‘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)

Advertisements

‘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)