It has been a lively year for jazz in the Midlands and some gigs really stand out.
The year started strongly with two great gigs. First was the second visit to Birmingham of Julian Siegel’s trio, matching his tenor saxophone and clarinets with the double bass and drums of two US players, Greg Cohen and Joey Baron. Whether improvising on original Siegel tunes or on standards like Moonlight In Vermont, their shared sense of musical exploration was mesmerising.
Then pianist Liam Noble’s trio played the music of Dave Brubeck, rehabilitating material that, for many, had come to be taken for granted.
In March Lionel Loueke, the guitarist from Benin, came to the Glee Club Studio with his trio (a Hungarian drummer, a Swiss-Italian bassist) to amaze his audience with weird time signatures and virtuoso displays.
A visit to the Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, was rewarded with two sets of gorgeous European jazz from the Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick’s Quartet.
May is Cheltenham time and my fond memories from the festival include a fiery set from the Dave Douglas band, some atmospheric stuff from Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang, and a sanctified set from the Don Byron New Gospel Quintet.
It was back to Birmingham for two different gigs in May – the Australian piano trio The Necks bringing rock, trance and minimalist elements to improvisation at the CBSO Centre, and the Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Town Hall showing there is still life in the classic post-Coltrane jazz tradition.
Some of our brightest young jazz musicians studied one of the genre’s most idiosyncratic masters, Eric Dolphy, and then showed us what they had learned when Empirical played Birmingham in September.
The Profound Sound Trio and saxophonist Lee Konitz made separate visits to Birmingham in late autumn. Whether exploring free jazz or the standards, these songs of experience rang out.
In smaller venues, like the Rainbow in Digbeth and Biggin Hall in Coventry, I enjoyed Zed-U and the Paul Booth Quintet.
Free riches in the Symphony Hall foyer on Fridays from 5.30pm and 7pm included the Sam Crockatt Quartet, Real Book North West, the Haines Puddick Jazz Orchestra and Mike Williams Quartet.