REVIEW: ‘Humble Travelers’ – Floating Circles Quartet

IF YOU IMAGINE the clarinet to be best suited to classical repertoire or ‘trad’ jazz, then Humble Travelers – the debut album release from Aidan Pearson’s Floating Circles Quartet (FCQ) – may prove a real ‘ear opener’.

There are clear exceptions to any such idea, of course – on the contemporary jazz scene, both Arun Ghosh and Idris Rahman immediately spring to mind. Yet there‘s a sparkling freshness to Pearson’s clarinet/bass clarinet-led quartet with electric guitar, double bass and drums (plus guest violinist Johanna Burnheart) which is elevated through intelligent instrumental blends, snappy musicianship and an irrepressible joie de vivre. FCQ forecast their potential in 2018 with four-track EP, Eleven Yesterdays Ago – but already, it seems they have reached higher uplands in this exhilarating and absorbing programme of six Pearson originals, their mostly quirky titles reflecting themes of travel, movement and challenge.

On introduction to this album, what instantly attracted were the sizzling dance-groove rhythms conjured by drummer Arthur Newell and bassist Jonny Wickham, aligned to the rocky edge which Pearson’s clarinets and Matt Hurley’s guitar attain; and Burnheart’s contributions are a great match, too, always seeking a different angle for the violin in jazz.

The band’s pleasant-enough, folsky intent is stated in shuffling Brockley ‘n’ Peas, its title alluding to Pearson’s London locale. But where they collectively take this (a theme throughout the album) is compelling as Pearson‘s gruff, filtered clarinet ‘waves the green flag’ into disco-funk rhythm guitar and soloing, plus soaring, echoic violin. Misty, awakening Beyond the Mountains of Aria develops into a retro–1960s groove (occasionally Dave Brubeckian) accentuated by its bass-instigated 5/4 riff. It’s one of many instances where the melodic timbres are fascinatingly paired – for example, bass and guitar, or clarinet and guitar – to create the illusion of a further-augmented ensemble.

There’s a lovely whiff of mischief to Caravan Curtains, peering through the drizzly condensation to observe pizzicato and portamento frolics between the players, including ‘octave-up’, synth-like improv from Burnheart. In the bubbling ‘cartoon ska’ of White ‘n’ Fluffy, Pearson’s bass clarinet treads and jives with gusto, again applying electronics with great effect, as well as duelling with Hurley’s perky guitar. Wading Through the Mist’s chirpy violin-and-clarinet folksong (with a Scots lilt) airily glides above and through its theme of unforeseen challenge and determination, while the dainty, pre-school-TV simplicity of Galactic Pedal Boat Trip (you won’t find that name duplicated in the jazz canon) concludes.

Humble Travelers clearly isn’t clarinet chamber music! Aidan Pearson seems to have instilled a spirit of adventure in FCQ, his jazz-folk compositions regularly evolving and glistening with new ideas and timbres. The whole album is a complete and slightly left-field pleasure to listen to.

Released on 12 September 2020 and available digitally at Bandcamp or in CD format at ebay.

Video: White ‘n’ Fluffy

 

Aidan Pearson clarinet, bass clarinet, compositions
Matt Hurley electric guitar
Jonny Wickham double bass, percussion
Arthur Newell drums
with guest artist
Johanna Burnheart violin

Cover art by Paul Middlewick

floatingcirclesquartet.com

(2020)

 

 

REVIEW: ‘Finding Home’ – Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

‘SECRET, SILENT MOMENTS. Sweet, familiar voices. Colour into colour. Wonder into wonder. Beautiful traces play inside my mind.’

Those words from the coda of Finding Home’s final track, lovingly referencing those who have gone before us, also speak to me of the imaginative approach to this meticulous and poignant collaboration between Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three (the strings of The Guastalla Quartet alongside her piano trio with Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells) and vocalist Georgia Mancio.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 1 June 2019 and available from georgiamancio.com

 

Kate Williams piano, arrangements
Georgia Mancio voice
John Garner violin
Marie Schreer violin – featured on The Key
Francis Gallagher viola
Sergio Serra cello
Oli Hayhurst bass
David Ingamells drums
John Williams guitar – on Caminando, Caminando and We Walk (Slow Dawn)

Illustration by Alban Low

kate-williams-quartet.com
georgiamancio.com

KW Jazz – kwjazz002 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Soldiering On’ – The Dissolute Society

HATS OFF (bowler style, if you like) to trombonist Raph Clarkson and his eight-piece ensemble of musical mavericks in the creation of Soldiering On – a kaleidoscopic and often avant garde debut release from The Dissolute Society, with guests including Huw Warren (piano, accordion) and Mia Marlen Berg (vocals, effects).

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 11 May 2018 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Fini Bearman vocals
Raph Clarkson trombone, vocals
Laura Jurd trumpet
Naomi Burrell violin
Zosia Jagodzinska cello
Gustav Clarkson viola
Phil Merriman keys, synth bass
Simon Roth drums
with special guests
Huw Warren piano, accordion
Mia Marlen Berg vocals, FX
Joshua Idehen vocals
Mike Soper trumpet

thedissolutesociety.com

Babel Label – BDV16145 (2018)

 

 

REVIEW: ‘Thought You Knew’ – Snowpoet

ThoughtYouKnew

THE IMMERSIVE experience of Snowpoet’s eponymous 2016 debut album left a lasting imprint…

Read my full review at LondonJazz News.

Released on 9 February 2018 and available in CD, digital and vinyl formats from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals, backing vocals, lyrics
Chris Hyson electric bass, double bass, piano, synths
Nicholas Costley-White acoustic guitar
Matthew Robinson piano
Dave Hamblett drums
Josh Arcoleo saxophone
with
Alice Zawadzki violin
Francesca Ter-Berg cello
Lloyd Haines drums, percussion (tracks 1, 2 and 7)

Produced by Chris Hyson

snowpoet.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1105 (2018)

REVIEW: ‘Variety of Rhythm’ – Samuel Hällkvist

AN ENTICING, evolving experience which exhibits tremors of 1970s progressive formats, exploratory Swedish electric guitarist Samuel Hällkvist returns with immersive instrumental soundscape Variety of Rhythm.

His Variety of Loud and Variety of Live releases, of 2012 and 2015 respectively, revealed a musician with a singularly experimental vision for composition, instrumentation and improvisation; and he continues to garner respect across music’s cross-pollenating rock, electronica and jazz boundaries, from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and ex-Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri to trumpeter Yazz Ahmed (who reciprocally invited Hällkvist to appear on her recent release La Saboteuse).

Over the course of this continuous suite of almost 45 minutes, Hällkvist collaborates with a dozen musicians – including renowned US guitarist David Torn – through separately-recorded, differing scales of ensemble (in Japan, Portugal, New York, Paris, Belgium and Scandinavia), drawing mind and soul into a fluctuating landscape of sound which prompts the listener to contribute through their imagination. Hällkvist typically becomes part of the whole, integrating his processed guitar through a labyrinth of industrially cinematic drama, repetitively clanging timbres and almost dystopian sustained resonances – yet rather than creating an abstract mishmash, these carefully-woven ideas and illusions gradually become powerfully compelling, especially once they establish themselves in the psyche.

Timed, named waymarkers offer a clue to a conceptual, rock-solid framework interspersed with improvisational interludes (Hällkvist elaborating on the technical and structural aspects here), though the entirety of the work can easily be appreciated from a purely creative, openly-receptive standpoint. Double Adagio‘s rippling, wailing fuzz-guitar wall is propelled by time-shifting voice-and-glockenspiel-like tones, whereas as the more grungy trudge of nine-minute Tete-a-Tete / Blivet progresses into heavy metal, tinged with Steve Reichian attacca strings and ominously soaring guitar. David Torn’s expansive Huly Marga features his searching low-distorted guitar extemporisations against an electronic landscape reminiscent of Pink Floyd or late EST, whilst the extraordinary cross-rhythmic complexity of The Necker Cube, with oriental overtones, spills into subway-sax frenzy, movie-mystery malleted percussion and climactic, grooving grandeur.

Samuel Hällkvist’s maverick, detoured pathways create intrigue, and might initially overwhelm; but put through a responsive sound system, these three-dimensional worlds render in vivid full colour – the excellent concentric/segmented cover graphic points the way!

Released on 13 October 2017, Variety of Rhythm can be purchased digitally at Bandcamp, and is due to be available in gatefold CD format from Discovery Records and Amazon.

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitar
Dick Lövgren bass
David Torn guitar
Liesbeth Lambrecht violin
Qarin Wikström voice
Knut Finsrud drums
Pete Drungle keys
Yasuhiro Yoshigaki drums
Kumiko Takara mallet percussion
Paulo Chagas sax, flute
Silvia Corda various objects
Adriano Orru bass
Katrine Amsler edit, sound design

Mixed by August Wanngren

samuelhallkvist.com
varietyof.com

BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD024 (2017)

REVIEW: ‘Unit[e]’ – Alexander Hawkins (2CD)

Alexander Hawkins —Double CD Digipak-v1.3

BEHIND THAT intensely black, nondescript cover… well, perhaps even the initiated might only hazard a guess at the mercurial ninety minutes of original music presented in this double CD – Unit[e] – from Oxford-based pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins.

Previous albums such as Song Singular, Step Wide, Step Deep and Alexander Hawkins Trio have identified a distinctly explorative musician whose avant garde approach to jazz and improvisation is fed by many influences, suggesting the left-field vociferations of Ornette Coleman or Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and most certainly the classic, genteel swing of Duke Ellington (Hawkins describes The Duke as possibly the most basic element of his DNA). The recording is split into two sessions – the sextet of CD1, [C]ALL; the larger ensemble of CD2, HEAR[T] (personnel listed below) – and Hawkins refers to his use of square brackets in each piece’s title as an intentional ‘add or subtract a letter’ couplet device, for example: [W]here (‘here’ is one answer to ‘where’) and [S]how (‘show’ is one answer to ‘how’).

The seven tracks of [C]ALL find Hawkins’ piano in dialogue with violin, guitar, bass clarinet/tenor sax, double bass and drums – and an overarching reference to jazz tradition seems infused throughout, opening with For the People‘s perpetual, blustering, unison riff which invites Tom Skinner’s excited percussion and Shabaka Hutchings’ characteristic tenor squawks, as well as contrastingly mellow electric guitar lines from Otto Fischer. [C]all (parts 1 and 2) stomp proudly to an unusually beautiful, almost naive dance groove (in the right mood, a wonderfully cacophonous seven minutes to get into); and overlapping instrumental voices in [T]each ruminate freely to Hawkins’ sparky, leaping piano before eventually and quietly admitting defeat. The heritage jazz foundation of Hawkins’ work becomes more prominent in [K]now, where ‘MC’ Otto Fischer delivers his calmative, abstract narrative over an oblique lounge ensemble (the Ellington link accentuated by Hawkins’ delicious, semitonal chords). The fiddle and double bass of Dylan Bates and Neil Charles, in [W]here, introduce searching guitar and bass clarinet improvisations over angular piano and drums; and [S]how‘s relative spaciousness seems to beckon the listener inside, to join its subterranean roaming.

With Hawkins directing from the piano, HEAR[T]‘s thirteen-piece ensemble treads a freer, less structural path through five tracks which frequently groan and exclaim with a bewildering mesh of sounds. [Forge[t] is boisterous, irascible and anarchic, whilst the palpable trad swing of fifteen-minute-plus See[k] > Hear[t] includes splendid horn combinations and distressed flute, underpinned by Stephen Davis’ colourful percussion and enhanced by intriguing live electronics (a multifaceted experience worth staying with!). Idea[l]’s pandemonium recalls the cosmic, orchestral colour of David Bedford’s ‘Star’s End’; the awakening of [Sun[g] > Star[k] might summon Aaron Copland’s broad, restful landscapes (and its crescendoing trumpet-led progression perhaps akin to his ‘Rodeo’); and title track Unit[e]‘s nebulous instrumentation, carried on thinly-sustained strings, hints at dark-sky activity, complete with effusive, empyrean swing-band celebration.

Alexander Hawkins’ creativity may be challenging… but his jazz credentials and true, unfettered expression make it one hell of a ride!

Released on 7 July 2017, Unit[e] is available as a double CD from Discovery Records or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

CD1: [C]ALL
Dylan Bates
violin
Neil Charles double bass
Otto Fischer
guitar, voice
Alexander Hawkins
piano
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Tom Skinner drums

CD2: HEAR[T]
James Arben flute, tenor saxophone
Dylan Bates violin
Neil Charles double bass
Stephen Davis drums, percussion
Otto Fischer guitar
Alexander Hawkins piano, conductor
Laura Jurd trumpet
Julie Kjær flute, alto flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Nick Malcolm trumpet, flugelhorn
Hannah Marshall cello
Percy Pursglove trumpet, double bass
Alex Ward clarinet
Matthew Wright live electronics

alexanderhawkinsmusic.com

Self-released – AH1002/3 (2017)