Sandy Brown Jazz

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TEA BREAK

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.

 

Joe Williamson (Guitar) - December 2018

 

Joe Williamson

 

Now based in Glasgow, Joe Williamson is originally from ‘south of the border’ where he grew up in a local folk music community, took up the guitar, and joined a young rock band. His interest in jazz came with his discovery of Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ album and it was not long before Joe was taking lessons from the respected guitarist Mike Walker. After playing with local big bands and jazz workshops, at eighteen, Joe enrolled on the jazz degree programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, led by internationally acclaimed saxophonist Tommy Smith. He was awarded an undergraduate scholarship, and became a member of the prestigious Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra (TSYJO).

Joe graduated in 2016 and was awarded the Joe Temperley Prize for Jazz Arranging. Since then he has become recognised as a key jazz musician in Scotland and increasingly to a wider audience. In December 2015, one of the bands in which he plays, Square One, had already received the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, which funded their debut album In Motion, released in October 2016 along with an international Square Onetour. 2016 also saw Joe commissioned by the Glasgow Jazz Festival to write a new piece celebrating the festival's 30th anniversary – it was featured in the festival's '30 under 30' showcase. Joe is a prolific composer, writing much of the music for Square One, as well as pieces for larger ensembles that have been performed live on BBC Radio Scotland, and featured in the Royal Conservatoire's festival of original music.

The following year, 2017, Joe was a finalist in the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year competition. The winner that year was Dave Bowden, Square One’s bass player, but Joe was back amongst the finalists this year, 2018, when he received the award.

 

Square One

 

 

 

 

Here is a video of Square One playing Jazz Nights On the Quay for BBC Radio Scotland in 2017.

 

 

 

 

As Square One planned their second album, they did so in collaboration with the US tenor and soprano saxophonist Andy Middleton. Born in Pennsylvania, Andy has been playing saxophone since the age of nine. He has played with the big bands of Bob Mintzer, Lionel Hampton and Maria Schneider. He has led his own quartet for many years and since 1991 he has recorded 9 albums as a leader featuring Ralph Towner, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, Joey Calderazzo and others. In 2006, Andy moved to Vienna, Austria, to teach at the Music and Arts Double Bind albumUniversity of the City of Vienna.

The new Square One album, Double Bind, is out now with 5 of the 9 compositions by Andy Middleton and the musicians from Square One – Joe Williamson (guitar), Peter Johnstone (piano), Dave Bowden (bass) and Stephen Henderson (drums) - providing the others. It is an enjoyable, varied album that opens lyrically with Andy Middleton's soprano sax playing Stephen Henderson's Carson, a well chosen beginning that draws the listener in. It swells to a close after an extended piano solo from Peter Johnstone and then slows things down for Middleton's Salton Sea. Most of the tracks on the album play for a good seven minutes or so giving plenty of opportunity for solos and arrangements, and Johnstone's Into The Orient with a subtle oriental hint runs for around eleven minutes with an intriguing, complex, changing arrangement.

Some tracks, like the title Double Bind with its consistent bass and drum underlying differing approaches to the theme by sax, guitar and piano, and Dave Bowden's beautiful Winter Walk I responded to immediately while other tracks bring rewards with a second hearing. On the oddly named Dog Breath everyone gets to share a spotlight and I really enjoyed Joe Williamson's guitar on his own composition, Lock 21. The final track, City Of Spies was recorded live in Tobermory and would be well placed behind any John le Carré movie. Andy Middleton, who proposed the collaboration, joined Square One for a tour in March 2018 before recording the album and his contribution to the compositions and the music is all you would expect.

It is immediately noticeable how well Andy Middleton and the others fit creatively together. Square One is already a successful, talented contemporary jazz ensemble from whom we shall certainly be hearing more.

 

I caught up with Joe for a Tea Break.

 

Hi Joe, I should be offering you champagne seeing that you are the 2018 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year and that Square One has a new album out, but I’m afraid I just have tea or coffee. Which would you prefer? I could do the tea in a bone china cup .....

Hi Ian! Coffee would be lovely, thank you.

 

Milk and sugar?

Just milk, please!

 

I believe the Young Jazz Musician finals took place at the Glasgow Jazz Festival – how did the final go, and did they decide the winner at the event? Did you have to make an acceptance speech?

Yes, the final took place at Drygate Brewery on the first night of the festival. It was a really fun night - I'm not just saying that because I won! The other four finalists - Fergus McCreadie (piano), Luca Manning (vocals), Matthew Carmichael (tenor sax), and Conor Murray (bass) and I are all good friends, and we've all played together many times in one group or other, so it was great to hear everyone present themselves. The winner was decided by a panel of judges, including Ian Shaw and scottish saxophonist Martin Kershaw, and some promoters from across the UK. Fortunately, I didn't need to give a speech, though I was asked to play another tune.

 

I know you have worked with Luca - there are some nice videos on YouTube - I particularly like Distance - it is such a sensitive piece and the way you both approach it is quite moving.

 

 

 

Speaking of awards, Square One received the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2015; you followed that up with the album In Motion in 2016, and then Square One’s bass player, Dave Bowden, was named last year’s Young Scottish Jazz Musician! That is quite an impressive achievement. Do you think that the awards and the first album have helped to draw attention to the band and its musicians?


I must add that our pianist, Peter Johnstone, was also Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year back in 2012! These awards provide a valuable platform for us to promote ourselves and our music - it's a great way to get the attention of promoters and the press! The Peter Whittingham award provided us with the funding to create our first album, which really got the band off the ground - so that was invaluable. 

 

So now you have the new album out – ‘Double Bind’, with compositions by all members of the band and your guest, saxophonist Andy Middleton. Why did you choose ‘Double Bind’ as the title?


'Double Bind' is one of Andy Middleton's compositions - I can't remember why he called it that, but it seemed like a fitting title for a collaborative album!

 

Listen to the title track - Double Bind

 

 

 

 


Andy Middleton

 

How did Andy become involved?

A little background on Andy - he's American, and lived in New York for a time, and now lives in Vienna, where he teaches at the Conservatory. Over his career, he's worked with many great musicians - Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland and the Maria Schneider Orchestra. I first met Andy when he came to teach a workshop when I was in my 4th year of study at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow in 2015. I was able to have a private lesson with him and he gave me some guidance on the composition of the music which would eventually end up on the first Square One album. After that, we just happened to run into each other by chance when we were both at the Silesian Jazz Festival in Katowice, Poland. Square One was performing, and Andy was judging a composition competition. We recognised each other, and Andy came to see us play. We then hung out that night, having some deep conversations about jazz and the state of music in general! We kept in touch after that, and Andy proposed we collaborate. Several hundred emails and a Creative Scotland grant later, Andy joined us for a tour of Scotland and a recording session back in March, which became the album Double Bind!.

 

 

 

 

 

I should have offered you a biscuit or something with your coffee! I have some Garibaldis, a few chocolate digestives, some Bourbons – or some rather nice Scottish shortbread – or are you into the deep-fried Mars bar scene, I read that originated in Scotland?

I'm a fan of shortbread! I've never tried a deep-fried Mars bar, and I don't intend to ...!

 

 

Jazz Bar Edinburgh

 

The Scottish jazz scene is thriving right now. How far do you think Scottish musicians still need to have a strong presence in London?

Yes, the Scottish scene is really thriving - there are several generations of musicians performing and writing some really fresh, exciting music. Glasgow has a wonderful scene, there are many great up and coming players who I'm sure will be bigger names before long - pianist Fergus McCreadie (YSJM Finalist, but also finalist in BBC Young Jazz Musician - the final is very soon, Good Luck!), drummer Graham Costello - check out his band Strata - it's kind of like Steve Reich meets Roller Trio meets Zu, and it's enormous fun (I'm not just saying that because I'm in the band). It goes without saying that London is important, as there's an incredible wealth of talent and many well-known clubs and high-profile performance opportunities there, and as a result, so much more media attention. It's certainly a boost to be on the radar of influential promoters, radio producers and journalists down there. 

That said, things are growing quickly up here. There's a brand new jazz club in Glasgow called the Blue Arrow, hosting jazz 3 nights a week, as well as the long-established Jazz Bar in Edinburgh, doing 7! There are jazz festivals in every major city, and a great team at BBC Scotland who do great work promoting local musicians - not to mention the Jazz Degree course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which provides such a great platform for young Scottish Musicians, and attracts musicians to Scotland - like me, I'm originally from North East England! The scene is growing fast, and the infrastructure (promoters, gigs, radio, press), is growing to support it. Exciting times indeed. 

 

 

If you could ask a past jazz musician to join Square One for a gig, who would you invite?

I'm not sure if this counts as a 'past jazz musician' - he's only retired, not passed away, but I'd love to play with Gary Burton. He's such a master of improvisation - also, I love vibes! There aren't enough vibraphonists around (come to Scotland, please!). I really enjoy playing with pianists - guitar and piano together can be controversial in jazz groups, but I love the rich polyphony you can get. Add in a THIRD chordal instrument - that would be great fun indeed! 

 

What number would you choose for them to play with you, and what would you ask them during the band’s tea break?

I'd probably ask to play one of Steve Swallow's tunes - Ladies in Mercedes, Falling Grace or Eiderdown. Beautiful compositions, and I love his recordings of them! Gary has worked with so many great guitarists - Pat Metheny, Julian Lage and Mick Goodrick to name a few, it would be great to ask him about them!

 

 

Here is a video of Steve Swallow playing Ladies In Mercedes in 1989.

 

 

 

What other gigs have you played recently?

As I mentioned, I play in a group called Graham Costello's Strata. It's a six-piece (tenor sax, trombone, guitar, piano, electric bass and drums), led by drummer Graham Costello. We studied together - Graham's a remarkable composer. He's a big fan of minimalism, the greats like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but also has a background in indie noise-rock, and went to jazz college - I challenge you to name me someone with more diverse influences! Strata combines all these, and then some - hypnotic grooves, euphoric wall-of sound rock-out moments, meditative interludes and some unbelievable improvisation. Debut album 'Obelisk' is coming out in February! I've also started a new group called Animal Society, which combines my love of progressive, groove-heavy british nu-jazz (it's so hard to define these things... so that'll do for a description) such as Roller Trio and Troyka, a fondness for heavy rock (Audioslave, Tool) and touches of folk. We're recording an EP in December and will be releasing some singles early next year.

 

A video taster of Strata playing STOIC

 

 

 

 

What have you got planned for Hogmanay and the New Year?

A nice peaceful break!

 

Not too many people first footing over your doorstep then! Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

Well, there's so much great stuff going on in Scotland that EVERY jazz fan should listen out for - saxophonist Harry Weir leads a trio called AKU! danceable groove-heavy self-titled 'Doom-Jazz' (finally, jazz with a sense of humour!) for fans of Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross and anyone who likes a good time. Our bassist David Bowden leads a 7-piece group called Mezcla, drawing on African rhythms and featuring some of Glasgow's finest. David writes beautiful melodies! Also, there's a great songwriting parnership up here, vocalist Georgia Cécile and pianist Euan Stevenson, who write beautiful, memorable songs and are currently selling out gigs in Scotland's festivals. Check out Georgia's debut single 'Come Summertime', which is out now!

Readers can check out this video of Georgia Cécile singing Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years with Euan Stevenson on piano and Douglas Whates on bass - it made my spine tingle as she sings 'Four in the morning ....' - they work so well as a trio.

 

 

 

 

Another biscuit?

Don't mind if I do.

 

Click here for details of the album Double Bind and to sample the tracks.

 

Click here for Joe Williamson's website. Click here for the Square One website.

 

Joe Williamson

Joe Williamson
Photograph by Tommy Smith

 

 

Utah Teapot

 

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