Session with Nduduzo Makhathini – The Cure Collective Family

james mainwaring ndudzo Makhathini

Last week I had the pleasure of playing on this fantastic project formed by South African musician Nduduzo Makhathini who believes his music will help cure people. It was an intense two days made up of a rehearsal, a gig and recording an album in one session.
It also features loose tubes legend Eddie Parker flute (UK), Dennis Rollins trombone (UK), Magne Thormodsaeter bass (Norway), Ayanda Sikade drums (South Africa) and James Allsopp tenor saxophone (UK).


Fluid Orchestra – ‘Fog on the Tyne’

I was assigned to write a piece inspired by 1990s Newcastle. For me, the two major 90s continuums were football and music. This is the first piece I have written that’s been in 4/4 and stayed in 4/4 for a long time. I features a four-to-the-floor kick drum and a repeated piano pattern which was inspired by the thriving 90s dance music scene. The tambourine, the repeated guitar and vibraphone riff with the separate sparsely placed electric bass riff is a reference to brit pop, but also by accident it reminds me of the Casualty theme tune that ran through episodes in the 90s (I think it’s because of the instrumentation, the structure and some of the intervals in the riffs and melodies). The lyrics and title of the piece are stolen from Gazza’s revisited version of ‘Fog on the Tyne’ (originally recorded by Lindisfarne) where there is a clear collision of both the music and football worlds.

The more complex sections of the piece are built with aleatoric techniques – the ensemble is split into three groups and the groups are given material to improvise with, either a staccato group of notes, a legato group of notes or cued unison stabs.

This is followed by free improvisation led by the vocals and soprano sax, the rest of the band play interrupting duos (free improv with the rule that only two ensemble members are allowed to play at the same time, other members can interrupt whenever they want and the first member to have entered has to drop out).

The more improvised sections are designed to create complexity with simplicity – organising free improv with simple instructions. This is the first time I’ve used this approach in a large ensemble context, it is interesting to me as the piece will be different every time it is played and material will form in ways I would have never pre-heard or written down. This approach gives the members of the ensemble who are all experienced improvisors a chance to react to the rest of the piece and add their own ideas. I’ve really enjoyed this project, it’s a great bunch of people and players, an interesting mix of compositions and a pleasure to be a part of. Happy 50th birthday Jazz North East.


When? Tue Dec 13, 2016  |  08:00 pm

Where? Black Swan, 67 Westgate Road, Newcastle NE1 1SG

Who? Fluid Orchestra



‘Who’d have believed it? Started back in 1966 with a concert by Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, this year Jazz North East has been celebrating its 50th birthday.

And we couldn’t let our special year come to a close without putting on something really extra special. Early in the year we decided that we wanted to create an entirely new band drawing on some of the most imaginative improvising musicians across the North, and we came up with a 12-piece line-up that must surely be unique in its composition, with theremin, violin and vibes sitting alongside the more conventional horns and rhythm section. Add Zoë Gilby’s amazing vocal talents, and we have an orchestra with extraordinary creative potential.

Then, to make the best of that potential, we commissioned music from Graham Hardy, Corey Mwamba, Roller Trio’s James Mainwaring, and the collaborative pairings of Faye MacCalman & Graeme Wilson, and Zoë Gilby & Andy Champion, giving us five new compositions reflecting the five decades of our existence. The orchestra have been rehearsing and refining the music since September, and now, for the very last concert of our anniversary year, everything will be revealed in all its remarkable glory!

But why the ‘Fluid’ Orchestra? Well, in part because we believe that the instrumental combination allows for an unprecedented flexibility, fluidity, in approach. But also we’re so excited by the project that we hope to keep this going in future years, although probably with evolving changes in personnel to stimulate new creative challenges. It’s a fluid concept, and it starts right here at the Black Swan.’

Tickets for this gig are available from the Jazz Café (0191 222 9882), Reflex CD (0191 260 3246) or online from

Solo set on Chapel FM

This Friday (20th May 2016) I’m doing a solo set for Chris Sharkey and John Toolan on a local radio station called Chapel FM. The show is on at 7:30pm till 9pm and you can come to the studio (pay what you want) or listen live here

The topic is improvisation and technology and will feature fellow Leeds based musicians Chris Sharkey, Dave Kane and Tim Horne. I’ve been asked to perform a fifteen-minute improvisation followed by a short interview.

In regards to my solo performances, up until now I haven’t thought too deeply about what I’m doing other than creating an effects chain and improvising. I launch into a process that takes me to areas (both musically and in my mind) that no other activity leads me to. It also says something to the audience I can’t say when I’m doing anything else. During the improvisations, I might draw inspiration from a primitive man bashing rocks together, the Aboriginal tradition of imitating animals (check out ‘Tilikum’) and the Indian Classical tradition of interacting with nature (which in my case would be the environment, audience and electronic effects that feature automatic settings).

But there are more things going on, an on-going interest of mine is working with limitations. Here are some questions that I’m exploring through this project.

  • What are the timbral possibilities of the acoustic saxophone?
  • To what extent can the saxophone fulfil traditional roles of instruments that make up a full textured ensemble?
  • By augmenting the acoustic sounds with electronics, can this further explore the roles traditionally used in the instrumentation of an ensemble or in electronic music genres such as techno, house etc?
  • With the aim of not losing the initial character of the saxophones, how far can the acoustic saxophone be processed through effects before it becomes something different?
  • Which electronic effects work best for augmenting the saxophone without making it unrecognisable?
  • At the point where the saxophone becomes too unrecognisable, what are the musical possibilities leading up to this?
  • How can pieces created through improvisation, editing and multi-tracking be recreated live?
  • What improvisation techniques can be used to generate material?
  • What improvisation techniques can be used to make a piece sound composed?
  • How can a piece involve conventional and experimental composition/improvisation?