Have you ever seen a bassoon in a jazz orchestra? Well you have now and to be completely honest, it was wonderful.
This Sunday saw the premier performance of bassist Matt Owens’ new suite of music commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival. Quite unlike anything you may have heard before the general premise of the Owens’ concert was to compose and arrange music for both a jazz quintet, and perhaps more unconventionally, a wind quintet featuring; flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. With one side more comfortable as improvisers and the other used to sticking to the charts it could have been a risk for everyone involved, but it was an inspired choice to team up with the Souza Winds (a group who usually work in the contemporary classical field), and by all accounts the two camps seemed to work together perfectly.
Owens’ music is mischievous and full of far reaching influences that swept the audience along on a carpet ride, taking in samba beats and Middle Eastern rhythms along the way. But undercutting the exotic nature of many of the compositions there was a true sense that the real magic happens right here at home. This is a truly English composer who, whether conscious or otherwise, has written songs that are as quaint and whimsical as a picnic in the Cotswolds.
After his opening ode to the strangely comforting nature of Manchester’s wet weather days, complete with glockenspiel raindrops and penny whistle solo, we were transported to a bygone era of cream tea and crumpets with ‘Violet’ a picture post card of a song, in which Lucy Rugman delighting everyone with her uplifting lines on the clarinet .
There is no avoiding the playful nature of this commission if you take into account ‘Children’s Theme’, a kitch and breezy number that grooved along with Owens’ walking blues infused bass line, or ‘The Mouse Song’ featuring Odbod Collective counterpart Tom Davies; but that being said, there was absolutely nothing dated or pastiche about Owens’ work, and in fact this was a complex and accomplished work akin to the likes of Loose Tubes’ madcap pianist Django Bates’ work, or even the joyful pace of much of Joe Zawinul’s later Syndicate output. In all this was a brave and enjoyable start to the MJF Originals programme that should remind all jazz composers that music can be fun as well as serious.