Matthew Herd’s Seafarers
(Omnibus, Clapham, 20th September 2015. Review by Peter Jones)
Two stacks of cabin trunks, abstract photographs of rippling water – the scene was set for a nautical evening in the comfortable, low-lit galley area of this former public library opposite Clapham Common.
Alto and soprano saxophonist Matthew Herd is one of a loose collective of musicians who met at the Royal Academy of Music, and who are now making waves on the British jazz scene. The all-acoustic band Seafarers was formed as an outlet for Herd’s own compositions, five of which were recorded a couple of years ago with the voice of Lauren Kinsella, plus Sam Rapley on tenor sax and clarinet, Sam Watts on piano, Tom McCredie on double bass and Scott Chapman on drums. Tonight, Kinsella was on shore leave, and Joe Wright came aboard with his tenor saxophone.
Herd’s inspirations are literary. There were name-checks for writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Raymond Carver, Dylan Thomas, Ali Smith and Alasdair Gray. Perhaps as a consequence of this, the tunes are evocative and shaped like narratives: take Lanark, inspired by Gray’s eponymous novel. It began with saxes only playing mournful lines like ships’ hooters, as Watts plucked the strings of the piano, until Chapman’s drums came clattering in like an approaching storm.
The Pleasant Land of Counterpane is based on a poem by Stevenson in which he recalls long periods of childhood illness; Herd’s interpretation contrasted jittery bowed bass and tenor sax with a calm piano figure, suggesting the bronchial fevers that came and went. The Game was introduced by another feverish intro, McCredie producing a great variety of insect buzzes and drones until the tune solidified into something more melodic, the horn players swaying in unison as if standing on deck in a moderate sea-swell. They ended with Down The Rivers – despite its title, a piece more redolent of a steam train chuffing through the countryside. Fine music, a lovely intimate gig, with wonderful playing by all.