Live reviews

REVIEW: Bonsai (formerly Jam Experiment) at 1000 Trades, Birmingham

Rory Ingham soloing with Bonsai at 1000 Trades
Photo credit: © John Watson/

Bonsai (formerly Jam Experiment)
(1000 Trades, Birmingham, 1 February 2019. Review and photos by John Watson)

You read it here first: one of the most talked-about and critically acclaimed young bands on the UK scene has now officially changed its name, and has chosen to announce the change with the publication of this review.

The band was Jam Experiment, henceforth to be known as Bonsai. I must admit that I did feel that “Jam Experiment” sounded like a temporary working title for a rehearsal group. You could imagine a possible conversation: “OK guys, we’re just going to jam and experiment a bit. Hey, let’s call ourselves Jam Experiment.”

Bonsai is certainly snappier, and I like it. On a slightly pedantic note, the Japanese word does not mean “miniature plant”, a popular if incorrect interpretation. Literally, bonsai means “planted in a container”. Certainly, it is not to be confused with the Japanese war cry “banzai”, although garden centres sometimes manage to do so…

All that aside, what matters is that contained in this small band is a very big, rich and rare sound indeed.

Their gig at the Birmingham Jazz venue 1000 Trades, in the city’s Jewellery Quarter, demonstrated very clearly why this band has been making waves at festivals and clubs over the last couple of years.
Led by trombonist Rory Ingham, with his brother Dominic Ingham on violin, keyboard/piano player Toby Comeau, bass guitarist Joe Lee, and drummer Jonny Mansfield, the group immediately impressed with its use of space, dramatic dynamics, and the clarity and accuracy of phrasing, especially in tricky uptempo pieces.

Opening with the snappy tune BMJC – written by Mansfield – Dominic and Comeau played the punchy introduction in a perfect violin-keyboard unison, ushering in accompany long notes on Rory’s trombone, leading seamlessly into some lively solos. Lee’s tranquil composition Quay, pronounced ‘kway”, followed, with Comeau’s mellow keyboard sound evoking, for me, the early recordings of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi group. On this piece, the accuracy of Rory’s trombone pitching, particularly in the difficult high register, was a delight.

It’s interesting to contrast his richly melodic work with other celebrated trombonists – the fiery wildness of the Italian Gianluca Petrella, or the soulful power of our own Dennis Rollins. Rory Ingham has his own dynamic style, enhanced with tastefully-employed electronic effects at times, and it is a delight.

Violinist Dominic Ingham in Birmingham
Photo credit: © John Watson/

His brother’s violin playing is also worth contrasting with the work of other outstanding players, the Polish virtuoso Adam Baldych, or the frantic exuberance of French improviser Theo Ceccaldi. Ingham is a much more mellow and melodic player, but there is an exciting edge to his improvising, which is punctuated with occasional delightful “yelps” of joy on the high strings.

Comeau’s composition Appledore – inspired by the Devon village where the pianist’s Uncle Buster lived – was preceded by an entertaining explanatory introduction from the trombonist. It’s a beautiful piece, with a spacious keyboard introduction, leading into a slowly-unfolding theme of long notes from the front line.

There were plenty of lively pieces in the band’s two sets, including Rory’s own Get It On Target, Itchy Knee by Mansfield, and the concluding Bonsai. Lee’s expressive bass soloing – which had occasionally been swamped by backing notes in the first set – was extensively featured on these pieces, to great effect, and Mansfield’s drum solo on the final piece was another highlight.

As Jam Experiment, the quintet has one self-released eponymous album already to their credit (though with saxophonist Alexander Bone, now replaced in the band by Ingham), and this was reviewed enthusiastically in LondonJazzNews by Adrian Pallant. A new album is currently at the mixing stage. Bonsai seems certain to grow and flourish.

Bonsai in Birmingham
Photo credit: © John Watson/

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