‘Southern Drawl’ – Monocled Man

MonocledMan

THE NAMES Rory Simmons, Chris Montague and Jon Scott, together as a trio, are all it takes to set the jazz pulse racing. Already prominent in multifarious line-ups and projects, each bring their razor-sharp creativity to this zesty trumpet, electric guitar and drums collaboration.

Monocled Man’s instrumentation may initially appear curious, with no evidence of traditional bass input – but the saturation achieved, due in part to Chris Montague’s signature guitar loop wizardry and Rory Simmons’ intelligent audio editing, offers an absorbing 9-track, 45-minute playlist (all composed by Simmons) which is as full-bodied as it is exciting. Fast becoming a major player on the British scene, Jon Scott delivers both hard-hitting and sensitive drums/percussion which maintain and add lustre to what might be recognised as a grungy New York jazz or jazz/rock soundworld, though a certain Britishness is tangible; and Simmons’ blistering, clear trumpet shines like a beacon – yet, impressively, he never overdominates the collective trio’s offering.

Opening number Southern Drawl fanfares the album’s intent, Montague delivering the crunchiest, Frippertronic-style effects and Simmons blasting a high solo line against Scott’s solid drum framework; the three musicians cohere perfectly, briefly taking a more introverted path before changing up again to full intensity. There’s a touch of John Schofield to Big Wheeze as the trio share intricate, shifting melodics, Montague summoning his Troyka experience to provide the grooving bass end, and Simmons hitting rasping heights usually occupied by such greats as Jon Faddis – classy stuff indeed. The more reserved Scribbles further highlights the band’s connectivity, its motion, repetition and electronics suggesting early hours downtown cityscapes; and Pud Pud finds Simmons’ echoic trumpet dancing effusively to Scott’s relentless metallic rhythms, Montague presenting the most dazzling array of rapid bleeps, scratches and clashing, bent solo lines.

The anticipatory, slightly uneasy momentum of Royalty is heightened by pedalled cluster guitar chords with hallucenogenic cymbals and keyboards; and, in Van Vliet, Simmons’ mournful solo tune pervades the in-cahoots chimes of guitar, electronics and fluttering percussion. Over its seven minutes, Blip finds the trio perhaps at their most cohesive, synths behind the trumpet lead suggesting a brassy ensemble backing and Montague excelling with customary crackling improvisation. Following a brief, reverbed Royalty Reprise, Bullet Nose ends this compelling set with Simmons’ trumpet bristling above the percussive guitar/drum partnership, its irregular rhythms increasingly monopolised to great effect by the drive and dexterity of Jon Scott.

The verve and raw energy of Monocled Man is addictive, especially from a trio (Troyka and Partikel fans are sure to find the rough-hewn vitality here very attractive), and the prospect of live extemporisation is definitely something to look out for (their ‘Jazz in the Round’ performance at The Cockpit Theatre, London, on 20 June 2014, is to be recorded for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz On 3’). Further information, audio samples and purchasing here.


Rory Simmons
trumpet, keyboards, audio editing  rorysimmons.com
Chris Montague guitar  chrismontague.com
Jon Scott drums  jons.co.tt

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4649 (2014)

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‘Spy Boy’ – Brass Mask

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AN EARTHY, ALL-ACOUSTIC ENSEMBLE can be both refreshing and deeply affecting… and, indeed, Tom Challenger’s Brass Mask octet reaches right out and grabs you by the ears, heart and soul. With debut album, ‘Spy Boy’, this creative powerhouse delivers a distinctively venturous 13-track programme of exuberant (and, at times, emotional) strength.

Formed only last year, the standout grouping of horns and percussion offers intense, brash, rhythmic grooves as well as infectious, improvisational joy and freedom, drawing on a variety of influences such as the carnival atmospheres of Mardi Gras/New Orleans street bands, as well as Deep South spirituals/hymns and South African township music. Sax, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, drum and percussion pyrotechny is provided by current London jazz luminaries George Crowley, Dan Nicholls, Rory Simmons, Alex Bonney, John Blease, and Nathaniel and Theon Cross.

Challenger, primarily as a tenorist, is already a big name on the contemporary jazz scene (Dice Factory, Outhouse, Fofoulah), and here he magically weaves together a tapestry of imaginative self-penned compositions and brilliantly leftfield arrangements of traditional tunes, resulting in a blaze of colour (Dan Nicholls’ sleeve art interpreting this well!). As well as the thrilling invention of the writing, Challenger clearly relies on the skill, intuition and pluckiness of his colleagues – and how it pays off. Take, for example, Francis P, a short, rebellious number which encapsulates the raw abandon of this eight-piece; sax and trumpet sections blasting a strong unison line over irreverent tuba and deliberate clattering drums, tenor breaking off to improvise grittily.

Thank You Jesus immediately appeals with its slow, hard, bluesy edge. The lazy, swaggering, discordant Indian Red possesses a similarly charismatic gospel feel, seemingly taking to the street and then ending in glorious up-tempo celebration – irresistible! And the first of these three traditional tunes, Shallow Water, displays the band’s trademark bold unison melodies and effective overlapping of parts.

Rain, Rain, Rain dances lightly before increasingly building its strength and complexity, the impudent, crunchy tenor and trombone solos here a dream. The deep tuba, trombone, bass clarinet and percussion rhythm of Wizards provides a superbly mysterious ground for saxes, trumpets and clarinets to blend as well as fly improvisationally – and with razor-sharp brass stabs and high trumpet lines above escalating heavy drums, this proves to be nine and a half minutes of creative excellence. The foreboding of closely-meshed reeds in Israfil is made all the more intense by an incessant cymbal rhythm which then menacingly stops short of the conclusion, creating a tangible tension; and from a similarly troubled opening, Don’t Stand Up becomes impressively driven by rapid bongo-led percussion, pacey instrumental soloing and the occasional, characteristic tuba (“whOOh!”) outburst!

Brass Mask play tightly, as one, yet also enjoy what appears to be considerable free reign – the entire album maintaining a spirit which, once you are ‘in’, is so incredibly satisfying. This is certainly ‘jazz out of the comfort zone’ and, for that reason, hugely exhilarating. But hearing is believing – check out the excitement at Bandcamp.

Released on Babel Label, 14 October 2013.


Tom Challenger
sax, clarinet, percussion
George Crowley sax, clarinet
Dan Nicholls sax, bass clarinet
Rory Simmons trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Nathaniel Cross trombone
Theon Cross tuba
John Blease drums, percussion
(additional percussion: Jez Miles, Hugh Wilkinson)

tomchallenger.co.uk
babellabel.co.uk
loopcollective.org

Babel Label – BDV13121 (2013)