Cleveland Watkiss, Mark Mondesir, Frank Harrison, Mark Hodgson
(Frank and Mark’s, Iffley Church Hall, Oxford. 20 September 2023. Review by Mark Rowan-Hull)
The other evening I went to a local village hall in one of my favourite old parts of Oxford. It is a fine old building made of beautiful stone and nearby one of the most special Norman Churches in Europe. It’s often passed and forgotten.
The hall is small , and could host a sound art installation. A Possible suggestion could be Janet Cardiff’s and George Bures Miller’s 40 part Motet. Or perhaps an Elaine Radigue work for deep listening. The sound and acoustic in there is incredible .
It is all organised by two exceptional jazz musicians , living locally who have international reputations and as session musicians . Bassist Mark Hodgson and pianist Frank Harrison.
Mark has played with people such as Bruford’s Earthworks, Pharoah Sanders, Brad Meldhau etc… etc … ) and Frank Harrison, Mark’s friend and colleague, an outstanding pianist who has played with many greats too .
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This night was particularly special for me, as they had invited the legendary singer Cleveland Watkiss and Exceptional drummer Mark Mondesir.
This evening he explored his own pieces from his great album ‘Blessing in Disguise’ including exquisite interpretations of “Autumn Leaves” and Monk’s “Criss Cross”, amongst others.
Apparently , these musicians had never played together as a group before… hard to believe, as from the first note, it was clear they all connected. Cleveland ( a professor of improvisation at Trinity Laban in London) explained to the audience how Jazz was a language that, once you knew, was like having a conversation. It was all about the getting to know the language …
Cleveland is an extraordinary and versatile singer ( most recently releasing a successful Reggae album and tour) , but also a constant explorer , and is at home in many different genres DJing, Drum and Bass, electro, MC ing , Opera , Collaborating and even working across art forms (recently at American Artist Tavares Strachen’s show at Marion Goodman Gallery) which for me makes him such an exciting stimulating performer to watch and to learn from.
Surprisingly, I’d never actually heard him in a straight jazz setting before and it was beautiful seeing him listening and improvising so intently hosted by such sensitive musicians.
The exciting interplay between him and Mondesir had a rare and telepathic connection, (apparently honed over years) and a joy to witness, perfectly balanced with Mark Hodgson’s subtle, sensitive yet authoritative bass and Frank Harrison’s gentle and harmonic improvisations creating clear colours and textures for me.
The band left briefly to let Cleveland improvise solely with live electronics and looping , it was complex and wonderful, which for me added more depth for the listener, and pay attention more closely when the band reappeared.
The most ecstatic moment came in the form of a drum solo to ‘Let’s Face the music and Dance’ which almost took the roof off the building . Just to observe the band ‘s enjoyment of this, was glorious to see.
I have seen many Jazz greats and legends over my years as a reasonably obsessive jazz lover , in many, different venues, often far afield too , but can only think of a handful of experiences when Jazz has sounded so perfect, the acoustic, the intimacy and the sensitivity of playing as one.
In a world of streaming , AI and large international Festivals, this was an astonishing intimate musical experience, and not too far from my own doorstep.
Mark Rowan-Hull is a visual artist based near Oxford – website
Frank and Mark’s is at Iffley Church Hall. Next guests are Mike Walker and Andrew Bain on 18 October. Advance booking recommended