THE autumn and Christmas season of jazz, world, folk, film and classical music at the still socially distanced National Centre for Early Music, York, is under way
Saxophonist Jean Toussaint, who came to prominence with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, returned to St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, last Friday to launch the NCEM programme in the company of pianist Andrew McCormack and bass player Orlando le Fleming.
Tonight, the Black Swan Folk Club presents Devonian folk singer-songwriter John Smith, supported by Hannah Reed at 7.30pm.
Known for his intimate song-writing, honey-on-gravel voice and pioneering guitar playing, Smith has toured internationally for 15 years, and his session-musician guitar skills have been in demand from Joan Baez and Tom Jones.
Saxophone returns tomorrow at 7.30pm when Tim Garland (saxophone, bass clarinet), Malcolm Creese (double bass) and Gwilym Simcock (piano) celebrate 20 years together as the highly adventurous, ground-breaking British jazz ensemble Acoustic Triangle.
Noted for their site-specific work, particularly in sacred buildings, such as St Margaret’s Church, they draw on wide-ranging influences, from ancient themes and folk styles, through impressionism and the jazz era, to the avant-garde, in Garland and Simcock’s compositions, complemented by works by Henry Purcell, John Taylor, Olivier Messiaen, Cole Porter and Maurice Ravel.
A third jazz highlight will be Byron Wallen’s Four Corners showcasing London trumpet player Wallen’s new album, Portrait, on November 10, with guitarist Rob Luft, bass player Paul Michael and drummer Rod Youngs.
Conceived when sitting in the central square in Woolwich, the album’s nucleus is Anthem For Woolwich, composed in response to Wallen being struck by the community around him with its mixture of ages and nationalities.
Taking inspiration from “the timeless sound of the human soul from all corners of the Earth”, Wallen explores and reinvents blues, mode and groove landmarks, while also drawing on early Renaissance music, Central and East African rhythms and polyphony and the works of Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk.
“I’m hoping that York Music Forum’s Ian Chalk will be able to organise for young York jazz players to play with Byron and take part in the concert,” says Delma.
The autumn season presents three world-class guitarists, demonstrating their contrasting styles: Brit Martin Taylor, Spaniard Juan Martin and Italian Antonio Forcione.
First up, on October 15, Grammy-nominated Harlow jazz guitarist Martin Taylor shows why he is widely regarded as the world’s foremost exponent of solo jazz and finger-style playing.
Next, in his solo concert Melodic Beauty And Rhythmic Passion on October 29, Andalusian flamenco master Juan Martin performs pieces from his latest album Guitar Maestro.
Intense, artistic, passionate, unpredictable and formidably inventive jazz guitarist Antonio Forcione, from Molise, Italy, returns to the NCEM on November 26, blessed with “the hands of a tarantula and the heart of a lion”, as one reviewer put it.
Twenty albums to his name, Forcione has toured extensively, to Australia, Hong Kong, Russia and the Caribbean, as well as Europe.
“The wonderful acoustics of the NCEM’s beautiful home of St Margaret’s Church provide the perfect setting for the acoustic guitar, adding a special touch of magic to the experience,” says director and programmer Delma Tomlin.
World music is represented by not only Juan Martin but also Olcay Bayir, from Gaziantep, Turkey, and the welcome return of Making Tracks.
Making her NCEM debut on October 10 – and appearing on the cover of the NCEM’s September to December brochure to boot – Olcay Bayir focuses on ancient poems and original songs in Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian in Dream For Anatolia: an evening of music and words that reflect her Anatolian heritage. Note the earlier starting time of 6.30pm.
Set up in 2010 and relaunched with an ambitious new model in 2019, followed by a digital edition in 2020, Making Tracks brings together young artists from the UK and around the world to showcase unique musical traditions, initiate collaborations and contribute towards a global community of environmentally engaged musicians.
Full details of November 1’s NCEM concert are yet to be confirmed but the eight diverse musicians from Britain and Europe have been chosen.
Scottish folk multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer John McCusker has cancelled his John McCusker Band 30th Anniversary Tour date on October 3, although The Wishing Tree Tour gig by John Doyle, John McCusker & Michael McGoldrick is still in the diary for The Cresent, York, on November 3.
The enduring folk partnership of wife and husband Kathryn Roberts & Seth Lakeman marks 25+ years of making music with On Reflection at a rearranged NCEM concert on October 20.
Co-promoted by the Black Swan Folk Club, this celebratory night takes a whistle-stop tour through their artistic journey from the early days of folk supergroup Equation to latest album Personae, via a nod or two to their extracurricular musical adventures.
After his Unfinished Violin Project, former Bellowhead fiddle player Sam Sweeney returns the NCEM on November 19 to promote his latest album, Unearth Repeat, wherein he embraces the groove and swagger of traditional English folk and the huge sound, flair, energy and festival spirit of bands from the Celtic and Scandinavian music scenes.
Sweeney first played the NCEM when director of the National Youth Folk Ensemble. This time he will be joined by Jack Rutter on acoustic guitar, Louis Campbell on electric guitar and Ben Nicholls on double bass.
The Yorkshire Silent Film Festival plays host to Nanook Of The North (certificate U, 79 minutes) on October 14, when the pioneering 1922 documentary film will be accompanied by a live score by Frame Ensemble, a quartet of improvising musicians that specialises in creating spontaneous soundtracks for silent film.
“Pianist Jonny Best, who runs the film festival [as well as being a musician, researcher, producer, educator and writer], will be doing the accompaniment with his ensemble,” says Delma. “I find it so enthralling that they create such musical magic out of nowhere.”
Filmed by director Robert J Flaherty in the vast Canadian Arctic, where Nanook and his family live under an endless sky and in conditions of unimaginable cold, Nanook Of The North is a mix of recorded reality and staged drama, depicting the everyday struggle of the Innuit (Eskimo) people to stay alive.
From the bitter chill of the northern reaches of Arctic Quebec to Christmas at the NCEM in the form of the York Early Music Christmas Festival 2021, running from December 3 to 11.
Guest musicians include The Gesualdo Six; Joglaresa; Pocket Sinfonia; Prisma; tenor James Gilchrist and lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, plus the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists, presenting JS Bach’s B Minor Mass, with more details to follow in a separate preview shortly.
.Christmas revelry continues with modern-day folk balladeers Green Matthews on December 16. That night, Chris Green and Sophie Matthews perform Midwinter Revels: A Celebration Of Christmas Past, a seasonal selection of stories, carols, winter folk songs and tunes played on a plethora of weird and wonderful instruments.
Delma says: “We’re so pleased to be able to bring you this wonderful season of music for all tastes and to welcome friends old and new back to our home in York. We decided: let’s get dates in the diary and enjoy music-making again and try to get back to a sense of normality.
“We’ve put together a programme of world-class musicians, and we’re also looking forward to the return of our community singing group, Cuppa And A Chorus, as well as the latest in our not-to-be-missed series of silent films with live music. We hope to see you at the NCEM very soon.”
Nevertheless, in light of these pandemic times, a reduced capacity will be in operation. “The NCEM realises that audiences are returning to live events with caution, and for added safety and comfort, we are reducing our capacity so that social distancing is possible,” explains Delma.
“We are continuing to operate with many safety precautions in place and recommend mask wearing and hand sanitising.”
Tickets for the autumn season are on sale on 01904 658338 and at ncem.co.uk, joined by the York Early Music Christmas Festival from October 4. “Tickets for all concerts are selling quickly, so early booking is advisable,” recommends Delma.
“So far, there’s definitely a substantial core audience who do want to return, and we’re so fortunate that there’s no fixed seating, so we can give people more space, and hopefully they will feel more comfortable with that and will gain confidence as we come into the winter.
“That’s why we’re retaining social distancing while ensuring there’s still a three-pronged energy between the venue, the artist and the audience.”
Performances start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.