Tom Green Septet/Tam de Villiers 4t

Tom Green and his front line at SH café bar on Friday (Photo © John Watson/

Tom Green and his front line at SH café bar on Friday (Photo © John Watson/

Reviewed by John Watson

Symphony Hall café bar, Birmingham UK
The Red Lion, Birmingham UK

The number of hugely talented young musicians making a big impact on the jazz scene is really quite extraordinary, and thankfully there are promotional organisations capable of giving many of them a showcase.

Fans in the West Midlands should count themselves particularly blessed, and this was well demonstrated on Friday when trombonist Tom Green’s Septet appeared at the Symphony Hall café bar Rush Hour Blues session for Jazzlines, and guitarist Tam de Villiers brought his 4tet to The Red Lion in the Jewellery Quarter for a gig promoted by Birmingham Jazz.

Both groups are on tour to promote new CDs – recordings I have yet to hear but which have already drawn plenty of critical praise.

Even before Tom Green had taken his first trombone solo at Symphony Hall one thing was immediately striking: From the opening bars of the Septet’s first number, it was clear that he is already a quite formidable composer and arranger.

The unity of the group, the interweaving of parts for saxophones, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass and drums, the use of counterpoint and counter melodies, the rich harmonies . . . this was arranging at an astonishingly high level. The result was a band that not only sounded remarkably cohesive, but also performed with tremendous authority and strength, giving the impression of a much larger ensemble. The music – mostly taken from the band’s CD Skyline – simply swept you away, and that is quite an achievement.

Green is also an articulate soloist, and he has excellent musical companions in trumpeter/flugelhornist James Davison, tenor saxophonist Sam Miles, alto and soprano saxophonist Tommy Andrews, pianist Sam James, bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and – a very familiar face from the past at the Rush Hour Blues sessions – drummer JJ Wheeler.

Davison, in particular, is an exceptionally fluent and creative soloist, and it would have been good to hear more from pianist James – strong in the ensembles, but a little short of solo space.

On to The Red Lion, where guitarist Tam de Villiers – born and brought up in the UK, but a Paris resident for several years – brought his three French colleagues to officially launch the 4tet’s CD Panacea.

The group’s music embraces freewheeling contemporary improvising, electric guitar effects, the feeling of freely improvised jazz (but usually in a carefully structured way), intense cross-rhythms, and even contemporary classical elements.

De Villiers, with tenor saxophonist David Prez, bassist Frederic Chiffoleau and drummer Karl Jannuska, form a very strong musical unit – there are solo passages, but always within the context of the broad sweep of the guitarist’s compositions. Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, for example, has a spiky theme, with an engaging guitar-tenor counter melody, and is suddenly driven by a relentless accelerando from drums and bass into a wildly rocking beat.

Stimulating music, but it was a great shame that such a small number of fans came to hear this excellent group – and also a shame that The Red Lion pub management seemed unable, or unwilling, to tame the intrusive heavy bass beat of the juke box on the floor below. In every other way, it’s a first-rate venue.

Tam de Villiers at The Red Lion on Friday (Photo © John Watson/

Tam de Villiers at The Red Lion on Friday (Photo © John Watson/

  • For more photographs by John Watson together with news and reviews go here.

Categories: Live review

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1 reply

  1. Thanks John for the recognition of the strength of the scene in Birmingham. Last week I heard four good to excellent gigs and would have heard two more on Tuesday if I hadn’t gone down to London for the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. And there is plenty to come this week!

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