‘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

 

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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)

‘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)