SJM editor Charlie Anderson interviews three members of the Ivo Neame Quintet: pianist Ivo Neame, saxophonist Tori Freestone and vibraphonist Jim Hart.
How did the quintet come about?
“It came about because it's built on musical relationships that have been
developed over a long period of time. I've been playing with Jim Hart for a long time and a lot of the music I wrote had him in mind. I wanted to have a blowing instrument involved as well because I like the direct connection to singing that an instrument like a saxophone has. Tori Freestone plays flute really well too, and I wanted to have that option in the band, too.”
What was it like studying music at the Royal Academy? Did you find it beneficial?
“Like everything in life it had its ups and downs. I met loads of great musicians there (like Jasper Hoiby and Gwilym Simcock) and the teachers were all fantastic – Martin Speake, Barak Schmool, Oren Marshall etc. I feel like I only started to improve when I left though because it was only then that I started practising a lot.”
Whenever I hear your music I often feel I’m being taken on a journey. When you compose do you visualise it that way?
“Yes, sometimes. I like to write pieces that have a narrative quality to them. Not always. Sometimes it's just abstract and I just like the sound of whatever I have decided to write – there's not necessarily a deeper meaning to the composition. I like to connect to music on many different levels and I'm always looking for variety in musical approaches.”
As a multi-instrumentalist are there other instruments that you’d like to play?
“Not really. I'm trying to practise the accordion whenever I can because I feel like that is a really natural double in a band – to play piano sometimes and then to change the texture by playing accordion. I like the fact that they're both acoustic instruments as well. I don't really have much time to practise sax or clarinet these days but I do the occasional gig playing sax.”
What plans do you have for the future? Will you be doing a quintet recording?
“Yes, we're playing at King's Place on April 12 and a friend is coming to record the gig. Hopefully there will be a record in there! It might be we'll go to the studio to record – it depends how well the gig goes!”
“I just did a really fun two-piano gig with Jason Rebello that was recorded, so will probably be putting that out as some point soon, too! Apart from that I'm keeping really busy playing with all sorts of people and enjoying it all!”
We don’t see very much of you in Brighton. I think the only time I’ve seen you here has been with Ivo Neame’s group. Do you have any plans to do gigs here with your trio?
“I'd love to play in Brighton with the trio. I'm in the middle of a jazz-sponsored UK tour at the moment and the majority of the gigs have been farther afield as the funding gives bands the opportunity to get to different regions of the UK, but it would be possible to do a gig with my trio outside of the touring period in Brighton as I'm based in London. I've always been fond of Brighton, too and I have a lot of family over this way, so yes – I hope I can get to do something here really soon with the trio.”
I’ve listened to some samples from your debut album, In The Chop House, and it sounds amazing. How did the album come about?
“Thank you so much – I'm so glad you like the album. I’d already had three albums released with a quartet that I co-lead (and much of the music is co-written with that project) but I’d been working with the trio over the last few years and developing compositions that lent themselves to the trio format and were much more individual to me. Most of the writing for the album took place after my involvement in the Manchester Jazz Festival 2010 Surroundings project, which was a large ensemble project led by trumpeter/composer Neil Yates. Having the opportunity to renew old collaborations with so many great musicians on this project plus Neil's beautiful writing, inspired me to set up the trio and particularly to go back to my folk roots and infuse my own compositions with this flavour. I wrote the tune In the Chop House when I got back from the festival, and it’s named after Mr Thomas's Chop House the Victorian pub in Manchester near St Ann's Square where the band would congregate after a day of rehearsals (the front cover of the album features a painting entitled Thomas's Chop House by a Manchester-based artist, Liz Taylor-Webb, a mentee of Lowry, too).”
What do you like most about playing in the trio format, without a chordal instrument?
“I love the trio format and I’d already been playing with Dave and Tim for years in many different ensembles and formats and, as well as being great friends, we’d always had a strong musical rapport. Although the sparser format puts more responsibility and challenges the stereotypical roles of each player, it also allows a more open quality and it’s possible to push our own boundaries, playing openly and freely while having the knowledge that we can rely on each other for some solidity and grounding at any given point.”
What’s your approach to teaching jazz?
“Every student is unique and I try to identify this in each student and build from this point. I encourage improvisation using the building blocks of the genre. To me it’s like learning a language and that's how I like to teach it – I try to get students to hear the sound first, then start experimenting with it, and only after that give it some kind of grammatical label. To me the process is more organic and individual this way and I always suggest to students when information is being handed directly to them in an educational environment, to take it on board and then put it aside until they're ready to process it.”
What do you like most about performing with Ivo Neame?
“It is always surprising. He is an incredible improviser and is more aware of shape and form than anyone else I know.”
Jazz Times said: “Jim Hart’s vibraphone work shows why this lonely instrument deserves more ears.” Is the vibraphone a lonely instrument?
“I think in a way it is, although it’s not the word I would choose. There are certainly fewer vibes players than players of other instruments, but that has a positive aspect to it as it means vibes players have a great deal of artistic space to work in.”
What do you think of the latest renaissance in vibraphone playing in recent years. Do you see the instrument becoming more popular?
“I'm not sure it is a renaissance as such. There have always been many great vibes players around. It's just that peak players like Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson were such mega stars and the instrument was so young that people think since their time it has died off. But I think it has continued to evolve and find its place in many areas of music. It's great we are hearing it a lot now but I don't think it ever went away.”
Tell us about your approach to playing chords on the vibraphone. When you voice a chord, which notes do you like the best?
“I don't know if I can say which notes I like the best. The right ones are my favourite! I always try to think melodically when constructing chords, to give each note a linear function. Harmony is just counter melody really. I've learned from taking piano voicings and reducing them from five or six notes so that less can be more. Sometimes two notes can be more effective than four. I've listened to a lot of guitarists like Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Wolfgang Muthspiel to see how they use smaller numbers of notes to great effect.”
The Ivo Neame Quintet perform at The Verdict in Brighton on Friday 28th March, 2014.