We heard Stoop Quintet live at the 2014 London Jazz Festival and it’s great to hear the tracks they performed there on their debut album Confession.
The opening track, Ranch, features many of the ideas which will become the album’s signature sounds. It starts with a simple groove-based riff played by pianist/band leader Jonathan Brigg and drummer Dave Smyth. After the rest of the band have entered we hear an inspired solo by guitarist Alex Munk bringing the tune to a symphonic climax. The ostinato riff returns, followed by saxophonist Sam Miles announcing his arrival in a feisty solo.
The second tune, Turn, is based on a repetitive piano and bass unison riff with guitar and drums filling the complex time. It’s a simple yet very effective idea. Munk and Miles solo once more with rhythm section keeping effortless time and creating a great depth of sound. It is incredibly satisfying when after Munk and Miles’ solo the band return to the riff. The whole song euphorically lifts and the satisfaction of everything coming together is palpable. But it is fleeting and the listener yearns to dwell in that sound world for longer.
Fable is a Zeitgeist piece with its deliciously warm sax ostinato over gently relentless piano lines falling like tears. It’s a desperately sad tune full of wistful longing. A lyrical sax solo by Miles is followed by the frankly haunting sound of Munk on guitar. You are drawn to the interplay of Smyth and Munk dancing together and in the background the ever-present piano and bass riff eternally pulse. The head then returns, if you can even call it a head, for it is really a riff: the oscillating heartbeat of this tune.
In Stoop Kid, (named after the band’s namesake, everyone’s favourite 90s cartoon Hey Arnold!) gone is the world of Fable. The tune opens in a chaotic conversation of sounds upon which the chatter then unites in unison stabs of exclamation. This is followed by a conversation between instruments, with different voices and characters clearly evident. When we read the album sleeve we discovered it is based on episode of Hey Arnold! where the protagonist is ‘afraid to leave his stoop’. The tension is evident and conversation clear.
Sevens is a cacophony of scalic runs in complex time with the band walking up and down their instruments. In the strict formal counterpoint the classical influences are evident creating a mesmerising effect in its relentlessness.
Listening to Spring Song after Sevens is like entering a different wold. Mellifluous sax sings over the guitar. It is refreshing to hear an album that is not afraid of variety or diatonic tonality. When the rest of the band come in (piano with the trademark elegant drone) the colours are gorgeous, a palette of watercolours meandering together to create beautiful new shades. Spring Song also features an elegant solo from bassist Flo Moore.
It’s notable that (as we’ve said before) this isn’t a band of soloists. Instead Moore, Smyth and Brigg ‘hold the complex grooves together, support and interplay with Miles and Munk like an experienced family and put the spark into the group.’
The album’s title track Confession is a tune of guilt, worry, strain and obsessiveness. The 7/8 groove is interspersed by a variety of different emotions: calm, angst and destruction. This becomes the freeist tune on the album and we hear a mind distracted, evolving and filled with tension. This is where it all comes out, a wonderful musical confession of feeling, ending with bartok-esque bell tolls on the piano. The confession is over.
The final tune of the album, Soldier On, is a slow balm to soothe the tension of Confession. The ethereal opening guitar statement is followed by a tune that is resolute in keeping going. The signature repetitive lines are evident. They are literally soldiering on, lost in melody and colour.
Confession is an album with classical and free jazz influences sitting side-by-side. Lyrical melodies sing above beautiful, agonisingly relentless ostinato-esque musical lines. It is an album that explores so many colours but never sits on one too long, and is never satisfied with just one sound. It is an album that constantly seeks new direction, a river pushing against the rocks with flair to make new paths. Confession is a creatively inspired, diverse and emotionally complex debut album. Can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Album out on 10th February on ASC Records
1. Arm your wedding party with water
Water may be one of the last things on your mind, but you will end up feeling lethargic and cranky if you become dehydrated and in the midday heat that can happen quickly. Have bottles of water everywhere – at the Church, at the venue, in your wedding car and in the bags of all of your bridesmaids and ushers. Your guests will thank you too as they are unlikely to head straight for the champagne on a hot day and are more likely to prefer some refreshing h2o.
2. Wear sunscreen
Apply sunscreen to all areas that will be exposed, at least 15 minutes before putting on your dress. This will ensure it doesn’t mark your outfit but will also mean you aren’t left looking like a tomato after your perfect day. The honeymoon does not want to start on a fiery foot.
3. Choose music so good that people will want to be near it
If your venue is on the warm side, your guests are likely to head outdoors at the first polite opportunity. Choosing great music is essential to keeping the party vibe going even if guests disperse around the venue. With great grooves, they’re sure to return after a quick breather and you can dance your night away to your favourite tunes.
4. Take photographs in the shade and not in the heat of the day
The details of a white wedding dress will be blown in photographs if taken in direct sunlight, so choose a photographer who knows how to make the best use of shade and natural light to capture you and your new husband un-flustered and at ease. If you can, take some of your photos later in the evening when the temperature drops a few degrees. You’ll have much better light and your guests will thank you too!
5. Keep the cake cool
The wedding cake is easily forgotten until the time comes to cut it, so make sure you remember to keep it away from direct light and in a cool shady spot, so that you don’t find a melted mess when it comes to its moment of glory.
6. Umbrellas are fun to keep cool as well as dry
Autumn, winter and spring brides almost always remember to buy some funky or wedding white umbrellas to make photos in the rain more fun and a lot drier. What you may not realise is that umbrellas can make photographs in the sunshine fun and beautiful too as the sunlight will diffuse through them to make for some perfect couple shoot lighting. They’ll keep you cool too if you choose to have your couple shoot where shade is hard to find.
7. Keep snacking
Keeping your blood sugar up as you chat to your guests is as important as keeping hydrated on a sunny day. Have a few snacks to hand with members of your wedding party to keep sugar and energy levels up. I promise you that you’ll still have room for that delicious wedding breakfast you’ve planned.
8. Relax & Put your feet up
Don’t believe for a second that just because it’s your wedding day, you are obliged to remain on your feet the whole time on the false belief that if you stop for a moment, then you aren’t making the most of the one day where all your loved ones are in one place. Take a couple of minutes out every now and then to sit down with some of your guests, put your feet up and cool down. As well as your feet thanking you, you’ll be energised to get back up with joy rather than dread.
9. Be flexible
If your band are able to play outdoors and the venue is happy with that – let them. If you need to pay for a few more drinks to keep people cool and hydrated – do it. If you need to rearrange your timetable so that people eat sooner – rearrange it (or ask the best man to). If one of your wedding party needs a break in the shade – encourage it. If you need to stop for a few moments – stop. Go with the flow and don’t let adhering to all of your perfectly laid plans mean that the sunshine spoils some of your experience.
10. Walk slowly
Your walk down the aisle should be cherished whether it’s snowing outside or scorchingly hot. Make the most of every footstep as you approach the man you love and see the joy on his face. The same applies the rest of the day. Avoid rushing around like a breathless bride as you won’t remember any of it. Take it easy. Walk slowly. Don’t allow others to rush you. Above all, take the time to enjoy the moments – the big ones, as well as the small ones.
Tuesday 2nd Feb 2016 – Sam Crockatt Quartet CD Launch @ Pizza Express 19:00 £15
‘Saxophonist/composer Sam Crockatt launches his third album ‘Mells Bells’ on Whirlwind Recordings. The band is made up of four of the most in-demand and creative musicians on the UK scene, including Kit Downes on piano, Oli Hayhurst on double bass, and James Maddren on drums. Their first album ‘Howeird’ won album of the year in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2009′ more info here
Thursday 11th Feb 2016 Zoe Rahman Trio @ St James Theatre 20:00 £17.50
‘Known for her powerful technique, wide-ranging imagination and exuberant performance, she has become a highly sought-after musician, working most recently with the likes of Courtney Pine, George Mraz and Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra. She is joined by her trio featuring drummer Gene Calderazzo and bass player Mark Lewandowski’ more info here
Monday 22nd Feb 2016 – Can of Worms presents Mike Soper Trio @ Jazz at the Oxford 20:30 £10/£5
‘Can of Worms explores that happy and unpredictable space where written and improvised worlds collide, diving deep into group improvisations and compositions featuring taut, tense grooves, wailing sax-confessionals and all-out glorious free-jazz’ more info here
Thursday 25th Feb 2016 – Fletch’s Brew @ Royal Albert Hall/Elgar Room 21:15 £13.75
‘In 2010, drumming tour de force Mark Fletcher founded Fletch’s Brew with Laurance Cottle (bass), Jim Watson (keyboards), Paul Stacey (guitar), Freddie Gavita (trumpet/flugelhorn) – a band which blurs the boundaries of musical styles and surpasses preconceived notions of jazz’ more info here
Want to WIN 2 International Rameau Ensemble Tickets for their concert in Oxford on February 6th?*
*Terms and Conditions Apply
What is your goal?
Are you a beginner looking to try things out, or are you an adult who wants to invest in a really good instrument and take time to develop a skill? This will effect what type of instrument you get
What are the saxophone brands & what price should I go for?
There are 4 ‘big’ name sax brands – all of which are excellent. They are: Yamaha, Yanigasawa, Mauriat and Selmer. If your budget is smaller, go for the beginner/student models (under £800). If the skys’ the limit – try them all. But remember more expensive does not equal better.
Where should you buy?
Go somewhere you can try the instrument out. And take someone you trust with you. The same instrument can sound totally different with two different players. The more expensive instrument also isn’t necessarily better. It depends on you.
We have recommend Howarth of London for saxophones. We’ve known them for years and years and they’ve always been great and really friendly. They’re based near Baker Street in London. If you’re further afield try JP Packers in Taunton.
What else should you know?
Mouthpieces make as much as a different to the sound as the actual saxophone. It’s worth trying these out. But as a beginner – stick with what often comes with the instrument, or go with a Selmer C*.
1. Amazing Sound
The harp is surprisingly versatile, with a big warm sound. Harpists don’t just do classical either, they also sound mellifluous playing popular tunes.
2. Class & Style
Nothing quite beats the look of the harp and harpists bring an effortless spark of elegance to any event. Whether playing musical magic at a party or strumming you down the aisle, there is nothing to rival the class and style the harp brings.
As you’re hiring just one person, harpists are affordable. With a smaller expense then a full band you still get a great live energy and passion.
Our good friends the International Rameau Ensemble are holding a Valentine’s concert at the New College Ante-Chapel on Feb 6th. Not sure whether to go or not? Read our review of their last concert here. And then go!