‘Red Circle’ – Simon Purcell

RedCircle

THE PURITY and completeness of the (red) circle speak profoundly about this long-awaited new quintet release from London-based pianist and composer Simon Purcell.

As Head of Jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, Purcell is primarily renowned as an educator, garnering praise and respect from many of today’s jazz artists who have benefited from his experience and guidance; so, no surprise that he was once the recipient of a Parliamentary Award for Jazz Educator of the Year. Purcell became prominent in the ’80s, including collaborations with Julian Arguelles, Eddie Henderson and Kenny Wheeler – but, by his own admission, performing and recording activities have since taken second place to his teaching career… until encouraged to cut this album.

The cover art, by artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson, is explained in detail on her own blog – and the crux of an analogy she makes of an encounter with an artist in residence provides a revelatory insight into this recording: “…the potter stood before us, a small piece of pottery cupped in her hands. Gazing into the ‘o’ of her bowl, she began to tell us what she had come to offer. Watching her, listening to her, I had the sense that we were encountering a woman whose life and creative work had worn away the impulse to impress, to prove, to convince. In her years of working with clay, the clay had also worked on her. Shed of pretense, the potter held out to us what she had to give. It was more than sufficient.”

That realisation of ‘more than sufficient’ seems key to the intention behind Simon Purcell’s desire to now, at last, document his powerfully direct approach to music-making with long-standing friends and colleagues who share a similarly high profile on the UK jazz scene – Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Julian Siegel (saxes), Steve Watts (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums). As Purcell explains, he doesn’t feel any expectation to connect to a particular tradition or genre of jazz, nor for the concept to be complex – the single most importance for this band’s creativity is about where their imagination takes them and the simple enjoyment of the moment.

Recorded ‘live’ in one room, this is jazz which is both tightly structured (from Purcell’s original compositions) yet endlessly free in improvisation, displaying some affinity with the classic Blue Note sessions of the ’60s. Imagine the immediacy of Wayne Shorter’s Angola or Freddie Hubbard’s Hub’s Nub, whilst embracing the influences of the intervening years (including early jazz fusion) and employing today’s clear production techniques, and this quartet’s combined inventiveness provides heady listening which demands focused attention.

From the restless momentum of Spirit Level (a reference, perhaps, to the early ’80s vibe of Tim Richards?) to the breadth of Red Circle – Enchantress, the double-horn-led character of this quintet is enthralling. Purcell is, all at once, lyrical and searching in his own extemporisations, as well as colouring the soloing of Julian Siegel and Chris Batchelor. The scat-like riffs of Minos pave the way for Watts’ brisk, walking-bass swing; at over eleven minutes in length, Answers for Job is an immersive experience – a space for improvisation to widen; and Pandora reels to the brashness of Gene Calderazzo’s intelligent percussion– a real swinger with a big band feel. Dark Night slow-grooves to Purcell’s marked piano fifths, encouraging Siegel (on soprano) and Batchelor to push to the limits, whilst Ithaca delicately waltzes to the crystalline piano of the leader; and show-stopper Maestros and Musos flies to Batchelor’s perky trumpet, plus monster soloing from Siegel.

To close, Liane Carroll guests as vocalist on an interpretation of the earlier Ithaca. There’s something magical about a lyricist performing their own words (“May the Summer mornings be bright and plenty”), and Carroll injects her unparalleled emotional intensity and rich tone into this piano-accompanied ballad, sparingly embellished by Siegel’s soprano. A tender and optimistic conclusion.

Released on 10 November 2014 (with a launch at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November), further information, promo video and purchasing can be found on the dedicated Red Circle page at Whirlwind.

 

Simon Purcell piano, compositions
Chris Batchelor
trumpet
Julian Siegel tenor and soprano saxophones
Steve Watts bass
Gene Calderazzo drums
with
Liane Carroll vocals (bonus track)

simonpurcell.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WWR4651 (2014)

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‘Music for a While’ – L’Arpeggiata

LArpeggiata

JUST AS A LOVER of a much-treasured novel approaches a big screen adaptation with a combination of nervousness and excitement, so it was for me with this fascinating new release of Henry Purcell interpretations and improvisations. For many years, it has intrigued me how the works of a celebrated English composer active some three hundred years ago can, today, maintain their resonance and their power to move – and this is exactly the approach taken here in this new release, Music for a While, by Christina Pluhar’s L’Arpeggiata.

As a keen ‘Purcellian’, then – owning many fine recordings by such consummate performers as The King’s Consort with James Bowman, Susan Gritton et al (Hyperion), and William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants (Erato) – I was keen to discover these cross-genre re-imaginings of familiar classical pieces… and what a revelation!

Amongst Mr Purcell’s many compositional techniques was the ‘ground bass’ – a repeating bass structure over which he magically wove the most beautiful and varied melodies (often requiring detailed examination to believe that the same, recurring bass line is employed throughout). For instance (although not from this collection), the countertenor solo of Be welcome then, great Sir (from Purcell’s welcome song for Charles II, Fly, bold rebellion) is later elaborated, at length, over the same three-bar ground bass with the most ravishing orchestral ritornello. It would therefore, I suggest, be perfectly possible that this composer of great choral and theatrical masterpieces (as well as secular and even bawdy drinking songs) might be enthusiastically open to such improvisation and invention. So, with theorbo, archlute and cornet à bouquet, amongst many others, and a fine ensemble of players and choral soloists (whose styles range from period to contemporary), L’Arpeggiata set out to interpret Purcell with inflections of jazz, world and even pop, but with remarkable integrity.

A perfect example of the success of this project is Strike the viol (from the Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, Come ye sons of art away). The already melodious and dance-like brilliance of Purcell’s original, illustrating the soprano’s words ‘Strike the viol, touch the lute, wake the harp, inspire the flute’, are given the most glorious rhythmic guitar and percussion treatment, along with the excitement of trumpet, electric guitar, wailing clarinet and ’60s ‘light my fire’ organ! The transcendent Evening hymn is inventively transformed into a soft ballad with limpid piano over homely guitar and shimmering percussion – and whilst the crescendoing instrumental doesn’t quite hold the simple sacred reverence that Purcell intended, the bluesy piano and guitar here pleasingly demonstrate the improvisatory possibilities of these 17th/18th Century gems. ‘Twas within a furlong takes on a folksy, bluegrass feel, the animated words illuminated by shuffling percussion and mellow-but-lithe electric guitar; and the rhythmic vocal of Wondrous machine (from Hail! bright Cecilia) sounds positively contemporary alongside pulsating tom-toms and jazz-infused bass, guitar, trumpet and clarinet.

The sublime and perhaps more well-known character of Purcell’s output is sensitively portrayed in delicate, yet modern readings of Music for a while (a beautifully constructed jazz clarinet-led version with walking bass) and When I am laid in earth, which maintains its irrefutable and poignant beauty via weightless percussion, piano and guitar supporting a beauteous soprano voice (I recall Sir Michael Tippett being so affected with Purcell’s musical longing of “ReMEMber me”). And so the album continues, with attractive and often surprising reworkings of these great compositions.

Bonus track, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, seems a little incongruous (unless it’s because I have never connected with this much-covered song, or don’t understand its relevance here). Perhaps I anticipated a ‘reversal’, with a very tight Purcellian treatment of this familiar late 20th Century hit – however, it is executed with the same attention to detail as the other sixteen tracks, and it could never detract from the overall ingenuity of this release.

It is difficult to second-guess the audience for Christina Pluhar’s visionary project – but, as a confirmed ‘Purcell purist’, I am suitably impressed, finding myself listening over and over to its intelligent, compelling beauty. ‘Music for a while’ is released on 10 March 2014, available from Erato (Warner Classics) and all good jazz and classical specialists. A UK performance at London’s Wigmore Hall is scheduled for 10 July. Catch the preview video excitement here.


Philippe Jaroussky
countertenor
Raquel Andueza soprano
Vincenzo Capezzuto alto
Dominique Visse countertenor

L’ARPEGGIATA
Christina Pluhar theorbo
Doron Sherwin cornet à bouquet
Veronika Skuplik baroque violin
Julien Martin, Marine Sablonnière recorder
Eero Palviainen archlute, baroque guitar
Marcello Vitale baroque guitar, chitarra battente
Sarah Ridy baroque harp
David Mayoral, Sergey Saprichev, Michèle Claude percussion
Boris Schmidt double bass
Haru Kitamika harpsichord, organ
Francesco Turrisi piano, harpsichord, organ, melodica

Special guests
Gianluigi Trovesi clarinet
Wolfgang Muthspiel acoustic guitar and electric guitar

Christina Pluhar director

Erato (Warner Classics) – 08256 463375 0 7 (2014)