymould Jazz based in Huddersfield but Anderson already has copies available for sale at gigs. Tonight’s show at Shrewsbury was the first date of an extensive Jazz Services supported tour that lasts well into February and things couldn’t have got off to a better start. Around ninety people braved the winter conditions to come and see a young band that many of them probably hadn’t heard of before. The Shorter link probably helped the swell the attendance but the numbers were higher than anticipated and promoters Shrewsbury Jazz Network pronounced themselves delighted by the turnout. Audience numbers have been extremely encouraging for recent gigs and it’s clear that the Shropshire jazz going public have great faith in SJN and trust them to provide consistently high quality contemporary jazz. Anderson and his colleagues were also very positive with the saxophonist subsequently posting the following comment on Twitter;
Thanks so much @ShrewsburyJazz and @HiveShrewsbury for a great gig last night, really enjoyed coming and playing and meeting you all!
Wildflower’s pianist Jamil Sheriff was unavailable for tonight’s performance and his place was taken by the London based Sam Leak, leader of the quartet Aquarium and more recently of his own Big Band. The versatile Leak did a remarkable job as a “dep”, soloing confidently when required and demonstrating excellent sight reading skills as part of a highly supportive rhythm section, it was hard to believe that this was the first time he had played much of the music.
Two sets of absorbing music began with Anderson’s original “J.G.”, inspired jointly by the writings of J.G. Ballard and the compositional methods of Shorter. An atmospheric intro featuring gently chiming guitar, keyboards and cymbal shimmers led to a theme statement by the twin horns of Anderson and Jurd, this eventually becoming the jumping off point for solos by various members of the group. Anderson went first, playing off mic and initially sounding a little quiet and tentative but he soon hit his stride, growing visibly in confidence and achieving the balance and fluency that he would retain for the rest of the evening. The much lauded Laura Jurd followed on trumpet with a typically mature and accomplished contribution. The only drawback with The Hive is the lack of an in house acoustic piano but Leak still managed to impress with his opening solo on the electric model. The horns coalesced again before the end of the piece, including an absorbing series of exchanges on the outro. A good start.
Anderson is clearly a widely read young man with an eclectic range of extra-musical influences. For example the second original tune was called “Sfumato”, the title referencing a painting technique deployed by Leonardo da Vinci. A bouncy, boppish theme produced more bright and lively horn exchanges before Munk took the first solo, his sound pure toned and fluid. I’ve seen and heard Munk in other contexts and he’s a highly versatile contemporary guitarist who is also capable of incorporating a strong rock element into his sound. Further solos came from Anderson and Jurd and there was also a well constructed solo drum feature from Gardner that made effective use of rumbling toms and bass drum. Finally the twin horns coalesced again, winding things down with a quieter coda.
Wildflower take their name from a Wayne Shorter composition and they turned now to the Shorter oeuvre with “Masqualero”, a tune from the 1967 Miles Davis Quintet album “Sorcerer” on which Shorter played a significant role. The tune also provided the inspiration for the band name of Norwegian bassist and composer Arild Andersen’s mid eighties quintet who recorded three albums for ECM back in the day. Anderson’s impressive arrangement of the piece featured Jurd in Miles Davis mode, leader Anderson on tenor sax and Munk cranking his amp up for a more obviously rock influenced solo.
A segue of Shorter tunes from different eras concluded an excellent opening set. First came “Three Clowns” from the 1976 Weather Report album “Black Market” . Described by Anderson as a “pop ballad” the arrangement featured a wispy band intro followed by Anderson’s solo on feathery and fluttering tenor sax. Leak demonstrated a remarkable degree of lyricism on electric piano as did Vicary on a highly melodic bass solo underpinned by Munk’s sparse guitar chording and the gentle rumble of Gardner’s mallets.
A solo drum passage formed the link into “Mah Jong” from Shorter’s classic Blue Note album “Juju”, first released in 1964. With a more upbeat and uptempo sound and with a strong ensemble focus this was a good way to end the first half. Anderson’s arrangement included a free jazz passage mid tune featuring trumpet, piano and drums, this serving as a reminder of the way Shorter’s music has evolved over the years with the episode serving as a brief illustration of the way the great man plays now with his long running quartet featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. The later use of rock rhythms seemed to allude once more to Shorter’s Weather Report days and the tune played out with some typically spirited horn dialogue between Anderson and Jurd. “Mah Jong” was the only Shorter composition played tonight not to appear on the forthcoming Wildflower album.
The second set followed a similar trajectory to the first as the sextet commenced with a pair of Anderson originals. The freshly written “Fire Dance” doesn’t appear on the album and tonight was its official “world premi?re”. The tune is Anderson’s homage to the Blue Note record label and the group’s performance incorporated all the classic Blue Note virtues, an engaging hook, swinging rhythms, some excellent horn interplay, and absorbing solos by Anderson on tenor and Leak on piano.
The title of “Burning Man” was inspired by the arts festival (and more) that takes place in the Nevada Desert. With its episodic qualities the piece is an album highlight and arguably Anderson’s most distinctive original composition. Opening with piano and guitar arpeggios and with the melody first picked out by Vicary on the bass this was something of a tour de force. Vicary displayed an astonishing dexterity on his subsequent solo and Jurd’s burnished trumpet solo, sometimes with only Leake for company, was another highlight.
Anderson’s “Blues For Wayne”, which opens the sextet’s album, was a much more straight forward affair. Doing “exactly what it says on the tin” this was a blowing vehicle that gave enjoyable soloing opportunities to Anderson, Leak and Jurd plus Gardner with a series of lively drum breaks.
This formed a sharply contrasting segue with Shorter’s abstract ballad “Fall”, originally recorded on the classic 1968 Miles Davis album “Nefertiti”. Sombre and freely structured the piece included mournful horn interchanges and solo cameos from Munk and Leak as Gardner’s mallets circled gently around the edges of the music.
Shorter’s “Lester Left Town”, the composer’s dedication to the then recently departed Lester Young, dates all the way back to his days with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. Anderson’s version seemed to me like a celebration of Shorter, Young and Blakey with its swinging rhythms and lively solos from leak on piano, the bright and fluent Jurd on trumpet and finally Anderson with a triumphant final tenor salvo on this last number of the second set.
SJN’s new MC Sue Watkins wasted no time in calling the sextet back for a well deserved encore, Anderson’s blues “Undertow”, inspired by The Wire TV series and its depictions of the mean streets of Baltimore. There was a genuinely urban feel about Anderson and Jurd’s unison horn lines and Vicary and Gardner’s loping grooves with Munk’s heavily distorted blues inflected guitar solo adding to the air of alienation. Unfortunately it’s another piece that doesn’t appear on the new album.
After the gig the personable Anderson chatted happily with fans and CD sales were brisk. It really was the best possible start to the sextet’s tour. Further dates are shown below. Tonight’s performances sometimes differed significantly from the recorded versions , proof if any were needed that jazz is very much a living music. Anybody who sees the sextet on this tour is sure to want to hear the album which features some excellent playing.
The two Sams, Vicary and Gardner, will be back at The Hive on Saturday February 21st when they form the rhythm section of the Dominic J Marshall Trio. Another Leeds alumnus pianist Marshall is now based in Holland and has made a big impression with his two trio albums “Icaros” and “Spirit Speech”. This is another event that should be well worth seeing. Catch it if you can.
Details at http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk
WILDFLOWER SEXTET TOUR DATES;
St Lawrence Chapel, St. Lawrence Lane, Ashburton, Devon TQ13 7DD
01364 653 603
North Devon Jazz Club,
The Beaver Inn, Irsha Street, Bideford EX39 1RY
07968 276 443
Leeds College of Music Recital Room,
3 Quarry Hill, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 7PD
0113 222 3400
Jazz At The Lescar,
The Lescar, Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZF
0774 020 1939
Glyde House, Glydegate, Little Horton Road, Bradford BD5 0DQ
01274 271 114
Cafe Bar, Zeffirelli’s,
Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 9AD
01539 433 845
Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho
10 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 3RW
020 7437 9595
St. Ives Jazz Club,
Western Hotel, Royal Square, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 2ND
01736 796 082
The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Poole, Dorset BH15 1NE
01202 682 247
The Bebop Club,
The Bear, Hotwell Road, Bristol BS8 4SF
01179 669 344
Northants Contemporary Jazz Ltd.,
Studio @ The Castle Theatre, Castle Way, Wellingborough NA8 1AX
01933 229 022
The Red Lion, 95 Warstone Lane, Birmingham B18 6NG
07887 526 435
From Matt Anderson via email;
I just wanted to say thanks a lot for the review of the gig/album - I just spotted it on the blog! Once again a really thorough and in-depth review and I’m really glad you enjoyed it.
Hope to see you again soon and all the best,
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