‘Under the Moon’ – Blue-Eyed Hawk

UnderTheMoon

THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.

The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.

For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.

Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.

The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.

Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.

Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.

Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.

 

Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
with
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth

blue-eyedhawk.com

*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.

Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)

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‘China Lane’ – Alice Zawadzki

CDWalletCrescent_DW-WithSpineNew.pdf

FROM THE DELICATE opening riff of this debut release, singer, songwriter, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki has me enraptured. A number of years in gestation, China Lane offers a unique and pleasantly beguiling approach to jazz, folk (call it what you will) which is enduringly irresistible.

Comprised mostly of originals, this collection can be curious, unpredictable and maybe even eccentric – but it is this bold individuality which sets it apart. And, with the immense musicality of friends such as Kit Downes (Hammond), Alex Roth (guitar), Jon Scott (drums) and Andreas Lang (bass) on board, as well as strings and associate voices, this is a magical journey with a breadth that takes in stories of love, tenderness, desolation, discord and mischief. Zawadzki’s assured vocal delivery – heard also in Moss Freed’s excellent Moss Project (album review here) – is, for me, redolent of the invention of Annette Peacock and Björk, with a touch of the light, new-age folkiness of Sally Oldfield – yet it also possesses a rich and passionate depth which particularly comes to the fore in the two arrangements here of traditional Sephardic tunes.

The breathy, brushed, folksy opening number Ring of Fire, featuring Zawadzki’s clear lead vocal and mysterious violin melodies, is the perfect example of the twists and turns to be found in these entertaining fifty minutes. Kit Downes’ distinctive scratchy Hammond gradually nudges further into the proceedings against the sustained wash of Alex Roth’s guitar until, with rapid gear change, Andreas Lang’s double bass signals the glorious blues-jam conclusion, Downes and Roth underpinning Zawadzki’s playful scat-like vocal improvisations which, in the end, seemingly catch them out (to their audible amusement!). Cat is described by the composer as a modern fairytale in which “the ghost of a murdered feline finds its way into the body of a woman with excellent consequences”, the laboured push-pull rhythm provided by Jon Scott and sinewy effects from Downes and Roth – plus close, soulful harmonies – adding to the fantasy. Again, the mercurial nature of Zawadzki’s writing triumphs, Downes turning in a characteristically showy solo.

Indome Para Marsilia (arranged by Alex Roth) whirls and gyrates to its mesmeric folk melody, led by hard percussion and pulsating bass, giving Zawadzki the opportunity to reach vocal highs (Roth’s guitar a key element). Dicho Me Habían Dicho, the more introspective of these two traditional tunes, burns slowly and mystically, Shirley Smart’s typically gritty, wailing cello against Alex Roth’s harmonics enhancing Zawadzki’s brooding tones. The horizontal string-shimmering effect of Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light – with chromatically-climbing harmonies from Zawadzki, Emilia Mårtensson and Fini Bearman, plus Roth’s chorused guitar against Andreas Lang’s resonant bass – is heartstoppingly gorgeous, its rising, crescendoing impressions recalling a Danish winter sunrise. Emotional in other directions, nine-minute You As A Man reveals a tangible poignancy, Zawadzki’s lyricism perhaps at its height (“It’s like selling your feet to make money for shoes; using blood to wash your wounds”). The constant swell and diminuendo of Downes’ Hammond chords provide intrigue to this spiky and discomforting tale of obsessional love, and the whole band’s interpretation of Alice Zawadzki’s intentions match her dramatic vocal expression.

The urbanity of Manchester, including the buses which pass behind the stage of Matt & Phred’s jazz club, provide the subtle background ambience for the closing title track which reflects Zawadzki’s affection for and association with this northern city. Singing at the piano, accompanied by string sextet, she nostalgically paints images of the red sunset-tinged brick buildings of narrow China Lane in the album’s most commercially anthemic number.

As enchanting to experience ‘live’ as in this fine recording, Alice Zawadzki is most definitely one of contemporary’s jazz’s stars of the present and the future, possessing, as she does, remarkable musical dexterity and personality. A fine solo album debut.

Released on Whirlwind on 16 June 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.

 

Alice Zawadzki voice, violin, piano
Alex Roth guitar
Andreas Lang double bass
Kit Downes Hammond organ
Jon Scott drums
Shirley Smart cello
Emilia Mårtensson voice
Fini Bearman voice
with
Eva Thorarinsdottir violin
Steve Proctor violin
Lucy Nolan viola
Tanah Stevens viola
Peggy Nolan cello
Rosie Toll cello

alicezmusic.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4647 (2014)

‘meets I Dig Monk, Tuned’ – ReDiviDeR

Redivider

AN INTRIGUING and, ultimately, satisfying second album from experimental Irish four-piece, ReDiviDeR, led by drummer and composer Matthew Jacobson.

The chordless (and palindromic) quartet have frequently trodden the festival trail of their homeland with an interesting mix of textures, grooves and samples, all melded by an innate jazz sensibility played out on alto sax, trombone, bass and drums. Citing such influences as Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Tim Berne, this latest release reveals their sharp creativity to a wider audience. And, if your ears are responsive (as well as eyes open to one or two track/guest-name japes – though my guess is the ‘AleX’s were an anagram too far!), there is much here to savour. Following up 2012 debut ‘Never odd or eveN’, they are found here in collaborative vein as four established UK jazz musicians guest on tracks written specifically with them in mind (the anagram of ‘United Kingdom’ as album title ‘I Dig Monk, Tuned’ far too clever for me!).

Leaping straight to the centrepoint of the seven tracks (a couple of which are brief interludes), Bin Saved begins with a compelling descending pattern over which a resonant fretless electric bass with trombone, plus alto embellishment, invites guest cellist Ben Davis to improvise impassionedly into a solo spotlight. Nick Roth’s alto then takes the piece on a new, raunchier route, Davis and Derek Whyte sharing the rocky bassline, Jacobson snapping cleanly on drums. Concluding with mellower, more echoic trombone and bass, it’s quite a number!

Opener, Twin Kodes, features the now-almost-trademark abstract Rhodes wizardry of Kit Downes, followed by effective, trippy, post-produced trombone from Colm O’Hara; then… a twist into Downes’ ‘Troyka’ territory and a random-yet-structured trombone/sax dash to the finish. Animal Code sees Alex Bonney’s trumpet beefing-up the horns, a wild elephantine cacophony ensuing over stampeding drums and electronics.

The guitar of Alex Roth brings an altogether different timbre to Velvet Pouch, a dark, smouldering track of repeated riffs and effects against an intensifying bass and drum groove whilst, finally, May I Agree‘s semitone-clustered, cascading horn melodies tumble along to Jacobson’s pointed, snare-driven rhythm.

As members of touring initiative Match & Fuse, it’s easy to understand why ReDiViDeR are a popular live act – check out the links below for further information.


Matthew Jacobson
drums  matthewjacobsonmusic.com
Derek Whyte bass
Nick Roth alto sax
Colm O’Hara trombone
with
Kit Downes keys
Alex Roth guitar
Alex Bonney trumpet/electronics
Ben Davis cello

ReDiviDeR
Diatribe
Match & Fuse

Diatribe – DIACD016 (2013)