Chris Bowden * * * *
at the CBSO Centre
Review by Terry Grimley
Gigbeth hasn't had a monopoly on events demonstrating the health of the city's music scene. At the CBSO Centre on Saturday Birmingham alto saxophonist Chris Bowden unveiled The Incredible So-called Death of Cash Bodean, a new Arts Council-funded commission from Birmingham Jazz performed with a specially-assembled ten-piece band.
It's a composition in the true jazz tradition, in that the innocent ear would struggle to tell where the writing ends and improvisation - or something in-between, represented by Bowden's many impromptu cues - began.
Five apparently untitled pieces or movements played for around 70 minutes, with accompanying visual projections by Ian Muir.
But it made for a satisfying evening. Starting with a rock-flavoured number, it ended with a blues which built relentlessly to touch on something archetypal, particularly when Mike Davies's wailing clarinet overlaid the later stretches of Andy Ross's extended baritone solo.
The fact we had to wait over an hour for that solo demonstrates the range of sound at Bowden's disposal. To his regular Birmingham rhythm section of bass player Ben Markland and drummer Neil Bullock he added two trumpets and flugelhorn, trombone and tuba, plus two reed players.
Pianist Ollie Parfitt, a discreet presence all evening, added some effective Moog to the atmospheric opening of the third number.
Nothing was predictable, with individual numbers changing character abruptly at times. And despite the bigness of the ensemble sound - especially at the lower end with bass guitar, tuba and baritone - Bowden was keen on regularly thinning out the texture for contrast. Bowden himself is a powerful soloist whose resourcefulness is fully exposed in a trio setting on his latest CD on Birmingham label Rehab Records, 3 to Get Ready. Here he was well matched by the solo playing of his colleagues, in particular trumpeters Sid Gauld and Neil Yates.