‘Self-Identity’ – Ollie Howell

Self-Identity

THE SLEEVE of a seminal early-1970s 12″ vinyl jested that its contents could not ‘be played on old tin boxes, no matter what they are fitted with’ – maybe a prophetic warning to a quick-grab, smartphone-to-the-ear generation to come. But such wisdom was recalled when soaking up this second release, as leader, from British drummer and composer Ollie Howell.   

Self-Identity follows 2013 debut album Sutures and Stitches, and the intervening years have seen Howell’s career flourish, with the great Quincy Jones’ “360-degree beautiful young cat” compliment leading to him selecting the drummer for the opening residency, this year, at his Q’s jazz club in the luxurious Palazzo Versace Dubai.

Expanded to a sextet, with the addition of guitarist Ant Law, this line-up is completed by tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Henry Spencer, pianist Matt Robinson, double bassist Max Luthert; and ‘old tin boxes’ are definitely out, because what is striking – both about Howell’s arrangements and this Real World Studios recording – is the rhythmic sonority which he, Robinson and Luthert achieve. So, spanning some seventy minutes, the consistent appeal of these twelve original numbers is not so much the tuneful hook, but rather the slickness of the groove and the ensemble’s overarching synergy which provides fertile ground for confident, melodic soloing – and an especially tight link-up between tenor and trumpet.

Syncopated, leaping figures in Shadows typify the approach as unison piano bass and double bass riffs are driven by Howell’s exacting, versicoloured lead; and the album’s pervading optimism is continued with the bright sax-and-trumpet lines of Resurge. Echoic electronics play their part, too, transitorily segueing the usual broadness of the writing, as well as enhancing the ‘timeslip’ intro to ruminative, brushed Almost TomorrowRise and Fall‘s central vibrancy rocks to Eagles’ deep tenor improv and Law’s fretboard agility, whilst the rhythmic prominence of pianist Matt Robinson in Moving On and Knew is impressive.

Howell’s compositions are roomy, so not only do their ‘passing clouds’ of ideas have the effect of shedding fluctuating light on their progression, they also encourage freedom of individual expression. Balancing Stones‘ dynamic range illustrates this well (including delicate timbres from the leader’s kit), as does The Unknown with its dual-horn assertiveness; and Coming Home‘s subtle, opening blend of folk/hymn tune and Balkan-imbued percussion provides the springboard for breezy, closing showcases from Howell’s players.

Eschew the tinny headphones or portable speakers… and find a way to bask in the rewarding ‘hi fidelity’ of Self-Identity.

Released on 14 April 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, and at iTunes.

 

Ollie Howell drums, electronics, compositions
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Henry Spencer trumpet
Ant Law electric guitar
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, electronics
Max Luthert double bass

ollie howell.com

Ropeadope (2017)

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‘String Theory’ – Partikel

Partikel

WITH A THRASHING RIFF worthy of Jimmy Page, chordless trio Partikel announce their boldest statement yet in new release String Theory – a collaboration with a dynamic string quartet led by violinist Benet McLean.

Originally formed for Monday night jam sessions on the London jazz circuit, Partikel – Duncan Eagles (saxes), Max Luthert (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) – have established themselves over the past few years with regular gigging, resulting in two previous albums (eponymous debut Partikel and 2012’s Cohesion). Now, further extending their possibilities with strings, that initial Led Zep-fuelled outpouring dramatically signals their renewed intent in a 12-track programme mostly composed and arranged by saxophonist Eagles.

Three-part Clash of the Titans reveals the augmented band’s creative process, the arrangements described as being “almost exclusively conceived on the bandstand… spontaneous musical exchanges that flowed from the heat of performance have been added to the compositions.” And that sense of discovery makes for an absorbing listen. Following the heavily rocking intro, the ‘concerto’ develops into atmospheres in which the string quartet becomes an integral part – certainly no grotesque, strap-on afterthought – with Midnight Mass (part 3) irridescing to luscious sax improvisation and sumptuous strings.

Shimmer‘s perky melodies are tossed about between sax and strings, buoyed by Eric Ford’s lively, creative percussion, until Benet McLean’s virtuosic solo violin introduces The Buffalo, a mesmerising, udu-accompanied episode with expansive, filmic qualities. Swinging an’ a-swaggering, Bartering with Bob is endearingly confident and as high-spirited as a rollicking old standard (like Monk without piano!), Eagles responding articulately to the temerarious bass and drums of Luthert and Ford; and in the graceful meandering of The River, the string quartet’s eloquence and empathy with the Partikel trio is beautifully captured – here in particular, Eagles’ soprano impresses with Coltranesque abandon and invention.

Smouldering Wray Common softly grooves to udu, bass and smooth tenor, with fabulously expressive strings; and Eagles’ alchemistic tenor reading of Johnny Green’s familiar Body and Soul intertwines effectively with Matthew Sharp’s emotive cello and the Kronos-like spikiness of the quartet as a whole, all adorned by Ford’s elaborate percussion. Partikel ‘laid bare’ is as immediate as ever in Cover, soprano, bass and drums weaving their spell with customary vivacity; and searing string glissandi add verve to closing number The Landing, Eagles’ tenor wildly jitterbugging to Luthert’s and Ford’s rapid animation.

As a trio, Partikel have clearly become stronger, unafraid to venture into the unknown, and looking to develop their musical journey with both spontaneity and bravura. Released by Whirlwind on 11 May 2015, further information, promo video and purchasing can be found at the dedicated String Theory web page.

Duncan Eagles saxophones
Max Luthert bass
Eric Ford drums
with
Benet McLean violin
David Le Page violin
Carmen Flores viola
Matthew Sharp cello

Current 2015 tour dates
28 May: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
2 June: LAUNCH – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
26 June: The Verdict, Brighton
28 June: Ashburton Live
29 June: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
1 July: Fisher Theatre, Bungay

partikel.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4671 (2015)

‘Pembroke Road’ – Leo Appleyard

LeoApplyard

WHAT BETTER ENDORSEMENT of a debut album than the encouraging words of jazz guitar legend John Etheridge: “Imaginative and beautifully crafted compositions and performance with a strong emphasis on great sound quality.”

Currently in his mid-twenties, London-born electric guitarist, composer and sound engineer Leo Appleyard has already enjoyed an active and varied start to his career, frequently appearing at major UK and international venues and festivals. Now, recording with long-time colleagues and mentors Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (bass) and Eric Ford (drums) – trio Partikel in another guise – and guest Neil Yates (trumpet, flugelhorn), Appleyard has created a bustling sequence of originals for quartet/quintet which genuinely capture the imagination. He has written specifically with these musicians in mind (judiciously employing echoes/effects) in the knowledge that the band’s collective understanding and affinity might produce improvisatory fireworks – and it’s not long (track 3, to be precise) before the full excitement and character of this set is emphatically ignited.

The leader’s command of both chordal and solo dexterity (think Jez Franks, Kristian Borring) is introduced in curtain-raiser The Homeless Wizard, sharing unison lines with tenorist Eagles as well as duelling in improvisation. Appleyard isn’t afraid to switch tempi and mood (one of the joys of his writing), and Eric Ford’s solid, bright percussion bolsters the snappier sections. Trumpeter Neil Yates augments the line-up in Mass, its swooning, echoic horns gliding high above expectant, cinematic bass-and-drums impetus; and The Cleaver excellently showcases the accomplished soloing creativity of both Appleyard and Yates, the swinging verve of this extended piece becoming increasingly infectious, including an effective udu touch from Ford.

Anywhere South sparkles confidently – a real winner of a quartet number which, again, indicates Appleyard’s compositional maturity, tempering its high energy with brief reflections (walk into a jazz bar with this at full tilt, and you’d be hooked); guitar soloing here is exceptional, both in terms of pace and inventiveness. The contrasting, subtle blues tranquillity of Mantra is tangible, Eagles’ gorgeously mellow tenor weaving lazily in and out of exquisitely-coloured guitar chords; and title number Pembroke Road (a reference to the tucked-away Welsh studio which gave birth to this recording) is an assured full quintet episode, gleaming with individual extemporisation and radiating an openness which perhaps reflects the influence of that rural Pembrokeshire landscape.

The pliant strings of bassist Max Luthert announce Walsio, a breezy, carefree gambol with the occasional, intriguing hint of reservation. Appleyard’s desire for an initial theme of childlike simplicity is evident, though the quartet soon enhances this with pleasing rhythmic and harmonic divergence. Familiar Victor Schertzinger standard I Remember You closes the set – couched in soft watercolour impressionism, its miniature status certainly creates the desire for more.

Partisans guitar supremo (and former tutor) Phil Robson concisely sums up Appleyard’s aptitude and future potential: “Leo is a fab guitarist and composer, definitely a real natural! This debut CD should firmly establish him as a new voice on the scene.” On the strength of these performances, it’s easy to concur.

Pembroke Road is issued on the F-IRE label and available from Proper Music.

 

Leo Appleyard guitar
Duncan Eagles tenor sax
Max Luthert bass
Eric Ford drums/percussion
with
Neil Yates trumpet/flugelhorn

leoappleyard.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 75 (2014)

‘Orbital’ – Max Luthert

MaxLuthert

AN INCANDESCENT elegance pervades this debut release from bassist Max Luthert – a sumptuous and mature sextet recording, richly coloured and layered by the creative possibilities this particular collaboration engenders.

Very much a respected player on the London jazz scene, Luthert is joined by Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Séb Pipe (alto sax), Matt Robinson (piano) and Dave Hamblett (drums), who warmly bring to life these nine original compositions in which the leader has challenged himself to write for larger ensemble. The flute and dual sax combination achieves strikingly effective textures as mellifluent unison lines splay into opulent, three-way harmonic expressions, whilst also providing the freedom to extemporise individually – and, with an overarching sense of joie de vivre, this ‘little big band’ has much to say.

Title track Orbital perfectly illustrates the strengths of the collective with an ebullience which crackles to snappy, tricksy rhythms through which Duncan Eagles’ deeply-toned tenor both breezes and luxuriates. The mood swings in this are delicious, as is the crispness of the interaction, due in no small part to Dave Hamblett’s typically incisive though equally flamboyant drumming. Cloud on Cloud is characterised by flautist Gareth Lockrane’s mellow, slurred phrasing both floating above and melding with alto and tenor to create a luscious, dreamy ballad; and the subtly-infused Indian flavour of Assam‘s melodies and arrangements dissolve to afford space to Luthert’s distinctively-resonant bass soloing and the tabla-like hollowness of Hamblett’s carefully-weighted rhythms.

Grand Designs ripples to the complexity of shared and overlaid improvised woodwind phrases, Matt Robinson enhancing Luthert’s authoritative momentum with sparkling piano runs. In contrast, the most delightfully spacial Quiet December features the haunting tenor soloing of Eagles and the eloquent, gossamer fragility of Luthert’s imaginings (each attuned to the other, due to their close association in trio Partikel); and ascending tenor motifs bring an initial perky briskness to The Edgewall, its later, edgy sections finding Luthert’s mobile bass leaning more towards a Dave Holland sound world.

Full-bodied and swirling to a wonderfully tenacious bass and drums swing, Banrock Station is brightly illuminated by Lockrane’s high agility and Matt Robinson’s pianistic deftness; again, the close-knit ensemble work of Lockrane, Eagles and Séb Pipe shine out to provide that full, almost ’60s-style ambience – a definite stand-out. The broader landscape of Pacific Before Tiger features open, extensive soloing from Pipe, whilst the jaunty airiness of closing number Metro Moodie, with its tom-tempered percussion, includes Gareth Lockrane’s irresistible velvety-cum-gravelly bass flute register.

The majority of this session might well comfortably sit in the background at a dinner party, such is its unabashed equanimity – but, boy, how it lives and breathes when turned up loud and given the opportunity to fill a room! Released on 27 October 2014, information and audio samples can be found on the dedicated Orbital page of Whirlwind’s website.

 

Max Luthert double bass
Gareth Lockrane flutes
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Séb Pipe alto saxophone
Matt Robinson piano
Dave Hamblett drums

2015 UK live dates:
18 January: Ashburton Jazz Club
19 January: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
21 January: Dempsey’s, Cardiff
22 January: SoundCellar, Poole
23 January: Sheffield Jazz Club

Album artwork by Alban Low

maxluthert.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4659 (2014)

‘Sutures and Stitches’ – Ollie Howell

OllieHowell_Sutures

WHEN A DEBUT ALBUM sounds this good (correction: this spectacular), you simply cannot ignore it! Relatively new to British and international jazz audiences, drummer and composer Ollie Howell’s first release comes as something of a revelation.

The initially curious title, ‘Sutures and Stitches’, soon becomes clear as Howell openly shares his recent history of numerous neurosurgeries and, importantly, his determination to take the positive from these experiences and channel them musically. Indeed, this collection of self-penned post-bop originals (plus an arrangement of Dear Old Stockholm) is a remarkably confident and mature first release, boasting a strong personnel: Mark Perry (trumpet), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (double bass) and Matt Robinson (piano). With endorsements from renowned drummer Jimmy Cobb (“He’s loaded with talent!”) and music legend Quincy Jones (describing Howell as “an unbelievable drummer. So creative I couldn’t believe it. This kid is a 360-degree beautiful young cat that I believe has what it takes to make a life out of music.”), this is surely a great curtain-raiser to a glittering career to come.

Later On opens the album with aplomb, Howell instantly displaying his crisp and direct attention to compositional and drumming detail, Robinson hitting the advance button for Perry and Eagles to take flight with characteristic shared brilliance. There’s a cordial spirit to the lively Beyond, its opening unison melody feeling welcomingly familiar, soon stepping up a gear for a terrific tenor solo, Robinson’s accomplished piano then driving on and on to a cross-rhythmical hand-clap/percussion conclusion.

Short solo intros from each band member precede five of the tracks – not mere fillers, but concise lead-ins to the pieces which follow, beginning with Howell himself on rapid, perfectly-tuned toms, ahead of So Close, So Far. With its finely-balanced sound, and possible imaginings of a big band arrangement, Perry’s assured flutter-tongueing blazes high above the tight ensemble accompaniment. Lively miniature, Angry Skies, leads to Perry’s melancholy trumpet intro to 19th Day, a wistful tune beautifully carried by Eagles’ rich tenor, partnering with Perry to great effect. At almost nine minutes, A World Apart is a great centrepiece to showcase the raw, combined talent of this quintet – Howell skilfully directs the band to reach for that higher rhythmic, melodic and improvisational plane… result: success!

Max Luthert’s sonorous bass intro to For Anya is a worthy preamble to its delicate bass- and piano-led dedication. They finds Ollie Howell on fine form, bringing shape to Perry’s and Eagles’ searching solos, Luthert again with a lyrical bass addition. Eagles’ brief sax intro takes us into the gorgeously introspective Two Sides, tenor and piano creating between them such an appealing dialogue. Traditional tune Dear Old Stockholm receives a feisty arrangement, all players pushing at its animated energy. Howell’s drum display is so dynamic, so exact, whilst Robinson and Luthert perpetuate the heady groove. Finally, a particularly limpid piano intro leads to A Hollow Victory, Eagles’ and Perry’s unanimous melody giving way to their own thoughtful solos – a gentler, considered finale to a superbly creative and rounded album.

Released by Whirlwind on 23 September 2013, Howell is touring ‘Sutures and Stitches’ until 3 December – and one can imagine (or, better still, experience) live pyrotechnics of the highest order! Details and samples here.


Ollie Howell
drums/compositions  olliehowell.com
Mark Perry trumpet  markperrymusic.com
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone  duncaneagles.com
Max Luthert double bass  maxluthertcouk
Matt Robinson piano  mattrobinsonmusic.com

Sleeve design and illustration by Alban Low  artofjazz.blogspot.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4636 (2013)

‘Road Ahead’ – Mark Perry / Duncan Eagles Quintet

RoadAhead

GREAT TO FIND this big league seven-piece from London’s flourishing contemporary jazz scene recording together, presenting a set of ten colourful, original compositions (first aired at 2012’s London Jazz Festival) by leaders Mark Perry and Duncan Eagles. 

Having already established themselves as versatile instrumentalists in a variety of ensembles and projects, trumpeter Perry and tenorist Eagles bring together an accomplished ensemble who, together, produce a satisfyingly full sound – Gareth Lockrane on flutes, Sam Leak at the piano, double bassist Max Luthert and drummer Chris Nickolls, plus the wordless vocals of Ona Onabule.

Flip of a Coin provides the heads-up on the intent of this quintet line-up, Sam Leak the pacemaker with a determined piano rhythm, Luthert and Nickolls maintaining the steady but solid energy. Onabule’s vocals enhance the sustained frontline of trumpet and tenor before Perry and Eagles head off to solo spiritedly. Mark Perry’s delivery is undubitably incisive, complemented by Eagles’ rich and fluid explorations – certainly an in-form partnership. In the upbeat Chord Game, Sam Leak demonstrates the clear, spacial and considered piano technique which makes his own album recordings so appealing; and Perry and Eagles freely bounce ideas off each other. Easy-going Shawty and the still mellower Forever make good use of Onabule’s soulful voice, Eagles’ solo tenor in the latter just sublime. Barters Band raises a smile, Gareth Lockrane’s lithe flute the key to its chirpy ’70s sitcom’ flavour – the rhythm section ticks along amiably, a great foundation for Leak’s clean solo lines and fleetly-placed chords, whilst Perry and Eagles dance closely to Lockrane’s tune.

The tempered, late-night feel of Wray Common is perfect for Onabule’s subtle vocal additions, Luthert’s lyrical yet precise bass pairing well with Leak’s pianistic clarity, and trumpet and sax soporifically intertwining. In contrast, the agitated G.T. (a tribute to American saxophonist Gary Thomas) finds Eagles and Perry soloing grittily against a mysterious piano, bass and drums riff (great animation from Chris Nickolls) which offers more than a hint of ‘TV detective’!

Perry’s expressive, plaintive solo trumpet opens mid-tempo title track Road Ahead which affords Sam Leak the freedom to roam (and rather elegantly at that). One Last Kiss is beautifully poised, Lockrane and Onabule again adding their individual character to this very attractive, breezy number. With an element of emotional longing, and drawing this entertaining album to a close, Remember features softer, slurred tones from Mark Perry, velvety bass flute from Gareth Lockrane, and fine ensemble playing all round.

Launching ‘Road Ahead’ at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, on 17th November (as part of the 2013 London Jazz Festival), and releasing 2nd December, the quintet are set to tour in Spring 2014. Promo video, SoundCloud samples and more information here.


Mark Perry
Trumpet  markperrymusic.com
Duncan Eagles Saxophones  duncaneagles.co.uk
Gareth Lockrane Flutes  garethlockrane.com
Sam Leak Piano  samleak.com
Max Luthert Double bass  maxluthert.co.uk
Chris Nickolls Drums
Ola Onabule Vocals  ona-onabule.co.uk

Sleeve design and illustration by Alban Low

F-ire – F-IRECD 65 (2013)