‘Khamira’ – Khamira

Khamira

EXHILARATING and mesmeric, the eponymous debut release from seven-piece Khamira fuses Welsh folk, jazz and rock with Indian classical music.

It was a masterclass at the Berklee-affiliated Global Music Institute in New Delhi by the four Welsh members of this band (who are united in separate jazz/folk outfit, Burum) which led to the concept of combining a standard jazz quartet of trumpet, piano, bass and drums with the Indian colours of sarangi and tabla, plus vocals/Konnakol and guitar. Blurring the edges of genres and cultures here feels entirely organic, summoning the seminal ’70s fusion experiments of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, as well as finding a modern-day crossover connection with artists such as Dwiki Dharmawhan and Dewa Budjana.

New arrangements of traditional Welsh songs and Indian classical melodies are combined with two original compositions to deliver fifty-five minutes of extensive, instrumental splendour. Particularly impressive is the versatility of Suhail Yusuf Khan’s stringed sarangi in partnering so melodically with Tomos Williams’ trumpet and Aditya Balani’s electric guitar; and the incisive, often rapid top-note resonances of Vishal Nagar’s tabla accentuate the rhythmic grooves of Dave Jones (piano), Aidan Thorne (electric bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums).

It’s a sound world which increasingly engages, as Khamira’s palette is so varied and the blends so intriguing. Slow-release Pan O’wn y Gwanwyn (The Song of Spring) awakens to spacial trumpet and sarangi conversations before launching a lurching, saturated jazz/rock pulse underpinned by tremulant organ and thrashing percussion; and Basant‘s heady, vocalised Indian flavours – including the ‘jugalbandi’ of sarangi and tabla – are complemented by gravelly electric bass and urgent trumpet improv.

Jazz-grooving, eleven-minute Answers reinforces that this is an immersive, progressive experience, rather than a collection of snappy, individual ‘tunes’ – but this band’s open and ever-changing landscape, here with exquisite Paulo Fresu-style muted trumpet, becomes so appealing. Ffarwel i Gymru / Morey Nain shimmers to plaintive trumpet and a sustained sarangi thread, supporting its beautifully inflected Indian vocal; and the vibrant, contemporary jazz piano of Dance of Nothingness prompts bluesy guitar and frenzied sarangi. The initial, Eastern serenity of Y Gwydd (The Weaver’s Song) belies the enthralling explosion of drums, tabla, Konnakol and electric piano to be revealed later, very much in the spirit of jazz/world fusion; and wistful hymn Hiraeth am Feirion (Longing for Meirionnydd), pairing trumpet and sarangi over the gentle ebb of tabla, creates a restrained yet anthemic sundown.

Released on 2 May 2017, Khamira is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp. Catch a ten-minute video impression here.

 

Tomos Williams trumpet
Suhail Yusuf Khan sarangi, vocal
Aditya Balani guitar
Dave Jones piano, keys
Aidan Thorne electric bass
Vishal Nagar tabla, vocal
Mark O’Connor drums

khamira.net

Recordiau Bona – BOPA 003 (2017)

‘Floa’ – Mammal Hands

Floa

NORWICH-BASED Mammal Hands’ debut album Animalia (2014) considerably raised the profile of saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart and drummer Jesse Barnett – a trio apparently discovered by GoGo Penguin’s bassist, Nick Blacka. Since then, they have continued to garner interest in the UK, as well as enjoy international popularity (including gigs at festivals in the United States and Canada). Back in the recording studio, they now return with follow-up, Floa.

Comparisons with GoGo Penguin and the Portico Quartet are understandable (listen to the first three tracks, and this might be the GoGos with Jack Wyllie guesting). But Jordan Smart’s saxophone prowess does provide Mammal Hands with an organic, melodic advantage as he shapes his improvisations around the predominant piano ostinati; and notably, as this nine-track album proceeds, the trio pleasingly begin to develop their own, distinct voice.

So, opening numbers Quiet Fire, Hillum and Hourglass easily recall the aforementioned bands’ output, their trancelike repetition ebbing, flowing and gradually crescendoing to greater intensity (steadily-filling Hourglass, in particular, possesses – perhaps with an intended reference in the title – an appealing Philip Glass-like hypnotism with beautifully unexpected key shifts). But a change of gear in the form of a Dave Brubeckian 5/4 swing, in fourth track Think Anything, opens up a whole new vista of interest – a joyful, dancing blend of American jazz and European folk which invites intensifying improvisation from pianist Nick Smart, as well as the opportunity to create catchy, swirling riffs in fourths with Jordan Smart’s alto. Similarly, the sit-up-and-listen effect of In the Treetops suggests Mammal Hands eking out their own identity, as a highly repetitive sax figure is enhanced by Ibiza-style sustained strings.

By this mid-point, there’s the realisation that this music has the ability to seep and flow into the senses, as in the subtle, almost Oriental placidity of The Eyes that Saw the Mountain – yet here is a track which also sparkles with fresh, heavier grooving expressions. Kudu equally reveals that there is much more to this trio than the album first suggests; effective details such as Nick Smart’s low, undulating piano motifs and Jesse Barnett’s tabla resonance create something special in this increasingly energetic, high-point number. Miniature The Falling Dream indicates an aptitude for more filmic textures, with a gently cascading, Brian Eno-like dreaminess; so, too, does changeable Shift, whose eventual rockiness contrasts markedly with dramatically-charged serenity.

Striking, minimalistic cover art apart, don’t judge a book by its cover – i.e. immerse yourself in this whole album’s riches to understand how Mammal Hands are successfully charting their own course… and enjoy.

Released on 27 May 2016, Floa is available as CD, download and vinyl from Bandcamp.

 

Jordan Smart saxophones
Nick Smart piano
Jesse Barnett drums, tabla
with
Gavin Barras bass
Natalie Purton violin, viola

mammal hands.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD014 (2016)

 

‘Animalia’ – Mammal Hands

Animalia

IT’S NO SURPRISE that the live gigs of newcomers Mammal Hands caught the ears of Nick Blacka (bass player with trio-of-the-moment GoGo Penguin) – subsequently recommending them to Gondwana Records boss Matthew Halsall who duly signed them to his growing catalogue of new artists – for there’s more than a hint of Blacka’s band in this, their resulting debut release, Animalia, as well as echoes of early Portico Quartet. Yet their style is also defined by elements of electronica, classical minimalism, dance, Africana, and Indian classical, creating a richly creative blend which can, in equal measure, both move and excite.

The strong Norwich-based trio comprises brothers Nick Smart (piano) and Jordan Smart (saxes), with Jesse Barratt on drums and tabla – their eight original compositions here very much on-trend with the current wave of eclectic, democratically-conceived contemporary jazz ensembles. And what a compelling first outing this is.

Eschewing the traditional double bass element doesn’t, as one might expect, result in imbalance, thanks to the solid-chorded/octaved rhythmic piano of Nick Smart. Indeed, opener Mansions of Millions of Years – with influences and moods that might suggest e.s.t., Reich, Glass and Satie, as well as a raga pulse and energy – displays the impassioned intent of this one-time busking band, Jordan Smart’s escalating soprano sax whirling and crying over the busyness of piano and drums. The three players clearly share an empathy in composition and performance, delivering a varied sound world – the brief and more contemplative Snow Bough spacially glinting to falling piano and sax melodies which possess delightful Japanese koto-like clarity.

A brooding sense of anticipation fills Kandaiki, Jordan Smart’s clipped vibrato lines very much reminiscent of Portico’s Jack Wyllie – and here can be found the magic of the trio, as piano and sax intertwine contrapuntal melodies and harmonies over a simmering, near-perpetual 5/4 piano and drum figure. In contrast, the percussive, yet melancholy, open landscape of Spinning the Wheel finds Jordan Smart’s soprano in folky, yearning vein, Nick’s dark-set low piano chords shrouding the piece in mystery.

Suitably-titled Bustle teems with life to its pianistically-tricky seven-beat ostinati and trip-up pauses; and Jesse Barratt’s complex, ticking momentum, including subtly hollow tabla, is great to focus on. Luxuriant Inuit Party presents a particularly rich combination of tenor punch, tightly-clustered piano chords and solid four-square beat which also offers a tangible improvisatory glimmer of their live act. Upping their game still further – and a real stand-out – Street Sweeper revels in an infectious groove, the Smart brothers sharing melodies over an effusive left-hand piano hook, Barratt shuffling enthusiastically as well as offering a joyous touch of Cuban clatter.

Larger-scale Tiny Crumb closes the album, highlighting the trio’s aptitude for building and elaborating on themes, moving up through keys with ever-increasing urgency. Again, Nick Smart’s all-encompassing piano presence is impressive, sharing with Jesse Barratt its rhythmic intensity, all the while encouraging the apparent vigour of Jordan Smart’s tenor (the end of his white-hot, Pharaoh Sanders-style soloing induces a desire to applaud!); and then, a hypnotic, tabla-decorated end-piece which hints at a much longer play-out than afforded here.

As a debut, Animalia is captivating, yet also feels like just the beginning of Mammal Hands’ creative musings. In their multifarious musical minds, not to mention their considerable instrumental proficiency, Gondwana have signed a breakthrough band capable of hitting the heights. Catch a glimpse of the band at 2013’s Mostly Jazz Festival, as well as the official video for Mansions of Millions of Years.

Releasing on 15 September 2014, pre-order/purchase the album (and preview a couple of tracks) at Gondwana Records’ Bandcamp Store.

 

Nick Smart piano
Jordan Smart saxophones
Jesse Barratt drums, tabla

gondwanarecords.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD011 (2014)