REVIEW: ‘Epik, Didaktik, Pastoral’ – Samuel Hällkvist

‘EPIK’ IS THE WORD – but then, that’s the distinctive landscape which Swedish guitarist/programmer Samuel Hällkvist has inhabited in his post-rock-jazz albums such as Variety of Rhythm and Variety of Live. Just as intense as those earlier recordings, Epik, Didaktik, Pastoral blasts out solid walls of polyrhythms and electronics – but this time, there seems to be a greater sense of cohesion; a thread of overall structure, intent and chameleonic colour… if you can handle its unrelenting progression!

Rooted in Hällkvist’s deep, complex grooves – which are shared with his drummers and bassists – there are also contributions from sound designer and programmer Katrine Amsler, plus the smouldering trumpet improvisations of Yazz Ahmed, Noel Langley and Luca Calabrese. Pulsating, evolving stratum of venturesome sounds (the nearest comparison being Nik Bärtsch’s ECM albums) are supported by intriguing sleeve notes which significantly reference ‘self-dividing, self-replicating’, ‘nearly impossible yet entirely real’ and the pertinent phrase, ‘flood the senses’. And there is, indeed, an element of needing to positively submit to these crafted/processed, industrial/urban environments; the reward – an intoxicating, absorbing expedition.

Save for the introductory slide across the fretboard, Hällkvist’s guitars are typically integrated into the whole, demonstrated in opening Vägen Som Landet (The road like the land) as it bustles with funky, woven precision, incorporating reverse-bass riffs, big-band-style stabs and sultry, swirling brass. Utan Vilja (Without will) is rhythmically erratic and challenging, while intensifying movie tension is the dominant force in Hög (High), the first of three tracks under the collective title Dekorum; II and III – Medel (Average) and Låg (Low) – are similarly electrifying. The instrumental mélanges fascinate – Badboll Gles and Blåklocka, Ängsklocka especially for their Steve Reich-suggested impressions of tuned percussion, and 100 Takter Med Piano (100 beats with piano) for its spiky, morse code frenzy, complemented by spiralling trumpet. To close, unusually slow, ominous Omstart leads into Svedjebruk (Shifting cultivation), whose unyielding synth-pop strains find a blistering rock climax.

Dizzying, saturated, unsettling, mesmeric, rousing – any of these might be natural responses to Hällkvist’s ten, dynamic tracks which provide a pounding, sonic adventure almost like no other.

Released on 20 August 2020 (the artist’s 40th birthday), Epik, Didaktik, Pastoral and available in CD format from Burning Shed, as well as CD/digital at Bandcamp; and if streaming is for you – there, too.

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitars, MIDI programming, composition
Knut Finsrud drums
Dick Lövgren bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10)
Katrine Amsler sound design, programming (tracks 1, 7, 8, 10)
Anne Marte Eggen bass (tracks 2, 4, 9)
Yazz Ahmed trumpet (tracks 1, 3)
Luca Calabrese trumpet (tracks 2, 6)
Noel Langley additional trumpet (tracks 1, 3)

Cover art by Sophie Bass

samuelhallkvist.com

BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD031 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: April 2019 (1)

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REVIEW: ‘New Life’ – Flying Machines

Flying Machines_New Life_300px

FLYING MACHINES’ maiden voyage – their eponymous debut release of 2016 – announced the soaring, anthemic drive and cirrostratus serenity of guitarist Alex Munk’s jazz-rock originals. Now, joined by regular crew mates Matt Robinson, Conor Chaplin and Dave Hamblett, the band bursts through the ozone with second album New Life, their higher aspirations reflected in cover-art astrophotography of the Veil Nebula supernova.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 19 October 2018 and available from Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Alex Munk guitars
Matt Robinson piano, synths, Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin electric bass
Dave Hamblett drums

flyingmachinesband.com

Ubuntu Music – UBU0017 (2018)

‘Zentuary’ – Dewa Budjana (2CD)

zentuary

BALINESE electric guitarist Dewa Budjana seems to be a man on a mission. High-energy jazz-rock artistry pours from him like there’s no tomorrow! For latest double album Zentuary (follow-up to 2015’s Hasta Karma) he calls on a core, western powerhouse of bassist Tony Levin and drummer/keyboardists Gary Husband and Jack DeJohnette, as well as guests including saxophonists Tim Garland and Danny Markovich.

Major influences on Budjana’s career are iconic guitarists John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny; and such transmitted dynamism, coupled with heady, colourful infusions of Indonesian culture, provides the foundations for these one hundred minutes of intense, original composition and improvisation. With Bali some 8,000 miles from the UK, the guitarist’s often anthemic soundscapes traverse geographic borders – in music, what borders? – with ease, providing a window on exotic vocals, textures and rhythms. The scale of the project might initially feel pretty overwhelming, and perhaps Zentuary (the guitarist’s contrived word, melding ‘zen’ and ‘sanctuary’) could more easily be considered and digested as an entire, continuous movie soundtrack. In fact, Budjana thinks big, even taking the opportunity to incorporate sessions with the Czech Symphony Orchestra.

By turns, these twelve particularly expansive tracks are exhilarating and mysterious, Dancing Tears immediately chasing pace and bubbling to Tony Levin’s signature Chapman Stick bass. Budjana is undoubtedly a ‘guitar star’, his breathless, varying explorations of the fretboard shining out above thunderous rock drumming; and Solas PM‘s similar line is coloured by the rapidity of Danny Markovitch’s high-flying soprano. Lake Takengon adds flamboyant wordless vocals into the mix; the tropical atmospheres of Rerengat Langit (Crack in the Sky) combine the evocative tones of Indonesian flute with spoken phrases and delicious fuzz guitar; and the steady progression of Suniakala confirms the guitarist’s aptitude for orchestral, almost Pink Floydian grandeur.

Dear Yulman descends into dark, shady thriller territory, though Budjana’s impressively liquefied chromatics rise above; Pancarabo‘s Methenyesque vocals alternate with a driving synth groove redolent of Jan Hammer (and even Husband’s time with Level 42); and the exuberant, chiming celebration of Manhattan Temple glints to Tim Garland’s unmistakable vibrato and Levin’s beautifully resonant NS bass. At this stage of CD2, there’s a sense of envelopment, of basking in the aromatic wonder – and Dedariku‘s breathy suling flute finds a path through dense undergrowth to ascend melodically with synth and guitar (this is certainly theme tune material). The eastern joy of Ujung Galuh – one of many vast tracks – is carried by Danny Markovitch’s soprano improv; Uncle Jack‘s quirkiness is characterised by catchy guitar motifs, glissando bass and all manner of piano and synth hues; and the peaceful, closing acoustic guitar and strings oasis of title track Zentuary also has a symphonic urgency which suggests there remains plenty more for Budjana to say… next time.

A big statement from a strong Indonesian jazz-rock force, Zentuary is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp and Amazon, as well as at iTunes.

 

Dewa Budjana guitars, soundscapes
Tony Levin electric upright NS Design bass, Chapman Stick
Gary Husband drums, keyboards, acoustic piano
Jack DeJohnette drums, acoustic piano
with guests
Danny Markovich curved soprano sax
Tim Garland tenor sax
Guthrie Govan guitar
Saat Syah custom-made Indonesian suling flute
Ubiet vocals
Risa Saraswati vocals
Czech Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michaela Růžičková

dewabudjana.com

Favoured Nations (in association with MoonJune Music) – FN2880 (2016)

‘Flying Machines’ – Flying Machines

FlyingMachines_digital assets

A NEAT SYNTHESIS of pioneering inspiration, elegant sleeve art and exhilarating original music ties together Flying Machines’ eponymous debut album – a jazz-rock experience founded on imaginative, soaring electric guitar expression and energized, synth-sizzling grooves. 

With crew of piano/keyboardist Matt Robinson, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Dave Hamblett, guitarist/composer Alex Munk’s inspirited artistic approach is fired by the legacy and memory of his father, Roger Munk, whose tireless, award-winning vision for the advancement of British airship technology resulted in this year’s maiden voyage of the world’s longest aircraft – hybrid vehicle Airlander 10.

Indeed, there is undoubtedly a sense of gliding freedom and adventure as these nine, aeronautically-themed tracks take to the skies, as if the guitarist’s overarching brief to the band is to ascend towards spatial euphoria. So although opening number Tracks ripples to incisively picked guitar, deftly chromatic piano and tricksy, propulsive rhythms, it then levels out into an above-cloud state of tranquillity, with Munk’s clean, sustained melodies basking in endless sunlight; and the busyness of Bliss Out also has wide-openness at its heart, Robinson’s anthemic piano octaves floating over Hamblett’s snare drum propulsion, giving rise to gutsy guitar improvisation.

Munk’s citation of Pat Metheny and Mike Walker as influences can be heard in dreamy As Long As It Lasts. Rapid, anticipatory synth patterns in Emotional Math Metal bubble underneath crashing rock chords and breathless, extended, bass-driven riffs (yet there are always moments of serenity for taking in the view); and the guitarist’s solo piece, First Breath, possesses a Tracy Chapman song-like simplicity which almost implies a lyrical vocal line, as well as a redolence of Steve Howe or Steve Hackett prog interlude.

This quartet coalesces superbly across these differently-hued episodes, the buoyant electric bass and Rhodes funk of Lighter Than Air perhaps suggesting Snarky Puppy or, again, Metheny; and Peace Offering‘s initial weightlessness hits some splendidly turbulent dynamic and rhythmic fluctuations, all so exactingly co-ordinated. Stratosphere‘s crunchy, pop/rock solidity treads somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and Genesis; and post-flight A Long Walk Home (with Chaplin’s switch to double bass and Robinson’s acciaccatura piano inflections emphasising this more rustic, acoustic amble) views the afterglow with an exquisite, thankful reverence.

Technically and emotionally thrilling, Flying Machines’ own inaugural flight is ‘up there’ with the best. Released on 14 October 2016, it’s available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Alex Munk guitars, compositions
Matt Robinson piano, synths, Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin electric bass, double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

flyingmachinesband.com

Sleeve art by Oli Bentley at split.co.uk

Pictor Records – 001 (2016)