Birmingham-based record label Stoney Lane returns to Kings Place on Friday 16th September for the third of its artist showcases at this venue. This time the groups are the Ben Lee Quintet with the guitarist’s debut album, In The Tree, released on 21 October, and the Jonathan Silk Big Band, their second album – and first on Stoney Lane – Fragment out on 4 November.
The two band leaders and label boss Sam Slater spoke to Peter Bacon.
Sam Slater: We have two fantastic albums coming this autumn from Ben and Jonathan… all original writing, beautifully produced and recorded, some lovely original artwork, and most importantly, really warm, exciting and absorbing music.
LondonJazz News: Jonathan, what changes or developments can we expect from the big band since your first album, Uncouth, in 2013?
Jonathan Silk: My writing style has come on hugely since the first album and I have really tried to identify a dynamic band sound within the context of the new music. The music is also a lot more interlinked – a series of compositions for the overall project rather than just a collection of tunes I wrote.
Jonathan, a Birmingham Conservatoire graduate and a key player and teacher in Birmingham, has studied with both Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza and they are clear inspirations for his large ensemble writing. The new album will include a 13-piece string section.
LJN: Do you write with specific players/soloists in mind?
JS: Always! With such a diverse range of improvising styles and approaches in my band from musicians whom I think are some of the finest improvisers around it would be crazy not to take full advantage of this in my composing.
LJN: Surely, the whole idea of trying to run a big band in Britain today is a crazy one?
JS: It is very hard work co-ordinating and organising it all as well as just writing and arranging the music but I still believe a big band at full cry is such a special sound that it is always worth it! It helps that the band also is full of very close friends.
Jonathan came south from Scotland to study in Birmingham and ended up staying; Ben Lee came north from Devon.
LJN: Ben, who are your chief influences?
Ben Lee: It’s hard to say what exactly influenced me in what way, I love Wes Montgomery and John Scofield amongst many others. Musically at the moment I am listening to Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Radiohead and Black Sabbath (those are the five CDs I have in my car). Oh, and Vulfpeck (they are in London the same weekend so I am staying to see them!)
LJN: Like Jonathan’s, are your band members vital to how the music comes out?
BL: The musicians I have chosen for this band are people who I love playing with. They have all put their own stamp on the material we play. The unique energies that these guys bring to the band works well. I don’t have to work hard at all, they all lead and make creative choices. It’s really fun to do!
LJN: And what can an audience, perhaps unfamiliar with the Ben Lee Quintet’s music, expect?
BL: They can expect an eclectic mix of tunes. Some grooves with a rock accent. Tunes about aliens, chickens, trees and more. Some lighthearted moments and sombre points too. I hope the music makes you smile, and creates some fun places to explore in your mind. I would be interested in hearing what you thought of the music; when I hear music I see strong images in my mind.
Two bands in one concert, a little taste of the Birmingham scene transplanted to London….
Sam Slater: As with our other albums to date, Ben and Jonathan are two of the finest exports from the Birmingham scene who should be seen and heard worldwide. Hence our London series supported by the lovely team at Kings Place, where we take our music for one of its first outings to a new audience in a brilliant venue.(pp)