THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.
The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.
For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.
Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.
The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.
Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.
Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.
Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.
Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth
*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.
Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)