‘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)

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‘Pembroke Road’ – Leo Appleyard

LeoApplyard

WHAT BETTER ENDORSEMENT of a debut album than the encouraging words of jazz guitar legend John Etheridge: “Imaginative and beautifully crafted compositions and performance with a strong emphasis on great sound quality.”

Currently in his mid-twenties, London-born electric guitarist, composer and sound engineer Leo Appleyard has already enjoyed an active and varied start to his career, frequently appearing at major UK and international venues and festivals. Now, recording with long-time colleagues and mentors Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (bass) and Eric Ford (drums) – trio Partikel in another guise – and guest Neil Yates (trumpet, flugelhorn), Appleyard has created a bustling sequence of originals for quartet/quintet which genuinely capture the imagination. He has written specifically with these musicians in mind (judiciously employing echoes/effects) in the knowledge that the band’s collective understanding and affinity might produce improvisatory fireworks – and it’s not long (track 3, to be precise) before the full excitement and character of this set is emphatically ignited.

The leader’s command of both chordal and solo dexterity (think Jez Franks, Kristian Borring) is introduced in curtain-raiser The Homeless Wizard, sharing unison lines with tenorist Eagles as well as duelling in improvisation. Appleyard isn’t afraid to switch tempi and mood (one of the joys of his writing), and Eric Ford’s solid, bright percussion bolsters the snappier sections. Trumpeter Neil Yates augments the line-up in Mass, its swooning, echoic horns gliding high above expectant, cinematic bass-and-drums impetus; and The Cleaver excellently showcases the accomplished soloing creativity of both Appleyard and Yates, the swinging verve of this extended piece becoming increasingly infectious, including an effective udu touch from Ford.

Anywhere South sparkles confidently – a real winner of a quartet number which, again, indicates Appleyard’s compositional maturity, tempering its high energy with brief reflections (walk into a jazz bar with this at full tilt, and you’d be hooked); guitar soloing here is exceptional, both in terms of pace and inventiveness. The contrasting, subtle blues tranquillity of Mantra is tangible, Eagles’ gorgeously mellow tenor weaving lazily in and out of exquisitely-coloured guitar chords; and title number Pembroke Road (a reference to the tucked-away Welsh studio which gave birth to this recording) is an assured full quintet episode, gleaming with individual extemporisation and radiating an openness which perhaps reflects the influence of that rural Pembrokeshire landscape.

The pliant strings of bassist Max Luthert announce Walsio, a breezy, carefree gambol with the occasional, intriguing hint of reservation. Appleyard’s desire for an initial theme of childlike simplicity is evident, though the quartet soon enhances this with pleasing rhythmic and harmonic divergence. Familiar Victor Schertzinger standard I Remember You closes the set – couched in soft watercolour impressionism, its miniature status certainly creates the desire for more.

Partisans guitar supremo (and former tutor) Phil Robson concisely sums up Appleyard’s aptitude and future potential: “Leo is a fab guitarist and composer, definitely a real natural! This debut CD should firmly establish him as a new voice on the scene.” On the strength of these performances, it’s easy to concur.

Pembroke Road is issued on the F-IRE label and available from Proper Music.

 

Leo Appleyard guitar
Duncan Eagles tenor sax
Max Luthert bass
Eric Ford drums/percussion
with
Neil Yates trumpet/flugelhorn

leoappleyard.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 75 (2014)

‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

SRC

IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.

There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Høiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.

The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track Protagonist which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Høiby’s pliant opening bass riff, Dream a Life inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and Rain That Falls conjures ‘007’ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. Bridge is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.

Fragile Ground is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat Two Roads; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into Rolling Clouds, an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.

Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).

Available from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, as well as iTunes and usual outlets (listen at SoundCloud).


Dionne Bennett
 lyricist, vocals
Dave Stapleton composer, Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ
Deri Roberts producer, sound design, electronics, trombone, additional saxophone
Elliot Bennett drums
with
Jasper Høiby double bass
Chris Montague guitar
Mark Lockheart tenor and soprano saxophones
Neil Yates trumpet
Matt Robertson synths

Strings:
Jon Visanji violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Katy Rowe violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Rebekah Frost viola
Alice Hoskins cello
Sarah Stevens cello

Edition Records – EDN1048 (2014)

editionrecords.com