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.
It was great to hear one of London’s finest Orchestras, the London Philharmonic, play on Saturday night and to see Vladimir Jurowski conduct. Jurowski conducted the Russian composers with flair, his physicality demonstrating the shape of the sound he intended.
Yefim Bronfman did a fine job with the UK premiere of Magnus Lindberg‘s Piano Concerto No.2. It fit nicely with the programme, the Debussy and Russian influences clear to hear with great ranges in textures and relationship between piano and orchestra. Bronfman brought the work to life with ease – singing, stomping and dancing all over the piano.
The Prokofiev excerpts were dynamic, and the Stravinsky was played with a warm rich sound. Stravinsky’s animal sounds were played fabulously – you could feel the bear walking across the stage with his thudding steps. Beautiful.
With an evening out in Soho, you never know what to expect. Sat in MeWe360 it was a surprisingly traditional urban setting. It is a ‘modern office’, but this space with its sofas, random chairs and a piano made a great setting for chamber music – a genre as old as music itself. It’s rare to be sitting on the floor listening to great contemporary music in such intimate surroundings and as Riot Ensemble‘s Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum introduced the evening we knew we were in for a great night.
The programme started with Felipe Lara‘s, “Livro dos Sonhos” (Book of Dreams) a song for clarinet with piano. Angular angry unisons began the piece which was full of timbral contrasts. Moments of diatonic melody spattered this sound world of harmonics, accents and frights with masterful clarinet control by clarinettist Harry Cameron-Penny. Adam Swayne on Piano played with precision and the pair play very well together.
Next up was the UK premiere of Marco Momi‘s ‘Reloading Vanishing’ for solo flute. Kate Walter played this so very engagingly. The piece calls for vocalisation, gasps, emotive outbursts as well as simultaneous flute playing. Walter’s character brought the piece alive. A Riot Ensemble trademark is to use other media in their work (see our previous review here). This evening they had a screen with information, most interestingly a preview of the score. Thus in ‘Reloading Vanishing’ it was intriguing to read the instruction ‘confidentially’ at the top of the score, getting a glimpse of the composer’s ‘intention’.*
Amy Beth Kirsten‘s ‘Speak to Me’ for pianist finished the first half, with Holloway-Nahum introducing Kirsten’s composition style as a ‘physical not intellectual’ activity. Swayne absolutely owned this piece – which is based on the myth of Echo, Narcissus and Juno – and eloquently (and helpfully) reminded the audience of the story. The music has three parts. Firstly Echo talking incessantly to distract Juno, her adulterous husband, secondly Juno cursing Echo and finally Echo frustrated that she can no longer speak. Kirsten is just a great writer. Her improvisational influences are so evident. The first section is great stream-of-consciousness for pianist in which Swayne both sings/speaks and plays. The cursing is dark and repetitive – a migraine of intensity of a curse and Swayne’s quite remarkable skill as an actor emerged as he spoke with harsh intensity. Finally when Echo is trapped and can no longer speak, the music recalls what was once spoken and Swayne (consciously or not) realised the pain on his face. Someone had taken away his power to speak. Echo tries to recall the music but can’t assert herself. This is an epic piece of music by Kirsten. The end is heartbreaking, a requiem for a voice that has been lost and a soul destroyed.
The second half opened with Augusta Read Thomas‘ ‘Capricci’ (Hummingbird Romance) a piece inspired by New Orleans jazz improvisation. It was a great dance for flute and clarinet and showed Thomas’ clear and intimate understanding of these instruments. This duet was great to observe. Cameron-Penny and Walter moved together as they played demonstrating flawless technique and great virtuosity. At moments the tonalities echoed Schoenberg just as he was beginning his 12-tone experimentation.
‘Invocation to Ate’ by Arne Gieshoff was next up, a piece focussing on obsession. Once more the range of the flute’s colours was superbly demonstrated by Walter’s excellent technique and performance.
The night finished with two trios, the first being Jose Manuel Serrano‘s ‘Espantajo de Resca’. Holloway-Nahum once more told the work’s story: music evoking the ghostly figures left on the sand and bark as the flood recedes from Serrano’s hometown. This piece is an echo of an image with haunting breezes of melody. Once again Swayne at the piano uses his voice in the work – but the eery sounds don’t add human reality to the work, rather they take it away, creating an even darker, beautiful sound. The rich sounds from Walter and Cameron-Penny developed Serrano’s world into a beautiful soundscape.
The evening’s title piece ‘The Riot’ by Jonathan Harvey finished the night, a work designed to show the (as Holloway-Nahum put it) ‘sheer virtuosity’ of the musicians and how it was ‘utterly clear how hard’ it is to play. This is a mayhem of a piece. Moments of utter diatonicism (cycle of fifths, major thirds) were interspersed with exclamation and madness. It’s actually great to hear a composer who’s not afraid to use even pulse and functional harmony every now and again – jazz influences too were clear.
It was a great concert with phenomenal music and well thought out programme. The setting was intimate and this made a big change to how the music was received: sitting comfortably with a drink in your hand is an inviting setting. It is a new (and yet so old) way to hear the music. Holloway-Nahum’s great insight into the composer’s ideas and thoughts (Harvey’s daughter Anna and Gieshoff himself were present too) made the music much more tangible and thought-provoking.
*there is no way on earth we are going to get into a discussion on the realisation of the composer’s intention and whether or not it is a valid idea. This is just a review. Hence the quotation marks. The end. ~BF
We are big Narcissus fans and we were looking forward to hearing them at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on this brisk January afternoon. Last time we reviewed them almost exactly a year ago, we described them as: ‘sublime chaos, a great schizophrenic identity crisis of genre which against all odds makes sense.’
Eager to hear their signature pop grooves and melodic lines that weave through the Narcissus sound, we were a little unsettled to hear at the top of the set an aimless sound world. Whilst pianist and leader Peter Lee still played with heartbreaking beauty we were longing to hear melody with regular time, longing to know where this tune was going. So unusual was this start, that when the melodic ‘head’ was breathed into life by sax player Josh Arcoleo, it was like the shoulders relaxing down after being taught with tension. No wonder it had that effect: Lee told us afterwards that the tune is entitled, Bi-Polar. The ‘aimless’ alongside ‘happiness’ juxtaposition is a new sound to Narcissus. Highly effective and definitely an unnerving start to the set it was good to hear the group play slightly riskier tunes.
Dependency starts as many Narcissus tunes do, with a piano introduction: hymn-like homophonic sounds. It has parallels with The Dreamer – a cover played later in the set. Dependency, with it’s lilting 6/8 rhythms, also welcomed guitarist Tom Varrall to the stage. In some ways it’s a very ‘classical’ tune – with an exposition of the melody and a haunting piano cadenza leading back to the head. The tune ended as it started, with the rest of the band adding small sounds, like a memory, lost in the echoes of subtone. Mirror Stage, a tune familiar to regular listeners starts with sparse unison chords, sounding like a syncopated bell chiming on the hour. The much awaited delicious groove appears, alongside beautiful melodies. This is possibly our favourite tune in the set. Lee’s Dave Smith synth emerged. We’ve raved about how much we love it and it’s radiophonic workshop sounds before, so we won’t so do again here. Narcissus went crazy. Arcoleo and Lee were epic and Varrall played a great funky guitar riff behind the madness.
The final tune of the first set, Did you have something to say? (Lee added, ‘in this case, no’) included most notably a beautiful bass solo from Foster. Most distinctively it ended with a frankly funny 80s synth sound wall from Lee. It appeared to have the rest of the band laughing too. It acted as a response to the tune’s question: Did you actually have something to say? No. Make of that what you will.
Untitled announced the start of the second set – with an epic solo from Varrall. It’s perhaps the most ‘pop’ influenced tune of the set, with groove juxtaposed by lyrical balladic melodies. Criss Cross featured the beautiful lines of Huw Foster on bass – giving space to explore that sound world with no hurry. Just before they started their only cover of the set, The Dreamer, Lee explained that this tune demonstrated the more electronic route these guys have decided to pursue. That comes as no surprise – the distinctive sound of Lee’s synth playing have become more and more involved and each time we hear them play – and choosing the electronic vibes of this Mehliana tune fit in perfectly. The Dreamer segued seamlessly into Writer’s Block a tune where you never know what’s coming next. Yes, we happen to know this tune fairly well, it’s performed on most their gigs and is strong melodically and harmonically. Yet still it is filled with surprises and the band work so well as a whole on this tune. Narcissus are an electric ensemble, juxtaposing solid groove with utter chaos. They sit together so well and love listening to one another play. There are moments that are just massive – and then a mere breath later, there is a perfect silence. Maybe that is what they do best. Cherish the quiet.
Dear Narissus – please please please record an album.
The Con Cellar Bar is one of our favourite venues; we’ve been regular visitors since its early days. It’s a rare and special space where you hear the music in all its purity: no need to mic up horns or the kick, just play as you are. It’s a secret you have to know about to get to, it’s slightly out of the way; you always bump into somebody you know, it’s always rammed, and the music is always, and I mean always, great. We’ve never heard a bad gig there.
So much is due to the faithful work of the late Rich Turner – whose dedication and passion for live music spread through a community of young jazz musicians, to make the Con a favourite of musicians and audiences of all generations. Now George Crowley, Dan Nicholls, Sam Jesson & Tom Challenger run the monthly Friday night. Remarkably, they’ve managed to get a double bill of the best jazz musicians in the country, for only a fiver each month. They do a great job. Perhaps this really IS London’s best kept secret. And we’ve just blogged it. Oh well, don’t tell too many people. It’s OURS!
So we’ll keep this brief. First off was Joe Wright’s Nightjar (see below for musicians/links/set). Set alight by Alice Zawadzki’s hauntingly beautiful vocals, the folk influences in harmony and rhythms were evident in Spencer’s writing before he told us one of his tunes was based on the 15th Century folk song, the Bonnie Banks of Fordie. The writing really is exquisite. The dovetailing of the vocal and sax lines was aurally mesmerising, and there is just so much space! Jeff Spencer on bass was a great example of the old cliché ‘less is more’. Grounding the group effortlessly, yet giving the sound time to breath was Spencer’s gift to the group. Playing around with tempos appears to be a Nightjar speciality. Several times they pulled back the tempo like a steam train, gradually grinding to a perfect halt. On the other end of the spectrum we really enjoyed Laura Stands Tall with the repeated firey opening line ‘A total lack of respect’ crying out throughout the song. Spencer’s electronic effects with tenor sax brought an other-worldness to the already dreamlike folk vibe, and James Maddren on drums brought spacious complexity to the mix. We were excited to find out that you can watch Nightjar’s Strange Placeshere.
After the traditional raffle (who could resist the chance of winning Sainsbury’s wine, a firework, or top prize, a toffee apple?) Freddie Gavita’s Quartet emerged (again see below for musicians/links/sets). A group of friends who clearly play together often (much laughing, conversation & in-jokes whilst playing) this was a night where Gavita pulled out many of his old well-loved tunes. Our favourite was the more groove based Turnaround featuring a storming piano solo by Tom Cawley, with fierce playing from James Maddren to finish it off. Maddren’s playing so captured performers and audiences alike – that Gavita immediately commented ‘Thanks James – that’s fabulous mate’. Last up was The Buffalo Trace – which holds a very special connection to us. Fred toured with us to Kentucky, and this song is named after a beautiful whiskey produced at a distillery we visited. Fred played beautifully over this tune, the lilting melody reflecting the southern-American state. Mick Coady on bass brought out some stellar sounds to the chilled out last song. It was a great second set. Fred’s natural charm and humility had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
“We’re now halfway through our first UK tour with this band. Despite some of the pre-tour set backs with venues pulling out, it’s safe to say that the tour is going well and we’ve been having a great time! We’ve been absolutely knocked out by the amount of people who’ve come out to the gigs, bought CDs and the support that the promoters and venues have given us along the way – so thanks everyone!
We’ve got three more dates left for the diaries. The first is tonight (25/6/13) at Charlie Wright’s in London and then we hit the road again playing at Dempsey’s in Cardiff on Wednesday 26th before finishing up at Soundcellar on Thursday 27th. If you’re local to London tonight will be only date on the tour with the whole octet, featuring the last minute addition of mega-dep guitarist Alex Munk. For those who cannot make tonight, we have another London gig next month appearing at the 606 Club on Tuesday 23rd July. Thanks again to everyone who has come out and supported the gigs and we’ll hopefully see more people over the next couple of days!”
First up: Metamorphic, launching their new album ‘Coalescence’. Headed up by pianist Laura Cole, they place themselves on the ‘folk-jazz’ side of the music scene. It was great to hear groove based lines juxtaposed with wild improvised sections. The writing is great, and they were tight. There were beautiful moments with horn stabs and stops suddenly let the pure vocal line of Kerry Andrewshine through. Alto Sax player Chris Williams stood out: he clearly loves playing with the group and fed off the rest of the band to create some beautiful virtuosic solo lines.
Then we were silenced by Royst, a trio of voices creating harmonies we didn’t even know existed. What makes them quite so wonderful, is that each of their voices really is VERY different , and yet they can still blend beautifully. Interlacing complex rhythmic loops (acoustically) with melody and panache, it’s impossible to take your eyes and ears away from these three. ‘This Is Sound’ by Kari Bleivik stood out for it melodic flavours, exploring scales and modes alongside rhythmic switches.
The final set brought these two groups together. Reeds are as lyrical as voices – and the mix was just sublime. There were moments of serenity when each member of both groups sang, chaos when the horns were let free over the voices.
You must grab a chance to see this collaboration. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear ‘jazz’ with such original variety and freedom.
We’ve heard much about contemporary music performers The Riot Ensemble, and this evening we finally got a chance to hear what all the noise was about. And splendid noise it was!
Favourite of the night was Lutoslawski’s ‘Five Songs’, each telling blustery tales of ‘The Sea’ ‘The Wind’ ‘Winter’ ‘Knights’ and ‘Church Bells’. Despite this being very much a 20th Century piece – there is something very traditional in the Renaissance inspired word painting. You can literally feel the movement of the sea in the piano lines, shiver at the gales destroying a city and be soothed by the bells voiced so beautifully on the piano.
The success of all these ‘difficult’ pieces is in no small part due to the fantastic work of Soprano Celeste Cronje and pianist Claudia Maria Racovicean. The two work well: it is a great privilege to see great friends perform together. Cronje’s rich, warm and expressive voice suited the repertoire of these international composers well. Racovicean’s absolute precision and innate musicality provided coherence and beauty in what could have been very muddy waters.
Key to The Riot Ensemble’s ethos is bringing this repertoire to new audiences and to make it, to use a buzzword forever battled with and argued over, ‘Accessible’. But there was no dumbing down in repertoire choice (see below), or patronising the audience with detailed explanations of why the tonality in a certain bar represented the inner repressed psyche. Instead – Cronje delightfully paralleled the ‘menu’ of music on the billing as fine food, carefully and thoughtfully prepared for you to consume, each different, each individual. If you didn’t like it – fine – just taste!
Alongside this, translations were projected onto a screen with a background of artist Mark Rothko’s paintings changing colours. This was almost sensory overload for the aesthetically driven among us. However – a wise insertion of the Cage Haiku again after the Lutoslawski acted as Cronje put it, as a ‘palette clenser’ – time for us to re-set.
Flautist Kate Walter brought energy to the Suckling Haikus, the comically short Jonathan Harvey ‘Haiku’ (literally an arpeggiaic flourish) was emphasised by the beautiful cheeky smile Racovicien had on her face after she played it. This was followed by Huw Watkins‘ ‘Three Auden Songs’: three very different songs rich in variety and range, three small scenes into the perception of the human mind. We had the honour of having the composer in the house.
We can’t quite figure out how – but we know it was all masterfully brought together by Aaron Holloway-Nahum – and thus he deserves a well-earned mention.
There’s so much more we could say. In just an hour long concert we were given so much to ‘eat’ that we were full to bursting – but still wondering at the beauty of all consumed.
Looking forward to the next one!
John Cage: Haiku
Witold Lutoslawski: Five Songs – The Sea, The Wind, Winter, Knights, Church Bells
György Ligeti: Három Weöres-dal – The Moon is dancing in a white robe, A cluster of fruit, A merchant has come with giant birds
Martin Suckling: Three Venus Haiku
Marc Hyland: In Thy Beauty
György Ligeti: Der Sommer
Jonathan Harvey: Haiku
Huw Watkins: Three Auden Songs – Brussels in Winter, Eyes look into the well, At last the secret is out