Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Morton Fork & his Gang.

I arrived in Belgium at the end of 1988, a great period for jazz in Brussels and music in general. There was so much happening and so many places to play, unlike today. I can't list all of the places that presented music but I remember that each type of music had a page to itself in the local newspaper 'Le Soir' (MAD), and most cafés still stayed open until two or three in the morning ...... that's just how it was. I'd come to Belgium to visit family but very quickly started playing in local bands and jamming with all the great musicians here, and the Brussels Conservatory decided to open it's doors to jazz  starting a jazz section which would (much) later become a degree course in the years 2000. A friend of mine told me about another English sax player Geoff Leigh who had played in a group called Henry Cow, and who was living in his street. A few weeks later I was introduced to Geoff whilst playing a festival in Brussels and we immediately became good friends, chatting away about jazz and music in general, and spending hours laughing about Belgium and it's peculiarities. Anyhow, I mentioned to Geoff an idea I had about making a 'mobile group' of three or four horn players + a drummer. Geoff was immediately taken with the idea and we picked a few people and started rehearsing.  

The First Line Ups.
At the beginning we chose a few people we thought would fit the groups mood and we ended up as a  quintet, although this line up only lasted two or three rehearsals :

Geoff - tenor sax & flute. Pierre Six - Tenor Sax. Claude Janssens - Trombone. Pierre Narcisse - drums, and myself (Joe Higham) Soprano sax

Right from the very beginning Geoff wondered if we should really bring in a bass into the music and  suggested I meet a friend of his called Guy Segers, who he knew through the Rock In Opposition movement. Guy plays bass and had played with many people over the years and especially Univers Zero, a Belgian band that toured the world playing a very heavy type of chamber rock. So Guy came along to a rehearsal and of course we then became a sextet ...... four horns, bass and drums ..... but we still needed more, yes more. Of course as a band develops, especially if you enjoy checking out peoples suggestions, it's interesting to add extra players who in the beginning are friends of friends, almost. And so the group developed very quickly into a first incarnation of 7 musicians :

Myself - soprano sax,  Geoff - tenor sax/flute, Daniel Stokart - alto sax, Claude Janssens - trombone, Mark Bogaerts - baritone & alto sax + guitar, Guy Segers - bass, Pierre Narcisse - drums.  

The Name.
The name came from various brainstorming sessions, with probably many suggestions, however Geoff came across this expression one day whilst browsing a book (or encyclopaedia) and thought that it perfectly fitted the group. I must say I somehow thought it was a bit clumsy but liked the idea behind it, and although The Morton Fork Gang was the official name we often referred to the band as just (The) Morton Fork. 

Here's what Wiki says on the subject, which looks fairly correct - Morton's Fork : Wikipedia 

The Next Episode.
We played a few concerts with this group, and I must say that the music - as I remember it - was rough, but at the same time very exciting and crossed many borders between jazz, rock and free jazz. I still have a cassette of the first concert which I should digitalise and put up on this blog-post (one of these days). However, the trombone player Claude felt a little out of his depth in this music, and also had a day job which required more attention. This meant that we had to find another trombone player which in Belgium (at the time) wasn't so easy. So, we opted for the friends system again and ended up with a cello player, Jan Kuijken. Jan was busy playing an electric cello and so could make sounds from Hendrix to Bach, which of course suited us fine!

On the photo 
L to R standing : Geoff - tenor sax/flute, Pierre Narcisse - drums, Guy Segers - bass, Daniel Stokart - alto sax.
Sitting : Jan Kuijken - cello, Mark Bogaerts - baritone & alto sax + guitar, Myself - soprano sax.

The boys in action @ Travers Jazz Club (1990)
The Final Version.
Oddly enough we - at least I do - still have loads of taped recordings of concerts with the (above) line up, but somehow we didn't get round to recording anything properly at that time, and it's unfortunate that there aren't more photos, but that of course was a period before digital cameras were on the go. However the final version of the group, which played the most concerts, was recorded properly although it was never released. We recorded 2 nights at the Botanique in Brussels which amounted to 30 odd tunes recorded - some tunes two or three times of course. By this stage the group had changed it's drummer and had Daniel Denis (the drummer of Univers Zero) and this gave the group a much heavier sound as Daniel was able to play in many styles and always went for precision in terms of his playing.

I thought to post two tunes from these recording just for the fun of hearing the music many years later. It's interesting to hear how strong and original the band was for that time. I suppose you could draw comparisons between the Lounge Lizards and Morton Fork as it has some of the same directions and never lacked humour.

The two pieces here are with the line up as follows :

Myself - soprano sax,  Geoff - tenor sax/flute, Daniel Stokart - alto sax, Mark Bogaerts - baritone & alto sax + guitar, Jan Kuijken - cello, Guy Segers - bass, Daniel Denis - drums.    

I picked the tunes posted here really by chance. As I mentioned there are 33 tunes/takes to choose from, but I finally went for a standard from Horace Silver - Senor Blues, that I arranged for the band - I also arranged Chippie from Ornette Coleman, and believe it or not Come Sunday from Duke Ellington which worked well with the band, however the rest of the repertoire was original. Kilometers was basically a piece by Geoff which he brought into a rehearsal one day. I can't remember if he thought there was something missing (or maybe was incomplete), but I ended up tagging this idea which I already had - but nowhere to use - onto the theme (starts at 1:14), and hey presto Kilometers was up and running! 

Kilometers (G.Leigh/J.Higham) 
Solos - Geoff and Mark.

Senor Blues (Horace Silver) - arr J.Higham
Solos - Jan and Daniel Stokart.

I should also add that none of this music is mixed and originally we'd thought to do some over dubbing, but this never happened. It seemed that we were almost starting to get somewhere with the music when disaster struck. Geoff became very ill and had to go back to the UK, Daniel Stokart had kidney problems and ended up having regular dialysis (stopping him from travelling with the band), Jan had an illness of the inner ear and could no longer be subjected to noise for several months. We had several offers for big festivals which of course we naturally had to turn down, and so the band just went into demise. Anyhow it's interesting to listen to the music and wonder what could of happened with such an interesting line up, but that's for another life time!

I hope you enjoy the music and in the meanwhile I'm off to look for the cassettes of earlier Morton concerts on the off chance there's a few more bits I can add onto this post.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Blowing my own trumpet, as you say.

Thought I'd just add in a quick reminder for all those living within driving, walking, flying distance of Brussels of a couple of exciting dates coming up. Why exciting ........ umm, err, well I'm playing!

Sunday 13th February 

Joe Higham 4tet ::: 20h

Joe Higham - sax and clarinet
Frederik Leroux - guitar and sounds
Hugo Antunes - bass
Marek Patrman - drums

Friday 25th February 

The OPen Source @ JazzOlder ::: 20h

Joe Higham - sax & clarinet
Augusto Pirodda - piano
Hugo Antunes - bass
Joao Lobo - drums

You can listen to the OPen Source here if you're interested to know what it's about. In the meanwhile I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Phil Bancroft and the lost CDs - Pt 2.

In the first posting of  Phil Bancroft and the lost CDs - Pt 1 (see previous posting) I ended up only getting Phil's first CD looked at, and only just the bear bones at that. I listened to it again and again over the past few days whilst writing all of this and realised how much there was on there that I'd forgotten, after all I bought the CD some 7 or 8 years ago! In fact writing about music is (I find) an excellent way of really looking in depth at what it all means to you. Here's what I wrote on the previous post to explain my first introduction to Headlong.

I once called the office of Caber records, a now extinct CD label for promoting Scotland's jazz music and musicians, after reading a little quote on the CD sleeve saying that you could return the disc if you weren't satisfied by the music. I'd just read a review on a disc by Phil Bancroft and his then 4tet called Headlong and thinking it sounded really interesting ordered the disc from Caber. On first hearing the CD I was a little disappointed due to the fact that the sax was not taking a more 'upfront' traditional role, which is what I'd been expecting. I called the Caber office a few days later and started explaining the situation (taking into account the remark on the CD about returns). The secretary for some reason didn't get what I was saying and said that Phil was in the office and why didn't I speak to him ....!!! So, onto the line he came, and I then had to explain the situation to my embarrassment and of course to Phil's amazement. He stayed calm and suggested politely that maybe I should give the CD a second chance and then the conversation carried on a bit as I asked after his other albums. Anyhow, I kept the CD, and to cut an already long story short, I ended up over the next two years buying a packet of albums from Caber, all of which are excellent. In fact, and the reason for this posting, Headlong became one of my all time favourite albums and seriously influenced my thinking about composition and musical direction. Also as I discovered the gems that were coming from the Bancroft brothers Phil and Tom I was more and more interested in getting a more personal style of music for myself, and those discs were in a way the start of one of my projects Al-Orkesta. But that's a whole other thing, and here I thought to highlight a few of those CDs from the now defunct Caber label. How these guy and their music missed the radar is a mystery to me, and of course the failing of such a world-class label also(*).

Headlong (Caber 2004)

Phil Bancroft - Tenor Sax
Mike Walker - Guitar
Reid Anderson - Bass
Thomas Strønen - Drums

After introducing the album it's difficult not to over-blow it's qualities, however, there's much on this album yet at the same time so understated that it gradually gets under your skin, something that all good music does, a 'grower' as some people say. There's also the unique quality of the musicians that Phil choose and with such a combination as this you end up with excellent music and (naturally in jazz) very sympathetic support for each other. Mike Walker absolutely blows up a storm at some points the first tune (see below) being a good example. Reid Anderson from the now well known Bad Plus plays with his usual taste, and due to the fact that the music is so contemporary he really fits well into the sound of the group/music, it's a shame that this was there only record. And finally Thomas Strønen, for all that don't know this drummer come percussionist make an effort to listen to some of his other work as he takes the notion of playing rhythm (or drums) in a very different direction from most players. 

Golden Section - Tk 1.

The music ranges from delicate melodies, which develop into hard swinging pieces, to much freer forms, in fact much of the music really hangs on a precipice of in and out which is what keeps it so fresh. Tracks such as Goes Around, Comes Around start as gentle 'Ornette-esque' melodies developing into full blown free improvisations, and yet tracks Samson Sam Song Part 1 and later Headlong are both very loose pieces, gentle ballads that remains delicate throughout, and such lovely tunes full of space and atmosphere - it's on these pieces that Thomas Strønen really uses his percussive palette. BOIP Avoiding being a good example of a piece that starts in what seems a boppish manner and then little by little becomes a (melodic) free for all, which continues swinging, in fact never lets up. In fact the strength of the album is exactly the point that I missed when phoning Caber's office, nobody really hogs the limelight on this album, it's truly collective. Players emerge from the group to play more (solo?) or less as compared to the others around them, and this gives an effect of real music rather than the usual - theme, solo, theme .... etc. Unfortunately I never got a chance to hear the group live, and I think that they maybe only toured the UK once, which is a shame when hearing the results. I seem to remember that the 4tet played a BBC Radio 3 session, but again I didn't catch it and I think that this group live must have been a very exciting group, and probably more suited to live work than the  confines of  CD.

Double Trouble - Tk 5.

Finally here's a video of one of Phil Bancroft's latest projects 'Home Small as the World'. I don't know if there's any album coming out of it but the music sounds fresh and interesting as always. I know he has another CD worth of material but since (on his web pages) it's been ready for release 'soon' for quite a while I wonder if it will ever actually be released.

You should also check out Phil's wacky YouTube video Message from the Future which is done with the usual Bancroft sense of humour, and of course no boundaries when talking about music.

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