BF MD Leah is a musicologist by training and loves music and reviewing. It’s a way to express the joy that music brings.
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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.
What a delicious treat it was finally to hear Stoop Quintet play at the QEH Front Room. Introduced as the ‘passionate and unpredictable’ group from the University of York, this was actually (unlike much jazz promo) a fabulously accurate description.
Starting with the punchy Stoop Kid, its angular shape unashamedly announced the group’s arrival with a kick. Next up was Fable where the hypnotic minimalistic melody developed into beautiful guitar (Alex Munk) and sax (Sam Miles) unisons, with dovetailing piano lines. Miles played a beautiful tenor solo on this: he has a rich warm tone. Munk’s soulful solo sat easily alongside Miles’ and the pairs great soloing are a feature of the group.
Their third tune, Ranch, began with a simplistic repeated chordal piano idea – we had no idea where the tune was going to go. Once again it led to a screamer of a solo from Miles, with the tune ending in a way that can only be described as falling apart – leaves beautifully falling from a tree to the ground.
Despite Jonathan Brigg being band leader, the ‘rhythm’ section of Dave Smyth (Kit), Flo Moore (Upright Bass) and Brigg, feature significantly less as soloists within the ensemble. Instead they hold the complex grooves together, support and interplay with Miles and Munk like an experienced family and put the spark into the group. It’s actually rather refreshing that they don’t feel a need to solo to ‘prove’ themselves. The group would be severely lacking if they were not the backbone.
We wonder if the fifth tune Turn was so named due to the pedal-like melody ending with an embellishment, or ‘turn’, or whether it is that the tune reflects the idea of the piece as a whole. Either way – the relentless ostinato group that sat underneath the solos was beautiful.
The penultimate tune Confession was described by leader Brigg as exactly that: you will ‘hear our confessions’. Indeed the 7/4 groove set a tone of unease which led to a dark and rhapsodic piano solo by Brigg, really pushing the tonality of the piece. Munk and Miles soloed in by far the freest tune of the set. That said, the returns to the really rather rocky grooves acted as pillars supporting the work.
Having traversed many of the genres of contemporary music, SQ finished with Soldier On. Moore moved to the bow for this solemn and beautiful work. The simple but effective lyrical melody rhythmically (intentionally or not) fit to the words ‘Sol-dier on’. The melody thus literally telling us what to do.
Stoop Quintet are characterised by ostinato-esque melodies followed by chaos. They’re not afraid to let the music fall apart, disapparate* with timed elegance, then suddenly bring it back together as a coherent whole. It was a well thought out set, with movement of ideas and textures between tunes. Definitely worth seeing live.
Crowd-sourcing is the thing these days. It runs splendidly rife in the British jazz community. We’ve been privileged to enjoy the fruits of the Tommy Andrews Quintet and Led Bib campaigns, and now it is the turn of the Stoop Quintet.