Review: Seamus Blake Trio
At Southport's winter jazz weekend Alan Ainsworth enjoys a musician who produces long-lined explorations as well as bringing fresh ideas to standards and pop tunes
Southport’s long-standing Jazz On A Winter’s Weekend is now under the management of Manchester’s Cinnamon Club promoter Neil Hughes. But Geoff Matthews, whose energy and commitment were the foundation of this friendly, innovative (and always sold-out) festival is still very much in evidence – not least through his involvement with the Orpheus project. With successful tours by Ingrid Jensen and Ellery Eskelin already under their belts, Orpheus's latest venture is the Seamus Blake Trio (Seamus Blake pictured right).
Ross Stanley has emerged in recent years as a major force. This is the first time I’ve heard him on the Hammond and I was hugely impressed with the way in which he has extended the instrument’s voice to embrace the kind of pianistic sensibility which can sometimes get lost in the sustaining chording or rapid improvised passages of the post-Jimmy Smith era. The Bach-like cantata in God Only Knows wasn’t the only innovation – nearly every number brought out a fresh idea. James Maddren is another musician who seems to be in constant demand and it’s obvious why. The intensity of his playing has that rare combination of subtlety, control and passion and at Southport he was the glue holding together the interplay between trio members.
Interesting original compositions during the evening included Blake’s tribute to Charles Mingus The Song That Lives Inside, a delicate balance once again enhanced by Maddren’s brushes. The intensity of the climax was outstanding. Maddren also gave us a brilliant solo in the Brazilian-inspired The Beauty Within.
Based in New York, saxophonist/composer Seamus Blake is a leading figure in contemporary jazz. He was born in Britain but brought up in Vancouver. Choosing albums by the Beatles and Led Zeppelin as two of his five all-time greats probably points to his early influences but his jazz skills were honed at Berklee and a number of his subsequent collaborations came from friendships made there with players like Guillermo Klein, Scott Kinsey, Chris Cheek, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner and Jordi Rossy. His time with the Mingus Big Band between 1995-2004 was obviously a formative experience as well. Superconductor is Blake’s most ambitious project so far and was released in December 2015. The album includes Nate Smith, Matt Garrison, Scott Kinsey and a seven-piece orchestral ensemble with guest appearances by John Scofield and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
A superb evening on several fronts: Ross and Maddren were on sparkling form, Seamus Blake confirmed his status as a leading contemporary musician and Southport showed once again how small festivals can be adventurous in programming. A big thanks to Geoff Matthews for all he’s done for this festival; well done Orpheus on a great initiative and good luck to Neil Hughes.
Photo by Robert Burns
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