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Jazz Diary.

Byline: Peter Bacon

The big gig this week features a man who has been at the heart of American jazz for over 50 years, and one who really does deserve that horribly overused word: unique.

Bassist Steve Swallow is unusual in many respects. Among them are the sound he gets and the role he plays in a group, be it small or large.

That sound comes mainly, of course, from the heart, mind and hands of Swallow, but it is also down to the instrument he plays.

He has played electric bass for as long as I can remember, but it is a special electric bass, made for him to minimise the use of metal and to maximise the use of wood in its construction.

The result is a lithe and sinewy sound, but rooted and lyrical all at once.

That is just how Steve plays, mixing the bass tradition of rooting the music in the chord changes while also contributing long, loping melodic lines to complement the foreground action of the tune or the improviser. For a long while Steve has been the partner of jazz composer, bandleader and keyboard player Carla Bley, and while he is usually a member of her bands, on Saturday evening at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham she is the Hammond B3 organist in the Steve Swallow Quintet.

The band is completed by tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Jorge Rossy.

This Birmingham Jazz gig is the penultimate one in a tour which started in Vienna and has taken them from Kiev to Istanbul and back via Athens, Amsterdam and Paris. It's one of only two British dates, the other being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

The Steve Swallow Quintet is at the CBSO Centre at 8pm on Saturday, tickets and more information on 0121 780 3333 or at The other major concert of the week features an even bigger name from the jazz canon, Dave Brubeck, though the man himself will be present only as the inspiration of his sons.

Brubecks Play Brubeck features pianist Darius, bassist Chris and drummer Dan with Dave O'Higgins as guest saxophonist, and reinterprets those famous tunes like It's a Raggy Waltz and Unsquare Dance. The band also plays some of their own material.

Brubecks Play Brubeck is at Warwick Arts Centre on Wednesday, starting at 8pm. Tickets are available at 024 7652 4524 or at Other gigs of note this week: Tonight: Gilad Atzmon brings his quartet to Earlsdon Cottage in Coventry.

The gig starts at 8.30pm and is a Jazz Coventry promotion. It's a good upstairs room and the Atzmon atmosphere should prove heady indeed. Tickets at the door and more at Bassist Andy Champion has a quintet called ACV and they are at The Yardbird in Birmingham from 9pm, with the usual jam session from 11pm. This is a Cobweb Collective gig, and entry is free. More at Tomorrow: The Steve Tromans Quartet plays the Rush Hour Blues session from 5.30pm to 7pm, in the Symphony Hall foyer bar. Top quality jazz of a searching nature. Free entry.

Saxophonist Mike Williams leads his quartet, with Gareth Fowler on guitar at The Drum from 8pm. Tickets at the door for this Cobweb Collective gig.

Sunday: Another bass-led band, this time Hamish Livingstone's Spec Ed, at the Brown Lion in Hall Street, B18 6BS. Starting 9pm, this is yet another Cobweb Collective gig.

Tuesday: Saxophonist Chris Aldridge's Beebe takes the regular Birmingham Jazz monthly Jam House slot, which was originally to have featured singer Lupa. It starts around 8.30pm, entry is free, and there is more at birminghamjazz. The Chris Bowden Quartet, with Chris on alto, Andy Bunting on piano, Nick Jurd on bass and Miles Levin on drums, is at the Spotted Dog in Digbeth, from 9pm, with a collection taken to support the band. A Cobweb Collective gig, hosted by Mike Fletcher.

Peter Bacon


Steve Swallow is at the heart of American jazz
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 10, 2011
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