‘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)

‘Flint’ – Bill Laurance

Flint

OVER THE LAST DECADE, thunderous New York jazz-funk fusionists Snarky Puppy have garnered a solid international fan base with their intoxicating live shows, as well as a successful catalogue of albums. At the heart of this creative powerhouse is English pianist/keyboardist Bill Laurance, who now presents his own sparkling debut release, along with a UK and Netherlands tour.

Described by Laurance as the album he’s been searching for since he started making music, Flint is a collaboration with two close friends – Snarky stalwarts Michael League (basses, guitars) and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight’ (drums, percussion) – as well as a host of string and horn players. Together, they realise a magnificent compositional spectrum, often on an orchestral/filmic scale as well as anticipated jazz-funk grooving, with Laurance commanding at the grand piano and Fender Rhodes. And, although the majority of the ten through-composed pieces are solely from the leader’s pen (along with League’s considerable input as arranger), the communal sense of striving for both musical exactitude and improvisation is palpable… and exciting.

Setting the tone are the complex urban drum patterns of opener Never-Ending City, with gutsy five-string bass, keys ostinati, cityscape strings and Laurance’s cool piano extemporisations. Janáček/Copland-style brass announces Money in the Desert, a brooding, quietly-pulsating episode which can’t help but break out into moog-driven funk with accented strings, and League’s popping electric guitar lead (blame it on the boogie!). Title track Flint (named after the inspirational effect on Laurance of a Snarky Puppy gig in Flint, Michigan) is more akin to soundtrack, dipping in and out of marching band mode and expansive Philip Glass-like pianistic/orchestral vistas, underpinned by Sput’s metronomic pulse. And all the while, the arrangements feel organically whole.

Smooth jazz Swag Times features quite breathtaking drum razzle-dazzle from Searight against an irresistible Rhodes/synth/vocoder wash – and again, brass and strings widen the landscape (such beautiful execution from string players who completed their entire recording requirement within a day!). The Good Things pares down the line-up to piano, bass and drums, Laurence leading in mysterious, echoic grandeur, plus impressive fuzz bass from League; and baroque-inflected Chia, with its gorgeously mercurial piano and double bass, invites the rapid gypsy fiddle of Zach Brock and portamento string backing to ramp up the tempo and augmented orchestration – in a word, delightful. Whimsical and grungy ska tune Smokers Castle jerks and clatters around Laurance’s detuned piano and a wonderfully brash New Orleans-style brass section; and Gold Coast features the fluid flugelhorn of Mike Maher (also of Snarky Puppy) in an orchestrally opulent, shining affair.

At ten minutes in length, penultimate track Ready Wednesday is a sure highlight, Searight’s fast Latinesque tempo showcasing Laurance’s exacting, rhythmic piano style; and the broad orchestral sweep – even in its later, slower section – has ‘movie soundtrack’ written all over it. As closing titles roll, classical piano end-piece Audrey, with delicate strings and flugel, melancholily waltzes to its rest.

As part of the package (on a second disc), a 47-minute DVD documentary – made by Andy Laviolette – provides a fascinating insight into the making of Flint, revealing the musicians’ passion for their art, as well as various triumphs over adversity along the way (including the sudden non-availability of their pre-booked studio, twelve few hours before recording sessions were due to begin!). Videos of all tracks are also included.

Released on 14 July 2014, this is an ambitious and absorbing project – not least for the Snarky Puppy faithful – which promises much in its translation to a live setting (see below for October 2014 tour dates, samples and purchasing). Check it out!

 

Bill Laurance acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, vocoder, keyboards, shaker, congas, ride cymbal, propane tank, hand claps
Michael League electric bass, double bass, moog bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hand claps
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight drums, timpani, marching snare & bass drums, shekere, cowbells, vibraslap, woodblocks, shaker, hand claps
Maria Im violin
Zach Brock violin (solos)
Curtis Stewart violin
Henry Flory violin
Lev Zhurbin viola
Eylem Basaldi viola
Maria Jeffers cello
J.Y. Lee cello
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt McLaughlin french horn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Brian Donohoe alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Scott Flynn trombone
Magda Giannikou propane tank, glockenspiel, xylophone
Emília Canas Mendes & Andy Laviolette hand claps

2014 UK tour dates
03 October: St George’s, Bristol
04 October: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
06 October: The Glee Club, Birmingham
07 October: Band on the Wall, Manchester
08 October: The Grand, Clitheroe
09 October: Ropery Hall, Barton on Humber
10 October: Turner Sims, Southampton

2014 Netherlands tour dates
11 October: Bird, Rotterdam
12 October: North Sea Jazz Club, Amsterdam

billlaurance.com
Bandcamp.com
iTunes

groundUP music – GRO117 (2014)