Chris Batchelor (Zoetic Tour, June 9 – July 2) – London Jazz News

After the pandemic twice sabotaged the unveiling of some of the most idiomatically diverse new music of his versatile career, trumpeter/composer Chris Batchelor, with the Zoetic Quintet, is finally touring the UK until in July (full list of locations and dates below). Zoetic is a subtle and sophisticated bedroom group he designed three years ago. This includes two other former Loose Tubes members, and distills nearly four decades of experience crossing cultures down to the essentials he loves most. Reporting by John Fordham:

Chris Batchelor. Photo credit: Dan Redding

Zoetic is close to being a family group for Chris Batchelor. His wife who plays the viola Margrit Hasler joins him in his tightly knit quintet formation, alongside guitarist John Parricelli and bassist Steve Watts – both former acolytes of the great big band Loose Tubes – and regular partner of the mischievous fluid genre Paul Clarivis playing tabla and various percussion.

Zoetic’s performances reached a climax of kaleidoscopic invention and spontaneous fluidity, even by the adventurous standards that Batchelor’s eccentric ensembles have displayed for years – moving with cold conversational ease between serpentine themes that suggest Arabic music. , sensual Brazilian grooves, South African township dances, Balkan ballads. , an American Cool School jazz reminiscent of the music of the 1950s and 1960s by Jimmy Giuffre, and much more.

Zoetic’s sound is melodically catchy without cliche within earshot, produced by idiosyncratic creative individuals who simultaneously sense exactly when to make room for partner interventions on the fly. It’s also the mature work of a generation of musicians raised in the post-70s era that saw eclectic ventures like the ECM label emerge, and conversations spring up between African-American jazz and traditional music and folklore from around the world.

When Chris Batchelor cut his teeth on the UK concert circuit aged 17 in 1980 (in Dudu Pukwana’s South African alto sax Zila, with his roots in both jazz and in the African traditions of marabi and kwela), he unknowingly entered an unstable era. jazz scene which, since the end of the 1960s, has constantly shifted the generic rules under the feet of its practitioners. The vibrant sound of South African jazz runs particularly deep with him, and his ties to the country include working with the pioneering Brotherhood of Breath of the late Chris McGregor, with vocalist Pinise Saul in the Township Comets dedicated to Pukwana, and with iconic Cape Town veterans. including pianist Tete Mbambisa and singer/guitarist Philip Tabane.

Batchelor, as he will dryly observe, left Leeds College of Music’s pioneering jazz course in 1983 with “a post-graduate degree in jazz and light music” – the UK’s top formal jazz qualification at the pre-conservative era – and by this time he was already confirming that he could hear the language of an integrated improviser who embraced folk roots outside of the expected jazz sources of African-American bebop and swing. Sometime later in the 1980s, Batchelor would share in global mashup band 3 Mustaphas 3 enthusiasms (“they were my college”) for playing anything from a country song in Japanese to music from the Middle East. East, Balkan, Irish or American, and to discover to his amazement there were improvising trumpeters in Egypt or Serbia who expressed themselves quite differently from jazzmen. But in 1983, when Batchelor joined the fledgling workshop sessions of Loose Tubes in south London, he found himself forming what would become one of the most famous and innovative big bands in history. the history of British jazz. All of these resources and more were invested in slow alchemy that merged into Zoetic.

From left to right: John Parricelli, Paul Clarvis, Chris Batchelor, Steve Watts, Margrit Hasler. Photo credit: Dan Redding

“I guess Zoetic was sort of a reaction to Pigfoot, a foursome of mine that’s been active since about 2014 and still is,” Batchelor says. “This lineup also includes Paul (Clarvis), but it’s designed to perform iconic Motown, classic pop and early jazz repertoire, and it’s quite outgoing, brash and loud. I was looking for something to balance that and something new to write for. And over a period of about a year, we got to the right instrumentation. Not having a battery was the big change. It was Paul’s idea – that he could play tabla and percussion instead of a kit, which completely changes the sound image, and all the grit of other instruments that can play at a lower volume , and listen carefully enough to really blend in. Drums can take up a lot of auditory space. So it was a big step. Then there was the trumpet/viola combination. Margrit and I had played a lot together for fun in our home studio – anything from improvisation to bluegrass or Irish folk tunes. And I started to think that the brass and the strings sounded really unusual, a very mixed sound with all these harmonics. So I started writing with that in mind.

Batchelor considers “European folk harmony rather than American songbook harmony” a beacon of this band, and he mentions the drummerless bands of legendary clarinetist and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre (playing what Giuffre himself dubbed “folk jazz”). ‘), and guitarist Bill Frisell’s band with violinist Eyvind Kang and trumpeter Ron Miles as having also influenced him.

His wife Margrit Hasler’s curiosity for musical worlds other than the one she grew up in (she was a regular in the Zurich Opera Orchestra for 20 years) was also an important factor, all the more so that his versatility grew with an enthusiasm for bluegrass, and studied with American jazz violinists and violists, including Jenny Scheinman, Mat Maneri and New York String Trio member Charlie Burnham. And in Parricelli, Watts and Clarvis, Batchelor has longtime partners and friends who know each other’s ways and methods almost as well as they know their own.

“I guess it’s true that I searched for a long time for ways to combine different approaches,” Batchelor recalls. “But it’s not just about my own choices, it’s about being a musician in a city like London, where one day you can play samba with Brazilians, and another day salsa with Colombians, and that’s all been a big feature of my musical life over the years. And in the early days of Loose Tubes, when we were all experimenting with composing and bringing new music to the workshops, we found out that jazz big bands didn’t have to sound American. The feeling was like, ‘what else can we do?’. Maybe play an Irish folk tune or a township song. And you had improvisers like Django Bates and Iain Ballamy and Steve Buckley – who’s been a guide for me since those days – to play your thing, which was such an exciting feeling.

Batchelor estimates that around 80% of Zoetic’s repertoire is his own material, but the band’s evolving repertoire now includes “Odessa” by the late American saxophonist Arthur Blythe (“one of those long, winding Arabic-like lines that goes very well with everything else we do”), and two ballads composed by the famous Brazilian singer/guitarist Edu Lobo which Batchelor transcribed and arranged for the band because they sound as if they could have been written for Zoetic, and ” they’re absolutely gorgeous.” The trumpeter also welcomes the opportunities to work in smaller spaces on this tour, avoiding big PA systems and the intrusion of monitor speakers to allow players to hear each other. , so the nuanced intimacy of their playing – with each other and with their listeners – is much closer to the workings of a string quartet in a recital hall. I.

“When we came back to doing shows after the shutdowns, the experience of playing in the band was weird at first – you were like ‘wow, that’s pretty intense'”, says Chris Batchelor. ‘This two-way street of hearing what you’re playing, of swapping and reacting, of interaction and dialogue – all those things you take for granted when you play a lot – they didn’t feel familiar at first, but it will come back soon. And the post-pandemic public seems really grateful to me now, quite hungry for those experiences that they missed. It changed the dynamic a bit, I think. Maybe everyone was getting a little jaded about all the live music you can have around whenever you want. Well, if it reminds people how special live music is, that’s fine with us!”

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Chris Batchelor’s Zoetic is on tour until July 2. Full list of upcoming dates:

June 9 Sheffield Yellow Arch Studios

June 10 Wakefield Jazz

June 11 The Hive, Shrewsbury

June 12 Bristol Lighthouse

June 17 Birmingham Jazz

June 27 NQ Manchester

July 2 Kings Place, London

The group will record their first album after the tour.

LINK: Zoetic by Chris Batchelor on Facebook

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