I neglected to upload this excellent article which appeared in Wire magazine last year. It’s on the new generation of Manchester improvisers, and I was interviewed along with many of my friends and favourite musicians. The photo on the second page is me. Please excuse the phone photos; if you click on them them should get much bigger…
Friendly Ghosts, my solo piano album released last month (August 2017) on Efpi Records, has had a couple of great reviews so far (more reviews are expected!).
This is from London Jazz News:
CD REVIEW: Adam Fairhall – Friendly Ghosts
(Efpi Records. Review by AJ Dehany)
Adam Fairhall is a great example of an outside player who plays inside. Raised in Cornwall and resident in Manchester, he is pianist in Nat Birchall’s Coltrane-inspired band and piano-preparer in free improvisation sextet The Spirit Farm. He is one of the pool of musicians including drummer Johnny Hunter who are associated with but never profess to completely belong to the Manchester scene. His debut solo piano album Friendly Ghosts is released on that scene’s inspiring independent Efpi label run by Beats & Pieces Big Band leader Ben Cottrell.
Friendly Ghosts has a lightness of touch, an abundance of invention, and a twinkling sense of mischief that make it an absolute scream. Pine Apple Rag slices Scott Joplin’s rag tune into piña colada. Egyptian Fantasy imbues a sibylline original with the ‘Spanish tinge’ of early New Orleans music. There’s some unabashedly postmodern thinking going into Fairhall’s gustaceous redigestions of boogie woogie, ragtime, ballad and New Orleans styles. By foregrounding the most fake-book elements of these ideas he deepens the dive into spontaneous elements, with a raucous sense of performative rather than academic deconstruction that goes beyond pastiche.
KT Boogie opens with dense digging at the low end of the piano leading to a broader conception celebrating the ‘Katy Line’ of blues lore and his two year old daughter Kate. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You is the closest to the ‘straight jazz playing’ of the ballad songbook, with enjoyable command and clear chops developed from significant experience as a sideman. Typically, Restaurant Music’s reflective mixture of Messiaen and Cecil Taylor gives way to Blue Square’s off-kilter blues.
The energy and exuberance of the performances springs from wow to how when you realize that the album was recorded live— on a solo piano progress around the North of England in 2014. The excellence of the sound, an invisibly-produced blend of warm piano and subtle ambience, comes in part from fantastic instruments on the two nights from which the album’s selections are drawn: the Steinway at St Ann’s in Manchester and the Kawai at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle.
The aptly named New Great Northern Stomp takes off from Chicago Blues legend Otis Spann’s eponymous Boogie Woogie, and drags us careening up the rippling route across the Peak District toward Manchester, clipping past the reservoirs at Woodhead and Crowden and almost certain death at the parish of Tintwistle or Glossop. Along the way you hear Northern accents: not the voice itself, but that quality of irreverence that nonetheless attends deep respect. The quality of pastiche is not strain’d.
This is from All About Jazz:
By Roger Farbey
* * * *
I’ve been terrible at updating my site this past year (I blame it on the arrival of our second child!), but below are three of great reviews of The Spirit Farm’s eponymous album, released on SLAM in April 2015. The group, a freely-improvising six-piece, performed at the Southbank Centre in November as part of the 2015 London Jazz Festival, and we are hoping to get a tour together in the coming months.
The album also placed at no. 5 on Daniel Spicer’s end-of-year critics’ poll in Jazzwise magazine.
Link to New York City Jazz Record review:
Jazz Journal review:
The Markov Chain is a new trio with Adam on piano, Tim Fairhall on bass and British Free Music legend Paul Hession on drums. The trio play freely improvised music. Their debut performance was at the Manchester Jazz Festival 2013, a gig that received an excellent review by Mike Butler, who wrote:
This was the orgiastic, earth-shaking, cacophonous real deal, with none of the mimsy “I don’t feel ready for this yet” reticence that besets so much homegrown free jazz… The hour passed too quickly. I loved it.
The full review can be found on Mike’s website at:
The trio are currently mixing their debut album. Please keep an eye out for news about the album’s release and upcoming gigs.
The Imaginary Delta also placed at #63 on eMusic’s Best Albums of 2012. Here’s what they had to say:
On The Imaginary Delta, pianist and composer Adam Fairhall speaks with a forward-thinking attitude of innovation while channeling the voice of jazz’s past. A traditional rag becomes a futuristic avant-garde deconstruction. The use of effects and turntables enhance, rather than preclude, the expression of a soulful blues. A blowing session doesn’t miss a beat with the incorporation of sampling. Fairhall has united these disparate elements to create a remarkably engaging album of… both scope and vision, and is vivid evidence of the strength represented by a new generation of UK jazz musicians.
The album also got an Honorable Mention on Ted Gioia’s Best of 2012 list. Gioia is a well-known American historian of jazz and blues; I remember finding his book The History of Jazz in the uni library many years ago and really getting into it. His book Delta Blues is great too. So I love the fact that he listened to our album and dug it. http://tedgioia.com/bestalbumsof2012.html
The excellent American website Bird Is The Worm has named The Imaginary Delta Album Of The Year for 2012. Please follow the link below to read why, and to check out the other wonderful albums on the Best of 2012 List.
Ian Mann www.thejazzmann.com
October 26 2012
This excellent album by Manchester based pianist and composer Adam Fairhall was released in May on George Haslam’s Slam label but with Fairhall due to bring his group to London to perform this material at the 2012 London Jazz Festival in November the time seemed right for me to take a rather belated look at it.
I know Fairhall’s playing through his work with fellow Mancunians Matthew Halsall (trumpet) and Nat Birchall (saxophones), he appears on Halsall’s “On The Go” and Birchall’s “Sacred Dimensions”, both of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site. He has also been part of Halsall’s touring line up.
But there’s more to Fairhall than just his sideman role. He also works as a solo pianist and runs a trio featuring Tim Fairhall (bass, presumably his brother although I’m not totally certain of this)) and drummer Gaz Hughes. The seeds for “The Imaginary Delta” project would appear to stem from his duo with electronics artist Paul J. Rogers who provides samples of 1920’s blues recordings which Fairhall then merges with more contemporary musical influences such as the piano stylings of McCoy Tyner. Their album “Second Hand Blues” was released on ASC Records in 2011.See Fairhall’s website http://www.adamfairhall.co.uk for further information on this and his other projects.
“The Imaginary Delta” grew out of his experiments with Rogers and was commissioned by the 2011 Manchester Jazz Festival. The album was recorded live at the city’s Band on the Wall venue on 26th July 2011 and features an expanded line up of Fairhall on piano plus the horns of James Allsopp on clarinets, Chris Bridges on trombone and jug, and Steve Chadwick, leader of cult Manchester band the Magic Hat Ensemble, on trumpet. His regular trio colleagues Tim Fairhall (bass) and Gaz Hughes (drums) complete the rhythm team with Rogers acting as the wild card contributing the modern musical accessories of laptop, electronic processing and turntables alongside arcane instruments such as the diddley bow and novelty items including chains and pepper grinder. In this sense he’s a kind of Leafcutter John figure. Steve Mead, the Artistic Director of Manchester jazz festival spoke of Fairhall’s ambition to “draw upon the early language of jazz and make it speak to us in the 21st century”. Acclaim for the festival performance and subsequent live album (the latter mixed on an analogue desk to preserve the warmth of the live sound) has been virtually unanimous resulting in an invitation to bring this music to the capital as part of the 2012 LJF.
“The Imaginary Delta” is a suite in six parts that blends Rogers’ early blues sources with the writing of Fairhall. Sampled sounds are merged with real time instruments to create a fascinating patchwork of ancient and modern. Opener “Baptist Prayer Meeting” contains a sample of George “Bullet” Williams “Middlin’ Blues” and features Rogers on diddley bow (now you know where Mr. McDaniel got his stage name from) alongside the more conventional jazz instrumentation. The piece grows out of Rogers’ samples and diddley bow to embrace a more contemporary modal sound with rich, deep bass clarinet voicings from Allsopp and Tyner style piano from Adam Fairhall. The sound generated by the three horns is pleasingly full and the piece eventually concludes with a passage of solo piano.
“Sedalia Rag” combines the rhythms and syncopations of ragtime with more contemporary free jazz leanings. Rogers’ electronic whooshes and bleeps contrast nicely with the more conventional jazz instrumentation in a series of free jazz exchanges informed by the spirit of the past. There’s a prolonged passage for the trio of the Fairhalls and Hughes with Tim’s muscular bass stalking Adam’s piano as the chatter of Hughes’ drums provides both punctuation and comment. When the horns return the piece becomes more obviously a “rag”, albeit one filtered through the prism of Charles Mingus and the whole sixties free jazz movement.
“Arabian Fantasy” includes a highly effective sample of Ivy Smith singing Cow Cow Davenport’s “Cincinnati Southern Blues” which is grafted seamlessly onto a seductive, undulating modal theme. Allsopp’s subtly bluesy clarinet solo, Bridges’ growling trombone and Chadwick’s slow burning trumpet feature then evoke the spirit of New Orleans but in a wholly contemporary setting.
“Tutwiler Train Stomp” begins with spooky free jazz sounds but Fairhall’s piano gradually leads the piece into an exuberant romp with some terrific horn interplay, Chadwick’s brassy trumpet contrasting superbly Allsopp’s woody low register bass clarinet. The horns also get the chance to solo at length with Allsopp going first sketching sinuously mesmerising bass clarinet lines above the propulsive rhythms of bassist Tim Fairhall and drummer Gaz Hughes. Bridges then rasps away fruitily on trombone before Fairhall brings it all home with some torrential piano runs. The solos are punctuated by squalling collective passages and the piece eventually fades away to end as mysteriously as it began. Quite a railroad trip.
Not surprisingly “Victoria Spivey” features the sampled voice of the lady in question singing “Nightmare Blues”. The piece begins with the crackle of Rogers’ electrics and a sound like ghostly pump organ, perhaps meant to simulate the steam whistles of the Mississippi river boats. Fairhall’s piano delicately wanders around these atmosphere setting effects before settling into an authentic blues pattern onto which the disembodied voice of Spivey is superimposed. Chadwick’s trumpet slurs and growls offer suitable embellishment and the other horns are subsequently added to the mix. The band keep the blues mood going after Spivey is faded out with Chadwick and Allsopp on bass clarinet contributing pithy statements. There’s also an extended solo bass feature for the consistently excellent Tim Fairhall who later enters into dialogue with Bridges with Chadwick, Allsopp and Hughes later joining in as the blues edges closer to free jazz. Adam Fairhall picks up the blues baton again with a solo piano feature that embraces a number of jazz and blues styles. The ghost of Victoria Spivey then returns to sing us out.
The closing “Harlem Fast Shout” sees the group tearing it up in uproarious fashion beginning in Cotton Club era Ellington style before veering off into a free jazz squall and back again. The mood is exuberant and playful with trumpeter Chadwick’s fiery opening solo an undoubted highlight.
“The Imaginary Delta” is a superbly realised project with Adam Fairhall as the fulcrum but all the musicians involved play well and make significant contributions. The merging of different jazz and blues styles and of divergent technologies is seamlessly done and the entiree album represents a remarkably coherent whole. Fairhall is to be congratulated for his vision which blends his extensive knowledge of jazz and blues styles with strong compositional skills to present an entity which is entirely convincing. “The Imaginary Delta” conjures up the ghosts of not only of the musicians sampled on the soundtrack but also those of Ellington, Mingus, Tyner, Ayler and more and (to paraphrase Steve Mead) makes their spirits speak to a 21st century jazz audience.
4 out of 5 stars
Dave Sumner (Allaboutjazz Download of the Day Editor), Birdistheworm.com, Best of 2012 (thus Far) List
August 27 2012
It is a remarkable challenge to create a piece that is both innovative and nostalgic, one that blends the influences of the past with a vision of the future, and to do it without sanitizing one or the other. On The Imaginary Delta, UK pianist Adam Fairhall does exactly that.
Originally commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival (and premiered live at Band On The Wall), Fairhall harnesses the disparate sounds of an ensemble built around obscure, traditional, and modern instruments and technology, and sets them upon a suite of compositions informed by traditional and modern musics alike. Instruments like piano, trombone, clarinets, trumpet, drums, and bass team up with jug, didley bow, sampling, turntables, and effects, for a series of tunes informed by the blues, ragtime, stride, free jazz, modern and traditional jazz.
And Fairhall doesn’t just play it straight. These are deconstructed jazz tunes that leave the heart intact. The influences are just that… influences. This is modern, forward-thinking music that just so happens to conjure up voices from the past. In many ways, the artist most logically referenced by this album is Charles Mingus, who himself, also made experimental innovative music that, also, was heavily indebted to traditional jazz and blues. It as if Fairhall isn’t channeling the music of Mingus, so much as he is the spirit with which Mingus gave life to his music.
Now, about that music…
Your album personnel: Adam Fairhall (piano), Chris Bridges (trombone, jug), Steve Chadwick (trumpet), James Allsopp (clarinets), Tim Fairhall (bass), Gaz Hughes (drums), and Paul J Rogers (laptop, turntable, diddley bow).
The opening track starts with the processed sampling of an old recording, used as an interlude to the menacing, yet boisterous “Baptist Prayer Meeting.” As the samples diminish into the background, the other musicians enter the recording with bass clarinet sneers and stormy skies piano. Drums rattle off stark warnings, and diddley bow adds a percussive element that doesn’t cheer the mood. The is Jazz composition as balled-up fist.
But the thing of it is, that initial menace gives way to a joyous energy as the band surges more emphatically into the tune, trumpets and trombones lending their voice to the rising tide of sound. When the tide quickly recedes, and the sound returns to the opening menace… well, it just doesn’t sound that ominous anymore. Beauty need not always source from pretty sounds. There is beauty in scars, in shouts, in growls, in ferocity… just so long it’s arranged properly and played with heart and soul. The song ends as it began, quiet, eerie, and the samples of sounds from another time.
Second track “Sedalia Rag” opens with prancing horns and the scratch of turntables. The two forces wrestle, and become as one, their sounds indistinguishable from one another and from their moments of individualism. Hints of traditional ragtime peek out from the free form nature of the tune, especially if the ear follows the breadcrumbs laid out by Fairhall’s piano (most distinctive in the second half of the tune). But, again, Fairhall’s incorporation of those elements into the composition, ultimately, serve to emphasize its modernity, not its ties to the past.
On “Arabian Fantasy,” the mix of slow blues and sampled vocals is equal parts warm and haunting, like hearing the voice of a dearly departed from beyond the grave. Pace picks up with some nice solo sections, especially from trombone.
Fourth track “Tutwiler Train Stomp” is a nice blowing session tune. Bass clarinet takes the spotlight, both on its own and when matched with the higher pitched trumpet. The tune begins with effects, but the traditional instruments take over. The trumpet section is particularly riveting.
Fifth track “Victoria Spivey” begins with a repeated sample of skewed piano. It’s the type of unsettling sound one would expect to hear on a (indie-rock) Mark Linkous song. Fairhall begins playing over it, and adds an element of elegance to the proceeding. Then vocals are sampled in, with Fairhall’s piano and Bridges’ trombone playing over it. The rest of the ensemble slowly files in, adding quiet accompaniment. The tune takes several sharp turns in tempo and style, but ends the way it began, with Fairhall’s piano and the sampled vocals. It’s a nice bit of cohesion to a tune that showed many facets.
Album ends with “Harlem Fast Shout,” a hopping tune that conjures images of dance floors filled with Friday Night revelers and musicians on the bandstand playing into the wee hours of the night.
Nearly three months back, I mentioned in my brief synopsis of this album for eMusic that this is “An album of outstanding scope and vision.” Now, three months later, and plenty more listens under my belt, the truth of that statement hasn’t lost any of its strength. The Imaginary Delta is a stunning achievement.
Daniel Spicer, Jazzwise:
Mike Butler, Manchester Evening News:
Dave Sumner, emusic.com:
Adam Fairhall, The Imaginary Delta: Originally commissioned for the Manchester Jazz Festival, pianist/composer Fairhall bought together a mix of early jazz forms and current technology and music approaches. So what you have are piano, drums, trumpet, trombone and clarinets joined by didley bow, jug, electronics, turntables, and samples of vintage jazz. It has that same synthesis of haunting and nostalgic warmth as anything that Charles Mingus recorded during his most creative moments, and switches from futuristic avant-garde to Olde Tyme swing with alarming seamlessness. An album of outstanding scope and vision. co-Pick of the Week.
Francois Couture, blog.monsieurdelire.com
With this record, UK pianist Adam Fairhall is rethinking the delta blues in post-modern terms. Through six original compositions, he manages to combine traditional instrumentation (clarinet, trombone, trumpet, bass, drums, jug) and electronic devices (laptop, turntable), drawing inspiration from the delta blues, European free improvisation, and the mash-up culture. Paul J. Rogers spins period recordings, which he treats and integrates to Fairhall’s playing (a blend of ragtime, stride, and free). Strong arrangements, puzzling moments, a very successful artistic proposition.
Vittorio Lo Conte, musiczoom.it (dodgy Google trans;ation from the original Italian):
Usually publications of Slam Productions are dedicated to jazz
more modern, but of course we take the liberty to publish even
something special, like this amazing live concert of the band
around the pianistAdam Fairhall.
apprezare The reasons are many who do.Certainly the crowds
and special atmosphere that musicians communicate to those who now listen, and
the music of course, that brings together past and present without
conflict of any kind, from Duke Ellington’s early atmosphere of the things
modern, post-bop jazz from with some reference to the free.
A mosaic that gives rise to a fascinating painting with color, which
blends the past and the present as they have already done great
as Charles Mingus
The group is made only by the leader on piano, byJames Allsopp
to clarinets (a great solo on dolphianoTutwiler Train
Stomp, while elsewhere it makes us feel the archaic sounds of the band
New Orleans),Chris Bridges trombone,SteveChadwickon trumpet,Tim Fairhallon
bass,Gaz Hughesondrums andPaul J.Rogers,who with
his turntables and electronic instruments with which launches the samples so
as to add special effects to sound magma.
The music is simply fun, unconventional, created by a mind
that is inspired visionary, distantly, to precendenti of Mingus who
willingly invited pianists of his groups to play stride and between
The samples of the voices that sound archaic blues make us understand, if
we had forgotten, what is really the swing, while the
emotional participation of the musicians do the rest.
A hard, in short, everything to which he escape aseptic atmosphere
of a recording studio, yet you need tools tomodern communication dall’addetto
managed to work well.The pianist and leader is just an original mind from
which we expectreally
Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery (New York):
ADAM FAIRHALL With JAMES ALLSOPP/CHRIS BRIDGES/STEVE CHADWICK et al –
The Imaginary Delta: Live July 2011 (Slam 289; UK) Adam Fairhall on
piano & compositions, James Allsopp on clarinets, Chris Bridges on
trombone & jug, Steve Chadwick on trumpet, Paul J. Rogers on laptop,
electronics, turntable & diddely bow, Tim Fairhall on bass and Gaz
Hughes on drums. The Slam label has a long history of discovering new
and often unrecorded musicians from Great Britain, as well as South
America and Italy. Pianist & composer Adam Fairhall is a new name for
me and here debuts an impressive septet. This disc was recorded live
at the Manchester Jazz Festival in July of 2011. Starting off with a
strange mutated blues sample the group soon jump into a strong,
hard-swinging groove. The team of frontline horns – clarinet, trumpet
and trombone, has a distinctive sound that seems to dip into some New
Orleans-like rambunctious. This band is consistently tight and
spirited with exuberant piano from Mr. Allsopp. “Sedalia Rag” does
actually sound like a rag and the entire vibe does make me smile.
Utility player, Paul J. Rogers, knows how to insert certain samples
or sounds to enhance those old school references from jazz’s long
history. There is an ancient blues/jazz voice by Ivy Smith sampled on
“Arabian Fantasy” and “Nightmare Blues” by Victoria Spivey used on
another piece. The band erupts on “Tutwiler Train Stomp” which
features some smokin’ clarinet, trombone and piano solos. Mr.
Fairhall’s septet do a good job of keeping one foot in the past and
the other in the present without resorting to copying an older style
too closely. I guess this makes sense since this is “The Imaginary
Jazzwise Review, December 2011:
Review from N.W.Jazzworks, summer 2011:
Adam Fairhall & Paul J Rodgers
While on the whole jazz is considered a forward thinking art form, with its generational breaks with the past and innovative shifts in style, it’s also true to say that many of even the most avant-garde players have looked back for inspiration. Think Thelonious Monk adapting J P Johnson’s stride technique and adding bebop, or Sun Ra borrowing from Fletcher Henderson’s big band arrangements to create some of the most ‘out there’ music with his Arkestra. There have always been musicians on the fringes looking over their shoulder in order to move forward, and it is within this fine tradition that Cheshire based pianist Adam Fairhall has firmly placed himself.
Jumping from Scott Joplin, to McCoy Tyner, to Champion Jack Dupree, Fairhall’s style on Second-Handed Blues is hard to pin down at first, but as the album takes form it becomes clear that this is a player with a very good idea of what he wants. This is not pastiche, or irony, this is an album of compositions that utilises the patchwork jazz history cohesively, combining elements of several traditions to produce a unique and innovative sound. In Paul J Rogers, Fairhall has obviously found a collaborator on the same wave length. His use of contemporary production techniques and archive material adds a depth to this record, moving it from a perfectly interesting solo piano outing, to something weirdly beguiling. The album is nicely book-end by its opener Ivy Smith, on which Fairhall is accompanied by an unknown vaudeville blues singer (her Bessie Smith-like vocal hisses out of the gramophone while the melancholic walking blues staggers along drenching in bourbon and regret), and its closer Saw Dog Man, a Jimmy Yancey style Boogie Woogie number that uses a sample of some kind of Mississippi preacher’s drawl that covers the track with a fine layer of vintage dust. The rest of the album is peppered with some very dark Cecil Taylor influenced free improvisation, and it is on these tracks that Rodgers’ production style particularly shines through. On The Katy Line, and The Okeehumkee on the Oklawaha the listener is bombarded with a dense sound-world of throbbing loops, toys instruments and broken objects used for their musical potential.
While the likes of The Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau are looking towards the Top 40 for inspiration these days, on Second-Handed Blues Fairhall and Rodgers have dug deep into the archives of jazz to find their own fresh sound. In a way Fairhall is the archaeologist on this project and Rodgers his curator; one brushes away the layers of musical sediment to uncover long forgotten artefacts, while the other carefully reorganises them for re-examination and reinterpretation. The result is a thought-provoking display, rich with ideas.
Review from International Piano Magazine, autumn 2011:
Adam Fairhall/Paul J. Rogers: Second-Handed Blues
Adam Fairhall (pf), Paul J Rogers (electronics, sound sculpture), Mike Hames (bass clarinet)
ASC 130 CD, 44 minutes
The debut album by this duo can be seen as a kind of archaeological exploration of blues piano and its place in the history of recorded sound. The “compositions” credit could say something like “Jazz and blues compositions and improvisations by Adam Fairhall, with soundscapes and Americana recordings synthesised by Paul J Rogers”. Each piece focusses on a distinct set of ideas or elements, pianistic and recorded. The acousmatic backdrop of “Ivy Smith” is that blues singer’s 1920s vocal “Sad and Blue”, with Fairhall’s piano solo in more updated blues style, that is, post-bebop, in which Charlie Parker synthesised the blues with the harmonic influence of Tin Pan Alley standard songs. The darkly powerful “Catfish” features Robert Petway’s delta blues guitar from his “Catfish Blues”. “Saw Dog Man” is a pleasing synthesis of traditional and contemporary blues by Fairhall, over a treatment of “Old Rattler” by Mose Platt/James Baker and “Hammer Ring” by Jesse Bradley. Some of the treatments are fairly radical, conceptual in fact – on the plangent “Piney Woods Motel”, for instance, blues by Margaret Johnson and Henry Truvillion are the sources for the sound sculpture, but no longer recognisable as voices. I’m less sure about the treatment of Bukka White’s monologue “Mixed Water” on “Ballad of a Backslider”, where varying speeds and spatial disintegration distract from rather than enhance Fairhall’s haunting bluesy minimalism. The pianist’s playing covers a multitude of bases – ragtime, boogie, bop and free jazz – while Paul J Rogers’ soundscapes and production concepts inhabit, if anything, an even broader stylistic range. A haunting and intriguing set of performances.