Testimonial from Jon Taylor of Bristol Fringe Jazz
Mike Willox is not only a very fine pianist, he’s also a superb arranger and composer. He’s an exceptionally versatile musician and over the last four years I’ve seen Mike perform solo, in small, medium and larger bands playing in myriad styles including mainstream and contemporary jazz, swing from the 40’s and 50’s, The Great American Songbook, music from film and stage, soul music of the 60’s and 70’s through to contemporary funk influenced music. From a jazz perspective you can come away from a Mike Willox gig thinking he’s a brilliant ‘mainstream’ pianist only to see him the following week where he has morphed into the finest ‘contemporary’ improvising pianist. To all these different settings Mike brings an aura of authority, the type of authority that comes from talent.
One quality I have noticed in Mike is his ability to bring out the best in his fellow performers. I’ve witnessed this not only at gigs where Mike is band leader but also when he is a sideman and even when he’s been depping for another musician. He’s an excellent foil for any established soloist, a superb accompanist for any singer and always encouraging to less experienced band members.
Mike is a charismatic character with a great stage presence, has a dry sense of humour and is highly skilled at communicating with his audience. Mike’s impromptu comments, explanations and links between numbers are always a high point of one of his gigs and it’s not rare for the audience to burst into spontaneous fits of laughter.
I rate Mike Willox as one of the best pianists in this region and if you’re thinking of hiring him I can assure you you will not be disappointed.
Mike Willox – a testimonial from Tony Benjamin
I first encountered Mike Willox when reviewing a solo piano event in Bristol some eight years ago. At that time I was the Jazz and World Music editor of Venue, a fortnightly listings and lifestyle magazine covering the Bristol and Bath area.
I was immediately struck by the clarity and energy of Mike’s playing in that solo environment and, over the months that followed, I watched with interest the way in which he became a well-integrated member of the city’s musical network. Particularly impressive was his capacity to provide a skilful piano contribution to a wide range of musical styles. Thus I have seen him playing with vocal swing, jazz rock, contemporary jazz and classical bands with equal commitment, always drawing intelligently of the music’s legacy to inform his playing style.
Similarly I have seen him at ease playing in situations ranging from concert halls to a small café/bar, often finding an easy rapport with his audience even when almost surrounded by them in less formal venues.
During his time in Bristol he has established a number of successful bands as leader as well as being a regular member of others and also a solo performer. The diversity of his musical interests and knowledge, combined with his considerable playing experience, ensures that in all these contexts he can be relied upon to deliver a skilled and fresh performance.
In short, then, having myself seen a great many musicians in Bristol over many years, I would say that Mike Willox has earned a respected position with audiences, promoters and his musical peers alike in a musical scene that sets the bar particularly high for both musical talent and stagecraft.
Tony Benjamin – 27th September 2015
Mike Willox Quartet – Be-Bop Club 12 Dec 2011
Mike Willox has long been master of the element of surprise. Past combos like the art-prog Smith & Willox or deconstructive jazzers The Pollinators have presented deliciously naughty nights at The Bebop, genre-hopping wilfully around the boundaries of ‘the acceptable’. But this performance turns out to trump them all by virtue of its totally unexpected and shockingly buttoned-down niceness, offering well-crafted versions of classic jazz tunes with nary a ‘groove’ amongst them. Thus (wait for it) ‘Moon River’ begins with a genuinely soulful piano solo from Willox, the mood picked up by Jake McMurchie’s tenor sax (in late-night Dexter Gordon mode) and finally fleshes out when Will Harris’s understated bass and Mark Whitlam’s businesslike drums brush in. Willox’s piano takes the solo again and steers deftly away from cheese with some sardonic harmonics while keeping faith with the tune. The whole number is an effortless classic in the Blue Note style and the same can be said for Burt Bacharach’s ‘Wives and Lovers’. It’s the encore before things get groovy, and the brusque swagger of ‘The In Crowd’ à la Ramsey Lewis is an almost vulgar intrusion, like a benign drunk from the pub next door who then insists on singing ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Given that this little cracker has come so early, the signs are that we will, indeed, do just that. (Bristol 24/7)
The Big Picture
‘A carefully organised, highly conceptual hyper-collage of street and environmental noise thrown into a salad spinner with the sounds of jazz musicians practising and quick bursts of synthsizers, orchestras and choirs. Its success lies in Willoxs realisation that to achieve the big picture the smallest details have to be meticulously controlled. The piece accumulates considerable power over a 50 minute span. Like a jigsaw, it forms a clearer picture as you fit more pieces’ (The Wire)
‘The Big Picture is quite complex and diverse, but what makes it memorable is that Willox is clearly exerting a narrative voice through his choice of source material. Whether this be field recordings, television, radio or instruments, it feels as if there’s a reason for the sounds to be there. A sense of freedom reigns.’
(Alex Young – Furthernoise)
The Pollinators – Cori Tap 14 Dec 2010
Coronation Tap, Bristol (Tue 14 Dec) • Standards? The Pollinators took ‘Little Sunflower’ out to the edge of the cosmos and straight through a cocktail bar en route to a 70s German rock club basement. Nothing standard about that, but then nobody does swerve and flavour like this lot and it’s a joy to see them amuse themselves for our delight. Launching into ‘What’s Going On?’, Mike Willox’s keyboard blipped out, leaving Jake McMurchie’s fulsome, soulful sax to wing it. Thad Kelly rumbled funkily on bass, Daisy Palmer behaved herself on drums and while Willox scrabbled with screwdrivers we had a few minutes with the most perfect wedding band. Once restored, however, things displaced into hard-nosed deconstruction and ‘Up, Up and Away’ (the title a battle cry for tonight) unleashed a tag team dialogue, drums and sax exploration versus bass and keys hammering out new grooves. It was intense conversation in a number of languages and yet, unplanned as it may have been, they always knew it sounded right. There was massive warmth and enormous smiles by the close of what may have been their last gig and it’s tempting to hope that they really won’t be able to let this be the end. Please? (The Venue)
Smith and Willox – The Lost Cow’ (LP, self-released) *****
There’s something very seductive about the tightly disciplined playing out of chaotic musical ideas – it worked for Captain Beefheart and it’s working for Smith & Willox. This wordless album shrieks, coos, mocks and apologises at you, leading you from gloomy tunnels into sparkling electric landscapes before deluging you with cheese and then whispering conspiratorially in your ear. It could be prog – there’s enough pompous chord washes and drum thunder in tracks like ‘The Mighty Chris’ to make a brilliant Yes out-take – but the weirdly jaunty ‘Faye Is Funk’ is actually very funky (mostly) and the epic ‘Muffin Mind’ throws everything it can at a Krautish undertow before conceding to their inner Zeppelin. What’s going on? It’s like a beautifully crazed puzzle – there’s no answer, except to say it makes for magnificent music that somehow always works. (Tony Benjamin)