A New Westbrook Album on ASC Records Mike Westbrook
P A R I S
Composer Mike Westbrook was 80 in 2016. In the spring he celebrated this
milestone with the release of the album A Bigger Show with his 22-piece
Uncommon Orchestra (asccd 162-163). Now in complete contrast, he is releasing
his first solo piano recording in almost 40 years.
Mike Westbrook PARIS was
recorded by Jon Hiseman over two nights in July 2016 , presented by Hélène Aziza at her art gallery and music venue, 19 rue Paul Fort near Porte d’Orleans.
In an hour-long set, Mike Westbrook improvises on themes from his own musical
history, from his 1970s composition Citadel/Room 315 through to A Bigger Show and his
recent Paintbox Jane. There are references to his Ellington tribute On Duke’s Birthday,
to London Bridge is Broken Down, to his music theatre piece The Ass, and to his Beatles
project Off Abbey Road.
The sequence contains songs written in collaboration with his
wife, the artist, vocalist and librettist Kate Westbrook, along with popular songs, Jazz
Classics and Blues.
On Saturday November 19th Mike Westbrook gave a solo performance in the 2016
London Jazz Festival at Kings Place, London. The concert was followed by a
conversation with the musician and music journalist Philip Clark.
From Reviews of the album and the London Jazz Festival performance.
The playing throughout was lovely, spare, with characteristic moments of dissonance, threaded with wisps of the melodies to come, and always with the possibility that the music could go in any direction. A brilliant afternoon. Jane Mann - London Jazz
Throughout the hour I loved the sense of a man playing these pieces for the thousandth time but still searching for new angles, new shapes, and new combinations of notes with which to deepen his investigation of their wordless essence. There was not a wasted note, not a superfluous gesture, not the tiniest hint of display for its own sake. The result was unforgettable. Richard Williams - The Blue Moment
Westbrook’s style is an engaging mixture of warmth and dissonance, spiced by a touch of honky-tonk. With its constantly changing moods and familiar melodies cunningly revealed, an hour’s music seems to pass in half the time. Dave Gelly The Observer * * * *
Westbrook’s sparse, harmonically rich and firmly rhythmic approach grips throughout, undulating thoughtfully through lush chords, warm ripples and gently discordant fragments to create a set of exquisite miniatures. Mike Hobart - Financial Times* * * *
Westbrook's playing is intimate, restrained, reflective, introspective and deceptively simple, moulding 20 disparate sources into a beautiful and beguiling whole. Barry Witherden - BBC Music Magazine * * * *
An hour of solo piano that is fresh, rich and improvised, yet references a myriad
of the master’s many previous musical lives. Westbrook nests together his loves, heroes and inspirations, the man and his music, the music and the man, as one. Andy Robson - Jazzwise/Gramophone * * * *
The music unfolds with such grace and elegance that the listener becomes one with its natural flow. You will need to look far indeed to find a more lovely jazz record this year. Duncan Heining - All About Jazz * * * * *
P A R I S The Front Page opens with piano versions of two tracks from A Bigger Show, performed
and recorded by our 22-piece Uncommon Orchestra (ASC Records). Kate wrote a lyric in
sonnet form as a memorial to Stephen Hewitt. Sonnet for Stephen was recorded in a limited
edition for Stephen’s family and friends. In setting Kate’s words, to find an equivalent of the
sonnet form, I created a cycle that began as a simple blues but then opened out into an
increasingly complex sequence of keys and chord changes before winding up where it started
in the key of C. For the Orchestra version, sung by Kate with Martine Waltier and Billy
Bottle, Kate adapted the lyrics and re-titled the song as Freedom’s Crown.
Originally written for the Village Band’s Waxeywork Show (on Jazzprint), Kate’s text for
Propositions conjures up a vision of the Universe and the boundless possibilities, for good and
ill, of the Web. In A Bigger Show the song becomes the starting point for a 30-minute
movement, elements of which I have used in this improvisation. In particular I’ve used an
equivalent to the raw sound of horns pitch-bending notes against the chords.
Touring with Off Abbey Road, our version of the Beatles’ classic album, gave me the
opportunity to dig into their music. Improvising an introduction to Because became for me a
search for meaning. I found I could reach out, harmonically, while never losing sight of the
structure and the simple major and minor chords of the original. The Triumphant Entry is from our theatre piece, based on the D.H.Lawrence poem
The Ass (recorded on Jazzprint ). It refers to Christ’s entry to Jerusalem. Its concluding
whole-tone chord seques naturally into the opening chord of Billy Strayhorn’s ballad A
Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, his paean to the natural world.
I often enjoy playing the piano in a crowded room where people are talking. Though almost
no one is paying any attention to the music, it nevertheless affects the general atmosphere.
This must have been what Satie had in mind, with his ‘furniture music’. In movies, whether
in Rick’s Bar in Casablanca, or during the Wild West saloon shoot-out, there’s always a
jangling piano accompaniment. The title Bar Room Piano for this section gives me the
opportunity to play through some favourite tunes, Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady and
Solitude, and Kate’s Gaudy Bar from our show Paintbox Jane.
Love Stories begins with my setting of Goethe’s Nähe des Geliebten (In the Presence of the
Beloved), which Kate sang in our 1980s composition London Bridge is Broken Down (originally recorded for Virgin Venture). This is followed by two pieces from from Citadel/Room 315, written in the mid 70s, the time when Kate and I began our life together.
This improvisation on View From The Drawbridge takes the original orchestral version as a
starting point. I find that over the intervening years it has taken on new layers of meaning,
and acquired all kinds of personal musical references. The ballad Tender Love was
immortalized by John Surman on soprano saxophone. The Citadel /Room315 album was
initially recorded for RCA and has been re-issued several times over the years.
The song You Make Me Feel Brand New, the Stylistics’ hit, was around at the time of Citadel,
and the early days of the Brass Band. One of our earliest gigs in France was at the Sigma
Festival in Bordeaux. In the vast and beautiful space of the old Entrepot Lainé, the alto
saxophonist Gary Bartz played this song. The magic of that moment has stayed with me ever
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square is that rare thing in the repertoire of jazz standards,
an English ballad about London. I am fascinated by the idea of using hybrid chords, mixed in
with the usual harmonies.
In our show Paintbox Jane, about the painter Raoul Dufy, The Sound of Caress is sung by
Billy Bottle. This is one of Kate’s loveliest lyrics, evoking the Côte d’Azure and the sound of
Collared Doves calling. She Loves You, one of the Beatles’ greatest hits, is a song we played as
an encore on Off Abbey Road concerts, with Kate and John Winfield taking the vocals. Like
Brand New and other pop songs not generally used in improvisation. I find She Loves You refreshing to play.
The concluding part of the album, The Blues, begins with My Lover’s Coat, from the album
Fine ‘n Yellow, (Gonzo Records) dedicated to the memory of John and Marjorie Styles. refers
to the fact that, after John’s death, Marjorie always wore his coat on her travels
round the world. Kate’s lyric uses this as the starting point. The song is a variant on an 8-bar
Trombonist Danilo Terenzi and drummer Tony Marsh were members of the Brass Band in
the 80s, a period when we were often on tour together. Both were involved in On Duke’s
Birthday. They took part in the premiere and live recording in Amiens in 1984 (hatOLOGY).
Derived from one of the movements of On Duke’s Birthday, D.T.T.M. is dedicated to their
memory. The piece is basically in 12-bar form with unconventional chords.
Good Old Wagon is a brief tip of the hat to Bessie Smith, a song Kate has often sung with the
Trio. It’s a 16-bar blues. I never want to forget where this music comes from and what drew
me first to Jazz.
When Danilo died, at the tragically early age of thirty nine, I dedicated the piece I was
writing for the Steve Martland Band to him. The result was a 24-minute composition
(recorded on The Orchestra of Smith’s Academy album). Its starting point was this 8-bar
blues. Danilo and Chris Biscoe were also great friends, - Chris and I often play Blues for
Terenzi on Trio gigs. It is modeled on Jimmy Yancey’s Death Letter Blues, one of the most
moving elegies I know.
My brief version of If Thou Must Love Me is a setting of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning
poem, and forms a postscript to a set drawn from forty years of music. The poem was
originally suggested by Kate for my previous solo piano album, recorded in 1976. At that time
we couldn’t have imagined where our collaboration would lead us.