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.
Much has been spun about ‘Prog-Post Jazz’ group Let Spin. On a customary wet and miserable Dalston evening the Vortex audience were, wine glasses in hand, ready to hear their second album launch: Let Go.
Ruth Goller (bass) started the set with her tune I like to Sound Like a Rainforest. With its lyrically lamenting bass line it drew the audience’s attention with simple effectiveness. Sax and guitar entered with the melody and it quickly settled into a strong 6/8 groove. The improv section was much freer and angrier, giving us the first taste of the inner mind of Let Go. Ending with a ‘bell’ toll, Rainforest was a great emotional journey of sounds.
Rainforest set the structural precedent for the next two tunes (Disa & All Animals are Beautiful): strong groove based head in irregular time, heavily free middle section, with a return to the groove at the end.
Disa by drummer Finlay Panter was rhythmically driven (9/4, 4/4, 5/4 time) and it was immediately clear that each member of Let Spin has a clearly distinctive compositional voice. Whilst the improv sections in the first three tunes went in similar directions, the tunes were clearly characterised by their writers.
Fourth in the set was the guitar led E.V.A., a tune by Guitarist Moss Freed. The sax danced on top of the guitar line like the crest on a wave: sax sat perfectly with the guitar and was yet comfortably independent. E.V.A. was the first tune that ‘kept time’ throughout, refreshingly departing from the signature sound of the set thus far. It was well placed in the set and by the applause level afterwards, it was an audience favourite.
The final tune of the first set was saxophonist Chris Williams’ ‘Walt’s Waltz’, a great tune in which the raucous Led Bib influences are clear. (We initially understood the title to be ‘Waltz Waltz’ and with the 6/4 riff this made sense. Nice to have an extra layer of meaning). The massive sound was ice water to the face (we like ice water) and the epic chaos in the middle was fun and a great way to end the first set.
Let Spin resists many of the traditional quartet idioms, for example each member taking a ‘token solo’. Sax acts as a voice, taking the tune and often giving us the most explosive solos. There are clear sections ‘without sax’ in which the various band members let loose, each musician dripping with virtuosity and creating varied and complex sound worlds.
The second set opened with 102 Hill Street, a tune from their first album Let Spin.The band came alive in this tune – a triumphal announcement letting us know that they were ready to play and show us what they’ve got.
Let Go contains two tunes from each band member. Their website describes them as ‘a band that is not afraid to make the most of their individual voices’. This is actually true (hurray for accurate band descriptions). The variety of the timbres in which they inhabit makes it much more interesting and accessible.
They play on this and the audience were asked to guess who wrote the next tune: Rotation. (we got it right! Panter. Stickers for us). His naturally rhythmically driven writing identifies strongly with him.
Next up was Killing our Dreams (Williams), a beautiful tune, as near to a ballad as we would ever hear with Let Spin. The writing for sax is highly lyrical, with repetition within a small range with Freed playing beautifully underneath. The band built behind the simple sax line in an utterly symphonic way in its colour and texture. The sound was huge, and the symphonic effect was completed by the three tonic major chords upon which it finished. True Beethoven.
Rothko’s Field had a latin flavour with Goller, Panter and Freed filling the space perfectly with their signature taste. Up and At Them (Williams) finished the set. The strong bass line played as ever energetically and powerfully by Goller, led to a great solo from Freed and top playing from Panter. The massive timbres were a great way to finish.
To such applause they gave us an encore lullaby with which to send us home, the final tune from their first album, A Change Is Coming.
Let Spin certainly gave us a show. We cannot undervalue the great and distinctive voices brought by each member of the band. The variety is great, keeps us listening and exploring. Williams, Freed, Goller and Panter each write so powerfully and differently it is a wonderful thing when it all comes together.
Popular Blue Flamingo Band Down Street had the privilege of playing at a beautiful wedding just over a month ago. The gorgeous venue was the Great Hall at Royal Holloway.
Here are some beautiful photos from Kit Myers Photography.
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.
One of our epic party bands are playing at Floripa London this Wednesday 7th January 2014. Check out the Facebook event here and check out their website here. Playing all things pop, soul, motown, rock and all that’s in-between!
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.
It was so exciting finally to see Alice Zawadzki and her band live and with the packed crowd at The Crypt, Camberwell this Saturday, South London was excited too.
Zawadzki is utterly captivating in every part of her performance. She can tell a story with her eyes alone, so when you add her voice, violin and the band you are willingly transported to another place.
Much of the music came from her recent album China Lane, starting the evening with its lead song Ring of Fire. Next up was Indome Para Marsilia, beguiling in its haunting beginnings, juxtaposed with pure groove. She sung masterfully in Ladino, and throughout the evening managed to sing in English, Swedish and Polish as well.
Zawadzki then moved on to Trochę Mitośći which was our favourite: texturally and harmonically it could be a Lied of the classical world. A song known to Zawadzki from her great aunt in Poland, it tells of a woman wanting the man with beautiful dark eyes. Zawadzki has a voice with many colours in it, folk, jazz, soul to name but a few, and here she starts with a sound clearly evoking the 1950s. Trochę Mitośći then morphs into a beautifully rhapsodic duet for violin and guitar. Who even knew this sound was possible.
Cellist Shirley Smart guested in a number of tunes, including a new song Superior Virtue. The song was a duet for Zawadski and Smart, and demonstrated gifted use of narrative and musical story-telling techniques.
In You as Man the strength of each individual band member was evident. Pete Lee on keys/synth put the Radiophonic Workshop to shame with his epic mastery of the Prophet 12. Alex Roth destroyed it with his solo there too. As did Tom McCredie. It’s a frankly ridiculous band. This is not to omit drummer Jon Scott. He was on it all night, and owned Cat, a song about ‘the soul of a cat getting into the body of a woman’.
She’s just totally on it all. At ease. It is a band that works well together, they know where to leave space for each other, where to sit. It’s a band that’s just right.
There are many more words we could write. But if words were adequate we wouldn’t have the music. You have to go and hear her. There is no genre that isn’t covered. In fact. Forget genre. She is her own new genre.
We’ve now downloaded the album, which you can do here. Naughty us. We really should have done it much earlier.
1. Ring of Fire (Zawadzki) ‘The magic and wonder of being being a teenager drunk on cider’
2. Indome Para Marsilia (trad. Sephardic arr Alex Roth, sung in Ladino) ‘A song about a girl flung far away from her homeland, wondering what the world will bring’
3. Trochę Mitośći ‘A Little Love’ (trad. Polish) ‘A lady who falls in love with a man with deep dark eyes. Sung by my great aunt Anna Borey Protassewicz during the fifties in Poland. She recorded loads of songs with the Radio Orchestra in Bydgoszcz and I transcribed with one off an old vinyl of hers and rearranged it.’
4. Dicho Me Habian Dicho (trad. Sephardic, sung in Ladino) ‘From the fifteenth centure, a time when Jews were expelled from Spain, a song of a girl worried nobody will marry her because of her skin colour’
5. Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light (Zawadzki) ‘A song of sunrise in Denmark’
1. Cat (Zawadzki) ‘the soul of a cat getting into the body of a woman and influencing her affections’
2. Uti Mitt Hjärta ‘In my Heart’ (Kraya, arr Zawadzki, Swedish) ‘inside your heart I see your happiness. Within my body I feel your love’
3. Superior Virtue (Zawadzki) ‘How an unfulfilled love is ever the more romantic because it was never acted upon’
4. You as a man and I as a women (Zawadzki) ‘When you think it’s over and you’re not quite sure if you can keep going’
5. You Can Leave Your Hat On (Etta James)
6. I’m Gonna Leave You Where I Met You (Rudy Stephenson/Nina Simon).