‘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

‘In Cinema’ – Oddarrang

ODDARRANG_300

IMAGINE……. a vast landscape… panning around to take in distant mountains, forests and luminous skies… and a cinematic soundtrack portraying an ever-changing vista of climatic conditions… daybreak, sunlight, rainstorm, quiescence, afterglow…

This third outing from Oddarrang – ‘In Cinema’ – sees them building significantly on their previous releases, ‘Music Illustrated’ and ‘Cathedral’. The Finnish five-piece’s precise sound is delightfully difficult to define – maybe ‘experimental jazz’, perhaps ‘new age’ or even ‘folk jazz’. And, intriguingly, the shifting timbres and hues are created by a refreshingly atypical instrumental line-up: the masterly and lyrical lead of trombonist Ilmari Pohjola and cellist Osmo Ikonen soloing over strong-yet-sensitive layers of guitars, bass, synths, piano and harmonium. Composer/producer Olavi Louhivuori (also known for his work with the Tomasz Stanko Quintet and Alexi Tuomarila Trio) presides on drums as well as keyboards, his authoritative percussion a key element of the band’s identity.

The ‘new age’ tag comes from comparisons I can make with the early output of Mike Oldfield – the repeated guitar lines, percussion and plaintive melodies of third track Missing Tapes from a Highway Set, for example, reminiscent of ‘Hergest Ridge’ or its seminal predecessor ‘Tubular Bells’. But this is no imitation, for it lives and breathes by its own strengths – a hugely distinctive sound palette with a terrific sense of dynamics and intricacy; compositions often growing in intensity, such as Lasse Sakara’s guitar-led ticking timebomb of The Sage which eventually explodes in dazzling full colour.

Newly-released single Self Portrait is a joy to hear up-close, opening with a beautifully legato cello/trombone melody against a delicate wash of synths, sustained guitar chords and cymbals, before upping the tempo and crescendoing to a vocal, guitar-crashing conclusion. The potency of this (to my knowledge) unique line-up is that acoustic and electronic instrumentation melds so pleasingly and effectively – frequently it’s tricky to discern the overall make-up of the sound… which, to my senses, is a great achievement! Trombone and cello lines are so ravishingly executed, yet the sum of parts is where this album succeeds.

The misty, folksy beginning of the curiously-titled, eleven-minute Cultivate & Contemplate finds Pohjola and Ikonen in elegiac mood, whilst guitar and percussion again introduce and develop the band’s characteristic anticipatory momentum. Journey explores the full range of Oddarrang’s expertise, the pulsating intro giving way to a serene interlude before finally rocking it up to fever-pitch intensity, Louhivuori thunderously pushing the limits, electronics enhancing the play-out. Bassist Lasse Lindgren provides the writing for the slumberous final number, Quiet Steps – a charming bell-like melody which suggests, at the close of our journeying, a darkening firmament revealing constellations as far as the eye can see.

Oddarrang are embarking on a tour to accompany this remarkable new release (superbly produced for Edition Records by Olavi Louhivuori and Dave Stapleton, with beautiful ECM-like monochrome sleeve photography from Tero Ahonen) – see web links, below, for details. I certainly look forward to their upcoming live interpretations at Manchester’s Band On The Wall, as well as Kings Place, London – by all accounts, an experience not to be missed!*

*UPDATE: Oddarrang’s Manchester and London performances were moving and exhilarating in equal measure – highly recommended!

Digital release: 30 September 2013; physical release: 7 October 2013.


Olavi Louhivuori
  drums, piano, synths, harmonium
Osmo Ikonen  cello, vocals
Lasse Sakara  guitars
Ilmari Pohjola  trombone, guitars
Lasse Lindgren  bass, synths

http://www.olavilouhivuori.com/category/news/
http://www.oddarrang.com/

Edition Records (2013)