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'Side by Side' with Corey Mwamba

(picture courtesy of Peter Houtman)

It's hard to believe that it's been almost three weeks already since Disquiet performed at Attenborough Arts in Leicester as part of EMJazz's 'Side by Side' project.

To briefly explain the project, I applied last year with Disquiet for 'Side by Side', an artist development programme where the band would be given the opportunity to rehearse and perform with an established jazz performer. When I found out we had been successful, I saw it as a golden opportunity to develop the band, and suggested to EMJazz's development officer Stuart Isaac that given that we were a chordless quartet, it would ideal to work with a pianist or guitarist.

In the end of course we worked with neither a guitarist nor a pianist, but were put in touch with Corey Mwamba, whose vibes playing turned out to be ideal for the mixture of structure and freedom I had envisaged for Disquiet.

Corey and I met a couple of times before the gig to discuss the musical outcomes of the project and I sent him some of my compositions via email.

I then rehearsed the band separately, so the first time we all played in a room together was a couple of hours before the gig at Attenborough Arts in Leicester. In some ways it's not a surprise as it's fairly common practice for improvising musicians to play in new combinations at short notice but Corey slotted in perfectly well and really fleshed out the structures of my compositions.

If there was one thing the 'Side by Side' project really developed in me was my instincts as a band leader. Corey obviously had absolutely no interest in being a 'featured soloist' with a rhythm section and encouraged me to commit to making musical decisions by myself. Corey stood by my convictions and led me to realise that while all the musicians in the ensemble were contributing to the direction of the music, I ultimately had to communicate to the others my vision of how each piece was to be approached.

On the first evening I brought 8 original tunes and had two standard tunes in the setlist. I had initially thought of opening with a standard tune, but Corey reminded me that since the gig was predominantly about my own music I should start as I meant to go on.

The first gig, being in Leicester, with so many familiar faces in the audience, was a great relaxed place for a first gig. Possibly the over familiarity with the audience resulted in a lack of tight joins between the pieces, but we had started out in the best possible way.

The next day's gig in Derby was a sellout, thanks to Corey's local following! Being in a great mood after the first gig, I brought a new tune to rehearsal that I finished up that afternoon. We instantly fleshed it out in rehearsal and gave it its debut later that evening.

I decided to drop the standards from the setlist for the second evening, though coming in a little under time in the first set led me to impulsively drop my arrangement of Charlie Parker's 'Chi Chi' in at the end. The energy as we tore into the blues form really took me by surprise.

During the second set I once again, led by impulse, chose to insert a standard into the setlist, just before the last tune. I made that decision because it felt like it was needed at that time and afterwards Corey commended me on making that decision.

Ultimately, having Corey on board gave me the confidence to make decisions about how I wanted my music to sound. By making those decisions, my bandmates didn't have to worry about any muddled conceptions of how the music should go and were free to get on with playing their parts.

I was so pleased with everyone's contribution to the music and really felt for the first time like my music was being performed with everyone together on the same wavelength.

In the near future, I hope to be performing more with Disquiet and recording our first album together. If you would like to hear some highlights from the gig at Attenborough Arts, then check out my soundcloud or head to the projects page of this website.

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