‘Flying Machines’ – Flying Machines

FlyingMachines_digital assets

A NEAT SYNTHESIS of pioneering inspiration, elegant sleeve art and exhilarating original music ties together Flying Machines’ eponymous debut album – a jazz-rock experience founded on imaginative, soaring electric guitar expression and energized, synth-sizzling grooves. 

With crew of piano/keyboardist Matt Robinson, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Dave Hamblett, guitarist/composer Alex Munk’s inspirited artistic approach is fired by the legacy and memory of his father, Roger Munk, whose tireless, award-winning vision for the advancement of British airship technology resulted in this year’s maiden voyage of the world’s longest aircraft – hybrid vehicle Airlander 10.

Indeed, there is undoubtedly a sense of gliding freedom and adventure as these nine, aeronautically-themed tracks take to the skies, as if the guitarist’s overarching brief to the band is to ascend towards spatial euphoria. So although opening number Tracks ripples to incisively picked guitar, deftly chromatic piano and tricksy, propulsive rhythms, it then levels out into an above-cloud state of tranquillity, with Munk’s clean, sustained melodies basking in endless sunlight; and the busyness of Bliss Out also has wide-openness at its heart, Robinson’s anthemic piano octaves floating over Hamblett’s snare drum propulsion, giving rise to gutsy guitar improvisation.

Munk’s citation of Pat Metheny and Mike Walker as influences can be heard in dreamy As Long As It Lasts. Rapid, anticipatory synth patterns in Emotional Math Metal bubble underneath crashing rock chords and breathless, extended, bass-driven riffs (yet there are always moments of serenity for taking in the view); and the guitarist’s solo piece, First Breath, possesses a Tracy Chapman song-like simplicity which almost implies a lyrical vocal line, as well as a redolence of Steve Howe or Steve Hackett prog interlude.

This quartet coalesces superbly across these differently-hued episodes, the buoyant electric bass and Rhodes funk of Lighter Than Air perhaps suggesting Snarky Puppy or, again, Metheny; and Peace Offering‘s initial weightlessness hits some splendidly turbulent dynamic and rhythmic fluctuations, all so exactingly co-ordinated. Stratosphere‘s crunchy, pop/rock solidity treads somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and Genesis; and post-flight A Long Walk Home (with Chaplin’s switch to double bass and Robinson’s acciaccatura piano inflections emphasising this more rustic, acoustic amble) views the afterglow with an exquisite, thankful reverence.

Technically and emotionally thrilling, Flying Machines’ own inaugural flight is ‘up there’ with the best. Released on 14 October 2016, it’s available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Alex Munk guitars, compositions
Matt Robinson piano, synths, Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin electric bass, double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

flyingmachinesband.com

Sleeve art by Oli Bentley at split.co.uk

Pictor Records – 001 (2016)

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‘Duski’ – Duski

duski

AN EPONYMOUS debut release from Welsh-based quintet project Duski, led by bassist/composer Aidan Thorne, offers relaxed grooves and pleasurably atmospheric hues throughout its eight original tracks.

Seemingly informed by ’80s new romantic, indie pop and ambient/electronic jazz, its appeal owes much to the undulating washes of Paul Jones’ keys/synths and Dan Messore’s electric guitar inventiveness. Carried on a wave of bubbling electric bass and Mark O Connor’s tight percussive rhythms, Greg Sterland’s luxurious, straight-ahead tenor sax resonances glide across these instrumental landscapes with reassuring warmth, frequently with an accessibility which recalls The Crusaders, though also with the nebulous searchings of, say, Zero 7 or Air.

Smoky melodic hooks and controlled synth/guitar expanses in Spare Part elegantly prepare a canvas for Greg Sterland’s subway-echoed tenor improvisations, whilst the ticking groove of Simple Tune might easily recall Talk Talk’s ‘It’s My Life’, glistening to Jones’ Fender Rhodes chimes and Thorne’s legato bass phrasing. Amongst dreamlike, vaporous miniatures, Sterland’s gruff-toned tenor in slowly-building Lakeside then becomes positively drowsy in slumberous Two Hours Long, its guitar sustenance suggesting endless late-night journeyings; and agile Another Simple Song again breezes along to relatively uncomplicated yet attractive pop harmonies with electronic refractions.

A likeable first outing indicating a penchant for pictorial soundtrack, Duski’s effectiveness in layering textures and evoking moods is admirable, and it even prompts thoughts as to how their already established group sound might develop in the future – perhaps augmented by voice or Canterbury Scene unusualities such as bassoon or oboe to provide a more distinctive edge. A pathway has been opened…

Released on 12 October 2016, Duski is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp. Aidan Thorne tours as bassist with Slowly Rolling Camera; guitarist Dan Messore records as Indigo Kid.

 

Greg Sterland saxophone
Dan Messore guitars
Paul Jones keys, synths
Aidan Thorne bass, compositions
Mark O Connor drums

Illustration: Sophia Wagstaff

duskimusic.co.uk

Cambrian Records – CAM008 (2016)

‘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)

‘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

‘Shine’ – Jacob Karlzon 3

Karlzon

CONFESSEDLY, I was initially wrong-footed by the Jacob Karlzon 3’s new album, Shine. A casual first-track listen revealed electronica and piano with an amiable, anthemic melody suggesting this release may have more in common with the commercial accessibility of Coldplay than a creative jazz trio. But therein lies the clue…

Swedish pianist/keyboardist/composer Karlzon’s approach to his music is an unusual hybrid – seemingly a traditional piano trio (with bassist Hans Andersson and drummer Robert Mehmet), he seeks to combine the improvisatory unpredictability of jazz with the catchy immediacy of pop. Indeed, following on from 2012 ACT debut, More, and a successful couple of years honing their sound on the live circuit, the mood of these eight originals – along with a surprising U2 interpretation – is generally upbeat, either in effulgent vitality or warm serenity.

The production is tight, with a strong emphasis on synthesised pop techniques – yet, impressively, Robert Mehmet’s acoustic percussion and Hans Andersson’s sung bass meld organically with Karlzon’s shimmering electronics, as well as his eloquent pianistic wizardry. The title track’s Vangelis-like theme tune propulsion typifies this, providing Karlzon with the bright, washy canvas on which to sparkle high at the piano; and Bubbles twinkles magically, Andersson’s bass contributing a beautifully resonant extemporised tune. Recall Bono’s vocal to U2’s pounding classic I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (from 1987’s The Joshua Tree)… and then imagine it as a gently lilting, Enya-style piano solo – it works so well. And to follow, the more rock-driven piano/synth number Outsourced trudges with intent, bearing an uncanny resemblance, say, to Bruce Hornsby’s exuberant live offerings. So, already it’s clear that Karlzon is filtering many influences and styles to fashion a fascinating sound world.

Metropolis is more shadowy. Here, e.s.t. comparisons are difficult to avoid, given the complex techno drum rhythms and prominent, rolling prepared piano improvisations – but, still, it carries the Karlzon mark, tinted with ’70s/’80s prog rock. In contrast, the piano limpidity of Inner Hills, with its soft, simple motion, is a sure heartbeat reducer – time standing still for a light-headed few minutes. And, consistently, it’s the composer’s desire for melody which elevates his creations above any suggestion of humdrum ambience.

Folksong-imbued One More Day shifts into modulatory overtones of Thijs van Leer’s Focus, albeit with a funkier bass edge, Andersson’s pliant strings colouring Karlzon’s piano extemporisations; Screening Self seems to fuse late-Genesis rock influences with (again) a hint of Focus in its scratchy, ascending Hammond interventions; and, finally, Karlzon winds down with A Thousand Conclusions, a meditation which displays the subtle interaction of the ‘3’, building to showcase the pianist’s undeniable piano prowess.

Released in the UK on 15 September 2014, the Jacob Karlzon 3 reach for the feel-good, hoping that this album “helps each and every one who hears it to shine a little in their daily life.” More information and samples can be found at ACT.

 

Jacob Karlzon piano, keys, synths & programming
Hans Andersson bass
Robert Mehmet Ikiz drums

jacobkarlzon.com

ACT – 9573-2 (2014)

‘Subterranean: New designs on Bowie’s Berlin’ – Dylan Howe

Subterranean

THE ‘BERLIN YEARS’ of David Bowie’s wide-ranging pop/rock career are amongst the most memorable – a source of fascination and inspiration to musicians, including composers and instrumentalists from other genres.

In the mid-to-late ’70s, Bowie had turned his attentions to a more minimalistic/ambient output, influenced by a move to West Berlin and stemming from his interest in postmodernist contemporary art. The recorded legacy of that period centres around two (some say three) seminal albums – Low and Heroes, both from 1977 – produced by Tony Visconti and including celebrated rock experimentalists Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Two decades on, leading American contemporary composer – and friend of Bowie – Philip Glass reimagined both projects as stunning orchestral symphonies which highlighted the far-reaching creative possibilities of these iconic compositions.

Now, as a fan of Bowie’s original recordings from his teenage years, and seeking a more original and personal direction for his own work, British rock and jazz drummer Dylan Howe has translated the ‘call’ of that ‘Berlin era’ into a remarkable new studio release, Subterraneans, mainly interpreting the instrumental aspects of this pair of albums. Created over a period of several years, and realised thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the accomplished personnel comprises Julian Siegel and Brandon Allen (tenor sax), Ross Stanley (piano, synths) and Mark Hodgson (double bass) along with appearances from bassist Nick Pini, guitarist Adrian Utley and special guest on koto, Dylan’s father (needing no introduction to Yes fans!), Steve Howe.

The landscape of the project is broadly filmic, encompassing prog/synth rock and post-bop jazz; and whilst initially slow burning, it progresses and expands into an imaginatively colourful fusion of both. So, opening track Subterraneans maintains the shifting synth profile of the Low original, but ticks perhaps more optimistically to Howe’s snare/cymbal rhythm and the subtle explorations of piano and sax. Weeping Wall encourages a greater jazz quintet presence and momentum, Howe prominent at the kit against Vangelis-like electronics; and the extended All Saints (a later Bowie creation), opening with the expressive bass of Mark Hodgson, leaps into a wide piano-driven jazz swing, Brandon Allen taking the wonderfully hard, dry Coltrane-esque tenor solos (sinister synth whinings hovering behind).

Some Are smoulders like some late ’60s TV thriller theme, leading to the similar drama of Neuköln – Night (from Heroes) – this time, an effective, fast-paced reworking in which Howe’s drums and Stanley’s piano skitter to the ebullition of Nick Pini’s bass. Howe takes Art Decade to another place, its ambient Eno-like qualities evident, but shimmering as a sensuously-felt, droplet-piano ballad. Warszawa – in Bowie’s hands, sombre and menacing – becomes sprightly and dance-like to Dylan Howe’s touch. Whilst such a transformation might sound crass or insensitive, it is in fact surprisingly successful; tempered with unsettling moments characterised by Adrian Utley’s echoic guitar, the jazz groove which ultimately dominates these eleven minutes is joyful in its synth-infused abandon.

Neuköln – Day picks up on the earlier Night theme; here, a darker variation – and my futile, self-indulgent desire at this point anticipates a crashing Sound Chaser-like injection from master guitarist Steve Howe! But no fear – Mr Howe (Senior) takes up the koto embellishments of serene Moss Garden to close the set.

Released on 7 July 2014, Dylan Howe will be touring Subterranean in the UK from 5 September (see dates below). Whether or not Bowie runs through your veins, it’s worth investigating at Bandcamp (download/CD/vinyl) – and endorsed enthusiastically by davidbowie.com and the great man himself.

 

Dylan Howe drums
Mark Hodgson double bass
Ross Stanley piano, synths
Brandon Allen tenor saxophone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
with
Nick Pini double bass
Adrian Utley guitar
Steve Howe koto

dylanhowe.com

2014 tour dates:
Dylan Howe; Dave Whitford; Ross Stanley; Steve Lodder; Andy Sheppard

5 September: Colchester
10 September: Lincoln
11 September: Nottingham
12 September: Derby
13 September: Hessle
26 September: Brighton
29 September: London
1 October: Halifax
2 October: Milton Keynes
3 October: Liverpool
18 October: Coventry

Motorik Recordings – MR1004 (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