‘Live’ – Will Butterworth Trio

willbutterworth

PERHAPS it’s due to the powerful, enigmatic mystery of music that it sometimes only unlocks its bejewelled treasures to listeners when they’re good and ready.

Pianist Will Butterworth’s live trio album, recorded at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, has been drifting in and out of my consciousness for some time now – but only recently has it flowered into the lively/balmy wonder that it undoubtedly is. Butterworth is joined by the familiar names of bassist Henrik Jensen and drummer Pete Ibbetson in five expansive numbers which clearly require the space and focus to fully appreciate their various perambulations and nuances.

Hailing from Edinburgh – born into a classical music environment – and resident in London for the past decade, Will Butterworth is known for his work with drummer Dylan Howe in reinterpreting Stravinsky, as well as his sideman role on the British jazz scene. He reflects on the interesting way in which this particular gig unfolded as, in the true spirit of improvisation, most of the trio’s playing was totally unlike their rehearsal: “When we finished… we had no idea what had happened… it was so different to our expectations. We try to get away from the individual solo with a backing track. So I guess… unexpected stuff will happen.” Certainly the resulting live capture (with the occasional clinking wine glass) reveals a fertile air of malleability and equality, rather than a bland, pre-meditated piano showcase with rhythmic accompaniment.

Butterworth’s own The One opens the set in restless, almost Bachian tones, as the pianist pushes spry singular lines and bold chordal colour – and, as it builds, already the combined strength of all three musicians is evident, with Ibbetson’s drums and percussion satisfyingly prominent in the mix and Jensen’s resonant, fluid bass in meaningful dialogue with the piano. Will’s style is difficult to pin down, somewhere between Bill Evans and John Law, and his own brightly-swinging Blues (at ten minutes’ duration) also evokes the spirit of Ellington, Monk and Tyner – his varietal cadences ripple with that kind of bravura and invention, happily matched by bass and drums. In this trio’s hands, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne standard I Fall In Love Too Easily finds that beauteous sweet spot of elegance balanced with unexpected, subtly-jarring pianistic intervals and clusters; it’s as if the “no idea what happened” that Butterworth referred to is at work in this triangle, providing an edge which takes it far from any sense of the soporific (and his solo coda briefly reveals Rachmaninov-like romanticism).

The Syndicate (another Butterworth original) becomes a jaunty conversation between the three instrumentalists, the space left between just as important as the elaborate, teasing extemporisations. Here, Jensen and Ibbetson instigate the anarchic momentum, and Butterworth relishes the opportunity to dart in and out as the breathless, pacey intensity becomes extraordinarily compelling (maybe all cutlery activity was involuntarily suspended at this point!). Finally, an interpretation of Willard Robison’s ballad Old Folks, its initial tenderness eventually breaking into brisk walking pace, with Butterworth’s luminescent soloing sounding Brubeckian at times – and Jensen and Ibbetson crackle in a momentary duet. At almost fifteen minutes in length, it feels like time suspended.

This is a piano trio album which is totally accessible, yet continually and politely fizzes with interest. The recorded sound is close and direct, yet benefits from ‘at the gig’ reality, engendering that exciting sense of jazz ‘in the moment’.

Released on 16 March 2015, the album is available from Music Chamber Records (take a listen to the audio samples there), iTunes and Amazon.

 

Will Butterworth piano
Henrik Jensen bass
Pete Ibbetson drums

Sleeve illustration by Chloe Vallance

willbutterworth.com

Music Chamber Records – MC0014 (2015)

‘Come To Me’ – The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet

ComeToMe

THE INVITATION to share in the rarefied, positive atmospheres contained within this debut release from the Sirkis Bialas International Quartet is tangible from an ensemble who evidently love what they create together.

Acclaimed drummer and percussionist Asaf Sirkis’ 2013 album Shepherd’s Stories included amongst its jazz/rock solidity an enchanting, wordless cameo appearance by Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas whose new-age tones were so intriguing as to suggest the development of a future musical collaboration. This conceptual spark has now ignited a synergetic new quartet with pianist Frank Harrison and bassist Patrick Bettison, featuring the broad scope of Bialas’ vocal dexterity.

Dividing equally the ten compositions of Come To Me, Sirkis and Bialas create expansive landscapes (jazz, folk, world, prog) which are, in turns, contemplative, brooding and joyfully animated. Sylwia Bialas uses her voice either to shape her self-penned native lyrics or to explore more and more inventive instrumental avenues, frequently taking it through seemingly unreachable pitches and athletic rhythmic patterns. And the distinction here is the constant interaction with her fellow players; this is no ‘singer plus band’ set-up, but rather a fully integrated quartet whose conception feels unique.

Patrick Bettison’s conversational electric bass style bears something of a resemblance to that of supremo Jeff Berlin, his fretless-like timbre a good match for Bialas’ various intonations; Frank Harrison displays all the sparky virtuosity and tender lyricism of his own trio albums and catalogue of recordings with Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble; and former Orient House colleague Asaf Sirkis is as commanding as ever in providing the quartet’s complex rhythmic backbone plus typically infinite elaborations (his accomplished Konnakol skills need to be heard and seen to be believed!).

Title track Come To Me offers a first glimpse of the band’s telepathy, its sparse, unison vocal and piano motif opening into Gustavsenesque transcendence, and Bialas’ lyrics evolving as liltingly sung improvisation. The empyreal lucidity of Dreams Dreams is haunting, with a measured pace maintained by Sirkis’ intricate cymbal patterns; and Vortex spins propulsively to Bettison’s mobile bass (entertaining to watch, live, the concentration required to hold his ostinato position against Sirkis’ audacious cross-rhythms) as Bialas stretches out broadly and magnificently.

The otherwise quiet introversion of Sylwia Bialas’ Ismael is pierced by an emotional Middle Eastern vocal style, Harrison displaying his customary high-searching piano finesse, and Bettison’s harmonica extemporisations adding a sophisticated sense of mystery. Recognisably Sirkis’ writing, A Hymn possesses a certain ‘prog ominousness’, showcasing the effectiveness of Bialas’ voice as an instrument, whilst Mandragora builds into a bristling, cosmopolitan melting pot of so many ideas and influences – a great performance.

Bialas’ lucent Polish lyricism in The One shines out, echoed by lofty instrumental delicacy; and the energy of Magnolia is infectious, Sirkis revelling in its percussive possibilities. Inspired by the subject of paranormal light trails in imagery, the band again summon their combined aptitude for conveying fragility in Orbs – spatial and otherworldly, it holds the attention so beautifully. And Sirkis’ rock-driven closer, Orgon, ripples to the eloquence of Bettison’s bass and Harrison’s electric piano, concluding with mischievous, disquieting electronic vocal effects from Bialas.

Choose your moment with this album – but late evening (“In the silence of the night, in the depth of nothingness”) is when its magic is especially revealed, with the space reflecting every nuance that has been placed and captured so crystal-clearly. Launched at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 21 November 2014, claim that wonder for yourself at Bandcamp or JazzCDs.

 

Asaf Sirkis drums, compositions
Sylwia Bialas
vocals, overtone singing, compositions
Frank Harrison piano, keyboards
Patrick Bettison electric bass, chromatic harmonica

asafsirkis.co.uk
sylwiabialas.com

Stonedbird Productions – SBPQ004 (2014)