Fred Thomas’ Polyphonic Jazz Band explores improvised counterpoint through the medium of jazz standards, seeking inspiration from one of the richest resources in all of Western music history: Baroque polyphony. Renouncing jazz’s traditional instrumental roles and the culture of consecutive solos, this band instead adopts an aesthetics and politics of equality and community where all voices are equal.
Relative to its cousins Harmony and Rhythm, Counterpoint has not been extensively explored in the context of jazz. Transplanting Baroque polyphonic schemes (derived mostly from Bach cantatas and organ music) to the most classic jazz standards illuminates an untrodden path to this fundamental repertoire. Immersed in a liquid texture two hundred years older than the birth of jazz, these astonishingly malleable songs are heard afresh as intertwining melodies coalescing into a harmonious whole. This marriage of counterpoint and improvisation may seem paradoxical: coherent polyphony is hard enough to compose in a pre-meditated way. But alongside his studies of J.S. Bach, Fred Thomas has assembled this quintet of team players to synthesise these two disciplines in an attempt to explore an original way of approaching the jazz tradition, one that results in spontaneous polyphony.
Fred Thomas (Ethan Iverson, Jordi Savall) – double bass
Martin Speake (ECM, Paul Motian) – alto saxophone
Mick Foster (Cleo Lain, LPO) – baritone saxophone
Phil Stevenson (Fofoulah, Iness Mezel) – electric guitar
Phelan Burgoyne (Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler) – drums