Mike Outram, Terry Seabrook, Milo Fell
The Snowdrop, Lewes
Monday 26th January 2015
The sampled song of dolphins wends its way into the air, heralding Mike Outram introducing the first bars of Softly As In a Morning Sunrise arranged by Emily Remler, one half of well-known guitar duo with American legend Larry Coryell. Dreamlike and bluesy, it breaks, oceanic, into my consciousness. The impact takes me unawares, as I haven’t heard anything quite like it before.
I’m seated on the floor in a packed Snowdrop Inn in Lewes, gazing up at dark-haired, intense Outram wielding a beautiful yellow-brown electric guitar; a few feet away is Terry Seabrook resplendent on organ, with Milo Fell’s drum kit shining golden under the lights. People have come from miles around for this gig, as if on a pilgrimage. For a raw January night, the turnout is considerable.
Coryell and Remler’s influence, along with that of John Scofield, Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny is very evident on How Insensitive, Stella By Starlight and a host of well-known songs from the jazz repertoire, completely re-imagined and re-interpreted in Outram’s own way.
This artist’s reputation has definitely preceded him. Perhaps it is the diversity of his work: from being in the Martin Speake Trio to touring nationally with children’s author Michael Rosen, perhaps it is his long track record as a songwriter, composer and improviser. Perhaps it is his work with Dylan Howe, Carleen Anderson, and other luminaries from the music industry. But looking around the audience this evening, I see that the Snowdrop has also attracted Pete Thompson and Andy Pickett of popular Brighton band Ska-Toons, along with several other singers and musicians from the area. The presence of a younger musical generation tonight accords Outram credibility and respect, not often easily granted.
However if the rapt awe that greets Outram’s performance on the part of ordinary fans is due to the popular cultural view of the guitarist as God, then clearly that perception is still alive and kicking. The clear, tuneful, vocal quality he lends to his guitar playing is striking, and stamps his own indelible mark on the sound. People stop clinking glasses and talking, and listen. Eventually you can hear a pin drop as stillness expands into the air and the only sound is that of the three instruments in conversation.
Terry Seabrook’s organ complements Outram’s playing dramatically, with mighty rolls and rumbles, and Milo Fells drumming and percussion crashes and falls like giant waves against Outram’s Montgomery-influenced octave style. Seabrook is a bolder, more assertive player than some, noticeably influenced by organist/composer Larry Goldings, but this suits Outram’s distinctive expression. He commands our attention, and is from the first note an authoritative presence on stage. As the excitement and tension build, the small performance area of the Snowdrop seems to make the sparks fly between the players as if they were dragons breathing fire at each other. Milo Fell, a naturally versatile and generous performer, handles the complex rhythms of Morning Sunrise and So Insensitive in such a way as to broaden them right out, making huge percussive soundscapes, reminiscent of a floating sea of cymbals as a backdrop to the overall sound.
Outram is an artist who paints with the guitar, with broad brush strokes on a wide canvas. Each harmonic component seems to have a corresponding colour. In that sense it has similarities with the sound of rock legend Jimi Hendrix. And, like Hendrix in his time, Outram seems very much a musician’s musician, a favourite of the cognoscenti. He responds to the audience’s recognition of him by facing them, showing them his spectrum of sound, challenging them to understand the musical paradoxes he throws at them. His work is simultaneously ‘clever’ and accessible, both intellectual and deeply intuitive. There is nothing small or humble about it: it is a wide, unashamedly panoramic sound, all-encompassing, surreal, subtle and raw at the same time.
Currently promoting his latest album CD Invenzione with bassist Steve Lawson, together with an impressive gigging schedule, Outram nevertheless lets his music speak for itself and proves that he is still an artist to watch.
Photo by Jasmine Sharif.
This review first appeared in the March 2015 issue of The Sussex Jazz Magazine, available here.