REVIEW: ‘Dream Feathers’ – Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS

THE DEPTH OF ORIGINAL MUSIC, newly created by artists and then fathomed further by our own imagination, remains a never-fading fascination – an opportunity to hear sounds for the very first time, and then continue to appraise and interpret them in relation our own experiences and circumstances. The possibilities are limitless.

Dream Feathers, presented by Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS, beautifully exemplifies that fact in a nine-track soundscape led by veteran saxophonist Caines (“composer”) and Sheffield multi-instrumentalist Archer (“studio enabler and magician”) where a multiplicity of melodies, textures, rhythms and field recordings abound. And whilst entirely accessible, both the freedom and blend of scored and improvised music takes this septet’s output far beyond a sequence of ‘jazz tunes’ and into an hour-long realm where the mind might freely roam the unexpected, eliciting visual and even visceral responses on a personal level.

Completing the line-up, pianist Laura Cole, guitarist Anton Hunter, double bassist Gus Garside and drummer Johnny Hunter – also proven masters of invention – paint canvases of acoustic and electronic colour which are enhanced with great effect by Hervé Perez’s field recordings, electronics and processing.

Throughout, Caines’ clear saxophonic tone/vibrato and ‘off-piste’ perambulations are a joy. In memorable, cyclic African Violets, piano and horns create a Coltranesque foundation for him to stretch out across Johnny Hunter’s shimmering cymbals and solid drumming impetus; and his easy alto lyricism in broad Uccello / 1934 (incidentally, a significant year in British classical music) becomes echoed by the most delightfully sparse electronic drones and electric-piano chimes. Free improv is prominent in mischievous, angular Mazeep; in prickly, unpredictable Harmonix; and in darker, mini-maelstrom Nico. But just as effective, and certainly more immersive, are the outer eleven-minute ‘movements’ – Rothko Veil / Dream Feathers and Almazon / 1934 Reprise – whose gently-shifting strata of extemporisation and complementary field captures seep into mind and heart, ultimately carried away through a canopy of woodland birdsong.

Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more.

Released on 13 November 2019 and available as CD or download from Discus Music at Bandcamp.

 

Ron Caines soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Martin Archer bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter guitar and electronics
Gus Garside double bass
Johnny Hunter drums

discus-music.co.uk
roncaines.co.uk

Discus Music (Discus 88CD) – 2019

‘Spacebound Apes’ – Neil Cowley Trio

spacebound

DONNING HIS SPACESUIT, pianist/composer Neil Cowley joins with fellow primates Rex Horan (bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) in this, their sixth album – and as Spacebound Apes, they head for galaxies anew.

The origin of the species’ music might, especially with their ‘trio’ tag, be perceived as jazz – but Cowley prefers to be more open-minded about his output: “I just like lovely sounds”. So rather than being founded on improvisation, the through-compositional nature of this release is more akin to early-’80s pop, carefully integrated with the atmospheric soundtrack breadth of, say, Tomita or Jean-Michel Jarre. Indeed, the classically-trained musician’s successes have included recordings with Brand New Heavies and Zero 7; whilst, as a session player on Adele’s global chart hits, he adopted the mantle of “2011’s most-listened-to pianist on the planet.”

Linked to a developing online blog and interactive digital experience (as well as a live visual event to be staged at Union Chapel, London, in October 2016), this tale of middle-aged Lincoln taking a hallucinatory journey into the cosmos finds Cowley unabashed in labelling it a ‘concept album’; and he explains that he’s been working towards the project for a long time, its immersive development taking in themes of guilt, loss and longing. But however deeply the trio’s ambitious vision is embraced, its eleven instrumental tracks also stand alone as an increasingly enticing, varied and progressive soundscape.

With Cowley prominent on piano, hyperspatial beauty rubs shoulders with boisterous stomp throughout these 45 minutes – so the electronically-pulsed launchpad preparation of Weightless evolves into the whispy, crescendoed minimalism of Hubris Major before arriving at a jaunty, martial piano strut in Governance, its percussive metre breaking free whilst Cowley’s lyricism contrasts well; and the memorably propulsive synth groove of The City and the Stars offers more than a semblance of OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’.

The album’s delicate piano interludes are especially effective. Grace‘s restrained ‘bridge over Satie’s water’ possessing a distinct, Rachmaninov-like romanticism; the endless, reverberant journeyings of Echo Nebula and The Return of Lincoln are, at times, reminiscent of The Enid; Duty to the Last suggests the contemporary jazz of e.s.t. or Michael Wollny; and later in the story, Death of Amygdala’s piano nocturne eloquence is swelled by the affecting grandeur of a French horn quartet.

But Cowley and co. also like a good pop romp – and The Sharks of Competition‘s relentless Stranglers-punk is counterbalanced by the blithe, synthy delights of Garden of Love. Whatever genre your might hook on it, the Neil Cowley Trio’s multi-faceted approach rebounds across the musical universe, its strains repeatedly a joy to hear.

Released on 16 September 2016, Spacebound Apes is available from Proper Music and various retailers.

Videos: Grace, The City and the Stars.

 

Neil Cowley piano
Rex Horan bass
Evan Jenkins drums
with
Leo Abrahams guitar, fx
Angus West, Oliver Fitzgerald-Lombard, Craig Macdonald French horns
Stile Antico choir

neilcowleytrio.com
spaceboundapes.com
lincolnsdiary.tumblr.com

Hide Inside Records – HIDE/CD002 (2016)