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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.


Martin Archer - July 2017


Martin Archer


Martin Archer


Martin Archer was born in Sheffield in 1957. He was fifteen when he started playing the saxophone and by seventeen he was already active on the Sheffield improvisational music scene. His first group was Bass Tone Trap, but in 1983 he formed the saxophone quartet 'Hornweb', which released three albums over the following ten years and a solo album Wild Pathway Favourites came out in 1988.

As he tells us below, his direction changed as he moved away from playing with the Hornweb Saxophone Quartet, turned to synthesizers and sequencers, developed his music through the studio and set up Discus records. He developed an approach in which he recorded improvisers soloing and then manipulated this raw material, combining it with electronics and structuring it into whole new pieces.

In 1993 Martin formed 'Ask' with guitarist John Jasnoch, guitars, and in 2001 he began a collaboration with writer Geraldine Monk AACMand singer Julie Tippetts. Their first CD Angel High Wires was issued in the same year.

Martin's Engine Room Favourites project is a large ensemble inspired by the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) a collective of musicians and composers dedicated to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music. The AACM first coined the phrase 'Great Black Music' to describe its unique direction in music. The collective pays homage to the diverse styles of expression within the body of Black Music in the USA, Africa and throughout the world.

AACM Chicago

Martin is also currently producing a series of recordings in which he gathers together different Quartets to explore varying approaches to music and improvisation. We reviewed the first two Quartet recordings earlier this year (Felicity's Ultimatum : Sunshine! Quartet).

The Discus label now has a substantial catalogue of recorded music including Martin’s own playing, compositions and projects and the work of a range of other respected musicians. Meanwhile, Martin is always moving forward to embrace new projects and new ideas as can be seen from his website (click here).


[Here's a video of Martin speaking to Rachael Clegg in the Sheffield Telegraph series Front Room back in 2008].





Hi  Martin, tea or coffee?

Strong coffee, weak tea – I’ll take coffee please.


Milk and sugar?

Never.  Strong and black.  Like the AACM.


You set up Discus Music in 1994 with Mick Beck, what was the inspiration for that?

I was experienced and worldly wise enough by then to know that no-one else would ever put out records at the rate I intended to make them.  Plus I’m not interested in anyone else having any say or control at all over what I do.


I guess a lot of musicians feel that way. Well, the label certainly seems to be busy so it must be working. Can you think of a couple of albums that illustrate your original idea?

Well, it has changed a lot since the start.  When I formed Discus I’d just finished doing 10 years straight with Hornweb Sax Quartet, and I’d put the sax to one side in order to concentrate on electronic music.  Wind forward 20+ years I’ve returned firmly to putting the saxophone at the front of what I do, and keeping the electronics at home in the studio.

So I think that out of recent releases the Story Tellers record is one I would choose because what ultimately interests me in music is scope and ambition, and that one gathers together improvisation and composition ideas into a large scale work in exactly the way I want to present those ideas.  But I can’t just choose a handful because my work consists of looking at the same central point again and again from lots of different angles and via lots of different procedures – so to pick one against any of the others is to miss the point.  It’s would be like blanking out 80% of the image in a kaleidoscope. That central point is always the relationship between abstraction and the blues.  That’s why Leo Smith is my favourite musician. What I do believe strongly is that I’m just starting to get quite good after all this time.  So the best records are all the ones which are about to come out next.  Because if you’re not getting better then what’s the point?  Please keep buying the old ones though!

[Click here for more about Story Tellers and for a sample from the album. Click here for our review of Story Tellers]



Discus Music



Hob Nob, Bourbon, Garibaldi or digestive biscuit?

I don’t need the calories thanks.   It always amuses me that while the actual names of biscuits haven’t changed much since I was small, the size and content has become diluted.  Not that I’d wish to make comparisons with any particular artform.


I know what you mean, I remember Mars bars, Penguin biscuits and Waggon Wheels getting smaller and I'm sure it is not just that I have grown. I think comparisons with artforms is fair - hopefully as we grow our understanding and openness does too. Anyway, If you could ask two past jazz musicians to join us for the tea break, who would you invite?

Jackie McLean and Andrew Hill


What would you ask them? Apart from whether they would like a small biscuit?

I’d ask Jackie whether he could hear the influence of his own sound coming right through into my own favourite players – Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton.  Because I can, and I’m curious to know if he’d agree.

[Sonny Rollins remembers Jackie too ...]




I’d ask Andrew about his decision not to join with the fire music of the time and to do something more spacious and considered and cool – cos again that’s at the root of all the things I like in jazz composition.


[Here's a video of Andrew Hill's New Quintet in 2006 at Tampere Jazz Happening with Andrew Hill (piano), Byron Wallen (trumpet), Jason Yarde (alto sax), John Hebert (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums.]






Apart from developing projects for Discus, you seem to be pretty busy with your own music. I see you have a new album with Julie Tippetts in the pipeline as well as another in the Quartets series that we reviewed recently. Is the third one going to be very different? And what can we expect from this next album with Julie?

Yes the third quartet CD with Laura Cole, Kim Macari and Walt Shaw (as Deep Tide Quartet) is completely different to the first two – much looser and organic.  Plus I play mainly tenor for the first time.  I’m getting kinda romantic and bluff in my old age, so all of a sudden I found that tenor was giving me the right sound for what I wanted to say, and it’s a better contrast to the sopranino that alto was.  The alto is sitting on its stand in the studio right now, glaring at me and thinking wtf with this guy? The 50/50 male female balance in the band is very important, I hate the blokey thing you get in music sometimes.  We like this group so much that we’re aiming to keep it together as a gigging group.

Julie’s new album is something else.  One disk is a single 70 minute piece all at 140 bpm, and it develops like a DJ mix, except that DJ is a  free jazz musician.  It features all the players in the JTMA Ensemble plus Corey Mwamba and George Murray.  The second disk is a series of textures and songs.  It won’t be out until 2018. It will be unperformable live, probably just as well seeing as no-one has given us any gigs.


[Listen to Martin and Julie with Shiver Across The Soul from the 2015 album Vestigium with Julie Tippetts (voice, acoustic guitar), Martin Archer (keyboards, electronics, woodwind), Peter Fairclough (drums and percussion), Seth Bennett (double bass), Gary Houghton (lead, rhythm and glissando guitars), Michael Somerset Ward (flutes, saxophones, sea flute), Kim Macari (trumpet), Lee Hallam (trombone), Chris Bywater (laptop), James Archer (electronics), Michael McMillan ( guitar), Heather Cordwell (violin), Aby Vulliamy (viola), Mick Bardon (cello). Click here for our review of the album].





I can’t not mention the new Engine Room Favourites CD either – Safety Signal From A Target Town.  We did it live with a 14 piece big band at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio.  It’s very ambitious!  I wanted to get a real Westbook / Gibbs vibe, that feel that ANYTHING is now possible.  Plus it’s a grim political allegory.  Everyone worked and played their asses off, big style.   We did it in 2 days and it nearly killed us, in a nice way. 

[Safety Signal From A Target Town is due for release in Spring 2018. Here's a video by Kathy Dinsdale of Martin Archer's large group Engine Room Favourites recording The Playground In The Desert at Real World Studio in March 2017.]





Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

Lana Del Rey is pretty interesting.  I finally found a Japanese import version on T Rex – The Slider which I’d been after for ages.  I really like the Nikki Yeoh solo piano record too – she killed with Denys Baptiste.  And you should hear Corey’s record with Mat Maneri and Lucian Ban – One Last Noose. Mary Halvorsen’s Away With You and Ingrid Laubrock’s Sleepthief records are the most vital creative music I’m listening to right now.  They have learned the lessons from AACM / Braxton / Threadgill and are carrying that continuum forward to the next generation.


[Here is a video of guitarist Mary Halvorsen's Octet playing Away With You in January 2017. Click here for our review of the album]




Another biscuit? On no - the calories. How about an apple, they still seem to be the same size they always were?


Martin Archer


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