Lluis Mather’s The Trees & Nonet

The Lluis Mather Nonet at the CBSO Centre last night. (Photo by John Watson/© thsh.co.uk)

The Lluis Mather Nonet at the CBSO Centre last night. (Photo by John Watson/© thsh.co.uk)

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

This was the second of the Jazzlines Fellowship showcases, revealing what the musicians chosen by the jazz wing of Birmingham’s Town Hall/Symphony Hall producers and supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation or the BBC Performing Arts Fund had been up to in the past 12 months.

For tenor saxophonist and composer Lluis Mather it was a chance to write lots of new material, develop pieces he had written earlier, and expand the number of musicians he could employ to play all this music.

For the first half he used his relatively long-term quartet with Holly Thomas on vocals, Dan Nicholls on piano an Euan Palmer on drums, but augmented by fellow Hans Koller Ensemble saxophonist Julian Siegel on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. And this quintet now has a name: The Trees.

I’ve previously found Mather’s interest in poetry and finding ways of incorporating it into music fascinating and his methods of doing so original, so I was delighted that he has continued down this road. The concert opened with Thomas singing Aldous Huxley’s poem Somewhere Between with Nicholls shadowing her every musical movement with a single piano note. It’s a method Mather uses again and again – just as he uses Huxley’s poetry again and again – varying the shadowing instrument, and varying the setting against which this twin line is performed, and it’s highly effective.

Lluis apologised for being “like a stuck record” with regard to his fascination with Huxley’s poetry. On the evidence of the resultant pieces – we also heard Thus Gone to end the first half, and Summer Stillness with the expanded band in the second set – no apology is needed: there is clearly some potent inspiration going on here and the music is striking and emotionally wide-ranging.

Wide-ranging despite the fact that everything we heard last night is very specifically of a kind and very specifically Lluis Mather’s. I don’t know how he composes but there is a definite link between the improvisational lines he weaves and the melody lines he writes: they don’t go where you expect, they don’t sound like anyone else’s, and yet they sound very natural and logical.

Highlights of the first set included Ratcliffe’s Palm, Catch It, Bin It, Kill It and High Windows (also using a poem, this time by Philip Larkin). I think these are not so recently written so maybe they stood out as being more comfortable for the band and therefore more confidently performed. The new stuff does sound rather challenging for the players, and while it was played well, the band is sure to look happier doing it after a few more outings.

The sound palette was widened considerably with the addition for the second set of Finn Peters on flute, George Crowley on clarinet, Lucie Tibbits on oboe and Tom Corin on bassoon. Siegel joined them on bass clarinet to form a woodwind quintet to sometimes set off the core quartet and sometimes as a fully integrated nine-piece.

Summer Stillness – it was busy in places as the summer air might be with insects and dust motes – This Unimportant Morning – a poem by Lawrence Durrell this time – the very tricky Chime, and Out Came The Minah Birds were this set’s highlights, as satisfying for their full use of the nine instruments as their sometimes reduction to just one or two.

Nicholls’ scarily restrained solos on a couple of the tunes showed that this band is always about what is right for the music and not about showing off one’s instrumental fire-power; Palmer was melodic and orchestral with his drums throughout; Thomas sang complicated stuff without making it sound complicated; and Mather’s solos were as much a delight for me as his overall musical conception.

An evening of modern English jazz music, then – and a fascinating, highly original take on what that can sound like.

  • For a taste of what The Trees sound like, and to keep in touch with the band’s developments, especially as they have a CD coming out soon, go here.

Categories: Live review

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