‘Stillefelt’ – Stillefelt

IN THE STILLNESS of the night, this is an enthralling place to inhabit.

Stillefelt (translated from Norwegian as ‘quiet field’) is the eponymous debut release from improvising trio Chris Mapp, Percy Pursglove and Thomas Seminar Ford; and their ‘nattmusikk’ drew an immediate, emotional reaction at a late hour… and then called me back to listen more deeply.

Misty, often brooding landscapes are created from the relative simplicity of electric bass, trumpet/flugelhorn and electric guitar – but the digital manipulation of these otherwise traditional tones expands the creativity in a subdued wonder reminiscent of e.s.t.’s final studio experiments (Leucocyte and 301). The album’s progression – in six tracks, named perhaps for distinction only – has the remarkable, continuous effect of eliciting sometimes indeterminate feelings. But, warm or cold, they arrive. So, in a quiet space, the music can become personal to the listener; and that, in essence, is the profound alchemy of improvisation. 

From the thriving Birmingham jazz scene, Stillefelt is described as a ‘dynamically quieter response’ to Mapp’s band, Gonimoblast (which features vocalist Maja SK Ratkje and trumpeter Arve Henriksen). Their explorations are prompted by ‘short cell-like ideas’ from the bassist, provided simply as starting points; so, in live performance, the landscape is ever-changing. Ostinati and riffs might suggest the root of each piece, but it’s their complete evolutionary and immersive nature which stands so effectively.

While nocturnal imagery is tangible through the album, slowly stirring aubade, opening, paints a springlike awakening through sustained guitar layers and breathy trumpet; and Pursglove’s mouthpiece sputters combine with radio-wave electronics to widen what seems like a heat-hazy portrayal of nature. Mapp’s bass regularly provides an effective (sometimes chordal) foundation, and the initial hint of Scandinavian folksong in a kind of day is tinged with an ominous, hollow jarring which becomes more urgent.

This sound world cleverly adopts a ‘three-dimensionality’ akin to photographic depth of field. The industrial hisses, gargles, squawks and whistles of expansive towards a rusty future can be unsettling, set against a subliminal ticking metre. But segueing into the more saturated quiet field, Mapp’s muted, pulsating bass takes the trio towards a hopeful horizon. Pursglove’s tone is now cleaner as it melds into half life, where open guitar, bass and skywards electronics create an otherworldly beauty only interrupted by the opening, free-jazz clamour of never…ending – until tentative calm is restored.

It’s an environment of invention and discovery; a broad canvas over which we might wander through our own imagination – and all sparked by this spontaneous artistry. A magical thing. 

Recorded live at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Stillefelt is released on 3 April and available as a limited edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

Video promo.

 

Chris Mapp bass, electronics
Percy Pursglove trumpet, flugelhorn 
Thomas Seminar Ford guitar, electronics

Visual art / sleeve design: Tom Tebby

chrismapp.co.uk/stillefelt

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1883 (2020)

‘Dream Feathers’ – Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS

THE DEPTH OF ORIGINAL MUSIC, newly created by artists and then fathomed further by our own imagination, remains a never-fading fascination – an opportunity to hear sounds for the very first time, and then continue to appraise and interpret them in relation our own experiences and circumstances. The possibilities are limitless.

Dream Feathers, presented by Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS, beautifully exemplifies that fact in a nine-track soundscape led by veteran saxophonist Caines (“composer”) and Sheffield multi-instrumentalist Archer (“studio enabler and magician”) where a multiplicity of melodies, textures, rhythms and field recordings abound. And whilst entirely accessible, both the freedom and blend of scored and improvised music takes this septet’s output far beyond a sequence of ‘jazz tunes’ and into an hour-long realm where the mind might freely roam the unexpected, eliciting visual and even visceral responses on a personal level.

Completing the line-up, pianist Laura Cole, guitarist Anton Hunter, double bassist Gus Garside and drummer Johnny Hunter – also proven masters of invention – paint canvases of acoustic and electronic colour which are enhanced with great effect by Hervé Perez’s field recordings, electronics and processing.

Throughout, Caines’ clear saxophonic tone/vibrato and ‘off-piste’ perambulations are a joy. In memorable, cyclic African Violets, piano and horns create a Coltranesque foundation for him to stretch out across Johnny Hunter’s shimmering cymbals and solid drumming impetus; and his easy alto lyricism in broad Uccello / 1934 (incidentally, a significant year in British classical music) becomes echoed by the most delightfully sparse electronic drones and electric-piano chimes. Free improv is prominent in mischievous, angular Mazeep; in prickly, unpredictable Harmonix; and in darker, mini-maelstrom Nico. But just as effective, and certainly more immersive, are the outer eleven-minute ‘movements’ – Rothko Veil / Dream Feathers and Almazon / 1934 Reprise – whose gently-shifting strata of extemporisation and complementary field captures seep into mind and heart, ultimately carried away through a canopy of woodland birdsong.

Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more.

Released on 13 November 2019 and available as CD or download from Discus Music at Bandcamp.

 

Ron Caines soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Martin Archer bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter guitar and electronics
Gus Garside double bass
Johnny Hunter drums

discus-music.co.uk
roncaines.co.uk

Discus Music (Discus 88CD) – 2019

‘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)

‘Known-Unknown’ – Trichotomy

Trichotomy

THE TRICHOTOMOUS CHARACTERISTICS of this established Australian piano trio are defined as captivating melody, rhythmic interplay and emotive collective improvisation. 

That’s a pretty challenging set of values to live up to, yet pianist Sean Foran, bassist Samuel Vincent and drummer John Parker are master explorers of this traditional and particularly exposed of instrumental line-ups. Indeed, Trichotomy’s fifth album Known-Unknown (following 2013’s more widely collaborative Fact Finding Mission) is anything but a walk in the park. Having been together some eighteen years, they’ve rubbed stylistic shoulders with Avishai Cohen, Phronesis, E.S.T. and a raft of other contemporary bands seeking a musically democratic outlook – but any similarity which might have been considered the ‘elephant in the room’ is politely ushered out of the large side door. Why? Because Foran, Vincent and Parker possess the empathy and desire to keep forging their own identity; and any momentary flickers of the aforementioned (coincidental or otherwise, and often involving judicious electronics) simply raise a smile of acknowledgement and appreciation.

Ten original numbers (the majority written by pianist Foran) are predominantly vigorous, fiery, restless; and, crucially, their pressing momentum and chameleonic interest suggest an ongoing free-spiritedness which keeps these fifty-five minutes alive. Five fulfils all of that with an eager, breezy demeanour, its tensive pauses and melodic freedom easily redolent of Esbjörn Svensson, whilst the molten, repeating piano figures of John Parker’s Cells dissolve to create echoic, electronically enhanced pools of piano and percussion; and edgy, subtly dissonant Junk has grooving jazz at it heart. Rhythmically, Trichotomy are magnificent – Imaginary Limits‘ crisp dance groove fizzes to Parker’s percussion, though its irresistible appeal is undeniably down to all three (Foran’s distorted piano improvisations a delight); and the clattering, push-pull impatience of Asset or Liability feels gloriously anarchic.

The trio’s more calmative moments are no less inviting, partly due to their pervading uneasiness. Samuel Vincent’s softly-malleted, arco-bass Past Tense broods darkly; John Parker’s countrified, fireside folksong, It’s Strange Coming Back, seems quietly anguished. And that same ominousness from the drummer’s pen bursts into the urgent, prepared piano and Fender Rhodes groove of Reverie of Lack – this has alarming drama/thriller written all over it. Foran’s complex piano figure sets up panicky, irascible rock in Semi-Quasars; and levitational Hemmingway closes with snappy though sunnier rhythms enfolding its dreamy central section.

An ‘ear-catcher’ for contemporary piano trio lovers, Known-Unknown, by definition, offers the recognised exhilaration of Trichotomy with a profusion of unpredictable alleyways… and already enjoyed many, many times.

Released in February 2017. Available from Challenge Records, as well as Amazon, iTunes (and at Bandcamp, with a four-track EP alongside).

 

Sean Foran piano, electronics
John Parker drums, percussion, electronics
Sam Vincent double bass, electronics

trichotomymusic.com

Challenge Records – CR73439 (2017)

‘The Port of Life’ – Jean John

SLOVENIA to NEW YORK… a personal narrative of immigration and acculturation. Drummer, composer and bandleader Jean John’s ambitious work The Port of Life – dedicated to all the immigrants of this world – fulfils his belief that music should always tell a story and create an experience.

Born Žan Tetičkovič, in Ptuj in Slovenia, Jean John relocated to the United States in 2010 to further his artistic ambitions, and desired to communicate the “whirl of emotions in trying to find and establish the existence in a new culture”.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Jean John (Žan Tetičkovič) drums and cymbals, composition
Alba Nacinovich vocals
Lenart Krečič tenor saxophone
Tomaž Gajšt trumpet and flugelhorn
Jani Moder guitar
Marko Črnčec (Churnchetz) piano
Myles Sloniker upright bass

Janus Atelier String Quartet:
Matija Krečič 1st violin
Nejc Avbelj 2nd violin
Barbara Grahor viola
Zoran Bičanin violoncello

Andrej Lamut photography
Marko Damiš design
Sergej Harlamov poetry

Žiga Murko electronics

jean-john.com

ZKP RTV Ljubljana – RTVS 114441 (2016)

‘All Things’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

src_allthings

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)