Mike Fletcher Trio

Town Hall, Birmingham UK

This trio – Mike Fletcher on C melody saxophone, Ollie Brice on double bass and Jeff Williams on drums – had played as half a double bill back in January at the CBSO Centre. Then they were near the start of a tour of European concert halls, the result of Mike being awarded European Concert Halls Organisation (ECHO) Rising Star status. This concert was part of that deal, Town Hall/Symphony Hall being part of ECHO, and came after most of those other European dates.

Some of the material we had heard before. Pieces like Fletcher’s Walk and Perhaps Sing A Song go way back in Fletcher’s career; others, like A Dino, In Memoriam, Aire, the saxophone and bass duet Home, and Her Grace, are more recent but also part of the January gig, and all of them appear on the band’s excellent CD on Stoney Lane Records, Vuelta, released to coincide with that CBSO outing.

All had grown and developed in the intervening touring months. Most felt more spacious, more relaxed in performance and deconstructed too.

Then there were new pieces, written on tour and inspired by the cities visited. So the concert opened with Smoke And Mirrors, from London (we had heard an early untitled version in January), and included Try Dry, from Baden-Baden, and a brief but very effective solo saxophone piece written in Barcelona.

Had the band developed greatly in the intervening four months? Well, not strikingly; it felt fairly cohesive to this listener back in January. What was noticeable was its leader’s increased self-assuredness, horn lifted to fill the vast space of Birmingham’s Town Hall with little if any amplified lift from the microphone which Fletcher kept at a distance, tone more varied, even taking on a David Murray-like swaggering fruitiness at one point. During A Dino he slowly and meticulously built an improvisation from simple, spacious phrases repeated throughout the range of the horn, increasing steadily its complexity and compacting its elements until it formed a great note-packed, soaring edifice. Architecture in music indeed!

Brice was as solid and supportive as always and turned in a few muscular solos which echoed that architectural complexity Fletcher had set up; Williams was not helped by the acoustics of the hall and his characteristic – and often courageous – plays with rhythm and accent often ended up sounding more disruptive than was probably intended.

There does seem to me a flaw in this ECHO Rising Stars concept which is no fault of these musicians but which puts them in an unnecessarily testing situation. It is that the artists nominated need to make music that is suited to large concert halls, and I’m not sure that the Mike Fletcher Trio’s music is suited in this way. Or maybe the other European venues have smaller alternatives than Birmingham Town Hall?

Heard in close proximity and preferably purely acoustically in a venue like the CBSO Centre, or maybe in a much more intimate, makeshift setting  like The Ort Cafe, for example, this music and the close interaction between its three makers would be at its most effective. Placed high up there on the Town Hall stage, there is a distance created between players and listeners which might suit a classical string quartet or even a solo classical pianist, but which does an improvising saxophone-led trio no favours.

This awkwardness is exacerbated when the auditorium of the venue can hold 1086 listeners and is playing host to less than 50, when there is no-one to introduce the band and explain the ECHO Rising Star nature of the event, and when the band leader has to talk his audience into applauding for an encore.

Categories: Live review

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