‘Burn the Boat’ – Fini Bearman

Fini

“ABANDON THE SHIP, embrace the water, take a leap of faith… don’t think of what could stop you.”

Such a challenge should resonate with all truly creative musicians. And if you ever ruminated on whether the songwriter’s art had mostly degenerated into a three-chord trick – with a middle eight, if you’re lucky – then vocalist and composer/lyricist Fini Bearman traverses vast, colourful oceans to dispel those notions (see what I did there?). 2014’s album of new interpretations from George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess is an especially captivating listen; but now, with Burn the Boat, Bearman presents a collection of mostly self-penned songs, three of which are crafted upon the works of American/Portuguese poets.

The point of difference in Fini Bearman’s melodic, contemporary/folk artistry is that its basis is in contemporary jazz – and from that genre’s sea of accomplished instrumentalists, you could hardly wish for finer collaborators than Matt Robinson (keys), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). Here is a writer who not only vividly communicates her own thoughts and others’, but also wraps the sung words in shifting waves of colour and texture, combining crashing breakers with coruscating pools of heart-on-sleeve emotion. Recorded at residential Giant Wafer Studios, tucked away in rural Mid Wales, there’s a tangible sense of conviviality emanating from these fifty minutes – and familiarity with these nine originals only heightens the attraction.

Sand on Sand‘s airy, exuberant invitation to “Step out of the darkness… and into the light” is layered with vocals as piano, guitar and synth washes perpetuate its positive spirit – and alongside the bubbling, commercial appeal, it is crowned with lush instrumental finesse. Title track Burn the Boat‘s scratchy guitar-rock ascension (Costley-White’s electronics so ‘on it’ here) enhances the suppleness of Bearman’s emphatic delivery as Robinson’s synth lines soar overhead, whilst the catchy, poetic lines of Gone, co-written by Tommy Antonio – “Fell asleep with my clothes on, screensaver waving ’til dawn” – are musically ’70s-reminiscent of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille; and, again, it’s difficult to emphasise enough the incisive jazz invention.

Deeply-felt You Bring the Sunlight focuses on the strong bonds of relationship (“I’d rather have nothing at all”), the folksy, guitar- and piano-accompanied gracefulness suggesting a touch of ‘talkin’ at me’ Harry Nilsson; and Bearman’s playful miniature I Know, I Alone (based on Richard Zenith’s translation of Fernando Pessoa’s short poem) is carried by Dave Hamblett’s colourful percussive display. Maybe Next Year‘s reluctant acceptance is portrayed through an imaginative, undulating arrangement enhanced by the improvisatory clarity of Robinson and Costley-White, whilst Langton Hughes’ poem The Idea inspires a purposeful touch of soundtrack, or even musical theatre – much of that due to Bearman’s characteristic, acute sense of expression and storytelling.

Say the Words is an album standout to put on loop – buoyed by Conor Chaplin’s aqueous yet mobile electric bass and Matt Robinson’s Latinesque piano highlights, this exquisite, soulful, shuffling groove is so evocative of Stevie Wonder that a vocal duet with Fini is imaginable! Such a Fool closes the album, bathing E E Cummings’ poetry in watercolour atmospherics before its animated conclusion – and he couldn’t have foretold it better: “May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living.”

Released on Two Rivers Records, Burn the Boat is a ‘must hear’, available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman voice, composition
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, synths
Nick Costley-White guitar
Conor Chaplin bass
Dave Hamblett drums

Album art by Fini Bearman

finibearman.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR-015 (2016)

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‘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)

‘Together, As One’ – Dinosaur

Dinosaur

THAT MOMENT… when, across the musical landscape, a creative direction comes into view which has the incisiveness to stir a memory, to create the tingling thrill of formative years’ discoveries. Such is the overriding experience of hearing debut album Together, As One from trumpeter/composer Laura Jurd’s quartet, Dinosaur.

Already establishing herself as a popular and hard-working musician on the UK jazz scene – recording/gigging with the likes of Mark Lockheart, Jasper Høiby and Lauren Kinsella, as well as being selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for 2015-17 – Jurd has regularly collaborated with pianist and keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick. So the opportunity to realise this long-dreamt project, in the studio, is clearly of great significance. Here are eight tracks whose 47 minutes suggest that the ambition held by this ensemble might just be the beginning of something far greater in scale, the invention and instrumentation conjuring something of that revelatory buzz of early-mid ’70s fusion or the artsiness of the Canterbury scene.

Although leading on trumpet, Jurd also melds synth with the now-familiar and pleasingly left-field keyboard approach of Elliot Galvin (here on Rhodes and Hammond alone) – so Living, Breathing, for example, is delivered with biting urgency as blisteringly-tongued melodies, high electric bass and crashing percussion are bathed in a haze of sustained keyboard riffs. Galvin’s Rhodes and Chaplin’s bass are magically intertwined in Awakening, a spacial opening number which chimes to the drum precision of Corrie Dick; and Robin‘s jazz-rock-folk blend might easily summon Jethro Tull or Camel, albeit with Jurd’s eloquent tones dancing around as if in some fire-crackling, trippy ritual (the tonal combinations here are a delight, as they similarly are in abstract, distorted, Rhodes/Hammond-led interlude Underdog).

Hinting at the novelty of, say, Django Bates, Steadily Sinking ominously descends into Extinct, a near-ten-minute tremulant Hammond groove built so infectiously by Chaplin and Dick (and somehow redolent of the confident, smouldering, improvised progression heard in late e.s.t.). Continuing the prehistoric theme, Primordial‘s ’60s-pop abandon finds Jurd even hinting at Herb Alpert, as Galvin is given free rein in this glorious, extended psychedelia; and though curious to conclude with an Interlude, its beautiful freedom further demonstrates these four players’ intentions of continually leaping boundaries and traversing uncharted terrains. That’s a prospect which, also for the future, is monstrously exciting – particularly for Jurd, who concludes: “This music now belongs to no-one… I absolutely love it when music does that.”

Released on 16 September 2016, Together, As One is available as CD, LP or high-quality digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, compositions
Elliot Galvin Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ
Conor Chaplin electric bass
Corrie Dick drums

laurajurd.com

Edition Records – EDN1078 (2016)

‘Lifecycles’ – Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group

Lifecycles2

LAST SUMMER, saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows released his quintet album, Engines of Creation – a remarkably accomplished debut from a musician whose ambition and drive are clearly on course to earn him a place in the upper echelons of the London jazz scene. Confirmation of his achievements to date (including continued involvement with NYJO), as well as recognising his potential for future success, have come via two accolades: Parliamentary Jazz Newcomer of the Year and the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.

Phil Meadows’ larger scale project, Engines Orchestra, is an ambitious group of twenty young London-based orchestral musicians who, directed by Matt Roberts, collectively seek to challenge conventions through stimulating, cross-genre, written and improvised music. For this debut recording, Meadows has created his colourful and unpredictable Lifecycles suite which melds the diverse textures and dynamics of both orchestral and quintet sound worlds, pressing into action again his Group colleagues – all rising stars in their own right – Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (piano), Conor Chaplin (basses) and Simon Roth (drums), plus adroit vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki.

The fusion of jazz soloists/bands with orchestra is, of course, nothing new – one only has to look at the seminal late-’50s/early-’60s projects of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, right up to Trish Clowes’ exciting new release Pocket Compass. Such a concept has never been without its critics as, in unaccomplished hands, it can become a laboured, incongruous, cold exercise – but, thankfully, recent collaborations have proved to be both sophisticated and organic, highlighting that there is still much to be discovered and achieved by breaking down perceived barriers. “Lifecycles“, the composer describes, “explores a series of situations that we all experience. The people we meet, love and lose shape our emotional responses” – and the result becomes increasingly captivating.

Missing Days, which opens the ten-track sequence, bustles to the brilliance of the orchestral scoring (a motivating woodwind ostinato here, a brassy stab cluster there, and tight, chattering strings and percussion). Combined with the characteristic fervour of Alice Zawadzki’s vocal delivery – “Sunrise breaks in the morning, people sleep through it all, missing out on the beauty of the time daybreak falls” – and the inspired placing of Tori Handsley’s harp, the piece takes on something of a ‘swinging Sixties London’ busyness; Meadows in no way takes centre stage, preferring to judiciously infuse the arrangement with lyrical alto until it all degenerates into cacophonous disorder. Lifecycles displays a broad, cinematic approach with a memorable brass-bold theme which evokes the pomp of Buddy Rich’s spectaculars, and improvisational meanderings add to the sense of the unexpected, as does the quirky, inventive openness of miniature The Spark. The written and the improvised are strikingly cross-pollenated in Intoxicated Delirium, an exciting showcase of near-perfect orchestral and band fusion, the brash energy reflecting its title – get it on repeat play!

Hallucinogenic Euphoria hints at the prog world of Pink Floyd, the Indian inflections of Elliot Galvin’s piano strings, as well as orchestral strings, mingling superbly with Meadows’ echoic soprano; and the abstract beauty of Prelude easily suggests Bartok and John Tavener. Balmlike harp over desolate, searing, portamento strings in Remembrance seem to speak (in this First World War centenary year) of tentative, rising hope, the development becoming impressively filmic with the addition of Zawadzki’s hard, soulful vocals.

Celebration effervesces in its scored/extemporised balance, Galvin’s unabashed piano bravura all part of the joy; and Laura Jurd’s bluesy trumpet prompts a four-square rockiness from the entire assembly which is irresistible and full of character. Jarring interlude Strife of Life explodes and then relaxes to Jurd’s lead before Twice The Man closes the suite – at almost nine minutes, it’s an impassioned, anthemic piece of writing which erupts into a huge Latinesque party, Meadows’ swirling soprano and Zawadzki’s pliant voice playing host to this unrestrained magnificence!

Keep a keen eye on Engines Orchestra’s progress – a great initiative which is set to include workshops, ensemble performance platforms and artist development programmes, all with the aim of engaging communities of young musicians. And congratulations to Phil Meadows for his vision – a refreshingly different musical approach. Finally, a nod to Oli Bentley (split.co.uk) for the orchestra’s beautifully minimal ‘pulley’ branding, as well as the album’s neatly considered sleeve design.

Launching at Kings Place, London, on 22 November 2014 (as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival), and with a general release date of 24 November, Lifecycles is available from the Engines Orchestra’s Bandcamp page.

 

PHIL MEADOWS GROUP
Phil Meadows composer, saxophones
Laura Jurd trumpet
Elliot Galvin piano
Conor Chaplin double bass, electric bass
Simon Roth drums, percussion

 

eo_60

ENGINES ORCHESTRA
Matt Roberts conductor
James Davison trumpet
Eddie Morgan French horn
James Buckle bass trombone
Jennah Smart flutes
Rob Cope clarinet, flute
Gennie Joy bass clarinet, clarinet
Tori Handsley harp
Emily Davis 1st violin (principal)
Tom Aldren 1st violin
Alice Zawadzki 1st violin, vocals
Katherine Waller 1st violin
Minn Majoe 2nd violin (principal)
Kirsty Lovie 2nd violin
Claire Sledd 2nd violin
Connie Chatwin 2nd violin
Matt Maguire viola (principal)
Joe Fisher viola
George White viola
Zosia Jagodzinska cello (principal)
Gregor Riddell cello

 

enginesorchestra.com

Engines Imprint – E1001CD (2014)

‘Engines of Creation’ – Phil Meadows Group

Engines

TALK ABOUT setting the bar high with a debut release! A lot of fun was had during the recording of Phil Meadows Group’s ‘Engines of Creation’. I wasn’t there… I wasn’t involved… but I just know from the impassioned and entertaining performances here!

Saxophonist/composer Phil Meadows already has quite a pedigree (NYJO lead alto, performances at the BBC Proms and Ronnie Scott’s, collaborations with Tim Garland, Jason Yarde, and so on), and now focuses on realising his own material with a first-class team of musicians – Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (piano and Fender Rhodes), Conor Chaplin (upright and electric bass) and Simon Roth (drums).

What sets this fine programme of seven new compositions apart, for me, can be defined as originality, multiformity and ambition. There is a oneness amongst these musicians, a great understanding between them which manifests itself both in the differing, tightly-scored sections of their output and in the dauntless improvisation this quintet is prepared to risk… and win!

Opener ‘Fin’ immediately grabs the attention with an audacious alto fanfare from Meadows, leading straight to a catchy groove in which he and Laura Jurd instantly demonstrate their impressive close-mindedness. Elliot Galvin begins to show his uninhibited approach to piano, soloing imaginatively and sparkily – a joy to hear. ‘Moving On’ is a slick number, with both horn players in parallel as well as exhibiting their obvious solo talents. Changing tack with a more electronic approach, ‘Runner’ (a swipe at the frustrations of the South Circular’s regular gridlock) sees Chaplin, Roth and Galvin establish a funky groove resembling some Stanley Clarke / Billy Cobham / Mike Ratledge dream team! And, over this retro electric bass and Rhodes fusion (with Roth putting in some great hard-hitting percussion), Meadows and Jurd produce a sparkling display of soloing and interplay. I could listen for hours to discover where they take this!

Title track ‘Engines of Creation’, paying homage to those who inspired this recording, initially deceives with its straightforward opening, only to disintegrate into wonderful piano and drums freefall (complete with breaking glass?)! But somehow, amongst this abandon, I still perceive a connectivity which eventually slides back into a stronger quintet finish. ‘Flamingos’ showcases Elliot Galvin’s pianistic brilliance with explorations inside the piano as well as some delightful, adventurous keys work; and Meadows and Jurd combine to build the piece into certain triumphal grandeur.

Taking its motivation from Phil Meadows’ experience of a less-than-willing pub landlord, ‘Dragon of George’ again picks up the more jazz/rock approach with an exciting and complex rhythmical drive, led pulsatingly by Chaplin on electric bass. Galvin again gives his all, encouraging soprano sax and trumpet to join in the ‘angst’! It’s infectious stuff which, I suspect, might well be a live showstopper. ‘Captain Kirk’, with dainty piano and bass opening, develops into a satisfying ‘curtain call’ for the whole band, Meadows and Jurd again soloing fluently above a confident piano, bass and drums backdrop.

The Phil Meadows Group (supported by Jazz Services) has recently toured this new release, with more gigs anticipated soon, including 29 September at The Vortex. I hope Phil and this band enjoy a long future together, as here is a quintet which most definitely shows great enthusiasm and desire to ‘push the envelope’ with contemporary jazz.

Splendidly produced by new UK independent label and collective, Boom Better Records.


Phil Meadows
 saxophones
Laura Jurd  trumpet
Elliot Galvin  piano and Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin  upright and electric bass
Simon Roth  drums

http://www.philmeadowsmusic.co.uk
http://boombetter.com/

Boom Better Records – BOOM 006 CD (2013)