‘Magna Carta Suite’ – Alex Hutton Trio

AlexHutton

THE CONCEPT of improvisation in Medieval English music seems highly probable as, before the 15th Century, most musicians would have been illiterate. Sharing melodies and words aurally, the likelihood of invention and variation is quite imaginable – and, presumably, a talented, seasoned extemporiser of estampies and danses would have been highly prized.

So, for pianist Alex Hutton, his vision to commemorate this year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, through a themed jazz suite, is entirely appropriate – especially as his dog-walking routine takes in the ancient woodlands around Runnymede and Wraysbury (near Windsor), where the charter was historically sealed. He recalls his outstanding colleagues from 2012 release Legentis – bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Asaf Sirkis – to create a programme of original piano trio music which takes in an English landscape of early music, traditional folk and classical music, with delicate woodwind flecks of baroque flute and cor anglais coruscating through leafy glades.

Alex Hutton’s pictorialisations here can, indeed, be that vivid – his compositions, at times, easily comparable to the soundtracks of small- or big-screen period drama; and there’s even a whiff of Rick Wakeman’s Six Wives in the turbulent, chasing motif of The Barons. The Middle Ages context and sequencing can either be followed or disregarded; but the thematic writing, and the players’ eloquent interpretations of Hutton’s imaginings, are the strong threads which bind this recording together so well.

Old Yew (significantly, under which the Magna Carta was believed to have been signed) opens the album with characteristic sinewy bass from Goloubev, almost as storyteller, leading to the brief, though exquisite, cor anglais melody of King John’s Hunting Lodge. June 15th 1215‘s impish Medieval motif has Hutton’s penny-whistle-suggested high piano frolicking with cor anglais over Sirkis’ hollow percussion (these all feel like scene-setting miniatures) before the pianist’s more recognisably extended ‘jazz trio’ tune, Gutenberg Press, is expanded on by Goloubev’s scampering improvisations.

The tinderbox urgency of Gunpowder and Compass cleverly incorporates the consummate beauty of J S Bach’s Fugue in C Minor, with Hutton’s own, sparkling inventiveness shining above the fizzing impetus of Sirkis and Goloubev; and Self Made Man rapidly switches into sweet romanticism, Hutton’s ear for a lyrical melody followed through by Goloubev (a bassist whose dexterity always impresses). The intentionally bumbling rhythms and Sirkis’ clattering, sputtering exchanges of weaponry in Fog of War poignantly reflect the futility of conflict, replaced by a mournful, dejected reprise of King John’s Hunting Lodge; yet, standing defiant through the ages, Old Yew is again brought into focus with an air of resigned grandeur (Hutton’s musical imagery remaining powerful).

Almost as a postscript, the spoken word of Neil Sparkes illuminates, with drama and pathos, the final two tracks’ reminder of the charter’s values of liberty and fairness (the deep, echoic sonority perhaps a touch exaggerated). Nevertheless, Thoughts Bear Heirs to Memory hinges on the majestic delivery of Sparkes’ own lines such as, “as light for trees, justice needs great ideas to grow”; and concluding As Sunlight Passes rises triumphant, with baroque flute in anthemic character.

The Alex Hutton Trio’s Magna Carta Suite exudes a well-defined Englishness, its not-your-average-piano-trio accessibility fortified by the engaging historic weave.

Released on 15 July 2015, the album is available from Alex’s website, as well as all good jazz and online retailers.

 

Alex Hutton piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Asaf Sirkis drums
with
Liesbeth Allart cor anglais
Liz Palmer baroque flute
Neil Sparkes spoken word

alexhuttonmusic.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 82 (2015)

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‘The Aviators’ Ball’ – Matt Owens

MattOwens

I AM REMINDED of a golden age of TV themes. Statuesque 1960s/70s tunes and traditional orchestrations that have remained in the mind, the merest few bars’ snippet triggering inextricably-linked carefree memories. Manchester composer and bassist Matt Owens seems to capture such a spirit in this fine debut of charming, sometimes quirky, and beautiful creations.

Happily difficult to pigeonhole in terms of genre, with elements of jazz, folk, pop and movie soundtrack, Owens draws on an abundance of instrumentalists and vocalists (below) to convey the character of his distinctive writing. The majority of The Aviators’ Ball (a title inspired by Owens’ real-life discovery, in Prague, of an aviation society’s ball!) comes from his suite Ten – one of Manchester Jazz Festival’s excellent mjf originals commissions – and unabashedly seeks a mostly acoustic landscape of waltz, curtsy and blithe melody.

With woodwind, brass and breezy Irish tin whistle, Raindrops on our Rooftop immediately makes that retro leap, its persistent bassoon figure suggesting an era of Puppet on a String and marginal folk/rock band curiosity Gryphon. Title track The Aviators’ Ball exudes all the warmth of gentle period drama as mellow cornet improvisations float over piano and tea-parlour strings; and then – with a cosy woodwind intro redolent of… that’s right… The Clangers! – singer and guitarist Tom Davies delivers his winsome Mouse Song with unexpected and touching simplicity.

As sunshiny as a beach-bound, open-top Morris journey, the crisp, wordless vocal momentum of Going Back to the Village confirms Owens’ picture-painting prowess, arranged here by Manchester favourite (and co-producer of this album) guitarist/singer Kirsty Almeida; and the folksy theme of Every Wish is for You, initiated with pianistic nursery-rhyme candour, rolls along to placid trumpet and flute extemporisation.

The singular, expressive voice of Rioghnach Connolly interprets Celtic love song Black is the Colour like no other, her affecting tones breathing “I love the ground whereon he stands” like changeable winds across heather land. Soft-pop The Peanut Train shuffles to Owens’ downy horn-and-woodwind arrangement; Monsoon is similarly entrancing, led by the impassioned vocal of Zoe Kyoti; and full of dreamy nostalgia, Violet concludes the set, once again highlighting Matt Owens’ aptitude and greater potential for niche soundtrack scoring.

In an album which might initially appear quaint, due to the genuiness of its eclectic, yesteryear approach, the persuasive strength of its endearingly tuneful hooks and arrangements make it utterly irresistible – certainly a delightful musical diversion.

Launching at Chorlton Arts Festival on 18 May 2015, The Aviators’ Ball is available from All Made Up Records.

 

Matt Owens double bass
Neil Yates trumpet, tin whistle
John Ellis piano
Rick Weedon drums, percussion
Sophie Hastings marimba, glockenspiel
Amina Hussian flute
David Benfield oboe
Lucy Rugman clarinet
Jon Harris French horn
Simon Davies bassoon
Semay Wu cello
Steve Chadwick cornet
Edward Barnwell piano
Danny Ward drums
Alison Williams violin
Naomi Koop violin
Aimée Johnson viola
Tom Davies guitar, vocals
Carla Sousa flute
Philip Howarth cor anglais
Jill Allen clarinet
Lucy Keyes bassoon
Kirsty Almeida vocals
Caroline Sheehan vocals
Orli Nyles vocals
Cara Robinson vocals
Atholl Ransome alto flute
Rioghnach Connolly vocals
Billy Buckley guitar, lap steel
Zoe Kyoti vocals, guitar
Rosa Campos Fernandez clarinet

mattowens.co.uk

All Made Up Records – AMU0007 (2015)