REVIEW: ‘Spirits of Absent Dancers’ – Martin Pyne

DANCE is central to vibraphonist and percussionist Martin Pyne’s varied professional career. So when, in 2020, musicians’ and artists’ livelihoods were challenged and even threatened as the Coronavirus pandemic forced them to ‘leave the stage’, Martin’s greatest sense of creative loss was in being unable to collaborate with dancers and choreographers, of whose dedication he remains in constant awe.

Recorded live in his home studio (‘GS1’, to BBC radio listeners), he worked intensively, in real time, as ‘a single accompanist’: “I imagined a lone musician in a deserted theatre, like a kind of medicine man, throwing sounds into the space in an attempt to conjure up the ghosts of dancers no longer present, to breathe movement into stillness”. The majority of the sounds come from varied percussion and a small drum kit that’s mostly played with hands and feet (titled after spirits or ghosts), while seven vibraphone solos (named as spells or enchantments) provide a fluid, mystical thread.

From the wings, like a shadowy Satie ‘Gnossiene’, enters the toy-piano and temple-bowl tune of Summoning, part of a ballet score created for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company. This provides the theme for the interspersed vibraphone variations such as Conjure, whose gossamer play might be imagined as fireflies in the twilight, and the sustained bowing and slow decays of Charm, suggesting nocturnal stillness. The more agile ‘spirits’ are just as entrancing, just a subtle hand clap amongst the toms and cymbals of Presence adding lovely detail; and Banshee’s fidgety, stop-start pats and tinkles feel quietly mischievous.

Discovering where Pyne’s explorations next turn is part of a magic which never wanes. Eidolon’s offbeat hi-hat pulse is addictive amongst its round-the-kit animation, and there‘s a resonance of gamelan in Ikiryo, prominently voiced by a delightful, tuned, wooden tongue drum acoustically sounded with hollow tubes. Vibraphone solo Hexing is mesmerically fleet and almost uncatchable, as is wispy Hocus Pocus, while impetuous tambourine interlude Spook might easily be an authentic medieval estampie. There’s a strong semblance of swing in the energetically brushed flams of Sprite, where pauses and interrupted rhythms create almost humorous anticipation (pity the dancer, there!). Even the bluesy chime of final vibes solo Enchantment might find a placid connection with the ‘MJ’ (Milt Jackson) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

While dominantly percussive, this is eloquent music (which, Pyne says, couldn’t exist without jazz or other genres) – music for dance studio, theatre or quiet contemplation. Find the space to be transported by its array of improvised timbres, rhythms and moods, even imagining the usual interaction with colourful, gyrating shapes (see video links below). Created out of adversity and artistic longing, this is a wondrous, evocative diversion.

Released on 26 August 2020 and available in CD and digital formats from Discus Music and Bandcamp.

Videos: Eidolon, Banshee and Enchantment

Martin Pyne percussion, vibraphone, toy piano

discus-music.co.uk

Discus Music – Discus 98CD (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Rickety Racket’ – Martin Pyne Quartet

ANOTHER RECORDING which ‘winks’ at me to be heard over and over (‘more than happy to oblige) is Rickety Racket from the Martin Pyne Quartet (MPQ) – and it’s certainly proved to be neither rickety, nor a racket!

Prominent as a vibraphonist in performance and recordings, as well as to be found behind various percussion set-ups, Pyne frequently leans more towards free improvisation projects such as MPH; and as a songwriter, he is also pivotal to vocalist Laura Zakian’s EP, Minor Moments. But in the combined role of composer, bandleader and drummer, this new album of original material is his most straight-ahead instrumental jazz release to date.

It could partly be due to the pianoless nature of MPQ’s line-up – with saxophonist Philippe Guyard, electric guitarist Russell Jarrett and double bassist Marianne Windham – that there’s a distinct sense of light and space in these seven well-crafted numbers. In fact, it’s a glorious synergy of wafting, melodic tunes (with the blithe immediacy of 1960s recordings) and impish free-spiritedness that, especially in more animated episodes, even sans keyboard instrument, can summon the sound world of Thelonious Monk. The impudent title track does just that – a snappy, angular fairground ride of discordant guitar-and-sax riffs to reverberant bass and precise drumming. Percussive detailing is also a feature of delightfully buoyant Pony Express, Jarrett’s lithe guitar improv pushing the momentum forward – and that considered balance of rhythm and freeness is further demonstrated as Guyard’s soprano teasingly gyrates across its midway oasis.

Martin Pyne’s more contemplative or romantic pieces are sublime. The affectionate longing in Miss You Already (song for Cheryl), dedicated to a sadly departed musical colleague, is beautifully portrayed through the most elegant tenor melody. Here, Guyard’s mellow tone, with a slight edge, is so attractive, as is the all-round integration of MPQ’s instrumentation and arrangement. Wistful descending-bass bossa nova Desert Rose feels ready-made for TV, and again, the individual sparkle and dynamic of each musician elevates it. Pyne’s music can be inspired by literature, with A Stillness of Appomattox referencing historian Bruce Catton’s account of the final year of the American Civil War; and it’s Jarrett‘s lucid, countrified guitar strains that pave the way for the tranquil, almost weary footfall of this gorgeously homey tune.

Sixes and Sevens, originally conceived with vocals for Laura Zakian, swings irresistibly to ticking, crackling snare and throbbing bass, Jarrett’s melodic runs reminiscent of Jim Hall. And closing Beneath the Smile may yet become another song for Zakian, Guyard’s tenor pointing the lyrical way before the quartet promenades into the warm afterglow – a charming conclusion.

When music beckons us back, it’s a sure sign we’re onto something good. There’s much in jazz and classical repertoire which has that enduring effect – and the feel-good, mischief and effortless musicianship of Rickety Racket is, quite simply, blissful.

Released digitally on 3 April 2020 and available from Bandcamp.

 

Philippe Guyard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Russell Jarrett guitar
Marianne Windham bass
Martin Pyne drums, composition

Tall Guy Records / Martin Pyne at Bandcamp

Tall Guy Records (2020) 

 

RECENT LISTENING: April 2020 (2)

Steal the Light – Let Spin
Moss Freed, Ruth Goller, Finlay Panter, Chris Williams
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Efpi Records)
letspin.bandcamp.com

Life is the Dancer – Rob Luft
Rob Luft, Joe Wright, Joe Webb, Tom McCredie, Corrie Dick with Byron Wallen, Luna Cohen
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Edition Records)
robluft.bandcamp.com

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne Quartet
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
martinpyne.bandcamp.com

Two Chevrons Apart – Yuri Goloubev
Tim Garland, John Turville, Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Basho Records)
bashorecords.com

Neutral Tones – Beresford Harries
Charlie Beresford, Tim Harries
Release date: 15 April 2020 (The 52nd)
the52nd.bandcamp.com

Trio (3CD) – Felix Jay
Felix Jay, Rob Luft, Byron Wallen, Nicola Alesini, Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole, Jan Steele
Recorded 1999–2019 (Hermetic Recordings)
burningshed.com (TBC) and ebay.co.uk

RECENT LISTENING: April 2020 (1)

Stillefelt – Stillefelt
Chris Mapp, Percy Pursglove, Thomas Seminar Ford
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Stoney Lane Records)
emporium.stoneylane.net

Debussy • Rameau – Víkingur Ólafsson
Víkingur Ólafsson – solo piano
Release date: 27 March 2020 (Deutsche Grammophon)
deutschegrammophon.com

Haunted Carbonek – Martin Pyne
Sarah Walker – solo piano
Release date: 24 March 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
martinpyne.bandcamp.com

What? – What?
Charlie Beresford, Gerry Gold, Sonia Hammond, Rod Paton
Release date: 31 March 2020 (The 52nd)
the52nd.bandcamp.com/album/what

Piano Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar – Stefano Bollani
Stefano Bollani – solo piano
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Alobar/Juno)
juno.co.uk / propermusic.com

Pinball – Pinball
Melissa Cox, Alex Stuart, Ben Body, Simon Clavel
Release date: 27 March 2020
pinballmusic.bandcamp.com

RECENT LISTENING: September 2019 (3)

Fat-Suit – Waifs & Strays
Mark Scobbie, Stephen Henderson, Grant Cassidy, Martyn Hodge, Gus Stirrat, Dorian Cloudsley, Fraser Jackson, Craig McMahon, Alan Benzie, Moss Taylor, Ciaran McEneny, Murray McFarlane, Alex Sharples, Mateusz Sobieski, Liam Shortall, Mhairi Marwick, Laura Wilkie, Katie Rush, Rhona Macfarlane, Lissa Robertson, Colin McKee, Sarah Leonard, Nicola Boag, Rachel Wilson, David Munn, Johnny Woodham, Corinna Hewat, David Dunsmuir
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Equinox Records / Birnam CD)
fatsuit.bigcartel.com/product/fat-suit-waifsandstrayspreorder

Anthropology Band – Anthropology Band
Martin Archer, Charlotte Keeffe, Chris Sharkey, Pat Thomas, Corey Mwamba, Dave Sturt, Peter Fairclough, Kim Macari, George Murray, Ben Higham, Mick Somerset, Nathan Bettany, James Mainwaring, Hannah Brady, Riley Stone-Lonergan, Alicia Gardener-Trejo
Release date: 27 September 2019 (Discus Music)
discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/anthropology-band-90cd

MPH – Taxonomies
Alex Maguire, Martin Pyne, Mark Hewins
Release date: 27 September 2019 (Discus Music)
discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/taxonomies-87cd

ISQ – Requiem for the Faithful
Irene Serra, Richard Sadler, Chris Nickolls, Naadia Sheriff
Release date: 27 September 2019
isqmusic.bandcamp.com/album/requiem-for-the-faithful-2

Matthew Halsall – Oneness
Matthew Halsall, Nat Birchall, Stan Ambrose, Adam Fairhall, Gavin Barras, Gaz Hughes, Rachel Gladwin, Mohamed Assani, Chris Davies
Release date: 27 September 2019 (Gondwana Records)
matthewhalsall.bandcamp.com/album/oneness

Overground Collective – Super Mario
Chris Williams, Julie Kjær, Rachel Musson, Mike Lesirge, Tom Ward, Cath Roberts, Paul Taylor, Raph Clarkson, Olivir Haylett, Ben Kelly, Noel Langley, Yazmeen Ahmed, Andre Canniere, Chris Batchelor, Paulo Dias Duarte, Jason Simpson, Dave O’Brien, Jon Scott
Release date: 27 September 2019 (Babel Label)
babellabel.co.uk

REVIEW: ‘Minor Moments’ (EP) – Laura Zakian

LONDON-BASED JAZZ VOCALIST and educator Laura Zakian has released four solo albums to date, the most recent – 2014’s Songs for Modern Lovers – including in its line-up pianist Steve Lodder, double bassist Simon Thorpe, drummer Nic France and baritone saxophonist Paul Bartholomew. For new project and EP release Minor Moments she returns with that same quartet – but, notably, it marks her creative collaboration with vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Martin Pyne.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 13 May 2019, the EP is available at Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Laura Zakian voice, lyrics
Steve Lodder piano
Simon Thorpe bass
Nic France drums
Paul Bartholomew baritone saxophone
Martin Pyne percussion, composition

laurazakian.com
tallguyrecords.com

Tall Guy Records (2019)