Bunch Of Fives: John Pope | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Improviser, bass virtuoso and composer John Pope will be performing with the John Pope Quintet online, direct from Blank Studios, Newcastle on Sunday 4th October (7:30pm). Tickets are pay what you feel (suggested donation of £5) and available to purchase here.

Before the performance, we caught up with John to ask him to give us a bunch of fives regarding his favourite UK Jazz artists.

My bunch of fives is a tiny cross-section of some UK jazz artists who’ve been inspiring to me in some way. I suppose you could say there’s a bit of a ‘lesser known’ theme here; some of these artists have been well-recognised, and some were/are still a bit less frequently named, but they’ve all been big deals to me in my relationship with the music. One of the great things for me about UK jazz is that it tends to always be some kind of cross-pollination with another music; we don’t have quite as prominent a conservatoire/school culture for jazz and improvised music as they do it the USA, so there’s almost always some other ingredient from a musician’s personal history that winds up in the mix. I’ve outlined a bit of what I think that is for each artist, plus how they’ve been important to me.

Led Bib
With the current crop of young voices from London leading a popular resurgence for UK jazz, I’m reminded of how my own introduction to the music was somewhat sparked by the discovery of bands like Led Bib. 15 years ago there was another spike in interest for UK jazz, driven by bands like Polar Bear and Portico Quartet who combined art-rock, punk, electronica and jazz into their inventive sounds. But for me, Led Bib were always my favourite of that crop. Driven by drummer Mark Holub they’re a hard-hitting but playful band, with unpredictable compositions and a gung-ho attitude to improvisation that makes every second of their music sound like it could explode in any direction. They’re still going strong today and I’m always excited to see what they bring out next.

Joe Harriot
Born in Jamaica in the 1920s, alto saxophonist Joe Harriot made his name in UK jazz as one of a crop of Caribbean musicians who relocated to London in the 50s and joined the growing bebop scene. Amongst a culture of musicians who mostly played music influenced by American jazz of the time, Harriot was a master of the style, but also a restless innovator. He pioneered the fusion of jazz with indian music, and was an early proponent of free-form improvisation, recording a clutch of completely improvised albums in the early 60s and incorporating purely abstract sections in his performances. Sadly his life was plagued with illness and financial struggle, and outside of the UK he remains little-recognised, but his influence on the first generation of UK improvisers like Evan Parker and John Stevens, as well as his more stylistic contributions to jazz, remains vital.

Black Top
The duo of pianist Pat Thomas and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson is a mutant concoction of free improvisation, jazz abstractions, lo-fi electronics and kitchen-sink musical exploration. Both musicians with long histories and reputations, Thomas in the avant-garde and Robinson in a more mainstream (but still uncompromising) vein, their ongoing collaboration is a vehicle for complete freedom and defiant inventiveness. Frequently working with highly recognised guests and collaborators, and almost always recording live, Black Top have performed everywhere from the tiniest DIY art space to the stages of internationally recognised festivals, always with the same questing sense of sound. Their music is a spirited, daring celebration of Afro-Caribbean identity and experimentalism. Hugely inspiring.

Graham Collier
A Tyneside native and fellow double-bass player, Graham Collier has the distinction of being the first UK musician to graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, in 1963. His bass playing and bandleader instincts are formidable, but for me his contribution to jazz really shines as a composer and an educator. The author of several insightful texts on the practice of leading and composing for improvising bands, Collier was a dedicated proponent of spontaneity and discovery in his work. Regardless of how big the ensemble, or how experienced the musicians (he was a tireless champion of youth bands and music education), Colliers works are challenging to perform but open up the possibilities of the moment; through rehearsal and performance the works would blossom and change, allowing the individuality of the players to make its most meaningful impact. His maxim, “Jazz happens in real time, once”, is always in my mind when I’m dreaming up compositions.

Laura Cole
I feel like I should probably mention somebody with whom I’ve actually worked in this list, as a reflection on the scene I’m part of, plus enthusing about Laura’s music is always something I’m ready to do! A piano player, improviser and composer, she leads the 8-piece Metamorphic, which blends free improvisation, spoken word and deceptively simple composition together into a huge sound that seems to stop time with its depth and poetry. She has collaborated and performed with a host of creative musicians from all over the North of England and beyond, as well as working as a curator and programmer in her adoptive hometown of Leeds. I’m deeply grateful to have been able to play her music and know her, and I include her on this list as a kind of cipher for all my friends and colleagues in the diverse, inspiring scene here in the North!

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