|L-R: Gerald Cleaver, Chris Cheek, Barry Green|
Pianist Barry Green and saxophonist Chris Cheek will be on tour in the UK with Gerald Cleaver, as the Barry Green Trio with material from their new album "Great News." They spoke to Peter Bacon in advance of the tour:
The place is the New York borough of Brooklyn, the time is January 2014, it’s freezing cold and one Brit and two Americans are involved in an intense musical conversation. Some of the time is taken up with rehearsing, but then in one “old school” six-hour stint in the Systems Two Recording Studio a CD is made.
It’s called Great News, it is by the Barry Green Trio (Barry Green, piano; Chris Cheek, tenor saxophone; Gerald Cleaver, drums) and it will be released on Moletone Records on 18 September. The trio will be playing in London, Bristol, Ashburton, Scarborough and Barcelona later this month. So how did the British pianist meet Cleaver and Cheek?
“I first met Gerald Cleaver around seven or eight years ago in New York,” Barry recalls. “He was depping in the Angelica Sanchez Quartet in a tiny venue in Brooklyn, Ingrid Laubrock and I were the only audience members. We were a little drunk!
“But, I straight away knew that I hoped to play with him some day. He radiates music, on and off the stage.
“Before this recording Chris Cheek and I had never met, but I was very aware of his sound and style from both his albums with Paul Motian and his own records, and we immediately had a musical connection.”
Chris Cheek says: “Barry contacted me and it sounded like a fun, interesting combo. He sent the music ahead of time… He was very organised and I thought the tunes were very accessible.”
In addition to four Green compositions Great News also includes a Monk tune, a few standards, John Martyn’s May You Never, and two dedications to late, great pianists - Grew, for Mulgrew Miller, and Cede, for Cedar Walton - which are credited to the trio as a whole. And then there is Paul Motian’s The Owl Of Cranston.
Chris recalls: “We played that song in the Electric Bebop Band years ago and it's a beautiful and evocative little number. I did have a copy of one of Paul's handwritten charts and brought that to this session. Sometimes the way music looks affects how you play it.”
I asked Chris Cheek if the bass-lessness of the trio was important to its sound and way of working.
“It's a different sound and experience playing without bass, things aren't really anchored in kind of a nice way. It seems that we all have a little more room somehow and the freedom to not try and fulfil conventional positions.
“And, you know, three is a magic number!”
Jazz’s history, and making connections with it, are clearly important to Barry Green. You can hear it in his piano playing, you can see it in the song choices on this album, and he stresses it in conversation.
“I have been playing on the UK and international jazz scene now for almost twenty years! I've always been aware of how the history of the music connects to the present,” Barry tells me.
“I feel that now, more than ever, we have to celebrate great musicians before we lose them!“Bobby Wellins, Pete King, Don Weller, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann are all still playing great, and in every note they play you can hear 60(ish) years of playing improvised music. That is always what I'm trying to achieve in my playing, whether I'm playing standards, free music, or contemporary compositions. It's all the same thing to me, regardless of style.”
And it’s those connections that led him to seek out Chris and Gerald.
“I'm very excited to be touring with these two musicians. Musically, anything could happen on the gigs. Between them they have played with some of the great jazz musicians like Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Craig Taborn, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel… and I feel they bring this whole range of experience (and their own unique take on it) to every note they play.
“Gerald and Chris represent that connection to history for me. Chris played with Paul Motian, Paul Motian played with Monk, Bill Evans and Billie Holiday. So, in a way ,they will be on the stage at the Vortex too.”
o - o - o - o
Peter Bacon is a freelance writer and editor in the English Midlands. He runs thejazzbreakfast.com
Great News is released on Moletone Records on 18 September.
The Barry Green Trio is playing the following UK dates:
Sunday 20 Sept: The Hen and Chickens, Bristol, 8pm.
Monday 21 Sept: Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, 11.30pm.
Tuesday 22 Sept: St Lawrence Chapel, Ashburton, Devon, 8pm.
Thursday/Friday 24/25 Sept: The Vortex, London, 8.30pm.
Sunday 27 Sept: Scarborough International Jazz Festival, Scarborough, 4pm.
LINK: Barry Green’s website is www.moletone.com