Having been accepted into more than one doctoral programme for composition (in both the USA and the UK), from 2016 Alexander is taking composition and arrangement more seriously than ever before. It is slowly becoming the single most important activity that exemplifies the shared values of classical, jazz and gospel music simultaneously as concept and in practice. However, the world of contemporary classical composition is not one that ADM Productions is looking to break into (not yet, anyway!) - Alexander plans to focus on the ongoing development of a compositional language that operates across the boundaries of both jazz and gospel music whilst also being conspicuously informed by Palestrina, JS Bach, Brahms, Stravinsky et al.
Lang Wudu (old English: long wood) is Alexander’s second major composition commission. Written over the summer months of 2015 for the groundbreaking arts/heritage/nature festival Bear Hunting and Other Ways to Walk and funded by Kirklees Council, it is a nine-movement work written especially for the Hillary Step Saxophone Quartet (quite possibly the leading ‘jazz’ saxophone quartet in Northern England) and is a musical journey set in Longwood, a village outside Huddersfield that proved to be a quite astonishing repository of history and culture from Roman Britain to World War II.
Inspired by the landscape and topography of Longwood (ranging from one of the most important quarries in Yorkshire in its day to a beautiful reservoir site with wonderful hilltop views and wooded areas on the ‘flat’) but also by some of the characters of the area and the surprisingly diverse social interactions taking place quietly in the village, the premiere performance took place in St Mark’s, Longwood (a Grade II listed building with its own very impressive features) and was received with highly conspicuous enthusiasm by the Longwood residents, almost all of whom had never heard a saxophone quartet nor imagined that that they could be so captivated by contemporary music (with improvisation) telling stories about their village.
Alexander was publicly hailed as a ‘genius’ by the Vicar of St Mark’s in his closing remarks and while this might be somewhat short of the literal truth, it was a wonderful experience and a work which the HSQ will hopefully return to in the future!
Inspired by the beautiful worship song 'Welcome in this Place' (penned by UK gospel luminaries Mark Beswick and Howard Francis) – which also features as the opening track – Welcome is Alexander’s debut EP for solo jazz piano featuring his own unique arrangements of music from the sacred Christian tradition. There are also nods to Kirk Whalum and Alexander’s UK gospel colleague Mark Bunney as well as the tradition of Welsh hymns and the gentlest of classical influences.
The recording was funded by the (former) Northwest Jazzworks as part of Alexander’s award (Jazz Factor Artist Development Award 2014) for his work in sacred jazz in the medium of solo piano. Conceived and recorded on a Yamaha Avant Grand, it is a personal document of an extremely troubled time (not least a major struggle with depression) in which faith – and jazz – made a real difference to his life. It is not an outstanding artistic statement, but that it got made at all was (and is) in fact a miracle…
In 2002, Alexander was privileged to be accepted by the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies for the inaugural New Music / New Media course, directed by Joanna MacGregor. One of his fellow attendees was the Wisconsin native Jonathon Roberts, a hugely talented undergraduate composer. The two young men became friends and stayed in touch.
Ten years pass. Jonathon is now the co-director of Spark and Echo Arts in New York City and curator of a massive project to get the entire Bible set to music. Alexander is tapped up for a contribution to the project and the result is Songs for Joy - a mini-EP in the form of a three-song suite for solo jazz piano in which composition and improvisation overlap so much it is hard to know where one starts and the other begins – which was always the point…
Songs for Joy
Songs of the Heart is Alexander’s first major commission: a groundbreaking work for SATB gospel choir, piano and solo improvising alto saxophone in nine movements that received a very favourable Guardian review and a standing ovation in a sold-out Manchester Cathedral.
Featuring an elite semichorus from the Zamar Gospel Choir of York University (who performed from memory to an exceptional standard) and the hugely inspired improvisations of Nathaniel Facey on alto saxophone, the performance was directed by the composer from the piano bench whose own “oblique improvisations” - essentially instrumental ‘recitatives’ that “provided some welcome moments of introspection, evoking the complexities and challenges that faith presents” were a significant part of the whole work.
Given that gospel music is essentially in three parts, working in four is a break from tradition (although others have done this). The choral element of Songs of the Heart did move to SAT at certain moments, but then also to five and six parts at certain others, borrowing language from classical church music and contemporary jazz as well as many forms of gospel (some more heavily disguised than others…).