Black Top / Press

“The headliners, Black Top, were a much more abrasive bunch. Introduced by marimba player Orphy Robinson as playing “archaic Nubian sounds”, their through-improvised pieces had rhythmic intent wide contrasts in texture. Robinson opened with four-mallet spirals and mid-register twists, Pat Thomas intertwined close-argued piano clusters and saxophonist Steve Williamson added oblique, warm-toned sax. Soon, the trio were moving in and out of rhythm, jaunty at one moment, a fury of blurred mallets and fluttering sax the next.With Robinson linchpin and powerhouse, Thomas could confidently alternate warm-hearted piano with blasts of white noise and the thin-toned rhythmic loops that he triggered from his battered keyboard and laptop. There were calls and responses and nagging dancehall beats, a shimmering ballad and four-to-the-bar discords delivered with imperious urgency. The ebb and flow rarely flagged, and capped a first strong first night.”

“e settled in for a purely improvised set of “archaic Nubian” bizness from the trio Black Top. Improv is an art in itself and while it tends generate a combination of alienation and pure reverence, I like think we sometimes overlook it’s lighter moments and those fleeting snatches of humour. Interestingly and unusually, being in-the-round Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas had their backs to each other and this left the saxophonist in a similar position as he wove his own melodic lines into music that built in haphazard intensity. That said, it was great to hear Steve Williamsonon both tenor and soprano back in the throes of a freestyle session where Orphy’s mallets danced around on his marimba, scatter gunning rhythms that allowed the bear-like Thomas to rove dangerously over the ivories or switch to electronics – loops, beats and blast of white noise.”

“Playing wholly improvised music, they spanned several genres in their short set, meeting Nelson’s criteria for the evening all on their own. They displayed a deep understanding of each others’ music, as themes started by one player were picked up by another, notes spiralling around the trio. Each has a distinctive, powerful voice. Thomas’s piano was superlative and inventive, his left hand sometimes laying down a solid rhythm whilst his right made jagged runs up and down the keys – a disturbing juxtaposition of form and freedom. His electronics provided a variety of effects from chimes to white noise, sometimes being more of a distraction. Robinson’s marimba provided a warm, human touch, and Williamson’s intense saxophone playing provided touches of familiarity as well as exploration.”

“Being in the round means that there are always some musicians who are not facing you; which makes photography a bit of a challenge! It is hard to work out where is the best place to sit, since the different bands face different directions. Someone will always have their back to you. The bands seems to like the set up, though - it is unusual for them to have so much contact with each other and with the audience. The first Jazz in the Round featured Blacktop - Steve Williamson on saxes, Orphy Robinson on vibes and Pat Thomas on keyboards and electroncs. Free improvisation - pretty exciting, one-off and original. Plus wacky electronic noises...”

“Topping the bill was Black Top, in trio mode, a totally improvised set by resurgent tenor and soprano saxophonist Steve Williamson, pianist/ keyboardist Pat Thomas and Orphy Robinson on marimba. Thomas and Robinson had a deep empathy that manifested itself by blocked out dense chunky Cecil Taylor-like chords that Williamson was able to bounce off with abstract lullabies and piercing asides. Complex and impressive Black Top as a trio works on so many more levels than when Williamson and Thomas opened, playing as a duo, for Steve Coleman at the London Jazz Festival. The shorter second piece with its sharp accents and intervalic leaps was worth waiting for. Black Top laughingly calls itself “step dub”: more like a big step up...”