‘The Aviators’ Ball’ – Matt Owens

MattOwens

I AM REMINDED of a golden age of TV themes. Statuesque 1960s/70s tunes and traditional orchestrations that have remained in the mind, the merest few bars’ snippet triggering inextricably-linked carefree memories. Manchester composer and bassist Matt Owens seems to capture such a spirit in this fine debut of charming, sometimes quirky, and beautiful creations.

Happily difficult to pigeonhole in terms of genre, with elements of jazz, folk, pop and movie soundtrack, Owens draws on an abundance of instrumentalists and vocalists (below) to convey the character of his distinctive writing. The majority of The Aviators’ Ball (a title inspired by Owens’ real-life discovery, in Prague, of an aviation society’s ball!) comes from his suite Ten – one of Manchester Jazz Festival’s excellent mjf originals commissions – and unabashedly seeks a mostly acoustic landscape of waltz, curtsy and blithe melody.

With woodwind, brass and breezy Irish tin whistle, Raindrops on our Rooftop immediately makes that retro leap, its persistent bassoon figure suggesting an era of Puppet on a String and marginal folk/rock band curiosity Gryphon. Title track The Aviators’ Ball exudes all the warmth of gentle period drama as mellow cornet improvisations float over piano and tea-parlour strings; and then – with a cosy woodwind intro redolent of… that’s right… The Clangers! – singer and guitarist Tom Davies delivers his winsome Mouse Song with unexpected and touching simplicity.

As sunshiny as a beach-bound, open-top Morris journey, the crisp, wordless vocal momentum of Going Back to the Village confirms Owens’ picture-painting prowess, arranged here by Manchester favourite (and co-producer of this album) guitarist/singer Kirsty Almeida; and the folksy theme of Every Wish is for You, initiated with pianistic nursery-rhyme candour, rolls along to placid trumpet and flute extemporisation.

The singular, expressive voice of Rioghnach Connolly interprets Celtic love song Black is the Colour like no other, her affecting tones breathing “I love the ground whereon he stands” like changeable winds across heather land. Soft-pop The Peanut Train shuffles to Owens’ downy horn-and-woodwind arrangement; Monsoon is similarly entrancing, led by the impassioned vocal of Zoe Kyoti; and full of dreamy nostalgia, Violet concludes the set, once again highlighting Matt Owens’ aptitude and greater potential for niche soundtrack scoring.

In an album which might initially appear quaint, due to the genuiness of its eclectic, yesteryear approach, the persuasive strength of its endearingly tuneful hooks and arrangements make it utterly irresistible – certainly a delightful musical diversion.

Launching at Chorlton Arts Festival on 18 May 2015, The Aviators’ Ball is available from All Made Up Records.

 

Matt Owens double bass
Neil Yates trumpet, tin whistle
John Ellis piano
Rick Weedon drums, percussion
Sophie Hastings marimba, glockenspiel
Amina Hussian flute
David Benfield oboe
Lucy Rugman clarinet
Jon Harris French horn
Simon Davies bassoon
Semay Wu cello
Steve Chadwick cornet
Edward Barnwell piano
Danny Ward drums
Alison Williams violin
Naomi Koop violin
Aimée Johnson viola
Tom Davies guitar, vocals
Carla Sousa flute
Philip Howarth cor anglais
Jill Allen clarinet
Lucy Keyes bassoon
Kirsty Almeida vocals
Caroline Sheehan vocals
Orli Nyles vocals
Cara Robinson vocals
Atholl Ransome alto flute
Rioghnach Connolly vocals
Billy Buckley guitar, lap steel
Zoe Kyoti vocals, guitar
Rosa Campos Fernandez clarinet

mattowens.co.uk

All Made Up Records – AMU0007 (2015)

‘Pinball’ – Marius Neset

Pinball

IF THE NAME Marius Neset hasn’t yet entered your vocabulary, or his staggering musical proficiency not already hit your ears… then, with this latest album, Pinball, prepare for a life-changing jazz experience!

The Norwegian saxophonist and composer first erupted onto the wider European scene only four years ago with debut Golden Xplosion, and the ensuing releases – Birds (Edition, 2013) and Lion (ACT, 2014) – each time, left mouths gaping wider at the technical precision and impassioned musicality of the performances and writing. Some say he is the Parker or Coltrane of our time, with clear echoes of Brecker and Garbarek, and it’s unlikely to be an exaggeration that his distinct imprint on the progression and broadening of the jazz genre is creating, for us, the same revelatory tremors (turn out the lights, listen… and the saxophonist surely couldn’t be anyone else).

Mentored by Django Bates, that same sense of perpetual exploration and living on the edge is evident in Neset’s music – but it is also ingrained with atmospheres which reflect the musical folk traditions and awe-inspiring landscapes of his homeland, resulting in a rich combination of raw excitement and deep emotion. And, with every new release, the complexity and beauty of his compositional outpourings become impressively aggrandised.

Early in 2014, and in Mahlerian ‘composing hut’ spirit, Neset tucked himself away in a Norwegian mountain cottage and was inspired “to write almost a whole album”, specifically with his band colleagues (mostly from the Birds album) in mind – Ivo Neame (piano, Hammond), Jim Hart (vibes, marimba), Petter Eldh (bass) and Anton Eger (drums, percussion), plus special guests. Neset’s association with Eger runs deep, both collaborating here on production as well as some of the writing.

Title track Pinball conveys the overarching character of these twelve numbers – meticulously-conceived melodies, yet the varietal moods, audacious polyrhythms and fervid, darting improvisations make it all so entertainingly unpredictable. Mesmerising clapping and flutter-tongued flute herald World Song Pt. 1, a joyous, African-imbued opener filled with chattering folk dance riffs and soaring tenor; Pt. 2 is more ruminative – with distant knell, quivering cello and elegiac violin – until Jim Hart’s eloquent vibes resound up into the skies to summon a sunshiny recapitulation. The album’s effervescence is punctuated by calmer interludes, the subterranean resonance of Petter Eldh’s bass and Eger’s slow drum in Odes of You remarkably soothing, combined with Ivo Neame’s Hammond/piano and Neset’s lyricism.

Police (for silent movie buffs) portrays all the cheeky, madcap clatter of the Keystone Cops; with Marius’s tenor and sister Ingrid’s flute so chirpily yet accurately synched, it’s a real smile-raiser. Evoking thoughts of Neset’s haunting 2012 album with Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods), Music for Cello and Saxophone is a fascinating echoic ‘duologue’ in which both instruments intertwine so convincingly; and the later Music for Drums and Saxophone finds Neset sharing the percussive possibilities of his tenor with Eger’s pin-sharp rhythms in a delicate, trance-like episode.

Never pass up the opportunity to catch this band live (tour dates here), Theatre of Magic offering a glimpse of the divergency of their craft as Marius, here with the illusion of playing both tenor and soprano, leads its glorious vivacity. Swirling Aberhonddu, presumably a nod to Brecon’s much-loved jazz festival, might suggest the capricious climatic conditions up on the Beacons, whilst Jaguar showcases the leader’s forceful soprano rapidity. His sparkling, trademark ‘duotone’ tenor announces Summer Dance, an astonishingly detailed Irish reel-like celebration coloured warmly with Hart’s marimba, before layered sax end-piece Hymn from the World reverently closes.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, the spine-tingling musicianship of Pinball makes it an irresistible repeat player!

Further information and audio samples at ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ivo Neame piano, Hammond B3, a.o.
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion
with
Andreas Brantelid cello
Rune T. Sørensen violin
Ingrid Neset flute
August Wanngren tambourine
Pinball band clapping

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9032-2 (2014)

‘#ONE’ – Black Top with Steve Williamson

BlackTop

THE ALBUM ART is intriguing, only subtly hinting at the extended explorations contained within. Recorded live at the creative crucible that is Jazz in the Round (curated by BBC Jazz on 3’s Jez Nelson at The Cockpit Theatre, London), duo Black Top collaborate with saxophonist Steve Williamson to produce an absorbing free jazz experience.

Former Jazz Warriors Pat Thomas (piano, keyboards and electronics) and Orphy Robinson (marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet and electronics) have, over the past three years, been experimenting with live instruments and lo-fi technology, inviting jazz ‘royalty’ such as Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde and Claude Deppa to guest with them to create a diversity of improvised trio sets. For this performance and subsequent debut release (recorded in January 2012), they welcomed back acclaimed saxophonist Steve Williamson, together setting up these excitingly original, live soundscapes.

The album’s three tracks cover a spectrum of musical textures and shifting atmospheres, referencing New York’s ‘Loft Scene’ avant-gardism of the 1970s as well as revealing Afro-Caribbean influences and dance rhythms. Piano, marimba and saxes take centre stage, but Black Top also infuse their evident virtuosity with a plenitude of beats, samples, loops and effects.

Opener There Goes the Neighbourhood! meanders to the unadorned sounds of tenor sax, marimba and piano, the three players spontaneously developing their shared ideas with increasing complexity, intermittently augmented by pounding electronic dubstep patterns and oscillations. The gradually-changing marimba ostinatos are, unsurprisingly, redolent of Steve Reich, Thomas’s full piano stabs adding to the hypnotic pulse and Williamson’s tenor melodically soaring above.

At almost 24 minutes in length, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner provides a central focus. The deep, hollow voice of the marimba possesses a strong personality, Robinson building its sustained, edgy mystery towards a repeated phrase on which Thomas lavishes a brash and richly percussive Cuban-style piano display, jabbing and rolling across the entire keyboard. Crunchy tenor heightens the excitement, Williamson blasting and scurrying to the concurrent fever. This expansive journey is initially indeterminate and unpredictable, yet the familiarity of repeated listenings remains just as compelling, the trance-like effect of spiralling soprano sax, rapid marimba, fuzzed electronics, jagged piano and thudding rhythm impressively gripping – and then a palpable calmness when it briefly dies back to more spacial cerebration. The closing section finds Williamson’s soprano sneering broadly at the keys, though piano and marimba are up for the challenge with the same tumultuous intensity… and appearing unresolved at the close!

Archaic Nubian Stepdub throws electronics to the fore in this funkier and more succinct closing track, its perpetual-though-shifting rhythms encouraging Williamson to reciprocate with similarly loop-mimicked soprano sax.

One of Babel Label’s 20th anniversary releases for 2014, the exhilarant rhythms and open environments of #ONE are capable of prompting an almost interactive listener response, such is their power to move. To sample and purchase, visit Babel’s website/Bandcamp store – and catch a great video excerpt of the gig here.

 

Pat Thomas piano, keyboards, electronics
Orphy Robinson marimba, vibes, steel pan, trumpet, electronics
with
Steve Williamson tenor and soprano saxophones

Babel Label – BDV14128 (2014)

‘Lion’ – Marius Neset, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra

Layout 1

IT WAS JUST THREE YEARS AGO that a young Norwegian saxophonist, Marius Neset, powered onto the wider European jazz scene, staggering audiences with his breathtaking, mind-boggling tenor and soprano wizardry. Here was a musician with the world at his feet, already leaving excited, jaw-dropped crowds funnelling out of venues, incredulous at what they had witnessed.

Following his album Golden Xplosion (Edition Records, 2011), hailed enthusiastically by critics, and a remarkable duo release with tubist Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods – Edition, 2012 – reviewed here), Neset wasted no time in further broadening his outlook, releasing Birds (Edition, 2013 – reviewed here), which revealed as much about his compositional stature as it did his astounding playing. Although writing for, essentially, a quintet (with Ivo Neame, Jim Hart, Jasper Høiby and Anton Eger, plus guests), it was clear that he could express himself on an orchestral scale, laying down the written complexities of contrapuntal hooks and darting time signatures whilst also communicating and improvising with his colleagues on a profoundly visceral level.

Famously mentored and inspired by Django Bates (at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Copenhagen) and influenced by a list of musicians and composers as long as one of Neset’s extended solos (Wayne Shorter, Jan Garbarek, Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, Radiohead, as well as Grieg and Stravinsky… to name but a few), he now makes his ACT debut with a release which widens his ambition to write for larger forces. Resulting from a commission to compose specifically for the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra’s billing at the 2012 Molde Jazz Festival – including Lion, the ten-minute title track which heads up this recording – Neset decided also to re-visit a few numbers from his previous releases, pulling them all together in this impressive 64-minute outing. The Trondheim’s twelve-piece arrangements, here, often display the variety and openness of orchestral timbres, as well as the sectional horn solidity of a big band – hence the name and their particularly open and eclectic sound – and this, therefore, is the perfect vehicle to deliver the potential of Marius Neset’s vision.

From its disquieting but then stately entry, opening number Lion becomes a boisterous affair very much in the Neset style, brassy stabs leading to a freer environment of imitation growls and general foreboding before Erik Johannesen’s terrific trombone soloing reinstates big band grandeur; and, to close, the ‘king’ slopes into the distance to a more softly pulsating rhythm (tremendous imagery). Golden Xplosion kicks off with Marius’s trademark, hypnotic, ‘self-accompanied’ tenor, punctuated by rhythmically-teasing reeds. Listeners familiar with the original will surely be drawn to this increasingly voluminous, sparky arrangement, Neset extemporising magnificently over Petter Eldh’s pounding bass and Gard Nilssen’s flamboyant drumming. In The Ring appears to be ’round two’ of Boxing (from the Birds album), its hard-hitting drums appropriately packing a punch, and the balance of power, agility and space calculated perfectly (with Neset’s mouthpiece popping to some superb trombone and bari action) – and is that a sense of dazed resignation that follows, before the final knockout?!

A short tenor Interlude leads to Sacred Universe, another creative reinterpretation for this versatile jazz orchestra, Petter Eldh’s industrious, vocalised bass solo opening the floodgates for a real showpiece of ensemble writing and wide-ranging soloing. Weight Of The World rasps brusquely to Eirik Hegdal’s up-tempo baritone and Eldh’s characteristically percussive bass; once again, the diversity and lucidity of the performances need to be heard to grasp Neset’s mastery of arrangement, eventually blazing with brassy brilliance – a real standout. Away from that intensity, Raining is the most luscious of ballads, Jovan Pavlovic and Espen Berg offering homely accordion and piano before the scoring swells; and Daniel Herskedal’s distinctive cantabile tuba combined with Peter Fuglsang’s quietly folksong-like clarinet over muted piano string ‘raindrops’ is otherworldly. Finally, Birds is returned to its grander concept, building instrumentally, one by one, to a thrilling, cacophonous dawn chorus.

Released in the UK on 21 April 2014, Lion is certainly an album to get your teeth into.

Additional information and audio samples here.
Video of Birds at 2012 Molde Jazz Festival here.
Video of Golden Xplosion at Bergen JazzForum, 2013 here.


Marius Neset
 tenor and soprano saxophones
Hanna Paulsberg tenor saxophone
Peter Fuglsang alto saxophone, flute and clarinet
Eirik Hegdal baritone and soprano saxophone
Eivind Lønning trumpet
Erik Eilertsen trumpet
Erik Johannesen trombone
Daniel Herskedal tuba
Jovan Pavlovic accordion
Espen Berg piano
Petter Eldh bass
Gard Nilssen drums, percussion, vibraphone and marimba

Ingrid Neset additional flute and piccolo flute on Sacred Universe and Birds

 

ACT Music – 9031-2 (2014)