VIBRAPHONIST Ralph Wyld can be found gracing many a contemporary jazz line-up (including those of Rick Simpson, John Martin and Tim Richards), so it’s good to see his own sextet, Mosaic, stepping out with debut album Subterranea.
An entirely acoustic band, Wyld’s personnel comprises James Copus (trumpet, flugelhorn), Sam Rapley (clarinets), Cecilia Bignall (cello), Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass) and Scott Chapman (drums, percussion), and together they bring an often ruminative, atmospheric dimension to the vibraphonist’s seven, original compositions. Indeed, the specific instrumental blend of brass, woodwind, strings and percussion creates a predominantly inquiring chamber ensemble effect – though not without expansive moments of boisterousness – the writing appearing to offer all players acres of space for their improvisational free-spiritedness.
Ralph Wyld was announced by Edition Records and the Royal Academy of Music as the 2015 winner of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize (following in the footsteps of Josh Arcoleo, Reuben Fowler, Lauren Kinsella and Misha Mullov-Abbado), thus providing the opportunity to record this release at Real World Studios.
Here is an album which often mysteriously, sometimes quirkily unfolds its fifty minutes of treasures through vibes-anchored expressions which might evoke Terry Riley or Pierre Moerlen, combining them with the kind of brash, theatrical mischievousness heard in the music of, say, Michael Chillingworth or George Crowley. Wyld’s sustained, modulating colours deftly permeate the evolving instrumental timbres; and with a markedly live, almost folk-band sonority, the sound is particularly direct.
White Horses, described as being influenced by Steve Reich and much-missed Steve Martland, holds the kind of anticipatory thrill of waiting for breakers to crash as the darkly-brooding vibraphone swell repeatedly erupts into foamy crests of trumpet and clarinet amidst a tumultuous bass-and-percussion rhythm (an exciting audio/visual connection can be envisaged); and title track Subterranea‘s luminous, undersea weightlessness reveals exquisite finds of double bass and bass clarinet extemporisation as Wyld’s measured touch supports throughout, and shafts of harmonic light are crafted with unusual tonal blending. Keira Konko (Hill of Peace, in The Gambia) is a multi-faceted, twelve-minute episode which balances lyrical cello with chirpy trumpet and sparkling vibes, its strongest melodic episode imaginable as a documentary theme tune; and Cryptogram (whose basis, Wyld states, is melodically and chordally derived from his name) is fidgety and excitable, with a bristling propulsion only stopped in its tracks by syncopated hiatuses – a cheeky old thing!
But one of the significant discoveries, at three points across this album, is the ensemble’s skill in serene abstraction. Interludes I and II, plus a Reprise, are interspersed amongst the larger works with a slow, otherworldly beauty reminiscent of Brian Eno; and the fact that these are overlapping acoustic voices makes them all the more special (perhaps a concept for the future).
The pleasure here is in navigating a route through this album’s unpredictable, winding paths. Where might they take you?
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
James Copus trumpet, flugelhorn
Sam Rapley clarinet, bass clarinet
Cecilia Bignall cello
Misha Mullov-Abbado double bass
Scott Chapman drums, percussion
Edition Records – EDN1077 (2016)