‘Lifecycles’ – Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group

Lifecycles2

LAST SUMMER, saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows released his quintet album, Engines of Creation – a remarkably accomplished debut from a musician whose ambition and drive are clearly on course to earn him a place in the upper echelons of the London jazz scene. Confirmation of his achievements to date (including continued involvement with NYJO), as well as recognising his potential for future success, have come via two accolades: Parliamentary Jazz Newcomer of the Year and the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.

Phil Meadows’ larger scale project, Engines Orchestra, is an ambitious group of twenty young London-based orchestral musicians who, directed by Matt Roberts, collectively seek to challenge conventions through stimulating, cross-genre, written and improvised music. For this debut recording, Meadows has created his colourful and unpredictable Lifecycles suite which melds the diverse textures and dynamics of both orchestral and quintet sound worlds, pressing into action again his Group colleagues – all rising stars in their own right – Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (piano), Conor Chaplin (basses) and Simon Roth (drums), plus adroit vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki.

The fusion of jazz soloists/bands with orchestra is, of course, nothing new – one only has to look at the seminal late-’50s/early-’60s projects of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, right up to Trish Clowes’ exciting new release Pocket Compass. Such a concept has never been without its critics as, in unaccomplished hands, it can become a laboured, incongruous, cold exercise – but, thankfully, recent collaborations have proved to be both sophisticated and organic, highlighting that there is still much to be discovered and achieved by breaking down perceived barriers. “Lifecycles“, the composer describes, “explores a series of situations that we all experience. The people we meet, love and lose shape our emotional responses” – and the result becomes increasingly captivating.

Missing Days, which opens the ten-track sequence, bustles to the brilliance of the orchestral scoring (a motivating woodwind ostinato here, a brassy stab cluster there, and tight, chattering strings and percussion). Combined with the characteristic fervour of Alice Zawadzki’s vocal delivery – “Sunrise breaks in the morning, people sleep through it all, missing out on the beauty of the time daybreak falls” – and the inspired placing of Tori Handsley’s harp, the piece takes on something of a ‘swinging Sixties London’ busyness; Meadows in no way takes centre stage, preferring to judiciously infuse the arrangement with lyrical alto until it all degenerates into cacophonous disorder. Lifecycles displays a broad, cinematic approach with a memorable brass-bold theme which evokes the pomp of Buddy Rich’s spectaculars, and improvisational meanderings add to the sense of the unexpected, as does the quirky, inventive openness of miniature The Spark. The written and the improvised are strikingly cross-pollenated in Intoxicated Delirium, an exciting showcase of near-perfect orchestral and band fusion, the brash energy reflecting its title – get it on repeat play!

Hallucinogenic Euphoria hints at the prog world of Pink Floyd, the Indian inflections of Elliot Galvin’s piano strings, as well as orchestral strings, mingling superbly with Meadows’ echoic soprano; and the abstract beauty of Prelude easily suggests Bartok and John Tavener. Balmlike harp over desolate, searing, portamento strings in Remembrance seem to speak (in this First World War centenary year) of tentative, rising hope, the development becoming impressively filmic with the addition of Zawadzki’s hard, soulful vocals.

Celebration effervesces in its scored/extemporised balance, Galvin’s unabashed piano bravura all part of the joy; and Laura Jurd’s bluesy trumpet prompts a four-square rockiness from the entire assembly which is irresistible and full of character. Jarring interlude Strife of Life explodes and then relaxes to Jurd’s lead before Twice The Man closes the suite – at almost nine minutes, it’s an impassioned, anthemic piece of writing which erupts into a huge Latinesque party, Meadows’ swirling soprano and Zawadzki’s pliant voice playing host to this unrestrained magnificence!

Keep a keen eye on Engines Orchestra’s progress – a great initiative which is set to include workshops, ensemble performance platforms and artist development programmes, all with the aim of engaging communities of young musicians. And congratulations to Phil Meadows for his vision – a refreshingly different musical approach. Finally, a nod to Oli Bentley (split.co.uk) for the orchestra’s beautifully minimal ‘pulley’ branding, as well as the album’s neatly considered sleeve design.

Launching at Kings Place, London, on 22 November 2014 (as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival), and with a general release date of 24 November, Lifecycles is available from the Engines Orchestra’s Bandcamp page.

 

PHIL MEADOWS GROUP
Phil Meadows composer, saxophones
Laura Jurd trumpet
Elliot Galvin piano
Conor Chaplin double bass, electric bass
Simon Roth drums, percussion

 

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ENGINES ORCHESTRA
Matt Roberts conductor
James Davison trumpet
Eddie Morgan French horn
James Buckle bass trombone
Jennah Smart flutes
Rob Cope clarinet, flute
Gennie Joy bass clarinet, clarinet
Tori Handsley harp
Emily Davis 1st violin (principal)
Tom Aldren 1st violin
Alice Zawadzki 1st violin, vocals
Katherine Waller 1st violin
Minn Majoe 2nd violin (principal)
Kirsty Lovie 2nd violin
Claire Sledd 2nd violin
Connie Chatwin 2nd violin
Matt Maguire viola (principal)
Joe Fisher viola
George White viola
Zosia Jagodzinska cello (principal)
Gregor Riddell cello

 

enginesorchestra.com

Engines Imprint – E1001CD (2014)

‘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)