‘Fellow Creatures’ – Jasper Høiby

FellowCreatures

THE EXPERIENCE is entrenched in mind and soul – those purely analogue days of poring over and falling in love with a new vinyl and its gatefold sleeve art, flipping the 12″ over at the exit groove so many times that one grew to anticipate every track, every bar, every instrumental entry. 

There’s something of that sentiment captured within double bassist, composer and bandleader Jasper Høiby’s new release, Fellow Creatures. Now a prominent personality and musical backbone of so many outstanding contemporary jazz line-ups – most notably as creator of enduringly successful trio Phronesis, but also a key player with names such as Marius Neset, Django Bates, Mark Guiliana and Kairos 4tet – the bassist sees these ten, eloquent tracks as a narrative in which the listener might connect with the music and its interpreters across the album’s near-full-hour entirety. In that context, he couldn’t have wished for a more empathetic personnel than Mark Lockheart (saxes), Laura Jurd (trumpet, flugel), Will Barry (piano) and Corrie Dick (drums).

Høiby explains that he has long wished to broaden his writing to a larger ensemble, including two melody instruments; and whilst his signature percussive/cantabile bass technique and Phronesis-based compositional identity are pleasingly evident here, he opens up a refreshingly bright, undulating vista which takes in graceful, Scandinavian folkiness, zesty post-bop jazz riffs and improvisational free-spiritedness… plus a dash of characteristic mischief. Canadian author Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is cited amongst the inspiration for the writing and track titles, highlighting the need to recognise and embrace the fragility of the earth and its natural resources; that, and also the importance of family and human accord.

Key to the album’s intent are Høiby’s memorable hooks which become enchantingly familiar – Folk Song‘s plaintive trumpet and piano tune in thirds which, traced with high, wiry arco bass harmonics, follows the otherwise spacial freedom of its beginnings; or the close trumpet and tenor sax ‘crashing wave’ phrases in title track Fellow Creatures, a number which excitedly ripples to the kind of unison piano-and-bass riffs that Phronesis fans will easily recognise. Laura Jurd’s increasing prominence on the UK jazz circuit (currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation artist) includes left-field projects such as Blue-Eyed Hawk and, recently, Huw V Williams’ album Hon. Yet here, her particularly clear tones combine perfectly with those of distinguished saxophonist Mark Lockheart to create a rich frontline, as in urgent soundtrack for troubled times, World of Contradictions, and especially in Little Song for Mankind where their intertwining boisterousness (Jurd as high and hard-hitting as, say, Jon Faddis) is swelled by the remaining trio’s turbulent undercurrent.

Optimistic mariachi dance Song for the Bees finds the horn duo gyrating around Høiby’s unmistakably conversational bass ground (almost guaranteed to bring out the sun), whilst Tangible is reminiscent of Ivo Neame’s compositions for trio, Will Barry’s pianistic invention just as engaging. Quartet piece Collective Spaces (minus piano) feels intimately folky, akin to a journeying minstrel band, whereas the bassist’s groove which sets up Suddenly, Everyone inspires a ‘Phronesis big band’ episode which explodes to Corrie Dick’s skittering, crashing percussion and impressive tenor and trumpet improv. Lumbering, tricksy Before feels just on the edge of hysterics from duo Lockheart and Høiby; and closer Plastic Island perpetuates the band camaraderie as it stomps both gleefully and anarchically to a choppy bass-and-piano motif, swaggering tenor, growling trumpet and impertinent percussion – fabulous!

Høiby’s summing-up of this album is surely something to which most of us would aspire: “This music is an encouragement to the love between human beings and an acknowledgement of our belonging to nature, that I believe we all share as fellow creatures.” Indeed, this quintet’s joyous, life-enriching creativity provides us with a continuing hope.

Released on Edition Records on 15 July 2016, Fellow Creatures is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Jasper Høiby double bass, composer
Mark Lockheart saxophones
Laura Jurd trumpet, flugel
Will Barry piano
Corrie Dick drums

jasperhoiby.com

Edition Records – EDN1075 (2016)

‘Strata’ – Ivo Neame

Strata

IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.

2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.

Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”

Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ –  lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.

Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.

Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.

A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!

 

Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

ivoneame.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)