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