‘Agartha’ – Oddarrang

Agartha

IT’S THREE YEARS since Finnish band Oddarrang came to the attention of UK audiences with their third studio album (and first with British label Edition Records), In Cinema, plus live gigs. Now, once again under the leadership of drummer and composer Olavi Louhivuori, new release Agartha permeates the senses with that same, statuesque wall of sound.

The line-up is less than conventional (a clue can be found in the quintet’s name which, rather than having its roots in folklore, was in fact devised from ‘odd arrangement’). Alongside Louhivuori is trombonist Ilmari Pohjola, guitarist Lasse Sakara, bassist Lasse Lindgren and cellist Osmo Ikonen; and there’s significant band input on synths and voices, with Ikonen also adding Chinese/Asian stringed instrument, the erhu. So whilst Oddarrang’s original music displays the power of progressive rock and the drama of widescreen soundtrack, it is also flooded with the broad, open spaces and inflections of Scandinavian folk.

In fact, it feels like Louhivuori’s world is informed by many influences, opening number Aletheia mysteriously awakening through synth ostinati and sustained, descending hazes redolent of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. This is not blistering-solo jazz, nor mundane ambience. Instead, a series of anthemic, post-rock panoramas are meticulously fashioned, often seeming to build their anticipatory energy towards a blazing aurora; and melodic Central Sun, in particular, reveals both the force and beauty of this fine instrumentation – steely, unison trombone and voices above driving guitar and percussion, steadfastly facing into the wind. In Admiral Byrd’s Flight, an ardent rock groove of determination and intrigue is woven around pulsating, phased electronics and impassioned cello (the stuff of adventure movie climax).

The remaining two tracks of five hint at those extended, storytelling, prog expeditions of yore. At around ten minutes’ duration, slow-burning Mass I-III moves through a series of connected movements, its orchestral poise maintained by trombone, cello and string synth sustenance; and the more folsky guitar addition opens the door to windswept electronics and a thunderously-drummed conclusion. And Telos/Agartha (the album is titled after the legendary city at the earth’s core) is another extended opus whose gaseous, overlapping textures invite the beautiful, cantabile vibrato of the erhu before eventually reaching a hymnal conclusion, with triumphant trombone and cello melodies elevated above the band’s now-familiar layers of synth and percussion.

Oddarrang’s ability to radiate awe and wonder through their specific instrumentation and careful detailing is sure to appeal to those who appreciate emotive, majestic soundscapes.

Released on 23 September 2016, Agartha is available as CD, vinyl or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Mass I-III

 

Olavi Louhivuori drums, synths, voice
Ilmari Pohjola trombone, synths, voice
Lasse Sakara guitars, voice
Lasse Lindgren bass, synths, voice
Osmo Ikonen cello, synths, erhu, voice
with
Aino Peltomaa voice on Aletheia

oddarrang.com

Edition Records – EDN1079 (2016)

‘Together, As One’ – Dinosaur

Dinosaur

THAT MOMENT… when, across the musical landscape, a creative direction comes into view which has the incisiveness to stir a memory, to create the tingling thrill of formative years’ discoveries. Such is the overriding experience of hearing debut album Together, As One from trumpeter/composer Laura Jurd’s quartet, Dinosaur.

Already establishing herself as a popular and hard-working musician on the UK jazz scene – recording/gigging with the likes of Mark Lockheart, Jasper Høiby and Lauren Kinsella, as well as being selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for 2015-17 – Jurd has regularly collaborated with pianist and keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick. So the opportunity to realise this long-dreamt project, in the studio, is clearly of great significance. Here are eight tracks whose 47 minutes suggest that the ambition held by this ensemble might just be the beginning of something far greater in scale, the invention and instrumentation conjuring something of that revelatory buzz of early-mid ’70s fusion or the artsiness of the Canterbury scene.

Although leading on trumpet, Jurd also melds synth with the now-familiar and pleasingly left-field keyboard approach of Elliot Galvin (here on Rhodes and Hammond alone) – so Living, Breathing, for example, is delivered with biting urgency as blisteringly-tongued melodies, high electric bass and crashing percussion are bathed in a haze of sustained keyboard riffs. Galvin’s Rhodes and Chaplin’s bass are magically intertwined in Awakening, a spacial opening number which chimes to the drum precision of Corrie Dick; and Robin‘s jazz-rock-folk blend might easily summon Jethro Tull or Camel, albeit with Jurd’s eloquent tones dancing around as if in some fire-crackling, trippy ritual (the tonal combinations here are a delight, as they similarly are in abstract, distorted, Rhodes/Hammond-led interlude Underdog).

Hinting at the novelty of, say, Django Bates, Steadily Sinking ominously descends into Extinct, a near-ten-minute tremulant Hammond groove built so infectiously by Chaplin and Dick (and somehow redolent of the confident, smouldering, improvised progression heard in late e.s.t.). Continuing the prehistoric theme, Primordial‘s ’60s-pop abandon finds Jurd even hinting at Herb Alpert, as Galvin is given free rein in this glorious, extended psychedelia; and though curious to conclude with an Interlude, its beautiful freedom further demonstrates these four players’ intentions of continually leaping boundaries and traversing uncharted terrains. That’s a prospect which, also for the future, is monstrously exciting – particularly for Jurd, who concludes: “This music now belongs to no-one… I absolutely love it when music does that.”

Released on 16 September 2016, Together, As One is available as CD, LP or high-quality digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, compositions
Elliot Galvin Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ
Conor Chaplin electric bass
Corrie Dick drums

laurajurd.com

Edition Records – EDN1078 (2016)

‘Snowpoet’ – Snowpoet

Snowpoet

IN A WORLD where, like some time-lapse street scene, we are frequently bombarded by high-energy grooves and cacophonous soundbites, Snowpoet have an adroit ability to create, through arresting vocal melodies/utterances and unexpected instrumental timbres, a gossamer labyrinth of intrigue and enchantment in which to lose ourselves.

The mesmerising vocals of Lauren Kinsella, fronting these nine tracks, are sensitively woven into the band’s ebbing and flowing sonic spaces – and the effect, particularly when heard in quiet isolation, has a remarkable impact on the senses. Kinsella – who sees her voice primarily as an instrument – places an emphasis on syllabic deconstruction, as well as rhythmic and tonal modulation (reminiscent of Annette Peacock), explaining that “sound comes through the word and has a musical meaning all of its own, regardless of its linguistic understanding.” That approach, central to this album’s creative folk/ambience, can be inexplicably and emotionally moving. Comprising a personnel (see below) who, individually, perform across a variety of genres (including contemporary jazz), these soundscapes are mixed by Chris Hyson and Alex Killpartrick; and the musical environments they produce require a certain abandonment from the listener.

Vivid, sun-glinted rivulets are depicted in Mermaid, a beautifully accessible introduction teeming with instrumental/electronic life and dreamy, layered vocals; and the whispered usherings of In a Quiet Space lead to Kinsella’s characteristic, undulating voice, the sense of anticipation painted by luscious clusters of sound suggesting a magical discovery under a forest canopy. Glad To Have Lost is redolent of one of Kinsella’s other projects, Blue Eyed Hawk, in the way its prog-style guitar and electronics underpin her typically measured lines before melting into piano-teared ambience; and the Irish lilt of Laura Kinsella’s poetic, melodic speech here is so compelling.

Creaking, tuned-out piano accompanies the vocal line in live-feel If I Miss a Star (an effect which recalls the quaintness of Peter Gabriel’s Me and My Teddy Bear), and countryfied Little Moon Man, with its acoustic guitar momentum, is utterly charming, delicately swathed in wordless backing vocals and ’70s-style synth riffs. The band’s acuity with audio imagery is continued in Gathering, as floating patterns, clicky extraneous sounds and broken, sustained electronics head downstream; and Kinsella’s playful dialogue in Waves is fused with 12-string guitar and plush vocal textures which later hit crashing breakers. Poetry of Stillness suggests an echoic, Peter Pan world of heavenly imagination with lengthened, storytelling vocalisations (“together, we walked up into a clou-u-ud of dreams”); and extended, rising Eviternity closes with a tingling sense of hope.

Especially in late-night solitude, this is a go-to album for immersive escapism – and that can be engendered in so many ways, be it disturbing, becalming or joyfully life-affirming. It takes deep, musical sincerity to achieve such powerful therapy; and for this reason, Snowpoet’s debut recording remains an outstanding body of work.

Released on Two Rivers Records, Snowpoet can be purchased in CD and digital download formats at Bandcamp.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals, lyrics
Chris Hyson electric bass, keyboards, synths, piano, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer
Matthew Robinson piano, keyboards, synths
Nicholas Costley-White acoustic and electric guitars
Josh Arcoleo backing vocals, synths, tenor saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums
with
Lloyd Haines additional drums (Little Moon Man, Poetry of Stillness)
Alex Killpartrick additional synth (Little Moon Man)

snowpoet.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 007

‘Strata’ – Ivo Neame

Strata

IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.

2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.

Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”

Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ –  lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.

Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.

Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.

A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!

 

Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

ivoneame.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)

‘Under the Moon’ – Blue-Eyed Hawk

UnderTheMoon

THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the most original and unusual releases of the year from a quartet of jazz artists. Exploring literary themes and moving effortlessly between contemporary jazz, rock, punk and folk, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a concept which, on paper, might easily have fallen from the sky, never to be seen again. Yet, after a few weeks of listening, I confirm that its pure inventiveness, matched with unequivocal musicality, marks out Under the Moon as a ‘must-hear’ debut.

The collaborators here are already establishing themselves as familiar faces on the British jazz scene: vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. But the vision for this album of eleven originals – in which all share compositional credits, taking inspiration from poets including W B Yeats* and Seamus Heaney – is genuinely alluring in its cross-genre approach.

For a start, wave goodbye to all cosy thoughts of Dorothy, the Tin Man and Toto in Kinsella’s thrashing, punkish re-imagining of Somewhere (aka Somewhere over the Rainbow from much-loved 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz). The initial response might be that this is bizarre and inexplicable… but then, does creative art need to explain itself, particularly when the outcome is so compelling? Pairing the familiar Edgar Harburg lyric with a new melody based on a South Indian raga (heard by Kinsella in Bangalore), it rocks out to Roth’s overdriven guitar and Dick’s heavy, intense drumming, enhanced by the fantastic echoic yelps and blistering, flutter-tongued soloing of Jurd’s trumpet. The unique style range of Kinsella’s vocalisations is displayed here – a fascinating blend of melodic finesse, dramatic mystery, nonsense/baby talk (as if speaking in tongues) and electronic repetition – ‘has to be heard! And a tailpiece nod to Harold Arlen’s original melody reassures anyone frazzled by the whole wonderful experience.

Kinsella’s own Oyster Trails features her strong, mystically-presented lyric in a new-age/jazz-folk setting (the search for a genre definition possibly akin to those early steps made by the late ’60s/early ’70s Canterbury scene pioneers – and happily so). Jurd improvises brightly, whilst sensitive vocal harmonies and synths further enhance the magic. Alex Roth’s simple, folksy Aurora 5AM is entrancing, its gentle hummed melody over acoustic guitar and birdsong followed through by Kinsella’s lyrical vocals, and the mellowness of Jurd’s flugel-like extemporisations concluding with mesmeric, canonic overlays. This quartet’s ability to blend together songs of differing styles is apparent, as they launch into the four-square pop/rock of Spiderton; and then there’s O Do Not Love Too Long – a serene, misty folksong which ebbs and flows around Kinsella’s beguiling voice (“…do not love too long, or you’ll grow out of fashion, like an old song”) and is exquisitely detailed in its varied instrumentation.

The curious, bewitching nonsense language of Kinsella’s vocals colours Reflections on a Spiral, inspired by 19th c. French poet Armand Silvestre; and, once again, a rapid gear change into Jurd’s American Punk/Bowie-esque Living in the Fast Lane, Kinsella relishing its high tempo. In stark contrast, the wheezy pedalling of Corrie Dick’s harmonium, in conjunction with his solid drumming, characterises Intro (For Fathers), a bizarre, layered ‘mediaeval rock’ episode reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s early outpourings; and then another of Dick’s compositions, For Tom and Everything, pitches Kinsella’s yearning lyric against picked guitar and hymn-like trumpet.

Try to Turn Back raises a smile with its unashamed, easy-going, countrified hook. With all that’s gone before, it shouldn’t gel – but, somehow they have it covered as Jurd improvises out through an upward-spiralling synth wash. To close, the plain, creaking piano of Corrie Dick accompanies Lauren Kinsella’s lyrical interpretation of the late Seamus Heaney’s poignant words in ‘Valediction’, Jurd adding a plaintive trumpet line before a gently ticking guitar rhythm accompanies its affecting choral fade-out.

Released on 15 September 2014, and available as CD or digital download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, the improvisatory qualities of this album might suggest ‘jazz’… but, then, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before! They’re currently touring and will appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November.

Under the Moon…… that’s where you’ll find me.

 

Lauren Kinsella voice
Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, voice
Alex Roth guitar, effects, synths, voice
Corrie Dick drums, percussion, harmonium, piano, voice
with
Tom Herbert additional bass and synth

blue-eyedhawk.com

*The name ‘Blue-Eyed Hawk’ originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem, ‘Under the Moon’.

Edition Records – EDN1054 (2014)

‘Lunaris’ – Frank Harrison Trio

Lunaris

MANY MOONS AGO, Frank Harrison’s pianistic virtuosity and compositional brilliance first captured my imagination. As a cornerstone of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and then with his own piano trios, it was Harrison’s perfect marriage of creative rebellion and heart-on-sleeve sensitivity which stood out from the crowd. So, following up 2012’s excellent Sideways (Linus Records), it’s a real pleasure to discover this new trio release, Lunaris, which refines those attributes.

There’s a change of line-up as the pianist welcomes the prodigious talents of double bassist Dave Whitford and, on drums, Enzo Zirilli. Between them, they spark something fresh – an approach which includes recurring celestial and planetary themes, as well as references to English landscape and folksong. Individually, the twelve pieces – Harrison originals and interpretations of standards, plus collaborative freestyle improvisations – are attractively constructed mini-masterpieces. Collectively, they form a well-balanced fifty-minute anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, possessing an overriding sense of equanimity.

A typically pellucid reading of the classic David Raksin number, My Love and I, opens the album – dreamy and unhurried, Frank Harrison keeps its deep, recognisable melody aloft, bass and brushed drums caressing every nuance. The delicate geniality of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned is a joy, ringing to Enzo Zirilli’s precise yet enquiring percussion which varicolours this bright interpretation, Harrison’s customary keyboard poise so tangible.

From this opening familiarity of melody, a panoply of astral discovery is unveiled with the first of two miniatures – Stars – its spacial, searching piano chords subtly enhanced by synthesiser twinklings. Continuing the night sky observation, An Evening of Spaceships and UFOs is a remarkable group improvisation which confirms this trio’s new-found empathy. A mysterious deep bass rhythm set up by Dave Whitford has a sonority and momentum reminiscent of Dan Berglund’s work with e.s.t., intertwining with Harrison’s supple, measured chord progressions and solo lines; and, around all this, Zirilli percussively paints vivid streaks of asteroids and shooting stars. Following on, the weightlessness of Io – one of Jupiter’s four moons – is softly imagined via a restrained piano/synth and bass ostinato, shimmering all the while with ethereal and atmospheric beauty (I intend taking these tracks to a dark-sky zone!).

Sunrise (Port Meadow) announces daylight with a lilting 6/8 melody which racks the mind, searching for the title of a much-loved standard – but this is another from Harrison’s pen, evoking the natural beauty of Oxford’s ancient riverside pasturelands. The new compositions continue with Ascent, climbing apace and displaying lively interaction within the trio, maybe providing a glimpse of extended development in a live setting; and, at the summit, there are the ominous soarings of The Bird, conveyed by the pianist’s shapeshifting chordal tracery and dark bass octaves. BoRG-58, another group improvisation (its title referencing far-flung galaxies), brings arresting open fifths grooving from Whitford and Harrison (a hint of Esbjörn) and broad, cross-patterned drumming from Zirilli – with understated synth infusions, its a winning combination.

The emotion of Frank Harrison’s solo discipline is to be found in a wistful rendition of traditional North East English folk tune The Recruited Collier – assured and clean, with the most sumptuous harmonies, time momentarily stands still. Johnny Mandel’s late ’50s song Emily (a favourite of Bill Evans) waltzes through its several minutes, Harrison and Whitford soloing radiantly to Zirilli’s gently sifting rhythm; and to close, the brief, sustained, Debussy-like Stars II suggests upward-looking wonderment towards an endless universe.

Finally, acknowledgement must be made to landscape painter Andrew Walton, whose cover and booklet art so beautifully reflects an album of exquisite musical imagery.

Launched on 9 April 2014, Lunaris is available from all good jazz outlets, iTunes, etc. (audio samples here).


Frank Harrison
piano, synthesizer
Dave Whitford double bass
Enzo Zirilli drums

frankharrison.net

Linus Records – LRCD02 (2014)