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Tim Garland: Beyond the Frontier

Ian Patterson By

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Composer, arranger and multi-reed virtuoso Tim Garland is a treasure the nation of the UK has yet to fully recognize. Having recorded a dozen albums in his own name, and arranged for and played in the groups of Chick Corea and Bill Bruford, Garland's pedigree as one of the leading jazz saxophonist/composers of his generation is unquestionable. In addition, his collaborations with the country's finest musical institutions, including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, set him apart as one of the UK's most progressive modern composers. Few musicians have such pedigree or such an abundance of talent, and yet amazingly, Garland still awaits an invitation to appear at the country's premier celebration of jazz, the London Jazz Festival.

Tim Garland by Vladimir Korobitsyn

Despite this anomaly Garland is in demand around the entire world and, as his Lighthouse Trio's Libra (Global Mix, 2009) demonstrates, with good reason. The second of this two-disc set captures Garland, with trio members Asaf Sirkis (percussion) and Gwilym Simcock (piano), in a live setting, displaying all the energy and innovation which has won the group so many plaudits. Simply put, there few jazz trios quite as compelling as The Lighthouse Trio. But it is the first disc which is the most arresting; here, Garland's imaginative writing brings jazz trio improvisation into the womb of a modern orchestral setting, in this case the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Garland is not the first, and is certainly not the only composer to attempt to fuse such musical polar opposites. Nevertheless, his synthesis of these two genres, and his attempt at achieving balance between the power and structure of an orchestra and the chamber intimacy and freedom typical of the best small jazz groups, places him amongst the foremost composers at the forefront of what Gunther Schuller has termed The New Frontier.

Another recording, Celebrating Bach (Audio-B Recordings, 2009), sees Garland interpreting the music of Bach and Stravinsky on soprano saxophone in the company of the Northern Symphonia. Where Garland finds the time to also compose concertos for piano, saxophone and cello, as well as compose film scores is anybody's guess, though one suspects he has more hours than the usual twenty four in his days.

All About Jazz: Libra was three years in the making which is obviously a big investment, but you must be very pleased with the results, no?

Tim Garland: Yeah, absolutely. I remember talking with the people who did the artwork and they asked me how long it had taken, so when I told them I think they felt the gravity of how I felt about it. As a result I'm also very happy with the way it looks, which is all credit to them; they really pushed the boat out on my behalf. Of course, I'm really happy. Even if you listen back after the band has worked so long and you think "Oh, we play this much better now" but that is probably true of every recording. I wouldn't say better, I'd say differently.

AAJ: What was the inspiration for the suite "Frontier?"

TG: I heard Günther Schuller when he was doing a talk at a conference in Canada and he was basically saying that the next frontier would involve the use of the orchestra in a more integrated way...

AAJ: But you had already written the music before you heard Schuller give his talk, right?

TG: Yeah, I had written most of the music by that time and I felt like standing up and shouting [laughs],because I felt this was exactly the kind of thing I was working on. Of course there are many other ways too, which Mark-Anthony Turnage is involved in and many other writers as well who make creative use of the orchestra.

I wanted to approach the orchestra with a great deal of respect and it is rather like we are the guests of the orchestra rather than the other way around. Hence we don't play at all on the first track which is a self-contained orchestral piece, and it's only during the slow movement that we are allowed to sneak in one by one [laughs], into their world.

AAJ: But that was your compositional design, to begin with the orchestra and then ease in, no?

TG: Yes, that was very much part of the statement that it's us who are the guests of the orchestra and that puts us on a much more level footing, I think. The orchestra is a complete universe in itself. I was brought up as a composer and was writing really before I was playing. I also wanted to show my own particular balance of interests, and I was very keen not to show the orchestra —which is so often the case with jazz—that the orchestra is an expensive soundscape which sits behind the soloists.

Tim GarlandAAJ: Jazz with strings, right?

TG: Quite. Though there's a place for that as well; it sounds mega, and I love that too, but it seems to me that that's been done a great deal. [laughs] I would say that the language that jazz musicians are using today is very eclectic, global village-y, and quite often making use of really extended tonality and avant-garde techniques, and one needs in some measure surely to reflect that in one's use of the orchestra, rather than just using nineteenth century romantic Gershwin-esque techniques behind soloists whose language is in a way much more modern.

Going back to the genesis of all this, I wanted to demonstrate how you could pull two polar opposites together—the very intimate chamber sound of just the three of us with the might of a symphony orchestra., so in a way the sun and the moon being opposites. It's kind of cosmic, which sounds a bit hippy-ish [laughs], or other-worldly perhaps; something which doesn't pertain to urban life, which has marked so much of jazz history.


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