CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK
The common element in this Jazzlines double bill was Jeff Williams. The Ohio-born drummer with a CV that includes playing with Stan Getz, Michel Petrucciani, Dave Liebman and Lee Konitz splits his time between New York and London, and is a tutor at both the Royal Academy of Music in London and at Birmingham Conservatoire.
Birmingham-based saxophonist Mike Fletcher can do most things – from writing for and leading a big band to combining the influences of Steve Reich and John Coltrane into music for large combo – but he has found a particularly productive area of exploration in the chord-free world of the saxophone, bass and drums trio.
It’s not easy to locate that sweet spot between structure and freedom, that vector where composition and improvisation overlap, but with this band and this material Fletcher has found it. Playing predominantly music from the trio’s new CD Vuelta (on Stoney Lane Records and reviewed here) Fletcher, Williams and double bassist Ollie Brice had a 45-minute ball.
Fletcher played the C-melody saxophone throughout – it’s an instrument that does full justice to his style, giving him added grunt down the bottom when he wants it, yet capable also of the fragility he favours at other times. Brice is very much a counter-melody player, which is just what this sparse line-up needs, while Williams brings a colourful palette of sounds to the party, especially when it comes to the cymbals.
If you missed this gig, look out for more from the Mike Fletcher Trio later in the year. And do have a listen to the CD – it’s excellent.
One expects rhythmic interest from the compositions of a drummer. Experience has also led me to expect some pretty tunes. Jeff Williams confounds that latter expectation at least. There are strong themes and rich harmonies in his writing, but what you won’t find is much sentimentality or sweetness. No-nonsense is an adjective that could be applied to everything about him as a musician.
His band – Phil Robson on guitar, Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and Josh Arcoleo on tenor saxophone – show sartorial styles, from smart shirt through cardigan to skinny jeans and Cons, every bit as diverse, yet fully formed, as their strongly individual musical characters.
There is no option but to work hard in a band led by Williams, and all four showed they were fully up for it, Downes taking charge of the blues-tinged harmonies, Lasserson the bustling rhythms, Robson the astute, almost intellectual improvisational line, and Arcoleo the ebullient emotions and near pugilistic physicality of the music. Driving it all, Williams was a man simultaneously laid-back and in a hurry.
I thought it was an impressive set. Was the rest of the audience similarly impressed? It’s hard to know. Williams had to prompt them to call for an encore – “If you want more you’d better let us know…” – and they duly obliged.
I’m fairly sure they had a good time but CBSO centre audiences are so well-behaved that they might just have been showing good manners. Maybe it’s the slightly formal setting, the air around them, the height of the recently lowered but still lofty ceiling? Is a slight detachment between band and listeners the price we have to pay for such good acoustics? Or maybe it’s the respectfulness of a lot of student musicians when one of their teachers is on the stand?
Categories: Live review