Even a casual observer of the drinking establishments around Liverpool’s University Quarter will have noticed the burgeoning presence of the city’s jazz scene in several public houses over the past few years. The storied likes of Peter Cavanagh’s, The Caledonia and The Grapes, watering holes all in close proximity to each other, draw sizeable audiences on a weekly basis to soak up the music created by an increasing number of jazz players in the city.
With its popularity slowly snowballing and the first LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL set to commence this month, the jazz scene in Liverpool is about to take another leap forwards due to THE WEAVE. Led by trumpeter Martin Smith, the band are the first ensemble playing original jazz music to come out of the city in decades.
While the jazz scene in Liverpool is in rude health at present and growing in popularity, Martin recalls this wasn’t always the case. “When I first started playing in the city, jazz was sort of a bad word really,” he remembers. “It had a bad reputation for being exclusive; it wasn’t inclusive of an audience whatsoever,” he recalls. “I’ve been playing jazz in the city for the last twenty years or so, the last ten of which have just become better and better. Not just in terms of the jazz community but in terms of how healthy it is. There are gigs now where people are playing pretty far-out demanding music but the place is bouncing because of the energy that’s there,” Martin enthuses of kindred spirits such as Marley Chingus and The Blind Monk Trio.
A fixture on records by local luminaries Stealing Sheep, Emily & the Faves, The Coral and Steve Pilgrim over the past two decades (this list of Liverpool-based bands stretches into double figures), Martin describes his work with Shack as “some of the most powerful musical experiences in my life.”
“What a lot of Liverpool bands love is that Ennio Morricone, Mariachi sound,” Martin explains. “The parts on Love’s Forever Changes – a lot of people refer to that. There’s definite influences that pervade the city and live here, like Captain Beefheart and Zappa.” The Zappa connection is particularly apt as Martin spent seven years working with Zappa tribute group The Muffin Men, which included The Mothers of Invention’s original drummer Jimmy Carl Black. Elsewhere, via his connection with prog rockers The Wizards of Twiddly and their two-year tenure as backing band to former Soft Machine guitarist Kevin Ayers, Martin went on to work with Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynki, huge fans of the Canterbury Scene alumnus.
Due in part to the impact The Kazimier has had on Liverpool’s music scene (“I could sit and wax lyrical about that place for hours; it’s extraordinary what they’ve brought,” Martin says), jazz now has a greater presence within the city’s musical identity. A member of the ‘high energy, full-power’ Kazimier Krunk Band, Martin is also part of Stealing Sheep side-project Sing for Your Supper.
Alongside The Kazimier, the arrival of The Capstone in March 2010 and their support for gigs showcasing jazz, progressive and avant-garde forms, ensures that high-profile touring bands visit the city, including Jazz Festival headliner Courtney Pine. “It’s been a long, long time since this kind of level of national acts came to Liverpool,” Martin nods.
All of which brings us to The Weave, the ensemble band formed by Martin. “Last year I decided that I wanted to do something not for myself, but something where we could take something out of this pond of Liverpool and put it on a national stage,” Martin explains of The Weave’s formation.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, a prolific writer by any means; some of the songs on the album are fifteen years old; they just bubble out of my subconscious,” Martin explains of the writing process. “Some of the songs I wrote last year, some I’ve had the chord sequence to for about ten years, then added a melody two years ago. They’re fragments that I’ve pulled together.”
Imbued with a fair degree of Liverpudlian humour, as titles including Cold, Wet and Sockless and Apart From That Mrs. Lincoln attest, the LP evokes the smoke-filled rooms of John Barry soundtracks and exudes the languid cool of Federico Fellini films 8½ and La Dolce Vita.
As if further proof were needed about how tight the band’s playing is, the entire LP was laid down in a mere two days at Parr Street Studios last August. With the exception of a spoken word overdub by Simon James on The Ballad of Bernard Swimmins, the disc’s nine tracks were all recorded live. “There are charts with the harmonic structure of the songs, but everything else is improvised,” Martins explains of the recording sessions.
Following the LP launch at Parr Street and the band’s headline slot at Liverpool International Jazz Festival, the band head out on tour across the UK in the autumn. As part of Jazz North’s Northern Line Ambassadors project to bring the genre to a wider audience, Martin and The Weave will hopefully continue what they have started in Liverpool, spreading the word about the form and bringing together what might have been thought of as disparate music scenes.