It can’t be that time of the year again. It seems like yesterday that we closed the festival last year in a caffeine fuelled haze and now here we are the day before the sixth Lancaster Jazz Festival already sleep deprived from too many early morning phone calls about bass amps and rehearsal spaces.
Normally at this point I’d say that this weekend is the biggest festival to date (but it isn’t), and I’d probably go through some highlights for the weekend in a festival preview kind of way. But I’d rather this blog wasn’t about trying to get bums of seats and more about the actual festival. We’ve been working all year with huge support from a massive team of volunteers and this is maybe a small glimpse of what we’ve been doing and why it’s going to be the busiest festival behind the scenes ever.
A growing festival on the same budget. As with all arts organisations funding has been very tight this year and we’ve had to work every penny in our budget super hard and have had to condense the festival. Producing a slightly smaller festival isn’t a bad thing though (I don't think - I suppose we’ll find out). Back in October we went back and we read all the reviews of last year, held meetings with our members, sought advise from other festivals, talked with our partners and funders and tried to work out what we do well. What makes Lancaster Jazz Festival what it is? How can we concentrate the festival to make it as good as it possibly can be on a super limited budget?
I’m really proud of what we’ve got planned. As well as programming the best stuff we could find and working with our venues even more to try and make our audience experiences even better, we decided to stick to our guns and decided not to do the obvious thing when facing potentially big budget cuts. We’d make sure, above all else, that we’d pay and treat our artists properly, with proper fees, food, accommodation, rehearsal space and whatever else they needed, and that if we couldn’t do that we’d pull the festival. We really believe that the way to make a great festival and a great experience for our audiences is to make sure that our artists are well looked after and feel free to be creative. Astonishing performances can then happen. When the huge group of artists came together eight years ago to make the first Not-the-Lancaster Jazz Festival that was the whole point. Making that commitment has been way harder than we thought but has led to some fantastic things:
And finally but most importantly, the reason we've been able to even survive... We’ve got the largest volunteer team we’ve ever assembled, a board and festival team that have worked seemingly flat out all year and more members than ever before. The commitment by a huge community of people to build an artists festival has been astonishing and just keeping up has been tricky. A years worth of work comes to a peak tomorrow and as ever I’m massively nervous about all of it but more so this year. So much care and love and work has gone into it and I’ve got to make sure I do my bit as well as everyone else has.
The sixth Lancaster Jazz Festival. An artists festival with a huge community behind it. Whatever happens I’m sure it’s going to be fantastic. See you here.
- Matt Robinson, artistic director
A final post from me as we rapidly approach the festival weekend. After my last update you might be wondering whether we’ll have any music to play on Saturday night, but fear not! I have a complete set of pieces that I’m really looking forward to sharing with everyone at the Dukes.
With this project I have experimented with different ways of presenting my ideas on the page. As with my music for Sloth Racket, the scores combine conventional musical notation with some graphics, and - in these new pieces - some text instructions. It was an interesting process working out the best way to construct the scores when writing for this many people: when I make sheet music I like to give the players as complete a picture as possible of the music as a whole, because a big part of it is our collective ‘arranging’ of the pieces through improvisation. There is a balance to be struck between density of information on the page and clarity however, so it becomes an exercise in being concise, in showing something from multiple angles at once. The goal is that all the musicians find that they can see what’s going on and get around the scores easily.
Preliminary rehearsals in Manchester and London with some of the group suggested that I might have achieved this goal: the music did seem to emerge quite quickly from a first read-through. Of course, I won’t be able to get a complete picture of how it will be until all ten of us meet this coming Thursday in Lancaster, and there is a lot of work to be done. It feels positive though and the thought of playing with everyone together is extremely exciting! It’s been a pleasure putting the music together, and I’d love it if you’d join us on Saturday to hear the results. In the mean time, here’s a snippet of trio improvisation from Tom Ward, Graham South and Seth Bennett at our Manchester rehearsal.
See you in Lancaster!
- Cath Roberts, artist in residence 2016
HELLO! I'm Billy Marrows. For the 2016 Lancaster Youth Jazz Commission I've been writing a new suite in which each piece stems from a different concept of the traditional Indonesian music, Gamelan. Here’s a sneak preview.
I am a guitarist originally from North Yorkshire now based in London, studying Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. Earlier this year I won the Dankworth prize for jazz composition for my octet chart Destarata which can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/billy-marrows/destarata
I'm excited to be working with a very talented octet made up of some of my favourite musicians to play with. The rhythm section is Will Barry on piano (Jasper Hoiby's Fellow Creatures), Will Harris on bass (Moonlight Saving Time and Michelson Morley), Luke Tomlinson on drums (Alex Bone's Said Skeleton) and myself on guitar. On trumpet/flugelhorn I have Alistair Martin (Tom Smith Septet), on alto saxophone is Tom Smith (BBC young jazz musician finalist in 2014 and 2016, Tom Smith Septet). Tom Barford will be playing tenor and soprano saxophones (Barry Green Sextet, Tom Barford's Asterope which I play guitar in - www.tombarford.com) and on trombone I have Olli Martin (has appeared with the Gareth Lockrane Big band and Femi Temowo's The Music is the Feeling).
I really enjoy writing for octet; it provides the intimacy and spontaneity of small group jazz whist offering a wide range of compositional colours and textures. Over the last year I've written a lot for this band and I'm very much looking forwards to our first public performance, at this year’s Lancaster jazz festival!
Hear the octet...
After being awarded the youth jazz commission back in May I discovered that writing octet music that explored ideas from gamelan was quite the challenge! I started of by doing research, it was not a music that I had ever studied before but had been intrigued by when hearing it performed in Java three years ago. During the writing process I found that many of my initial ideas were hard to realise and I got pretty stuck many times!
The first piece I wrote is built around an interlocking rhythm from Balinese gamelan called Kotekan. It is a fairly recent addition to the tradition in which to independent parts (called polos and sangsih) fit together to create a complete rhythm that can be played at ferocious speeds. Its role in the music is a faster embellishment to the lower main melody and it is played on the higher pitched instruments such as gangsa and reyong. More specifically, I explore kotekan telu and kotekan empat which combine some pitches sounded together with others occurring only in the space of the other part. I use these pattern in a variety of ways in the piece, bringing in other influences such as Steve Reich. It's been very interesting to work out ways to generate ideas for group free improvisation with it too.
In gamelan the lower instruments such as the sarons and slenthem play a slow 'skeleton' melody called the balungan. This is embellished with variations of itself at faster rates in the higher instruments, creating what is known as a heterophonic texture. In my own take on this, I have written a composition in which the melody is accompanied by a bass line that is the melody played at a much slower rate and in a different key (a tritone away...)! I bring in the influence of Django Bates and Weather Report, in particular the ever building melodies of the two Wayne Shorter compositions Elegant People and Palladium.
I've experimented with emulating the sounds of the gamelan orchestra with extended techniques on the guitar. Particularly interesting is the way they tune pairs of the same instrument slightly apart to create a shimmering interference beating effect.
Another interlocking rhythm that caught my interest was that which the gender panerus plays; each hand of the musician plays an independent rhythm that fills the gap in the other hand, keeping the momentum sustained. I've written a swinging Bob Brookmeyer-esque chart that began life by experimenting with applying this concept to the relationship between the hits and the melody...
I'm very excited to premiere all of this brand new music at the festival on the 17th September at 2pm in the Hall! You can hear a sneak preview of some of the music from rehearsal here
Billy Marrows / Youth Jazz Commission 2016
Saturday 17 September, 2pm
Commissioned for Lancaster Jazz Festival and Selected by Lancaster Jazz Festival Members.
Supported using public funding by Arts Council England
Presented in partnership with J. Atkinson & Co.
Well, it’s hard to believe but almost two months have gone by since my last post on here. I’m now right in the thick of the writing process and in just over a month’s time we’ll be performing the music. This is quite a daunting thought, mainly because my June and July were dominated by an unexpected chronic case of writer’s block.
The composing process is different for everyone, but in my case it always starts with improvising. I tend to sit down at the piano or with my sax and generate lots of starting points: these could be melodies, riffs, a chord sequence, or just a rhythm. I’ve got a big manuscript book especially for collecting this stuff, so for a while my writing time will be taken up with random material generation. For me this is the fun part, and it feels extremely productive. Unfortunately what follows is the actual work, the real meat of the project, the bit that takes the longest: using the ideas to create fully fledged and coherent pieces of music.
At the end of June/beginning of July, I had a growing set of these starting points and I felt like I was on track. I had even sketched out some vague plans for most of the pieces. This was a good feeling. It was all in hand! However, I soon realised that I was stuck at that stage. Whenever I tried to think about the overall structure of the set of music as a whole, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get a sense of what the thing was, or move any of the pieces forward from their sketchy beginnings. I had all the components but I couldn’t join them up to make something finished. It was terrifying! It went on for several weeks.
During that time I busied myself with other projects, or what could also be called displacement activities. Luckily I had loads booked in: Ripsaw Catfish had some gigs in Holland and Belgium, the first LUME Festival was happening, I was working on a grant application, my flat needed some TLC following a flooding incident earlier in the year, Manchester Jazz Festival was on....there were plenty of diversions. I guiltily went around doing all these things, trying to ignore the block and hoping it would go away. Thankfully, this worked. At the start of August I got up one day with an amazing sense of clarity about the music. That day I arranged all the starting points into pieces, gave them titles and put them in plastic wallets (okay yeah, stationery is important to me). I could suddenly see the whole project laid out in front of me and I knew what I wanted it to be like. Relief!
Now I just have to finish it...
- Cath Roberts, Artist in Residence 2016
Cath Roberts will headline Lancaster Jazz Festival on Saturday 17th September at The Dukes. For more info and for tickets go here.
Hi, I’m Cath: the LancasterJazz16 Artist in Residence. I’ll be checking in here every now and again over the next few months to keep you updated on my progress of my headline performance project, so this first post is just to introduce myself and my ensemble.
I’m a saxophonist and composer from the Midlands, based in London for the past ten years. At the moment, the main focus of my work is the interface between composition and improvisation; specifically, finding ways to integrate free improvisation into structures that also contain composed elements of music. I play free a lot and I love it, but I also like to write music. I’m interested in writing pieces that allow the musicians a large amount of freedom to improvise and shape the music themselves, within broad structures that I have made. I explore these ideas with my regular band Sloth Racket, as well as in a duo with Anton Hunter called Ripsaw Catfish, and they (both the ideas and the bands) will form the backbone of my large ensemble project for LancasterJazz16.
Putting together a large group of musicians playing my own music is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. This commission seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it, so I’ve assembled a ten piece ensemble of some of my favourite people, mainly based in Manchester and London or connected to those places. It isn’t a conventional big band line-up - it’s a bit smaller and the instrumentation is different – but I’ve hopefully given myself a lot of different textures to play with when writing the music. Plus, crucially, everyone in the group is a great improviser.
The core of the group is Sloth Racket, so the rhythm section is Anton Hunter on guitar, Seth Bennett on bass and Johnny Hunter on drums. Anton and I have been working together in Ripsaw Catfish for the last three years, and he also runs his own large ensemble called Article XI (which he writes really great music for). Seth’s low string quartet En Bas released an album on Northern Contemporary earlier this year (having packed out The Hall at LancasterJazz15 when he was Artist in Residence) and Johnny’s quartet put out their second record ‘While We Still Can’ on Efpi Records in the Summer. I basically think these guys are total badasses.
I’ve put together a mini brass section of Graham South (trumpet) and Tullis Rennie (trombone). I met both of these two through Anton and they are fantastic players. We’ve worked together in various Manchester/Efpi-related projects over the past couple of years, and it’s very cool to have them involved in my own project. Tullis is prolific as a composer, electronic musician, trombonist, field-recordist, DJ and improviser. Graham plays in Johnny’s quartet, Beats & Pieces Big Band, Article XI and many other groups across jazz/improvised music as well as inhabiting the world of classical trumpet.
There are three saxes in the band (as well as two other sax players in disguise, but I’ll get onto that next). I play baritone sax in Sloth Racket and Sam Andreae plays tenor, so we’ll be doing that in this group too. Sam is a really unique improviser with formidable extended technique on his instrument. He regularly performs solo as well as in various improvising groups. On alto sax is Dee Byrne, my collaborator in Word Of Moth (who played at LancasterJazz15) and also in running LUME. We have organised LUME gigs together for three years, so we work together a lot, but it’s always so nice to actually play music together instead of send emails. Dee runs Entropi, her contemporary jazz quintet (which is releasing its second album an Whirlwind Recordings in 2017) as well as being half of experimental electronics duo Deemer with Merijn Royaards (which released its first record on our Luminous label this year).
Finally we come to the woodwind section. Julie Kjær and Tom Ward will be doubling on bass clarinets and flutes, which I’m pretty excited about. Two bass clarinets is a sound I’m looking forward to writing for! Tom runs several groups playing his own compositions (including the Madwort Sax Quartet, of which I’m a member), as well as playing in a regular improv trio with Tim Fairhall and Matilda Rolfsson called Ma/ti/om, which released an album on Raw Tonk this year. Julie’s main focus is currently her trio Julie Kjær 3 with Steve Noble and John Edwards, which released an album on Clean Feed this year. She also plays in Paal Nilsson-Love’s Large Unit along with many other groups.
As you will have gathered from all the things I’ve been listing here, everyone in this ensemble is extremely active: it’s a really inspiring group of people! Working on this project is going to be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to getting started...
- Cath Roberts, Artist in Residence