‘Self-Identity’ – Ollie Howell

Self-Identity

THE SLEEVE of a seminal early-1970s 12″ vinyl jested that its contents could not ‘be played on old tin boxes, no matter what they are fitted with’ – maybe a prophetic warning to a quick-grab, smartphone-to-the-ear generation to come. But such wisdom was recalled when soaking up this second release, as leader, from British drummer and composer Ollie Howell.   

Self-Identity follows 2013 debut album Sutures and Stitches, and the intervening years have seen Howell’s career flourish, with the great Quincy Jones’ “360-degree beautiful young cat” compliment leading to him selecting the drummer for the opening residency, this year, at his Q’s jazz club in the luxurious Palazzo Versace Dubai.

Expanded to a sextet, with the addition of guitarist Ant Law, this line-up is completed by tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Henry Spencer, pianist Matt Robinson, double bassist Max Luthert; and ‘old tin boxes’ are definitely out, because what is striking – both about Howell’s arrangements and this Real World Studios recording – is the rhythmic sonority which he, Robinson and Luthert achieve. So, spanning some seventy minutes, the consistent appeal of these twelve original numbers is not so much the tuneful hook, but rather the slickness of the groove and the ensemble’s overarching synergy which provides fertile ground for confident, melodic soloing – and an especially tight link-up between tenor and trumpet.

Syncopated, leaping figures in Shadows typify the approach as unison piano bass and double bass riffs are driven by Howell’s exacting, versicoloured lead; and the album’s pervading optimism is continued with the bright sax-and-trumpet lines of Resurge. Echoic electronics play their part, too, transitorily segueing the usual broadness of the writing, as well as enhancing the ‘timeslip’ intro to ruminative, brushed Almost TomorrowRise and Fall‘s central vibrancy rocks to Eagles’ deep tenor improv and Law’s fretboard agility, whilst the rhythmic prominence of pianist Matt Robinson in Moving On and Knew is impressive.

Howell’s compositions are roomy, so not only do their ‘passing clouds’ of ideas have the effect of shedding fluctuating light on their progression, they also encourage freedom of individual expression. Balancing Stones‘ dynamic range illustrates this well (including delicate timbres from the leader’s kit), as does The Unknown with its dual-horn assertiveness; and Coming Home‘s subtle, opening blend of folk/hymn tune and Balkan-imbued percussion provides the springboard for breezy, closing showcases from Howell’s players.

Eschew the tinny headphones or portable speakers… and find a way to bask in the rewarding ‘hi fidelity’ of Self-Identity.

Released on 14 April 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, and at iTunes.

 

Ollie Howell drums, electronics, compositions
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Henry Spencer trumpet
Ant Law electric guitar
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, electronics
Max Luthert double bass

ollie howell.com

Ropeadope (2017)

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‘Engines of Creation’ – Phil Meadows Group

Engines

TALK ABOUT setting the bar high with a debut release! A lot of fun was had during the recording of Phil Meadows Group’s ‘Engines of Creation’. I wasn’t there… I wasn’t involved… but I just know from the impassioned and entertaining performances here!

Saxophonist/composer Phil Meadows already has quite a pedigree (NYJO lead alto, performances at the BBC Proms and Ronnie Scott’s, collaborations with Tim Garland, Jason Yarde, and so on), and now focuses on realising his own material with a first-class team of musicians – Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (piano and Fender Rhodes), Conor Chaplin (upright and electric bass) and Simon Roth (drums).

What sets this fine programme of seven new compositions apart, for me, can be defined as originality, multiformity and ambition. There is a oneness amongst these musicians, a great understanding between them which manifests itself both in the differing, tightly-scored sections of their output and in the dauntless improvisation this quintet is prepared to risk… and win!

Opener ‘Fin’ immediately grabs the attention with an audacious alto fanfare from Meadows, leading straight to a catchy groove in which he and Laura Jurd instantly demonstrate their impressive close-mindedness. Elliot Galvin begins to show his uninhibited approach to piano, soloing imaginatively and sparkily – a joy to hear. ‘Moving On’ is a slick number, with both horn players in parallel as well as exhibiting their obvious solo talents. Changing tack with a more electronic approach, ‘Runner’ (a swipe at the frustrations of the South Circular’s regular gridlock) sees Chaplin, Roth and Galvin establish a funky groove resembling some Stanley Clarke / Billy Cobham / Mike Ratledge dream team! And, over this retro electric bass and Rhodes fusion (with Roth putting in some great hard-hitting percussion), Meadows and Jurd produce a sparkling display of soloing and interplay. I could listen for hours to discover where they take this!

Title track ‘Engines of Creation’, paying homage to those who inspired this recording, initially deceives with its straightforward opening, only to disintegrate into wonderful piano and drums freefall (complete with breaking glass?)! But somehow, amongst this abandon, I still perceive a connectivity which eventually slides back into a stronger quintet finish. ‘Flamingos’ showcases Elliot Galvin’s pianistic brilliance with explorations inside the piano as well as some delightful, adventurous keys work; and Meadows and Jurd combine to build the piece into certain triumphal grandeur.

Taking its motivation from Phil Meadows’ experience of a less-than-willing pub landlord, ‘Dragon of George’ again picks up the more jazz/rock approach with an exciting and complex rhythmical drive, led pulsatingly by Chaplin on electric bass. Galvin again gives his all, encouraging soprano sax and trumpet to join in the ‘angst’! It’s infectious stuff which, I suspect, might well be a live showstopper. ‘Captain Kirk’, with dainty piano and bass opening, develops into a satisfying ‘curtain call’ for the whole band, Meadows and Jurd again soloing fluently above a confident piano, bass and drums backdrop.

The Phil Meadows Group (supported by Jazz Services) has recently toured this new release, with more gigs anticipated soon, including 29 September at The Vortex. I hope Phil and this band enjoy a long future together, as here is a quintet which most definitely shows great enthusiasm and desire to ‘push the envelope’ with contemporary jazz.

Splendidly produced by new UK independent label and collective, Boom Better Records.


Phil Meadows
 saxophones
Laura Jurd  trumpet
Elliot Galvin  piano and Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin  upright and electric bass
Simon Roth  drums

http://www.philmeadowsmusic.co.uk
http://boombetter.com/

Boom Better Records – BOOM 006 CD (2013)