With good quality jazz venues seemingly becoming more rare these days, it is always encouraging to discover new ones. So it was that, finding myself on the border with North Wales, I came across the Hermon Chapel Arts Center in Oswestry, Shropshire.
A refurbished chapel run by Claudia Lis and jazz guitarist Barry Bazmatron-Edwards – a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatory – it is not purely a jazz venue, featuring various music genres and classes, as well as theatre, stand-up comedy, etc. but they do have an in-house jazz big band and some top quality jazz artists scheduled to appear. As a listed property, the building still features an altar and pews, but it also contains a bar, friendly staff, an excellent sound system and cushions on the pews!
It was a particular pleasure to visit the venue when they were featuring two of British jazz’s finest products, trumpeter Henry Lowther and bassist Dave Green, and their ensemble Still Waters, a quintet featuring another veteran of British jazz, tenor saxophonist Pete Hurt, along with pianist Barry Green and Jon Scott, deputising for regular drummer Paul Clarvis.
Everything about this ensemble represents quality, a nod to the classic years of American jazz, but with a certain British sheen to it. Both Lowther and Hurt are excellent composers and their compositions, taken from the group’s critically acclaimed recordings, comprise the core of their repertoire. We heard several of the pieces on this occasion, to great effect.
The quintet opened the first set with the title piece from their recent album Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe, with solos all round, followed by a melodic waltz T.L., dedicated to late drummer Tony Levin. Hurt’s up-tempo Capricorn was followed by pianist Barry Green’s feature, Henry’s delicate, heartfelt portrait of Barry’s daughter Amber. It was a set of great contrasts, concluding with Lowther’s Something Else . . ., based on rhythms of Moroccan gnawa musicians with whom Lowther played in Rabat several years ago.
The second set opened with the Jimmy McHugh standard Too Young To Go Steady, followed by a Slovenian piece in 3/4 time, Golovec, featuring Dave Green on bass and Lowther on flugelhorn. The abstract, angular White Dwarf wrapped up the set, except for a brief encore, Pete Hurt’s For Pete.
It was all there – a beautifully balanced performance of mostly original music: abstractions, gentle ballads, world music from North Africa and Eastern Europe, tributes to friends and family, the odd standard, all enhanced by excellent solo work. Lowther’s burnished tone and elegant phrasing reminded me of Clifford Brown and Booker Little; Hurt evoked George Coleman – a musician’s musician. The rhythm section players – all out of the top drawer.
Alan Barnes was at Harmon Chapel in June, so they clearly intend to draw on the very best of British jazz. And it’s a beautiful part of the country. Consider a visit soon. It could make a great weekend.
Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Hermon Chapel, Oswestry, 19 May 2019