An extended Black Top line-up for the London Jazz Festival with Saxophonist Steve Williamson, Trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Cleveland Watkiss joining series founders Pat Thomas (piano/electronics) and Orphy Robinson (vibes). The ad hoc 'Black Top' series is dedicated to exploring the intersection of live instruments and technology such as the looping and sampling used in dub, reggae and other worldly noises - using improvisation to explore these black influences but not necessarily from an African American perspective.
STEVE WILLIAMSON / saxophones
Steve Williamson began playing saxophone at the age of 16 and started his career playing in Reggae bands (Misty n' Roots). In 1984 and 1985 he studied at London's Guildhall School of Music. At the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday open air festival in 1988 he played alongside Courtney Pine in Wembley Stadium and afterwards was a constant presence at Ronnie Scott's. He was member of Louis Moholo's Viva La Black (1988) and of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath (1990). During the 1990s he led his own band and appeared in projects of Iain Ballamy, Maceo Parker, Bheki Mseleku, US3, and Graham Haynes.
In 1990 he released his first album A Waltz for Grace with Verve, featuring vocalist Abbey Lincoln. In 1992 Williamson he released his second album Rhyme Time , followed by Journey to Truth in 1994, featuring Cassandra Wilson. Steve Williamson's career is based on the constant study of harmony and research of the all possible harmonic approaches to compositions. His musical knowledege, from the studies on Western African music to the deconstruction of Debussy's harmony, is wide and gives Williamson the opportunity to experiment with his music, creating always innovative and unique compositions. His incredible talent as a saxophone player and his vivid originality as a composer make Steve Williamson one of the most versatile and unique performers in Britain.
Byron Wallen is "one of the most innovative, exciting and original trumpet players alive" (Jazzwise Magazine). Widely recognised as a seminal figure in world jazz, he is constantly travelling the world recording, teaching and performing.
“Byron's always absorbing music genuinely draws in the disparate elements of African and Eastern cultures, while retaining true jazz spirit … ”
Byron was raised in a musical environment and started learning his first instrument, the piano, at an early age. He then went on to study the trumpet with Jimmy Owens, Donald Byrd and Jon Faddis in New York. His early music career was forged while he was studying for a degree in Psychology, Philosophy and Maths at Sussex University (he graduated in 1992). During this period he recorded for Loose Ends and Cleveland Watkiss, and played trumpet with the likes of Mervyn Africa, The Style Council, Charles Earland, Courtney Pine and Jean Toussaint.
By the late 90s his work was receiving world wide attention and his fluent trumpet, firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, could be heard performing with a myriad of artists such as David Murray, Andrew Hill, Butch Morris, Ralph Moore, Billy Higgins, Eddie Henderson, Wynton Marsalis, Herlin Riley, Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, William Orbit, Toumani Diabate, Brice Wassy, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ronnie Laws and Chaka Khan. His trumpet has also appeared alongside African pioneers such as Hugh Masekela, Manu Dibango and Amampondo. One of the most versatile and dynamic voices on the British jazz scene, he has performed with rap outfits such as The Roots, Digable Planets and Us3.
Born in the East End of London, virtuoso vocalist, actor and composer Cleveland Watkiss Studied the voice at ‘London school of singing’ With opera coach ‘Arnold Rose’ and at the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama. Cleveland was also one of the co-founders of the vastly influential Jazz Warriors big band. His vocals can be heard on there debut album, Out of Many People which won a video award in Japan.<br><br>
His amazing vocal experiences have seen him perform with many diverse artists from around the world such as ‘The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dusseldolf Symphonic Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis,Bob Dylan, Jackie Mittoo, Keith Richards, James Taylor Quartet, Art Blakey, Sly & Robbie, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder, Patife, Lepaja Symphonic Orchestra, Nigel Kennedy, Carlinhos Brown, Robbie Williams, Joe Cocker, The Who, Branford Marsalis, George Martin, Julian Joseph, Bocato Big Band, Lisa Stansfield, Courtney Pine, Janet Kay, Maxi Priest, Soul II Soul, London Chamber Orchestra, Kassa Mady, BBC Orchestra, Goldie, Cassandra Wilson, Kenny Wheeler Big Band, Sugar Minot, Talvin Singh, Bjork, Pete Townshend, London Community Gospel Choir [LCGC] and many many More.
Pat Thomas studied classical piano from aged 8 and started playing Jazz from the age of 16. He has since gone on to develop an utterly unique style - embracing improvisation, jazz and new music. He has played with Derek Bailey in Company Week (1990/91) and in the trio AND (with Noble) – with Tony Oxley’s Quartet and Celebration Orchestra and in Duo with Lol Coxhill.
"Sartorially shabby as Thomas may be, and on first impression even rather stolid, he has a somewhat imperious charisma that’s immediately amplified when he starts to play. Unlike other pianists whose virtuosity seems to be racing ahead of their thought processes Thomas always seems supremely in command of his gift, and his playing, no matter how free and ready to tangle with abstraction, always carries a charge of authoritative exactitude." The Jazzmann
Orphy Robinson is one of the major figures of the jazz scene - he has released records on Blue Note and played with Don Cherry, David Murray, Henry Threadgill, Courtney Pine, Jazz Warriors and Andy Shepherd.
He has composed for Film and TV- including “In answer to your question” for the Balanescu String Quartet and “ 42 Shades of Black” for Phoenix Dance Theatre,which was performed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Currently leads the groups CODEFIVE- NUBIAN VIBES - he also plays in the groups BRUISE and CLEAR FRAME