REVIEW: ‘Trio’ – Felix Jay (3CD)

FOLLOWING the singular creative path of Felix Jay has been illuminating, and proves how limitless our discoveries can be. A varied career has seen the multi-instrumentalist collaborate with artists including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, working for NME and striking a friendship with Brian Eno, while his recording acquaintance with jazz trumpeter Byron Wallen is long-standing.

Trio isn’t a ‘jazz piano trio’ recording, as one might surmise, but a three-album work of sessions which cover a double decade, from 1999 to 2019 – two featuring Wallen and guitarist Rob Luft – and much of it recorded at his music room on the River Eye, in the serene rurality of the Cotswolds. It seems Jay has always preferred improvisational collages, yet his music is generally accessible and certainly increasingly absorbing. Personnel details and instrumentation for each album are listed further below.

Riverseyeside Recordings weaves a sinuous route, Calabash and Song for Ch(arli)e featuring muted trumpet (echoes of Miles) over rivulets of Fender Rhodes and wavering, phased electric guitar; and its Jay’s marimba and other percussion which provides mysterious depth in Bush of mists. Electronics are effective in pieces such as Sacred flutes, creating a breathy ostinato for bass clarinet to crawl through; and Shisya’s joyful conversation between scampering guitar runs, bass flute and a clapping rhythm is attractive (one of Jay’s earlier recordings, Cardamom & Coriander, demonstrates his skill with fluttering, harmonic bass flute). Fils de fils de Kilimanjaro taps into Luft’s affection for an African vibe; grooving Where’s Jack? feels like it could run and run; and expansive Must it be? It must be! views the afterglow with steel guitar shooting star trails soaring above delicate soprano sax melodies.

Jay’s connection to Indonesian ensemble music features strongly in second album, Jazz Gamelan, which is mostly his three-way dialogue with Wallen and Luft. In a slendro way quietly chimes, perhaps in reverence to Joe Zawinul; and there are delightfully mesmeric tuned percussion solo episodes such as Jasmine and Kempulus. This hour’s sequence genuinely feels like an exploration in and out of different rooms, the prepared piano and clarinet of Samburan more akin to classical chamber music, then countered by softly bass-funked, trumpet-improvised On what corner? Luft’s sitar impressions against hammered gamelan tones in Ripples (1 & 2) are inspired; and exotic, guiro-scratched Lull leads into another meditative space – In a suling way – becalmed by high, Southeast Asian-suggested soprano recorder.

Third album, Prepared/Unprepared, is a thread of Jay’s spontaneous improvisations at a prepared electric grand piano. Arguably more challenging to take in, these extended experiments seem to combine pianistic and percussive ideas, though maybe the solidity of an acoustic instrument would be more sympathetic.

For an alternative, tributary experience of predominantly improvised music, I recommend pursuing this unique collection (especially for the first and second albums) which reveals new textures every time. It was the enthusiasm of Rob Luft which prompted Jay to resurrect and complete these archive recordings, and it’s right that they have now found the light of day and are also entirely relevant to the current jazz/improvised scene. 

Recently-released Trio isn’t available through the usual channels (burningshed.com is yet to make it available). But it is on sale, directly from Felix Jay, at ebay.

 

RIVEREYESIDE RECORDINGS
Felix Jay all percussion, basses, Rhodes, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet, ngoni
Nicola Alesini bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole pedal steel guitars

JAZZ GAMELAN
Felix Jay all percussion, bass, piano, prepared piano
Rob Luft guitar
Byron Wallen trumpet
Jan Steele clarinet, soprano recorder

PREPARED/UNPREPARED
Felix Jay prepared Kawai electric grand piano

Hermetic Recordings – HERM 7, 8 & 9 (2019)

‘All Things’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

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SLOWLY ROLLING CAMERA’s eponymous 2014 debut release made a strong impression, garnering an enthusiastic, international fanbase – and follow-up All Things powers to still greater heights with its dynamic blend of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz and rock.

Fronted by charismatic vocalist, vocal arranger and lyricist Dionne Bennett – whose deep, emotional timbres are the band’s signature – the central quartet completed by Dave Stapleton (keyboards), Deri Roberts (sound design, electronics, percussion) and Elliot Bennett (drums, percussion) calls upon an impressive complement of musicians to assist in realising their ambitious, lush, almost rock-symphonic imaginings. Echoes of The Cinematic Orchestra are authenticated by the presence of guitarist Stuart McCallum; jazz collaborators Ben Waghorn and Laura Jurd provide improvisational flair; and strings enhance the cinemascopic fervour whilst also providing contrasting tranquillity.

Dionne Bennett’s intense, often angsty delivery is perfect for this album’s pervading themes of ‘relationships and the human condition’, and her inflected control, vibrato and sumptuous harmonies feel matchless on the current scene. Scintillation, for example, smoulders over searing strings before erupting into darting rhythms and instrumental soloing over tremulant Fender Rhodes, with tensile “I feel your fire” vocals at snapping point; and McCallum’s reverberant electric guitar paints the sky with incandescent white light. Key to the band’s percussive drive is Elliot Bennett, whose intricacy and energy is always so compelling to watch and hear – opener The Fix is typical of his kaleidoscopic approach, combining weighty, held-back lurching with pin-sharp, cymbal-thrashing accuracy.

It’s difficult to overstate how slick and how layered this production is. Delusive‘s catchy core riff recalls Harold Faltermeyer’s ‘Axel F’; Dave Stapleton’s introduction of the Moog synth, especially in High Praise and Room with a View, is inspired – evocative of ’70s prog, it adds so much to this tumultuous, energising 21st Century landscape; and Deri Roberts’ sound manipulation in Oblivion, supporting Dionne Bennett’s frenetic, shouted choruses of “Leave me alone” confirm that any one of this album’s nine tracks could be the dramatic backdrop to a blockbuster thriller (and equally at home on BBC 6 Music’s playlists).

The transformation of one of Stapleton’s earlier, minimalist, Gorecki-inspired piano works (from his own album Flight) into the soulful vocal outpouring of Unsetting Sun is effective, with string quartet intensifying the heart-wrenched emotion; The Brink is a standout, pulsating, soul/rock episode, with McCallum’s cascading guitar lines enhancing its exciting cacophony; and wind-down end-piece All Things, complete with oscillating synth sirens, wraps up this breathtaking 46-minute visceral explosion.

The ‘difficult second album’? Not… a… chance!

Released on 4 November 2016, All Things is available as LP, CD and digital download from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Dionne Bennett lyrics, vocals, vocal arrangements
Dave Stapleton Fender Rhodes, Moog, string arrangements, piano
Deri Roberts sound design, electronics, production, pandeiro, cuica, berimbau, udu, cabasa, calabash, ghungharu bells, finger cymbals, seed pod shaker
Elliot Bennett drums, tumbadores, bongos, shakers, ribbon crasher, bells
with
Stuart McCallum guitar
Aidan Thorne double bass, electric bass
Ben Waghorn saxophones, bass clarinet
plus
Laura Jurd trumpet
Gareth Roberts trombone
Simon Kodurand violin
Christiana Mavron violin
Katy Rowe violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Niamh Ferris viola
Sarah Davison cello
Abigail Blackman cello
and (on Unsetting Sun)
David Brodowski violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Felix Tanner viola
Reinoud Ford cello

slowlyrollingcamera.com

Edition Records – EDN1080 (2016)