…for want of a better name…

I’ve got a brand new octet, and we’re gonna play music in public for the very first time next week!

Put together for LUME’s LUMElab series, the band I’ve got is amazing, look!

Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan – trumpet
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Rachel Musson – tenor sax
Tullis Rennie – trombone
Cath Roberts – baritone sax
Andrew Lisle – drums
Tim Fairhall – double bass
and me – guitar

I wrote about the process of writing (ooh, meta) on the LUME site. Click here to read about it.

And then click on my manic face to buy tickets:

Buy things on Bandcamp today

Bandcamp have announced that today they will be donating 100% of their share of any sales to the American Civil Liberties Union in solidarity with their work. I’ve been a big fan of Bandcamp for a while, and I thought I’d point you towards a few releases I’ve been enjoying.

I hadn’t heard of Ava Mendoza until recently, and it turns out she’s great. Something about her playing tickles the bit of my brain that also loves Nels Cline. This EP of miniatures (also available on 7″ vinyl) with a French drummer and bassist is a great introduction, also check out her Unnatural Ways group for a more proggy sound, and some songs too.

I bought this octet record on the strength of the Quietus review, combined with it featuring Ingrid Laubrock on tenor sax. Susan Alcorn is a revelation on pedal steel guitar, I wasn’t previously aware of her, but that texture in amongst some great writing and improvising is very welcome, and never lapses into cliche.

DBH is a bit of a local legend around Manchester, and can be found in all sorts of contexts on any number of different instruments. This is a largely solo guitar record full of strong melodies and fleshed out with simple effective arrangements. Independent Manchester label too, sums up the great thing about Bandcamp, direct support for music that needs it.

A trio from Widnes whose live shows at Islington Mill in Salford fried my brain a bit last year (and triggered an obsession with almost, but not quite, buying baritone guitars). Amazing guitar sounds, nice melodies. Needs to be turned up loud.

A phenomenal album of mostly wildlife recordings. This track is the sound of nine vultures feeding on a zebra carcass. Recorded from inside the carcass on Itong Plains, Kenya. Sept. 1994. One day I want to transcribe this to play on guitar…

Anyone can see what I’ve bought through Bandcamp by looking at my collection, or you could head to my artist page to see what records I’ve been on that you could buy should you wish.

But yeah, buy something today (Friday 3rd) and help a good cause and some great musicians.

New Voice! Some gigs!

Hello, I am a New Voice. For the next 12 months, Sound And Music have taken me (and whole host of musicians and composers from a wide range of backgrounds) under their wing. It’s nice to be in such good company and, if the first residency in Cornwall was anything to go on, I’m really looking forward to working with Sound and Music for the year. Myself and Cath Roberts (Ripsaw Catfish) have got a small amount of funding from them to do a series of gigs in the Autumn too, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

On that note, I’ve just updated my gigs page with some upcoming things in the next few months. I’m pretty excited about my first visits to The Vortex and Brecon Jazz Festival, as well as, well, all of them really. A couple more to be announced in the coming weeks too.

Here’s a picture of my face that Jon Tipler took recently. I definitely felt happier than I look here.

Wooda Weekend

I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Cornwall at the stunning Wooda Farm. It was the first of two weekends organised by Sound And Music under their Portfolio banner, and I’m pleased to report I had a great time with Seth Bennett (bass), Shaun Blezard (electronics), Julie Kjaer (alto sax & flute), Shelly Knotts (electronics) and Rachel Musson (tenor sax).

The weekend was spent improvising in different combinations (from solo to septet), listening to records, discussing all aspects of playing, all under the direction of Steve Beresford, who’s knowledge of improvised music, it’s creators and archivists seems to be second to none. Thanks no doubt to our hosts Max and Gary, the whole weekend seemed simultaneously very relaxing and very productive. Having space and time to explore this music is a real blessing, and I’m looking forward to our return visit in June already, not least because hopefully it won’t quite so stormy and I can play more outdoors.

Here’s a gif of us (click on it if it’s not moving).

And a picture of some ducks.

Exciting things in 2014

So I’ve got some things to talk about already this year, if you’ll indulge me for a minute or two.

First up, I’m pleased to be able to announce that I have been commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival to write a new work entitled “Article 11″ for a brand new 11-piece band, to be premiered at this year’s festival in July under the MJF Originals scheme. More details will follow, but safe to say there’s going to be plenty of improvising involved from the word go. And I’ve got a great band, more info on everything in the coming weeks.

Next, I’m off to Cornwall next week for the first weekend retreat with Steve Beresford under the Sound And Music’s Portfolio scheme. Together with 5 other musicians, we’re all decamping to Wooda farm to improvise and talk about improvising. There will be a performance or two in June, so keep your eyes peeled for that too.

And last but not least, I’ve got a brand new band again! Ripsaw Catfish is a duo with the excellent London-based saxophonist Cath Roberts. If you don’t know her Quadraceratops band, you need to hear them now, although our duo sound nothing like that. We’re a bit noisy, quite improv-y and occasionally plays things together that we’ve written. But don’t take my terribly-written description as the be-all and end-all, come and see us at one of these gigs…

Tuesday Feb 11th – Fizzle @ The Lamp Tavern, Birmingham (with Bruce Coates & Trevor Lines)
Wednesday March 26th – Freedom Principle (with Trio Riot), somewhere in Manchester
Thursday March 27th – Lume, London (with Steve Beresford & Julie Kjear)
Sunday April 6th – One Note Sunday, Derby

That’s all for now, hope you’re well, and I’ll let you know when there’s more to tell about anything.

Some people have said nice things about me.

It’s true, they’ve even written it on their blogs!

First up, my trio album (available now from all good records shops that are called Bandcamp) got a nice mention on Stephen Graham’s Marlbank website, including such phrases as “a fascinatingly alert trio” and “eery stillness”.  But I won’t ruin the ending for you, you can read the whole thing here.

And then, Paul Jones reviewed our latest Freedom Principle gig on Thursday.  Featuring the incredible quartet Bagpipes For Pluto from Denmark/Italy/Norway/Finland as well as a improv solo from me (I stop short of saying “set” there as a look at Paul’s recording suggested I only playing for little over 8 minutes).  There’s a full write-up with recordings over here, and I do urge you to check out Bagpipes For Pluto, their set was really really good.

Here endeth the self-congratulatory blog post.

New Duet Release

This is the start of my new improvised Duets series. Intended to be a document of meetings between myself and a whole host of cool musicians, it’s going to be a mixture of brand-new collaborations and some of my favourite musicians I’ve already worked with.



Instalment one features Inge Weatherhead Breistein on tenor sax, recorded on his zoom recorder in Stavanger, Norway after we met on the Arena project I mentioned here and here.  We’re hoping to tour together at some point in the future, so if you choose to donate for this download you’ll be buying us a beer on the road.

Here’s a terrible photo of us…

Links page added

In a sickening display of brown-nosing, I’ve added a page of people and things that inspire me.  It’s up there ^ with the name “Inspiration” and I’ll keep adding to it as and when it feels appropriate.

Stavanger Part 2 – Per Zanussi

Not long now until the culmination of our time here, the gig on the opening night of Mai Jazz festival, playing Per Zanussi’s music.  We started playing the charts on Thursday, and they’re really good! For those of you unfamiliar with Per (as I was), have a listen to his ‘Zanussi 13′ record on his site.

The charts are a mixture of things he’s done with his ensembles Zanussi 13 and Zanussi 5, and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, alongside some new unheard stuff.  The common thread between them is the freedom for the musicians.  Salford-based pianist Christian Fields (who is out here with the project too) has written his thoughts on the music too, so head over to his blog to read a more theory-focussed analysis.

For me, the exciting thing is Per’s ability to organise a band of this size into a coherent whole and still maintain a large degree of freedom for individuals and their voices.  Much like Graham Collier’s work, there are big open sections as well as some more directed bits.  The devices he uses to do this vary from writing out rhythms with approximate pitches, or pitches with no rhythms, or grouping the musicians into smaller sections to improvise textures within the larger whole and so on.  And, like Collier, this leads to an excitement lacking in some larger ensemble writing; everyone is engaged all the time, and so the feel and interactions are that of a small-group.

There’s also some really good inter-locking riffs, either for a soloist to play on top of (no harmonic information given, just blow…) or just because they sound really cool.  In this way, his writing speaks to me in particular as this is the kind of thing I hope to achieve in HAQ, the ability to blend written material with freer stuff seamlessly, because I like doing it all!

The other thing that struck me was how clear his vision is, and that improvisation is not a second thought.  Although possibly meant in a different context, this Bob Brookmeyer quote always confuses me, and seems to speak to composing the wrong way round “My first rule became: The first solo only happens when absolutely nothing else can happen.  You don’t write in a solo until you’ve completely exhausted what you have to say.” (reference).  Writing like Zanussi’s and Collier’s recognises the value of improvisers and that, as Collier said “jazz happens live in real time, once” – for me the written music is there to inspire a performance from the musicians performing it.  And playing Per’s music is definitely inspiring.

At one point he was telling us to be definite in our gestures, to really mean what we played and the phrase he used was quite revealing “I’m not going to tell you what to play, but maybe how.”  Someone who revels in the happy accidents that free-improvisation presents, and harnesses this for his compositional vision.  Really looking forward to the gig now…

Aside: I’m running a Free Improvisation Skills workshop in Manchester on May 20th, check out the details here if you want to get involved, it won’t cost you anything.

P.S. Here’s a photo of some cool street art in Stavanger, created during the annual NuArt festival.

P.P.S. I’m really digging the Tune-Yards album ‘Whokill’ at the moment, after 6Music and my girlfriend’s brother conspired to force it into my life.

Stavanger – Part 1

I’m about half way through a fortnight-long visit to Stavanger in Norway. I’m here as part of an Erasmus-funded exchange project called Arena. The basic aim is to bring students from Salford, Amsterdam and Stavanger together to forge links between the countries.  The secondary aim is to play music written by bass player/bandleader Per Zanussi.

So far we’ve been getting to know each other through improvising, deconstructing Beatles tunes and playing some graphic scores (I was in a trio playing this Leafcutter John piece, which threw up some interesting questions).  And, of course, some hanging out drinking.  Two notable occasions being on Monday, when the £11 per pint of beer added insult to injury of a terrible football game, and Tuesday when we were lucky enough to see Frode Gjerstad Trio performing both a workshop masterclass, and then an incredible set at Galleri Sult.  A very inspiring example of what can happen when improvising with the same musicians for a long time.

Speaking of inspiring, this place is amazing! We’re based at Tou Scene, a disused brewery that has been transformed over the last 10/15 years to a thriving arts space, with huge windows meaning you can stare across the sea to the mountains. I’m not ashamed to admit I came over all ECM for a bit, not least because the space we were in is fairly reverberant.  And, more so than just Tou Scene, the walk from where we’re staying in Old Stavanger shows a wide range of architecture, all of which could sit happily on the front of any postcard.

Some photos of Tou Scene:

And, of course, the other musicians & tutors. Christophe De Bezenac (him from Trio VD) had us record an improvisation and then listen back, stopping the track each time anyone remembered anything at all about what they were thinking at that point.  A very interesting exercise, worth trying if you get the chance!

Here’s some photos of where we are, I’ll post more in a few days, but right now I’ve got to get practising the charts that Per gave us today…

The artist flat where we’re staying:

Wolfram Trio playing in Cafe Humbug, a tiny record shop/cafe/venue:

And here’s tutor Nicholas Katuszonek on the sail boat we sailed: