‘The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure’ – John Martin


CHARTING the lesser-known seas of saxophone multiphonics, this 2CD quintet release from John Martin is defined by its title – a spirited voyage of adventure in search of ‘the hidden notes’.

Martin explains that, around ten years ago whilst practicing, he discovered that the tenor sax had the potential to produce multiple overtones and textures; and for the past few years, he has set out to explore jazz in this context, developing a system to tempt out these “rather shy and often badly behaved notes.” Joining him on this recording are Ralph Wyld (vibraphone), Rob Updegraff (electric guitar), Tim Fairhall (double bass) and Tim Giles (drums).

Over ninety minutes, the vibe is of accessible post-bop jazz – yet, as with any expedition into unfamiliar territory, it can take a while to settle into the newness of the polyphonic experience. So the saxophone delivery might initially be difficult to fathom, as these ‘three-dimensional’ sounds are coaxed out of the instrument, with some more effective than others (first reactions, in places, might incorrectly suggest a lack of technique!). But Martin goes all out for experimentation, injecting his ten original compositions (plus three preludes) and otherwise full, clear, instrumental timbre with surprising piquancy.

Both the writing and the performances throughout are slick, the broad expanse of many of the tracks appearing to create an openness amongst the five musicians. The opening theme of Heptopia, for example, is so melodically warm, riding the gentle waves of Rob Updegraff’s luscious chords and Ralph Wyld’s bejewelled vibraphone; and often – as here and in Spirit of Adventure – this combination creates the kind of sweet repetition enjoyed in the music of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong or even Steve Reich. There’s much to excite, from Tick Tock‘s perky buoyancy, threaded with individual improv artistry, to swinging Folklore and Giant’s Stomp, both shot through with Martin’s gruff, harmonic clusters and richly-phrased soloing.

Pentacision – a sixteen-minute odyssey in two parts – ripples with episode after episode, as if traversing oceanic swells and reaching contrasting, breezeless conditions (the tricksy time signature riffs are pleasingly memorable). Eddies features more of Martin’s hypnotic riffs, which are especially effective here as the crescendoing and decrescendoing overtone patterns almost suggest a Doppler shift; and the joyous swing of The Optimistic Pessimist, bookended by more extreme tonal caws, is enriched by the saxophonist’s careful, melodic use of his system.

Employing an individual technique which might easily have been the ‘elephant in the studio’, John Martin’s release is full of engaging, jazz vibrancy – an expansive journey spangled with unexpected musical glints and refractions. A beautiful, dreamlike cover illustration, too, from Ellen Tovey.

The Hidden Notes – Spirit of Adventure is available from F-IRE.com and John Martin’s website. More information at thehiddennotes.com.


John Martin tenor saxophone
Rob Updegraff electric guitar
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Tim Fairhall double bass
Tim Giles drums

Illustration by Ellen Tovey


F-IRE Presents – F-IRE CD 92 (2016)


‘New World’ – Vitor Pereira Quintet


IT’S A PRETTY SAFE BET, heading-up a band with alto saxophonist Chris Williams and tenorist George Crowley, that creative sparks will fly. And sure enough, on Portuguese electric guitarist Vitor Pereira’s second quintet album, New World, the firmament is ablaze with deliciously unpredictable moves and blistering artistry. 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

George Crowley
tenor sax
Chris Williams alto sax
Dave Hamblett drums
Andrea Di Biase bass
Vitor Pereira guitar


F-IRE presents – F-IRECD84 (2014)

‘Anatta’ – Alex Merritt Quartet


SOMETIMES it just clicks. That sit-up-and-listen first connection with intelligently-conceived music and performance, prompting a compulsion to become involved and stay with it.

Taking its title from a Buddhist principle which, indeed, references ‘a state of no self, where we are fully immersed in our experience of the present moment’, Anatta is the debut release of young tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt and his fine quartet: pianist John Turville, double bassist Sam Lasserson and distinguished US drummer Jeff Williams. With the majority of the album’s eight compositions coming from Merritt’s pen (plus interpretations of Thelonious Monk and Eubie Blake), the tenorist’s lead exudes both maturity and confidence in an hour-plus outing which brims with exploration and reinvention.

Formed some six years ago, and encouraged by Jeff Williams whilst Alex Merritt was still studying at Birmingham Conservatoire, quartet and leader seek a fascinating duality in their approach – the concept of modelling new work based on the standard chord progressions of existing material (such as Merritt’s originals here based on Jule Styne’s Just in Time and John Coltrane’s Satellite), thereby reflecting the aim of ‘observing the elegance of life’s change’.

Merritt’s warm, dry, Getzian fluency (which, at higher range, even finds refractions of Paul Desmond) is a joy, whether intertwining with Turville’s mysterious, unpredictable chordal shifts in the title track or bubbling with controlled fervour in one of the aforementioned reinterpretations… cringingly-titled Justin Time-berlake (perhaps there’s a back-story!). In fact, for a saxman who rarely screeches or wails, such restrained eloquence shines prominently. For example, in swingin’ For Peter Schat (that Coltrane reworking), his mellifluous, elongated phrases set up a ‘pied piper’ kind of magnetism, with a constant stream of fresh improv ideas that don’t need any invitation to follow; and his band’s freer, nine-minute excursion through Pannonica beautifully echoes Monk’s famously capricious, angular approach.

The integration here is key and, throughout, feels like a sound this quartet has taken time to hone, driven along by Jeff Williams’ recognisable percussive solidity as well as Sam Lasserson’s double bass which, even amongst the sublime placidity of For Henri Dutilleux and Blake’s Memories of You, becomes majestic. Thelonious favourite Ugly Beauty is delightfully luxurious in this arrangement, especially when Merritt goes deep; and lively Conn Artist (other brands are available) cements his prowess as a composer with a promising future.

This feels like just the beginning… and what a beginning.

Released on the F-IRE label, Anatta is available from Propermusic, Amazon and iTunes.


Alex Merritt tenor sax
John Turville piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Jeff Williams drums


F-IRE presents – F-IRECD 86 (2015)

‘Magna Carta Suite’ – Alex Hutton Trio


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
Liesbeth Allart cor anglais
Liz Palmer baroque flute
Neil Sparkes spoken word


F-IRE – F-IRECD 82 (2015)

‘New Era’ – Entropi


ANNOUNCED by deep-space sleeve art and track listing, the crew of the Entropi head towards a galactic destination – and phasers are most emphatically set to stun. For debut album New Era, saxophonist and composer Dee Byrne’s quintet explore group improvisation in the context of “notions of chance and fate, our relationship with space and the cosmos and the unpredictable and insecure nature of existence.” 

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Dee Byrne alto sax
Andre Canniere trumpet
Rebecca Nash piano
Olie Brice double bass
Matt Fisher drums


F-IRE Collective – F-IRECD 78 (2015)

‘Pembroke Road’ – Leo Appleyard


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
Neil Yates trumpet/flugelhorn


F-IRE – F-IRECD 75 (2014)

‘Next Beginning’ – Samuel Eagles Quartet


BALANCE IS EVERYTHING… and this fine debut album, Next Beginning, from young London saxophonist and composer Samuel Eagles and his quartet achieves that assured, measured clarity and cohesion. Tutored and mentored by jazz sax illuminati including Mornington Lockett, Jason Yarde, Mark Lockheart and Jean Toussaint, this release suggests Eagles has got what it takes, both as an instrumentalist and writer, to make a big splash on the contemporary jazz scene.

Joining him are Ralph Wyld (vibes), Fergus Ireland (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) in an insouciant programme of originals which, laudibly, have been developed and honed on the live circuit before committing them to the recording studio – perhaps this explains the extended nature of all eight numbers here, importantly affording time and space for uninhibited improvisation. Declaring Stateside influences such as Logan Richardson and Ambrose Akinmusire, the quartet’s style is wholly accessible, revealing an empathy – and a certain warmth – which comes from strongly-forged musical bonds.

Key to the band’s openness is the vibraphone limpidity of Ralph Wyld, demonstrated in ten-minute opener Remembering Myself which, with weightless bass and percussion, offers a sax tune so eloquent and amiable that it feels pleasingly familiar. The Place I Live swings apace to Eric Ford’s frisky, ricocheting drums and Fergus Ireland’s sprinting bass; the liquidity of Eagles’ extemporisations, gliding over this babbling momentum, are easily comparable to those of Jean Toussaint, or even Scott Hamilton – and again, Wyld sparkles, particularly in a trio episode with Ireland and Ford. The affable 50 Pound Friendship further displays the band’s parity in a glassy-smooth late-nighter; and Outsider rattles to Ford’s distinctive drum crispness, Eagles’ hard-edged rapid-fire riffs radiating an impressive maturity.

Jason Yarde’s guidance is tangible in Samuel Eagles’ supple soprano prowess on Smells Like Summer, its easy-going, sunshiny demeanour unfolding from an African-style hook that could easily be from the pen of Abdullah Ibrahim (and Ford’s circular cymbal patterns which welcome back the leader towards the close are a joy). The perky, inquiring chromatics of My Instigation set up a more furtive mood as bass and vibes gingerly tread a path for the busy percussion of Ford. Following, We Were Meant To Be provides a glimpse of this saxman’s obvious world-at-his-feet potential with a firecracker that sizzles to the frenetic energy of all; and, as Eagles uses the lower end of his alto register so effectively, it begs the question as to how compelling he might also sound as a tenorist. Title track Next Beginning closes the album – a beautifully upbeat, shuffling number which ‘final-curtains’ each member of the band, the leader proudly revelling in its ebullience.

Released on the F-IRE label on 10 November 2014, the album launches at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on 16 November as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. More live dates are shown below, and the quartet will also be performing at Jazz in the Round, The Cockpit Theatre, London, on 23 February 2015 – check out previous live video clips here.


Samuel Eagles alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Fergus Ireland double bass
Eric Ford drums

Recorded and mastered by Derek Nash.
Artwork by Alban Low.

2014 live dates:
16 November: LAUNCH – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
28 November: Torfaen Jazz Club, Griffithstown
02 December: Sela Bar, Leeds
03 December: The Globe Jazz Co-op, Newcastle upon Tyne
04 December: WM Jazz Club, London
07 December: Southampton Modern Jazz Club, Southampton
18 December: The Bull’s Head, London


F-IRE – F-IRECD 72 (2014)