Stuart McCallum’s compositions are exemplary of everything that is exciting about new British jazz. Like so many other young players that are fighting to be heard, he is producing dynamically emotive music that is both fresh and relevant to enthusiasts of improvised music.
If his recent Manchester Jazz Festival commissioned score is anything to go by, his participation in the Take 5 Artist Development Scheme this year has sharpened McCallum’s already well honed compositional capabilities.
Entitled Chamber Pot, the 75 minute suite provided an impression of a musician who has matured well beyond his years. Developed into a series of movements, each denoting a mood or emotion, the piece meandered evocatively from beginning to end, leaving festival goers elated.
A strong rooting in the improvisational tradition of jazz is evident in McCallum’s writing, but it is his equal utilisation of the repetitious nature of electronic music that allows a truly innovative sound to have emerged. Much akin to stripped back Detroit techno or the minimalist ambient work of Brian Eno, McCallum’s piece evolved layer by layer. By firstly disrobing the piano and vibraphone of their harmonic qualities and restricting them to purely percussive roles, these instruments, alongside ghostly looped guitars, built repetitious rhythms that were both hypnotic and enchanting.
The majestic setting of St Ann’s Church only added to the ethereal quality of the evening, both in terms of the acoustic and the environment. The string quartet benefited greatly from the natural reverberations of the building and added a velvety depth to the already rich tonal quality of the piece.
However, it was ultimately down to ECM recording artist John Surman and Manchester saxophonist Andy Schofield to bring Chamber Pot to life with their equal improvisational flair. The rigid backbone of the piano and vibes pulsated throughout but created measures of space allowing a beautiful display of each soloist’s ideas. Complex but not ostentatious, the suite was brought to life by imaginative work on the soprano sax, bass clarinet and flute.
As we filed out of the long church pews and the late evening Manchester sun filtered through St Ann’s opulent stained glass windows, it truly felt like we had seen something special. McCallum’s ability to juxtapose modernity with tradition, structure with freedom and beauty with the darker elements of jazz, makes him one of the most exciting composers emerging today.