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Ian Briggs » Music

Gig Review: Joshua Redman, The MAC, Belfast, 15th September 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 16th September 2012 at 10:08 am

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , , , | No comments

Belfast’s newest venue, The MAC, played host to the Joshua Redman trio for the penultimate gig of their Irish tour featuring Joshua Redman on tenor and soprano saxophones, Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

The trio performed a wide range of music including original jazz compositions, rock, funk and classical, all blended beautifully into Redman’s free-flowing style; definitely the widest range of repertoire of any small group gig I’ve seen.

Joshua Redman, Reuben Rogers and Gregory Hutchinson – The MAC, Belfast, 15th September 2012

As well as a cover of Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean, another standout piece was a version of Riddle Me This, a stunning jazz-funk piece written by pianist Aaron Parks, a great blog of which can be read here. A YouTube video of this fascinating piece is also embedded below.

The group didn’t suffer from the lack of piano as I thought it might; this was the first trio gig I had been to, but the sound still had rich harmony and a full texture, thanks in part to an extraordinary rhythm section. Hutchinson on drums especially was working overtime, using all manner of techniques to fill the room with sound.

Redman’s playing was intense and energetic, using all of his body in a real physical performance. His soloing was, at times, reminiscent of a mathematician explaining the theory behind the conservation of angular momentum, or deriving some complex equation from first principles (but then I’m interested in stuff like that); he has an incredibly intellectual approach to improvisation, where you can almost hear him working out where his music is going – there was a complexity and structure to the sound that was very well thought out. His sound, particularly on tenor, was incredibly smooth, rich and velvety; one of those rare players that has a real ability to create a creamy tone full of colour.

It was a great performance and was also the first gig i have been to for which I can thank last.fm – this is how I came to hear of Joshua Redman a few years ago.

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Gig review: Evan Christopher, North Down Museum, 30th May 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 31st May 2012 at 6:59 pm

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , | No comments

It is not often that world-class musicians visit Northern Ireland, so when the opportunity arose to see one of the very best clarinettists close to home, I couldn’t afford to miss out.

Evan Christopher

Evan Christopher

Direct from New Orleans, Evan Christopher played a concert in the North Down Museum in Bangor, where an audience of almost one hundred people turned out to see him.

In a previous blog post I wrote a review of his last visit to Northern Ireland in 2010, in what was a great gig at the Black Box in Belfast. This time he returned with the same group of stunning musicians: David Blenkhorn on guitar, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, and Sebastien Girardot on bass.

The playing was top class: beautiful interactions between the instruments, virtuosic playing from all the ensemble members and repertoire that was a mixture of slow, romantic songs (including one with Christopher singing vocals which was a nice interlude in the programme) contrasted with full-on, high-energy rhythms.

The solos were inventive in their style, but also full of that blues roots that screams New Orleans jazz. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that the performance did not follow the usual jazz format, in that the solos were mixed up and seemed to blend into one another seamlessly.

Christopher’s clarinet playing is sublime; a breathy, sultry low range lifts into a vibrant mid range and the clarity and ease with which he hits the very top notes is just amazing. As with all pro musicians, he has an incredible ability to make the most difficult things looks very easy, and this is true of the rest of the group: David Blenkhorn’s guitar playing is subtle when playing with the others, and yet he produces brilliantly crafted solos when needed.  Similarly the rhythm guitar playing of Dave Kelbie is so relaxed but provides that solid straight-ahead percussive ‘beat’ that drives the music forward, and is backed up by some fantastic bass playing from Sebastien Girardot who manages to create a rich, resonant sound and include some percussive slap-bass technique that gives  his solos a difference dimension.

It was another fantastic gig from this quartet and a great opportunity for people to hear this unique sound. I have embedded a YouTube video of the group below, which is well worth a listen. Check out this fabulous group if you ever get the chance.

 

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Gig Review: Onyx Brass, Bangor Town Hall, 26th April 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 27th April 2012 at 12:14 pm

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On Thursday evening, Bangor’s Town Hall played host to Onyx Brass in a concert at the council chambers, which provided a superb location for this five piece brass ensemble.

The group consists of players who play in some of the finest orchestras in the UK, and this was an opportunity for the audience to see something a bit different.

The programme consisted of a wide variety of classical, jazz and contemporary music ranging from fugues by Bach and Shostakovich, to modern commissions from Irish composer Andrew Hamilton (Slow Phrases Piece), and a jazz piece (Hamlet Stories) from baritone sax player Mick Foster.

The finale to the first act was a personal favourite: selections from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo. I’m a big Copland fan, and the three movements (Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz and the crowd-pleasing Hoe-Down) were beautifully recreated for brass quintet complete with foot-stomping percussion.

Acting as an interlude in the second half, the group performed Tim Jackson’s piece Anything But.  This consisted of four poems performed musically, without instruments, and included Spike Milligan’s “Teeth” and Carol Ann Duffy’s “Mrs Darwin”.  This was another great way to bring variety into the performance and was an unexpected piece of theatre which produced the biggest laughs of the night.

The playing itself was incredible: beautifully precise phrasing, full use of dynamic range, and an incredible tonal range that I didn’t realise was possible (spoken as a true woodwind player!) which was helped no-end by the amazing acoustics of the venue.

As someone who plays in a small ensemble, it was both fascinating and informative to watch the players interact with each other while playing; subtle directional movements and the ability to communicate during pieces with eye contact were lessons that all small-group players should take away.

A wonderful evening’s entertainment that provided laughs, insight and most of all, the chance to hear great music.

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Dave O’Higgins at the 606

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 8th April 2012 at 8:08 am

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We are currently spending some time in London, and last night saw us venture to the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea to see Dave O’Higgins.

The last time we went to the 606 it was to see the alto saxophonist Matt Wates play, and as this gig coincided with my birthday, I was delighted that one of the best tenor players in the country was playing this time round.

The gig was sold out and the performance didn’t disappoint. O’Higgins played as part of a standard quartet consisting of piano and rhythm section, and the sets consisted of a mixture of some of his tried and tested work, and some of his more experimental pieces. These newer works were adaptations of jazz standards which had been rearranged and retitled so as to give them just a hint of their original form.

The Dave O'Higgins quartet

The Dave O'Higgins quartet at the 606 club, London, April 7th.

The format of the music was fairly typical of modern jazz: an introduction followed by extended solo breaks on all instruments. This is a format I usually find a bit tiring in long sets but the solos were interesting enough, and the styles varied enough to keep me interested.

O’Higgins’ playing in particular was extraordinary: such fluidity and effortlessness belies the difficulty and imaginative content of the music; his improvisation is a masterclass in structure, movement and interaction with the band.  His technique involves playing with the chord structure in such a way as to rarely hit the ‘home’ notes, but pass through them often enough to make the listener comfortable with where his solo is heading. This also gives the sound a freedom and fluidity which is so hard to achieve.

On a technical front, O’Higgins uses a classic setup: a 1930s Conn tenor saxophone with remodelled keywork, and a fairly standard ebonite mouthpiece. This combination gave the sound such a rich, creamy tone, it is understandable why he sticks with a vintage instrument.

As with the overall feel of the performance, some of his solo improvisation had more of an experimental feel to it, not all of which was successful, but for the great majority of the time, it was a wonder to watch and listen to, full of both virtuosic playing and great tonal interpretation.

Top class musicians, great playing and interesting musical variety (including one slow number on soprano sax that was astounding) combined to make this an exceptional gig from one of the best sax players around – inspiration indeed for me to try to take my playing to different places…

…must practice harder!

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Music I’ve been listening to…

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 15th February 2012 at 9:03 pm

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I wanted to post something about the music I have been listening to recently, and one track that seems to have been played most often in the last couple of weeks from my iTunes collection is the fabulous West Side Story Medley by Buddy Rich.

This unbelievable arrangement is embedded below from a Parkinson interview, and although it is not the best recording of the piece, it is brilliant to see a group of world class musicians make something so incredibly difficult look very very easy!

In the video below, particular standout moments are Jay Corre’s tenor sax solo and Rich’s drum solo about 7 minutes in; complete with one handed drum rolls and beautiful subtleties, he remains one of the few drummers who could create interesting solos not just filled with noise.

Another arrangement of West Side Story (can you tell I’m a huge fan) that I’m addicted to is the more modern version by Dave Grusin.  This features members of the GRP All Star Big Band (some of the finest musicians in history…Sandoval, Weckl, Evans…) and is a brilliantly crisp performance.  It also has a great solo from Michael Brecker; the way he crafts his solo around a pretty difficult backing is extraordinary, and the way he finishes the solo and gets out of it is masterful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xonj84qRk4

It’s great to see the recording session in the linked video of Something’s Coming, and the other songs available from the same album are also well worth a watch on YouTube too.

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MuseScore music notation software

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 4th December 2010 at 10:26 pm

Categories: Arranging, Music | Tags: , , , | No comments

Just a quick update to tell you about MuseScore.  It is a free, cross-platform music notation software package that I have been trying this last few weeks and I have been really impressed by the way it works so far.  

The most attractive thing about it is that it is free and the fact that it is open-source means that it should hopefully get updated fairly regularly as bugs get ironed out. 

My experience so far is that it provides a sound alternative to the expensive equivalents like Sibelius.  There are obviously a few bugs that are annoying but given the seemingly early stages of development they are easy to overlook given its overall capability. 


The ability to save to its native format, as well as XML, and PDF means some impressive-looking scores can be obtained fairly easily.

To anyone who writes music, it is certainly worth a look if you don’t want to shell out for the more well-known options.

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Evan Christopher Gig

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 26th October 2010 at 11:10 pm

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Well tonight we’ve been to our first event as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. We saw Evan Christopher, a clarinettist from America who played some phenomenal creole-style jazz from New Orleans. You can catch some of his stuff on YouTube here and here, and I encourage anyone with an interest in jazz, or any reeds player to have a look.

Evan Christopher
Evan Christopher

He is an exceptional player, but also a really charismatic performer who clearly knows his stuff, and told the audience many stories filled with his passion of creole music and Django Reinhardt. On the musical front it was great to see such close interaction between him and his band (a wonderful combination of guitar, rhythm guitar, double bass and clarinet).

Lots of solos were crafted beautifully but although they were complex and challenging, they still maintained the New Orleans style and never strayed too far into unfamiliar territory.

We got the feeling they had rehearsed every piece down to the last detail, but speaking to them after the gig, this definitely wasn’t the case! They are a really down-to-earth group of musicians touring for the release of their second album, and the night was superb. We were delighted we went to see something we ordinarily wouldn’t have.

And we even managed to speak to Evan himself about some nerdy clarinet talk (he uses an Albert-system Selmer!). What more could you want from a night out…?

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