Palmer Hill Band/John O’Gallagher/Chasing The Unicorn/Birmingham Conservatoire jazz students

Various venues

A very full couple of days’ listening began on Tuesday at The Jam House for the monthly Jazzlines gig in that venue.

Tom Hill and Ian Palmer were leading a new band that also featured alto saxophonist Chris Bowden and guitarist Lee Jones. Both Tom and Ian combine their playing with other non-musical activities, Tom being increasingly active as an actor and Ian spending half his time as an airline pilot.

Chris Bowden

Chris Bowden

The band created an excellent atmosphere with a good choice of up-tempo material featuring, amongst other tunes, two by John Coltrane, A Moment’s Notice and Impressions, and a Chris Bowden tune I didn’t get the name of, but one of the many that Chris has been writing recently. These tunes showed Chris’ playing to be of a very high level, strong, coherent and full of interesting twists and slightly less anguished than sometimes in the past. Lee Jones was a revelation playing long funky lines in his solos.  Overall this is an excellent new band and it is great to see Tom in a fresh context, and to hear Ian again after what was for me a long gap.

Then it was over to The Spotted Dog to catch the second set with the band Chasing The Unicorn established by Hans Koller with American alto-saxophonist John O’Gallagher, bass player Percy Pursglove and US but partly British based drummer Jeff Williams. John has been in Birmingham this week working with student groups from the jazz course at the Birmingham Conservatoire. On Monday he gave a fascinating class on the ways he draws on the contemporary classical 12-tone system in his own compositions and showed how John Coltrane also drew on that system in his solos in his final period in 1966/67. Not being able to read music, I was only able to understand about 5% of the class, but that small percentage was really interesting and gave me new insights into Coltrane’s late period.

John O'Gallagher

John O’Gallagher

As a player John uses this system in a jazz way and his music does not actually sound like that of composers such as Webern, but through its use John is able to create fresh and original lines in his compositions and solos. In a sense it is a more intellectual approach to the music than that of  the Palmer Hill Band, but any possible feeling of austerity is mitigated by John’s strong tone on the alto sax and his swing feel. All these aspects were apparent in the warm atmosphere of The Spotted Dog on St. Patrick’s Night. John’s grandparents emigrated to the USA from Donegal so there was a nice irony in his performing on that night. The tunes were mostly from Hans Koller’s repertoire, and the interaction between John and Hans was excellent on this material. Percy Pursglove on bass and Jeff Williams on drums provided the subtle rhythmic support this music requires.

John had been coaching two student quintets and these groups performed last night in the Recital Hall at the Conservatoire. This approach has worked very well with a number of visitors, notably Dave Holland and Mark Turner, before John. The tunes are sent in advance, rehearsed before the arrival of the visiting tutor and then worked up intensively over the two or three days of the visit before the performance.

John had chosen a number of quite tricky but nicely varied compositions from colleagues in New York, a couple of his own and others by relatively unknown players, at least over here, such as Owen Howard, Russ Lossing and Jeff Davis. Each quintet played five tunes (full list below) with John joining in on the playing of the tune and taking a couple of solos himself. Both groups performed really well, if perhaps a little nervously at first. But what really works in these sessions is that the students really come out as they gain confidence and in a sense perform above their normal level. It’s invidious to mention names as inevitably the horn players are more prominent, but take a note of the names in the two quintets listed below:

Band A: Lee Griffiths, alto sax; Vittorio Mura, tenor sax; Hugh McDermott, piano; Sam Ingvorsen, bass and Billy Weir, drums. They played: John O’Gallagher Extralogical Railman; Ron Horton Grovelling; Bobby Avey I Should Have Known No Less; Jeff Davis Dirt Farmer; Tony Moreno 55 Scotch.

Band B: Elliot Strand, trumpet; Josh Schofield, alto sax; Jacky Naylor, piano; Iona Crosby, bass; David Sugden, drums. They played: Russ Lossing Turn; Owen Howard Like Buttah; Dave Allen Musing The Obscure; John O’Gallagher Uroboros; Tony Moreno The West’s Best.

Categories: Live review

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