Cluster, mute, smear, rangy, scream, coo, blast. Saxophonist and composer Neil Welch is an active mover of modern improvisation. Approaching the instrument as more a textural tool, Welch’s “powerful, virtuosic, cutting-edge music” (All About Jazz) is not easy. Often highly polarizing, Welch’s music was called a “superior work of art” (All About Jazz) and “completely devoid of melody, rhythm, or that thing called listenability — not music” (Jazz Weekly). As his sound continues to evolve with each performance, Welch’s audiences often become fervent devotees or absolute critics.
An early jazz purist while in grade school and high school, Welch received the “Outstanding Tenor Soloist” award from Jazz at Lincoln Center, among numerous regional awards throughout the Northwest. From 2006-2010 Welch studied classical Hindustani improvisation from the master sitarist Pandit Debi Prasad Chatterjee. This rigorous study instilled an interest in prism-like sound resonance that continues to greatly influence Welch’s approach to his instrument and compositional style. In 2008 Welch released his first critically acclaimed album, Narmada, which DownBeat Magazine said “combined mysticism with ferocity…and unwillingness to compromise.” Later in 2008 Welch was named “Emerging Artist of the Year” by the Earshot Jazz Society.
In 2010, Welch and his wife struck out across all of the lower 48 in their 78 VW bus. On returning from this 18,000 mile journey and seeking more isolation, they moved into the woods on Whidbey Island near Seattle, WA where he and his wife currently make their home. It was during this period of artistic isolation that Welch’s playing began to change dramatically, and solo avant music became a major artistic focus. Returning fully to the Seattle scene in 2010, he helped form the weekly avant garde performance series Racer Sessions, currently thriving in the revived Seattle experimental scene. As a natural offshoot to this series, in 2011 Welch worked with many of the Racer Sessions collaborators to launch the avant record label Table and Chairs Music. T&C has released over 15 albums to date, including Welch’s albums Bad Luck Two (2011), Boxwork (2011),Iron Creek (2011), Sleeper (2011), and the Bloodroot EP (2012).
Welch’s acoustic/electronic project Bad Luck was awarded “Outside Artist of the Year 2009” by Earshot Jazz. Co-led for over 8 years with drummer Chris Icasiano, Bad Luck is a powerhouse duo with three releases to date. Their 2011 release Bad Luck Two was named “Album of the Year 2011” by the New York Jazz Review. Welch’s debut solo saxophone album Boxwork was named in the top 10 albums of 2012 by All About Jazz. In addition to performing, Welch is a devoted improvisation educator. Along with his busy private studio, Welch is an educator for the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra “Jazz Scholars” nonprofit program, which places jazz educators in the classroom with at-risk youth.
Welch has six albums and one full-length EP, spanning a wide range of compositional styles and sound color. Narmada (2009), Bad Luck (2010), Boxwork (2011), S
“An impassioned tenor player, he combines mysticism with ferocity”—Downbeat Magazine
“A colorful world…evolving, surprising”—Cadence Magazine