10 Tracks I Can't Do Without

Ten Tracks by Tim Garland I Can’t Do Without… by Paul Mottram

In LJN’s series where musicians write about their inspirations and idols, composer, arranger and orchestrator Paul Mottram writes about Tim Garland.

Paul Mottram’s music has been featured in such beloved British television shows as The Great British Bake Off, The Apprentice, Downton Abbey, Countryfile, and QI. He also writes concert music and has composed for musicians such as The Swingle Singers, John Harle, Fine Arts Brass Ensemble, Superbrass and the Dunedin Consort. In 2016, his song cycle “Falls” was performed at the Snape Maltings by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and a Gospel Jazz work Come Spirit was premiered by the Chapter House Choir in York Minster.

His latest project is a large scale 70-minute work scored for Jazz Sextet and String Orchestra which explores the intersection between the worlds of classical music and jazz. The work is entitled “Seven Ages of Man”. It features Tim Garland and is released on Ubuntu Music today, 6 October 2023.

Tim Garland. Photo credit: Stefan Booth

Paul Mottram writes: Tim Garland is a truly extraordinary musician. If he were to have limited himself to ‘just’ being a saxophonist, he would still, to my mind, be one of the greatest players of his generation; I mean, being Chick Corea’s sideman for a 17-year span would be the pinnacle of most people’s careers. However, that’s just the start of it. He’s at least as accomplished a composer and all of this has been channelled through a plethora of groups (Lammas, The Underground Orchestra, Earthworks, Storms / Nocturnes, Acoustic Triangle, Lighthouse, Northern Sinfonia and many without title) over a 35-year span with a prodigious, varied and exceptional discography to match. He’s the kind of guy that makes you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time. And I haven’t used the word Jazz yet. Yes, it’s probably the kernel of it, but the influences of classical music (especially), folk and rock are so strong and fertile that his music effortlessly straddles and absorbs those genres within a distinctive personal style. He does Jazz a different way.

I’ve had the privilege of being a first-hand witness to all this since I first met him as a fellow student at the Guildhall School of Music in the late 80s. I was there for a year as a post grad composer, revelling in the opportunities to write for players on the jazz course and various media projects. I can remember drifting into a big band rehearsal one afternoon and being gob smacked by this new guy straight from one of the undergraduate classical courses, who seemingly hadn’t even really been playing that long, absolutely killing a solo. As fellow composers, we quickly became friends, sharing an eclectic musical world view and fascination with how genres intersect.

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My selection of tracks, in a ‘desert island’ sense, represent and remind me of not only the chronology of over 30 years of friendship but the many different and brilliant facets of Tim’s musical personality as player and composer. To separate the two elements is completely disingenuous. He improvises almost as if he’s composing in real time; there’s a structure and polish to his solos, the quality of invention as if his inbuilt musical processor is working faster than anyone else’s. I read somewhere that, early on, he used to get frustrated by not being able to write things down fast enough. I guess with improvisation, that irritating hinderance is no longer an issue. 

1. Guildhall Jazz Band: ‘Sub Zero’ (1988)

This was actually the first big band track I ever wrote. I knew that Tim (with respect to the others, head and shoulders the star of the sax section) would be playing the tenor solo and rather remarkably, it ended up on the album they released a few years later (‘Essence’). This might be early ‘Garland’ but the class is immediately apparent in the creative flair and confident way the solo is structured.

2. Lammas: ‘This Morning’ (1993)

I chose this piece because the folk influences are writ large. I mean, it starts with a wood flute. Tim always does interesting things, even if the building blocks are simple; he kind of subverts the folk genre and imbues it with his own personality. The melody is full of these gentle surprises in its changing metres and the modulations give it this kind of carefree exploration. As is often the case, Tim makes a virtue of sparse textures, in this case an acoustic guitar/brush drums backing, which gives his solo an intimate conversational airiness. 

3. Enter The Fire: ‘Migration’ (1997)

‘Enter the fire’, the album which apparently prompted Chick Corea to invite Tim to join his ‘Origin’ band, very much exists in the space of mainstream American-influenced jazz. You don’t always get a lot of 4/4 in a Tim Garland track (he likes to keep band members on their toes) and the intriguing 7/4 groove of Migration is no exception – even then the theme flows freely over the boundaries of that rhythm unit. There’s lovely harmonic light and shade too as the melody breaks free from the initial bass pedal note underpinning it.

4. Storms / Nocturnes: Trinity (2001)

I absolutely loved this band with its trinity of virtuosi in the shape of Tim Garland, Joe Locke (vibraphone) and Geoffrey Keezer (piano) and managed to catch them live after the first album release. If this was the first Jazz you ever heard you would never think that bass and drums was a staple of most combos. Those musical roles are effortlessly absorbed leaving clarity and space for stratospheric soloing. It has just the slightest of nods to Señor Mouse from Chick Corea/Gary Burton (Zurich Concert) in the electricity of the rhythmic interplay, and the harmonic voicings of the melody on piano and vibes work perfectly as backing to Tim’s solo.

5. Concerto for Soprano Saxophone, Homage to Father Bach – 2nd movement – Northern Sinfonia (2009)

This one is the furthest towards the classical end of the dial. I think it’s an extraordinary composition; a true homage to the spirit of Bach with features of the baroque, yet with the unmistakeable imprint of Tim’s harmonic and melodic style and a warmth I sometimes find lacking in the neo baroque/classical pieces of the 20th Century. Tim seamlessly improvises obligato lines around the violin and cello melodies (1:28 and 3:48): jazz by stealth! Would be a tricky one for a classical player to reproduce. 

6. Lighthouse: ‘Spacejunk’ (2012)

Leaving aside the towering genius of Chick Corea, Tim, through Rebello, Keezer and here Simcock, has worked with a mind-boggling array of outstanding pianists. A Simcock original, this simply rips along with the most incredible energy and tightness underpinned by the ‘plucked’ piano string bass riff and an unusual (for Jazz) 4 to the floor drum pattern (Asaf Sirkis). Tim’s solo is electrifying, positively sizzling along with breakneck creativity against the groove.

7. Songs to the North Sky: Dawnbreakers (2014)

This rhapsodic free flowing dramatic orchestral soundscape inspired by the Northumbrian coast is positioned at the epicentre of a classical, jazz and folk crossover. However, the seemingly disparate elements of this vivid musical journey somehow maintain a stylistic consistency throughout. First, we have atmospheric orchestral string writing in the intro (slightly reminiscent of Benjamin Britten) before agitated solo violin/soprano sax phrases usher in a more obviously jazz influenced section with Tim’s improvised solo underpinned by quickfire marimba and Asaf Sirkis’s drums. Without pause, we plunge headlong into something altogether more ‘folky’ at the bass pedal shift (at 2:23). Hang on a minute, is this still a solo… but no, the return of the solo violin doubling the soprano means we’re no longer in the land of improvisation! We’re a world away from the usual soloist-controlled circular form of jazz solos; here, improvisation is completely harnessed within the compositional structure with a resultant blurring of the lines separating ‘improvised’ from ’notated’.

8. One: Prototype (2016)

I got to know ‘Samaii for Peace’ when hearing it live a couple of times, most recently a great Garland/Rebello duo version. But it was when revisiting the original that I remembered just how strong the Jazz-Rock influence is in this album, a sound world reinforced by Ant Law’s Guitar and Rebello’s Rhodes. It’s irresistible when combined with Tim’s writing here and the playing as good as it gets on the most visceral track of this award-winning CD.

9. Angry Sun: Weather Walker (2018)

Rather than contributing a classical influence, things are turned on their head with the orchestral strings conjured into a percussive rhythm section, most notably through the col legno figures (players use the wood of the bow to hits the strings), setting up the groove almost single handedly with percussion and upright bass merely supporting. A strong melodic hook is right out there (nothing wrong with that!) in the agitated utterances of Tim’s tenor. I like the pervading, well yes, ‘angry’ mood throughout with the dramatic harmonic shifts to Ab from the C pedal that anchors the rest of the track.

10. Seven Ages of Man: Pantaloon (2023)

We end as we started (albeit 35 years later) with one of my tracks. I’d long held an ambition to write a major work for Tim and ‘Seven Ages of Man’, a 70-minute suite for Jazz Sextet and String Orchestra is the result. Shakespeare likened the stages of life to the characters of a play and in ‘Pantaloon’, the sixth age, the listener is invited to consider an irritable older person of declining physical powers. It’s an ironic character piece and Tim perfectly encapsulates this on bass clarinet in the bitter humour of the quirky, angular outer sections. The central section, however, is about the protagonist’s realisation and reckoning with their own mortality and once again Tim is totally on top of the emotional requirements of the music as his tenor underscores and captures this heartfelt nostalgic reflection of life.          

LINK: Find out more about Paul Mottram’s Seven Ages of Man
John Bungey’s feature about the making of the Seven Ages of Man album

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