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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.
Tom Challenger - April 2017
Saxophonist Tom Challenger was born in Huddersfield. He leads the band ‘Brass Mask’, which performs music inspired by traditional street-music and collective improvisation.
Their first album Spyboy (2013) was described by John Fordham in The Guardian as ‘an octet of seven horns (from clarinet to tuba, the latter instrument clearly enjoying a big comeback) plus the resourceful John Blease on percussion. Challenger's inspirations are New Orleans Mardi Gras street-bands, free jazz, Gambian and Senegalese music, and the ensemble conceptions of influential American composer Henry Threadgill. Spy Boy is full of startling twists on familiar settings, such as the playful melodic upturn out of the quietly ticking, one-note rhythm pattern Onnellinen, the spooky Albert Ayler-esque shivers in the sleazily rapturous I Thank You Jesus, the Loose Tubes-like dirges at the end of the bouncing Wizards, or the fast percussion shuffle under the sombre harmonies of Israfil. It feels like a work in progress with a somewhat reserved, relationship-building feel, but Challenger is a clever composer and a sharp soloist, and the driving idea is full of potential.’
Here is a video of Tom talking about Brass Mask back in 2012.
Tom is also involved in the band ‘Dice Factory’, a jazz quartet exploring alternative methods of composition and ‘Ma.’ an electro-improv outfit who have released 3 albums to date. In 2016, Tom collaborated with pianist Kit Downes in a project to record saxophone and organ music in five Suffolk churches. The resulting album, Vyamanikal, was included in Jazzwise magazine’s 2016 albums of the year list.
Brass Mask have a new, live album out this month.
I managed to grab Tom for a quick conversation and a coffee break.
Hi Tom, tea or coffee?
Milk and sugar?
Your music seems to span many different approaches, how would you describe what you are doing?
My music does cover a wide variety of styles and aesthetics. However, I see it all being actually pretty integrated (perhaps not surprisingly). Essentially I'm trying to achieve the same goals with every project and scenario I contribute too - that there is space for expression; that there is conversation; and that we all follow the same beat (or vibration).
So, you have a new Brass Mask album coming out this month on the Babel label – what can we expect?
It was a live gig recorded at the end of a period of quite a bit of activity. Although live albums are my favourite, I wanted to try and set the music and gig in different scenery - hence my additions to the post-production you'll hear.
[LIVE by Brass Mask is released on the Babel label on 21st April 2017. You can sample the album if you click here where you can experience the variety from the band's version of Lil' Liza Jane to the opening vibrations and riffs of Nyodi. We shall be reviewing the album in a future issue of What's New].
If you could ask two past jazz musicians to join us for the tea break, who would you invite?
You mean people no longer with us? Tough...today...I don't know...Lester and Bud.
What would you ask them?
What do you see when you play?
Hob Nob, Bourbon, Garibaldi or digestive biscuit?
Neither, but thanks!
The album you made last year with Kit Downes, Vyamanikal, was interesting. You recorded it in 5 Suffolk churches – did they welcome the idea?
For the five we chose to record in, yes. Part of the magic of the process we entered into was the communication and relationships we forged with the people that actually use those amazing spaces on a regular basis. Some churches weren't up for this, but we found that out in advance of visiting them.
Making music is also about forging a relationship with the space you're inhabiting. As soon as this becomes a vital part of the process, then I believe the music will only get stronger as a result.
[Vyamanikal is named after the ancient Sanskrit term for flying machines - ‘Vaimānika Shāstra’. It is a collection of transcendent improvisations 'where the primordial moans and whistles of remote organs meld with gossamer saxophone'. Below is a video about the album. Click here for more details].
What have you got coming up apart from the album? Are you touring with it?
We'll do some gigs, and I'll think about a tour (although 9 guys on the road is a scary thought). We actually have a new album of material ready to go, I'm going to try and get this done quick.
Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?
There's so much going on...so here's some of my main guys at the moment: Robert Stillman; Philipp Gropper's PHILM; Ingebjørg Loe Bjørnstad; and We All Break.
[Here is a video of Ingebjørg Loe Bjørnstad singing HÆM in 2014].
I'm ok thanks!
[Click here for saxophonist Trish Clowes in conversation with Tom Challenger in 2014]
Click here for Tom Challenger's website
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