Smith's Academy Notice Board
19 A Special Brew
January 2019 Posts
Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
17 January 2019
A Special Brew
Dave Holdsworth’s New Brew at Ashburton Arts January 13th 2019
Dave Holdsworth trumpet/flugel horn Roz Harding alto sax
Alan Wakeman tenor/soprano saxes Marcus Vergette bass
Coach York drums
Nowadays the sight of a jazz band on stage without a piano or guitar in the line up scarcely raises an eyebrow. It was not always thus. Back in the 1960s the first recordings by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler came as quite a shock. This was the period of the “New Thing” when a number of musicians abandoned the complex chord progressions of bebop in the search for new structures for improvisation. Even before that, Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” had caused a stir, the piano-less Gerry Mulligan Quartet had caused considerable controversy.
Mulligan’s writing for trumpet, baritone sax, bass and drums remains a model of how to achieve a full and complete sound from minimal forces. He distilled the tunes down to their essence and showed how the bassline and a few well chosen notes could carry a chord sequence. Moreover with his brilliant use of unison horns, two-part harmony, counter melodies and inside lines, re-enforced by percussion, he produced a music of great variety and textural interest, “The Birth of the Cool” in chamber form.
The music of Ornette, Don Cherry and Co represented a more radical development. Whereas the Mulligan Quartet, innovative as it was, still played a repertoire that consisted of jazz standards, or originals in a similar idiom, the new musicians wrote tunes that didn’t conform to the mainstream. They found inspiration in early jazz and blues, in folk music, gospel music and African music.. Charles Mingus was a leading figure in this movement. A brilliant composer for all kinds of jazz ensemble, he recorded one of his most memorable albums with a piano-less quartet, featuring Eric Dolphy, Ted Curzon and Dannie Richmond. The effect of this new music coming out of the States was far reaching. It was the cue for a greater openness in terms of the instrumentation of the jazz group and the musical sources that could be drawn on.
Dave Holdsworth’s New Brew are inheritors of this radical tradition. While the format of the conventional modern jazz group, and its repertoire has barely changed for the last sixty years, and there are many fine musicians still working in that genre, Dave and Co are emphatically of the other school.
Their encore at Ashburton was ‘Softly as in the Morning Sunrise’ by Sigmund Romberg, composer, as Dave pointed out, of 'The Desert Song' (isn’t it wonderful how subversive jazz can be?). All the other compositions, apart from one piece by Alan Wakeman, written when he was at school, were by Dave himself, some old, some new. Dave’s bold and distinctive tunes start by setting out the basic structure and tonality of each piece, and its rhythmic character. Each is then developed through solo and collective improvisation, punctuated at times by riffs, by the reprise of themes, or with backing figures to reinforce the structure, and sometimes by abrupt changes of mood and tempo. The absence of piano or guitar opens up a space in the heart of the music, allowing for great rhythmic and harmonic freedom. Usually it is held together with a groove, with elemental chords often underpinned by pedal points or ostinato bass figures.
The music is confrontational. And gloriously loud most of the time. Even the ballad is ‘in your face’. But Dave Holdsworth’s compositions don’t fit into any one bag. There are references to Latin music, to calypso or the Townships, but also plenty of Dave’s long, angular lines for the gorgeous unison sound of trumpet, alto and tenor. Little of the music is straight ahead but, on one swinging, boppish tune with the three horns backed by massive drums there is a flash of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. There are scorching solos and climactic bursts of collective energy. Then there are exquisite passages of stillness, of high sustained saxophones, light fingers on bass strings and just at the right moment, silence.
Dave Holdsworth and Alan Wakeman did their first BBC broadcast together in the 1960s.They came of age musically at the moment when the barriers were breaking down. Dave, who has a deep knowledge and love of Jazz ( he regularly plays sousaphone in Trad bands) is an arresting and original improviser. I think he knew from the start how he wanted to play. He’s just got better and better at it, deeper and deeper into it. He’s a remarkable trumpet player. Listen to him now, and all Jazz is there. Alan Wakeman’s passion for playing was evident from the first. Musically, he’s been round the block, and has worked through everything that the history of the jazz saxophone had to teach him. Along the way he found his own voice and became the thrilling soloist he is today.
It is pleasing to sit through a jazz performance that has so few clichés in it. You won’t find many of those reassuring ‘licks’ here. No well-rehearsed blues, bebop or Coltraneisms, none of that sterile virtuosity that bedevils so much contemporary jazz. I’ve yet to hear a cliché in Roz Harding’s improvising. Her lines are original, her articulation personal and highly expressive. She comes to this music fresh, without a lot of jazz baggage, and her playing is a constant surprise.
One feature of the piano/guitar- less format is the way in which it integrates front line and rhythm section. Bass and drums are equal participants with the horns in shaping the performance. Marcus Vergette evidently relishes the elbow room that he is given. It’s a role for the double bass created very much by Mingus, and even more by Charlie Haden. To this Marcus brings a fine intelligence, a sense of drama and an infectious joie de vivre. Marcus and Coach York are regular partners and the rapport between them is a joy. Coach is the beating heart of the band, and a master of the Art. Totally alive to what’s going on around him, he knows when to lay back, when to pile on the pressure and when to take charge.
Duke Ellington’s flip reply when asked the eternal question “What is Jazz?” was “having fun with freedom of expression!” But he had a point, as Dave Holdsworth demonstrates with this intoxicating brew. Thanks, Dave.
Situated in the heart of this Devon town in a former Methodist chapel Ashburton Arts, under the guidance of Andy Williamson is rapidly becoming a major focus for the cultural life of the region. Andy’s wide ranging programme of events includes plenty of treats for Jazz lovers.
For more information, check http://ashburtonarts.org.uk/
Dave Holdsworth’s New Brew album Wodgi is available on line from Jazzcds
Roz Harding’s album SUPERMOOD on CD and vinyl is available at Bandcamp
We also have some more information including sound samples from both albums here
Dave Holdsworth photo Robert Burns