‘Variety of Rhythm’ – Samuel Hällkvist

AN ENTICING, evolving experience which exhibits tremors of 1970s progressive formats, exploratory Swedish electric guitarist Samuel Hällkvist returns with immersive instrumental soundscape Variety of Rhythm.

His Variety of Loud and Variety of Live releases, of 2012 and 2015 respectively, revealed a musician with a singularly experimental vision for composition, instrumentation and improvisation; and he continues to garner respect across music’s cross-pollenating rock, electronica and jazz boundaries, from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and ex-Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri to trumpeter Yazz Ahmed (who reciprocally invited Hällkvist to appear on her recent release La Saboteuse).

Over the course of this continuous suite of almost 45 minutes, Hällkvist collaborates with a dozen musicians – including renowned US guitarist David Torn – through separately-recorded, differing scales of ensemble (in Japan, Portugal, New York, Paris, Belgium and Scandinavia), drawing mind and soul into a fluctuating landscape of sound which prompts the listener to contribute through their imagination. Hällkvist typically becomes part of the whole, integrating his processed guitar through a labyrinth of industrially cinematic drama, repetitively clanging timbres and almost dystopian sustained resonances – yet rather than creating an abstract mishmash, these carefully-woven ideas and illusions gradually become powerfully compelling, especially once they establish themselves in the psyche.

Timed, named waymarkers offer a clue to a conceptual, rock-solid framework interspersed with improvisational interludes (Hällkvist elaborating on the technical and structural aspects here), though the entirety of the work can easily be appreciated from a purely creative, openly-receptive standpoint. Double Adagio‘s rippling, wailing fuzz-guitar wall is propelled by time-shifting voice-and-glockenspiel-like tones, whereas as the more grungy trudge of nine-minute Tete-a-Tete / Blivet progresses into heavy metal, tinged with Steve Reichian attacca strings and ominously soaring guitar. David Torn’s expansive Huly Marga features his searching low-distorted guitar extemporisations against an electronic landscape reminiscent of Pink Floyd or late EST, whilst the extraordinary cross-rhythmic complexity of The Necker Cube, with oriental overtones, spills into subway-sax frenzy, movie-mystery malleted percussion and climactic, grooving grandeur.

Samuel Hällkvist’s maverick, detoured pathways create intrigue, and might initially overwhelm; but put through a responsive sound system, these three-dimensional worlds render in vivid full colour – the excellent concentric/segmented cover graphic points the way!

Released on 13 October 2017, Variety of Rhythm can be purchased digitally at Bandcamp, and is due to be available in gatefold CD format from Discovery Records and Amazon.

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitar
Dick Lövgren bass
David Torn guitar
Liesbeth Lambrecht violin
Qarin Wikström voice
Knut Finsrud drums
Pete Drungle keys
Yasuhiro Yoshigaki drums
Kumiko Takara mallet percussion
Paulo Chagas sax, flute
Silvia Corda various objects
Adriano Orru bass
Katrine Amsler edit, sound design

Mixed by August Wanngren

samuelhallkvist.com
varietyof.com

BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD024 (2017)

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‘Pond Life’ – Big Bad Wolf

A DEBUT RELEASE whose fresh, invigorating sounds stem from an intriguing co-compositional method, Big Bad Wolf’s Pond Life is an instrumental/vocal delight.

The direction taken by trombonist Owen Dawson, guitarist Rob Luft, electric bassist Michael De Souza and drummer Jay Davis begins with recorded, open-ended group improvisation. On playback, ideas born out of these free expressions are then developed, structured and honed with fine attention to detail, resulting in music which radiates an experimental free-spiritedness combined with intelligent musicality. This young band’s many, collective influences include Nirvana, Radiohead, The Invisible, Björk and Django Bates, so their creations naturally weave together diverse strands of rock, pop and jazz, occasionally integrating refined, layered vocals and synthesizer traces redolent of ’70s progressive rock and the Canterbury scene.

Melodically and texturally, this blissful music coruscates to an enticing pairing of trombone and guitar; and the democratic creativity of the quartet (who studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music) is key to their mission of ‘forging an individual, contemporary sound whilst still honouring the improvisational element of the jazz tradition’. Indeed, Owen Dawson’s cool, breezy trombone lines in Canary immediately intimate Groove Armada, as Rob Luft’s classical guitar delicacy implies the Anthony Phillips era of Genesis; but there’s also a gritty edge to the band’s output (Michael De Souza’s six-string bass a key element), with overdriven guitar and vocal lines perhaps suggesting Everything Everything. Flats in Dagenham‘s sleek, summery trombone promenade is interspersed with crackling guitar-and-bass motifs and anthemic choruses, heralding joyously mellow, sustained electric guitar improv. It seems the band’s initial pooling and sequencing of ideas are key to these unpredictable, episodic progressions which feature adroit, sometimes head-scratching instrumental combinations.

Luft’s stylistic range colours each of these eight pieces quite differently, his rock riffs in Frog underpinning its brassy, cinematic pride, whilst Dawson’s radiophonic, wailing trombone is carried by a mind-boggling swathe of pulsating guitars and tricky, percussive rhythms. In repose, this quartet is just as appealing – Quiet Coach‘s charm defined by dreamy, almost nursery-rhyme guitar, blithe trombone melodies and soft vocal harmonies. But a swift gear-change is never far away, with Hopkins’ Choice rippling to ska-like fervency; both Grassfish and title track Pond Life recalling prog’s flightiness (the latter complete with Pink Floyd ‘Welcome to the Machine’ synth detail); and closing track The Plight of the Typewriter capturing the supreme balance these players achieve as its sublime serenity evolves into majestic funk.

Pond Life might well be approached from an ‘ambient’ perspective; a feel-good, windows-down cruiser. Yet it offers so much more in terms of well-crafted new sounds informed by and excitingly recalling the legacy of music’s previous decades. That surely is a successful basis for any band – and hopefully this gem might be the first of many from Big Bad Wolf.

Released on 16 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Pond Life, live at Sofar London.

 

Owen Dawson trombone
Rob Luft guitars
Michael De Souza six-string electric bass (Bass VI)
Jay Davis drums

bigbadwolf.london

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Killpartrick
Financially supported by Help Musicians UK (Peter Whittingham Award)

Self-Released (2017)

‘Evolution: Seeds & Streams’ – John Ellis

johnellis_evolution

THE OCCASIONS when art coincides with one’s own surroundings and experiences can be pretty special, even life-affirming; when music, in particular, somehow reveals its power to three-dimensionalise the here and now whilst also more brightly illuminating itself.

An unlikely setting for my recent experience of this was a softly sunny, three-hour southbound drive along the M6 and M5 – and the looped, Sunday morning soundtrack: John Ellis’ Evolution: Seeds & Streams. This new instrumental release began life as a 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival commission, the original music of the Manchester-based pianist, singer, composer, producer (and founder member of The Cinematic Orchestra) accompanied by visual projections from artist Antony Barkworth Knight.

Daniel Halsall’s intriguingly minimal cover art offers little insight as to what lies in waiting – yet inside, a ten-piece ensemble, with John Ellis’ piano at the centre, presents a compelling, unfolding soundscape. Perhaps now somewhat clichéd, music can often be described as ‘a journey’; but it was this inspired line-up (including kora players Cali Nyonkoling Kuyateh and John Haycock), offering a blend of jazz, world, folk and cyclic minimalism, which connected so markedly with the contrasting urban and rural fluctuations of that motorway passage, and have continued to enthral ever since.

One of the attractive characteristics of Ellis’ music is that it doesn’t rely on spotlight soloing to make such a deep impression. Instead, it achieves this through congruous shape-shifting textures and highlights from acoustic instruments and synthesiser which, despite an often repetitious basis, never become jaded. It’s as if composer and musicians paint their broad canvas so sensitively that they leave sufficient white space for the listener to contribute, thereby becoming involved emotionally; and its accessible, melodic hypnotism gradually pervades the air like a richly fragrant balm.

Flight‘s resonant, synthesised ‘womb’ ostinato gives rise to the ebb and flow of brass, reeds and cello, all coloured by subtle piano, flute, percussion and bird calls, with distinctive kora evoking a Toumani Diabete-like sound world – an unusual yet heavenly blend. Seamlessly changing scene, Sam Healey’s lyrical alto in the first of two interludes segues into Unidentical Twins, whose open, eastern calm strengthens to include the most rapturously phrased trombone improvisations from Ellie Smith; and Interlude Two‘s electronic cityscape momentum, tempered with cello and piano embellishments, feeds into The Ladder which possesses an echoic electric piano groove redolent of Soft Machine and reverberates with gently mesmeric, Steve Reichian overlaps.

Led by Helena Jane Summerfield’s clarinet, Poemander‘s homely, tuneful charm is again delicately enhanced by dual kora – but also note the luscious, close-knit brass and woodwind arrangements which swirl like a gentle but purposeful breeze. Electronic subtones in A Bigger Cake (and a keyboard motif which might even recall Supertramp) prompt Ellis’ delightfully chromatic, free-spirited jazz progressions; and Arrival‘s simple, folksong oasis features the haunting, wide portamento of Jessica MacDonald’s cello and an abundant instrumental summation of this whole, wondrous experience.

One of 2015’s most satisfying surprise packages, this album is now in the car glovebox as part of an essential ‘survival kit’.

Released on 11 November 2016, Evolution: Seeds & Streams is available from Gondwana Records, at Bandcamp, as CD or high-quality digital download (visual projection teaser trailers here).

 

John Ellis piano, keyboard
Pete Turner bass, synthesizer
Helena Jane Summerfield clarinet, tenor sax, flute
Sam Healey alto sax
Ellie Smith trombone
Jessica MacDonald cello
Cali Nyonkoling Kuyateh kora
John Haycock kora
Rick Weedon percussion
Jason Singh beatbox

johnellis.co.uk
antonybarkworthknight.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD015 (2016)