Spit and polish - Mark Lockheart with Jasper Hoiby on Friday night at the CBSO Centre (Photo © John Watson/ - for more of John's fine photos click on this one)

Spit and polish – Mark Lockheart with Jasper Høiby on Friday night at the CBSO Centre (Photo © John Watson/ – for more of John’s fine photos click on this one)

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

The first Jazzlines gig of 2016 augurs well for a strong year: three exceptionally fine musicians familiar to British jazz fans but in a fresh context. Malija is Mark Lockheart (tenor and soprano saxophones), Liam Noble (piano) and Jasper Høiby (double bass) and they chose to play this concert without anything as superfluous as a PA – not even a bass amp for Høiby.

Fully acoustic gigs are a very special joy as far as I’m concerned. The dynamics are natural, the sounds actually emanate from the instruments themselves, not from some boxes on stands left and right, and if sometimes a bass line might get slightly hidden behind some more forceful left-hand piano chords, or a sudden gruff blast of tenor might overwhelm the other instruments, well that’s real life and real music, and anyway it is somehow easier for the listener to “hear through” the more dominant sounds to the ones behind.

From the front row I had the added joy of hearing the exact moment when Mark Lockheart’s exhaled breath is turned into a musical note by being forced between a reed and a mouthpiece and on down a tube of metal. And within that is the micro-moment when Lockheart’s saliva, sitting between that reed and that mouthpiece, adds a buzz and crackle to that just-born note. I don’t quite get that kind of detail when there is a microphone, a lead, a mixing desk, an amplifier, more lead and a moving speaker cone intevening between Mark’s saliva and my ear…

But enough about spit! How did Noble and Høiby sound? And what did they all play? Liam Noble has to be one of the best cliché avoiders I know. He keeps his hands quite close together on the keyboard, favouring the close harmony over the expansive, and works those highly complex, rhythmic patterns. I have the impression he is probably his own sternest critic. Jasper Høiby is always a treat, and the absence of drums means one can take even more delight in his precision, in his endlessly inventive lines, and in the muscularity of his tone.

With the exception of the encore, a tune called Pink Mice, the evening’s programme came from the trio’s first album, The Day I Had Everything, released late last year (review here). Noble’s Wheels gave the band the chance to settle into their first set, Lockheart getting lovely singing notes in the upper register of his soprano and great creamy richness in the instrument’s lower one. Lockheart’s Almost A Tango highlighted Noble’s ability to reference jazz history – whether Monk or further back – while remaining very much his own man. Wayne’s World has Hoiby’s ability to write and play a theme which is like a Moebius strip – it circles and is continuous but gives the impression of more than one side, more than one idea.

Noble’s Blues, which closed the first half, was simply brilliant – all three players treating the age-old form a bit like Bill Frisell treats cowboy music, skirting so close to the conventions of the form without ever falling into them.

The second set signalled more stretching out, the trio’s relaxed manner acting as welcome in to what can sometimes be pretty complex music. Lockheart’s Squared danced about the stage, while Noble’s Mr Wrack explored the freer end of things and was driven by the pianist’s long-held resentment at the behaviour of a particularly unhelpful technical drawing teacher. Liam thinks he may have got it out of his system now. Malija, Høiby’s tune, has a simple but achingly beautiful theme which the bassist and Lockheart reprised during Noble’s solo.

All in all, an evening of satisfying and enriching music as well-rounded and deeply thought through as its creators’ talents.

Malija (Photo © John Watson/

Malija (Photo © John Watson/


Categories: Live review

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