Cardiff-born musician launches all or nothing bid for debut album
Pianist and Royal Academy of Music jazz graduate, Peter Lee, is crowdsourcing his debut album for five piece band and string quartet through Kickstarter in an all or nothing bid to create ‘The Velvet Rage’.
Inspired by Alan Downs’ book of the same title, the album expresses the highs and lows of Lee’s personal experience as a musician. Downs worked as a psychologist in America, offering counselling to gay men and he has become familiar with their most common personal battles. Towards the end of the book he offers wisdom and guidance towards a goal he names ‘authentic validation’. Lee’s debut is tribute to this sentiment, showcasing compositions Lee has written over the last 10 years, drawing from his educational, professional and personal journey.
Lee commented: “Gay men and women have been granted the opportunity to marry in so much of the western world; we can walk through the streets hand-in-hand and yet it would be naïve to think that personal struggles related to sexuality aren’t still going on. Attacks on the LGBTQ community still happen, but we’ve seen our communities respond with an unprejudiced sense of unity. I’m so grateful that I live in an age where I can be out and proud and express my perspective through the medium of music.”
Cardiff-born and London-based, Lee received his undergraduate degree from Leeds College of Music and his campaign to raise £5,000 has attracted support from across the country with over 55% raised at the halfway mark.
For such a qualified musician, Lee’s story is one of humour and determination. His first gig with his band prompted an official complaint from the examiner-in-chief at the Royal Academy of Music. It was his final recital for his masters in jazz piano, but Lee went in with a band full of pop musicians. The audience whooped and cheered so raucously that a formal email was sent to all students about ‘appropriate’ exam conditions.
While touring with Alice Zawadzki, Lee worked with the Manchester-based “Amika” String Quartet whose stunning playing led him to arrange his music for strings, and invite them to a week-long recording session in the Autumn of 2016. From there, the album progressed into an offering that spans a decade of work with an authentic and highly talented group of musicians.
Lee needs to raise the full £5,000 by midnight on Tuesday 11 April and would welcome support from all corners. Visit www.bit.ly/petelee to join this exciting new project.
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For further information, contact:
Leah Thomas @ Blue Flamingo
Notes to editors:
Lee recorded for five days in Fieldgate studio in Cardiff. The musicians involved are: Pete Lee (piano/compositions), Josh Arcoleo (sax), Alex Munk (guitar), Huw Foster (bass), Ali Thynne (drums), and the “Amika” Strings: Laura Senior (violin), Rich Jones (violin) Lucy Nolan (viola) and Peggy Nolan (cello). The session was recorded by Andy Lawson, Alex Killpatrick & Matt Williams at Fieldgate Studios in South Wales. Matt Roberts produced the album.
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.
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).
Pete Lee’s Narcissus opened to a rammed house on this cold January evening at The Vortex, bringing fire and frenzy to East London.
Opening with a recent composition which was still ‘unnamed‘ Pete Lee (piano) started the tune with solo piano. A structurally complex work which integrated solo, heavy groove and ballad vibes, it really showed how many influences this ensemble has. Next up was Mirror Stage which brought tenor player Nadim Teimoori to the stage (we have previously heard Narcissus with Josh Arcoleo). Mirror Stage was a frenzy of sound with beautiful unison lines between Teimoori and Huw Foster (bass) moving on to what can only be described as a meditation of groove. (Pairing of unison lines across different instrument combinations is a delicious Narcissus hallmark). Lee’s solo here was a history of music for the piano, Brahmsian flourishes juxtaposed with contemporary ‘jazz’ harmony, alongside ‘piano basics’ of octaves and fourths. You never knew what was coming next. Tom Varrall on guitar demanded attention with a frenetic solo which inspired energy from the rest of the band. With sax returning with the head, guitar continuing soloing and the rest of the band playing a rhythmically displaced groove it was insane controlled mayhem. The colour of the guitar and sax voices blended so well that sounds were interlaced, lost and beautifully fused.
Third tune of the night, Criss Cross, moved sound worlds effortlessly, starting with solo bass which we mistook for guitar soloing, such was the lyricism. North African sounding filmic modes then segued into Sci-fi Blake’s 7-esque sounds from synth (a Dave Smith Prophet 12) with further sounds reminiscent of something you’d hear from the early days of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.Ali Thynne, ever the master at the drums, changed the vibe completely, playing with hands on snare and toms. The tune went everywhere, a tango, sci-fi, romantic piano and then a phenomenal blow by Teimoori which brought the first full audience applause mid-tune. It was fantastic to see how much the band were loving Teimoori’s playing – Varrall especially. We wish we’d taken a photo of his face. Last tune of the night was the familiar Writer’s Block (vimeo below), a great tune which is forceful, angry, melodic with in your face groove. It’s our favourite actually.
Lee has a great band: five strong musical characters, each vibrant and individualistic, which he has nurtured to create a phenomenal sound. It’s chaotic, energetic, wild, they’re influenced by jazz, pop, disco, Rachmaninov and Debussy, modes, tangos, electronica – and remarkably it has a beautiful cohesion. Narcissus is sublime chaos, a great schizophrenic identity crisis of genre which against all odds makes sense.
Can’t wait to hear them again – (though we want more of the Dave Smith synth)! ~BF
Pete Lee is a London based jazz pianist, currently leading contemporary group Narcissus. Blue Flamingo conducted this interview via email in March 2013. We were lucky enough to see his RAM performance at The Vortex with Narcissus, so now we’re touching base again!
Tell us about what inspires ‘Pete Lee’s Narcissus’
Over the last few years, I seem to have been torn in two very different musical directions, which futilely compete for my full attention. While I was studying at RAM, taught by the UK’s most prolific contemporary jazz composers & instrumentalists, I was gigging a few times a week with the most killing band of pop musicians of 12-piece group “The White Keys”. Forming “Narcissus” was my way of bridging the gap between two things which appeared worlds apart. I identified the two contrasting elements of life and fused them together. I wanted to compose something with the sense of depth and maturity that you find in Gwilym Simcock’s or Kenny Wheeler’s music, with the sense of conviction, clarity, drive and sheer volume of an electronic pop band. So that’s the musical background of the project.
I’ve been writing with a specific theme in mind too. I wanted to tie everything together with an idea that an audience could relate to, and that would be a catalyst for the creation of more music. I chose the topic of the human mind. This includes human perception, attitude and behaviour. It’s quite a personal theme really – I’ve had my own difficulties with mental health, and recently lost a family member, who had had a long history with mental illness. So forming Narcissus was a bit of an emotional outpour. Emotional potency is always a plus in music. The intangibility of the human thought process, and the fact that it is a universal entity, encouraged me to write something honest and truly from my own experience. It can really interesting to become aware of your state of mind when you’re being most creative. What’s happening in your mind when you’re lost in music, and how do you ensure that you achieve that state regularly?
Do you think it makes a difference that it grew up outside the ‘London Bubble’?
All band members in “Narcissus” have some rooting in Leeds. We met in Leeds College of Music, but I didn’t form the band until we had relocated to London. It’s important to me that we’ve got a long history of playing together. You don’t really realise how much you trust and rely upon one-another, until you play with other musicians who have a different approach altogether. It’s easy to forget how much you’ve become accustomed to each others’ playing, but this relationship is the basis for a group that sounds unique and well balanced. To be honest, we’ve probably spent even more time together driving up and down the M1 in an overcrowded & precarious Transit van, sharing near-death experiences. It’s really important that we’re able to hang out together; it’s never even an effort anymore. Our activities as a group are more influential to the music than the location we came to meet.
This project is especially different for me musically. Stylistically, it marks a bit of a paradigm shift, a tectonic shift even! I used to swear by the acoustic sound of double bass and delicate brushes at the kit. I used to think that less was more. This band is much punchier and more direct. Now I think that more is more. We chose to memorise all the material we play, so that when we’re on stage we are free to communicate rather than read.
What did you learn during the time you studied in London?
I learnt that I’ve got a lot of work to do – a lifetime of work in fact. I guess I was already aware that with music, there’s always more to learn. But while studying at the Academy, this really hit home. I was surrounded by prolific musicians, and I had one-to-ones with Nikki Iles, Gwilym Simcock, Tom Cawley and Django Bates. It’s an amazing environment to be in – very humbling indeed.
I learnt a lot from Barak Schmool about groove writing – knowledge that I hope to utilise when writing for Narcissus. Pete Churchill’s composition and arranging lessons were great too – I learnt how to arrange my music for octet – which was really challenging. We’d have a weekly session where we’d have an octet set up, and we’d bring in our compositions and arrangements. Mine would often sound quite rough at first – but I’d use the time between the sessions to tweak my arrangements until they I achieved what I’d first envisaged.
As well as being a humbling experience, the Academy taught me to have some self-belief and motivation. I learned that if I really worked hard, I could achieve an awful lot. The main product has been my group Narcissus with whom I played my final recital. I’m really proud of this group and I’m excited about its future.
“Writer’s Block” is a great tune….inspired, by, Writer’s Block? How did you break that Block?
While in my first year at academy, I had a bit of composing crisis! I didn’t write anything new for a whole year. To pass my composition module, I wrote new arrangements of 3 year old compositions (shhhh!). But seeing as I was arranging for octet for the first time, it made sense to practice the arranging side of things without worrying about the composition itself. But once that was over, with my final recital approaching, I accepted that new material was long overdue. I knew how highly original material was valued in the final recital, and I wanted to leave RAM with something of my own.
Over Christmas of 2011, I fulfilled a short-term cruise contract to help out with rent. I was there for 6 weeks, and we revisited a lot of the same ports each time that we’d have new passengers. When we pulled up at port, all the old folks would amble off to the beach, leaving the room with the grand piano free. I forced myself to write something, dusting off the creative compartments in my brain, ignoring my self-doubt. It took around 6 weeks to write “Writer’s Block” complete with an arrangement for octet. My idea with this piece was to unite my pop and jazz ties. It’s really similar to Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” – a really similar structure. It’s got “verses” and “choruses”, keyboard riffs that keep coming back with a horn line that sits on top – swiped almost directly from “Ain’t Nobody”! But I used harmonic ideas that I’d found in John Taylor’s “Autumn”, and the kind of unison bass and left hand piano runs that you find in Gwilym Simcock’s “1981”. So it’s a piece that consists of contemporary jazz content, organised into a pop structure.
To be brutally honest, I found it really fun to write something that entirely lacked tact or subtlety. It felt like a bit of a rebel statement in an increasingly pretentious and airy-fairy jazz scene. The enjoyment I found encouraged me to write the rest of the Narcissus repertoire without the self-doubt. I began to believe that I was creating was valid and worthwhile.
Do you know what might inspire your next tunes?
I want to use more elements of live dance music, including more modern technology and sounds. Perhaps some really subby bass and synth solos. There’s still lots more mileage to be had from my theme too. There’s been some really pressing political & personal issues recently that I’d like to express with music. I’ve been brainstorming – and have a list of tune themes as long as my arm!
What do you do to chill out when not music-ing?
Music is always on my mind, even if I’m playing Playstation! I read an interesting article recently that suggested that time spent procrastinating can be a time where many people subconsciously order their thoughts, and make grand plans. Perhaps it’s not as beneficial as playing your scales, but I think a good balance of socialising, relaxing, practicing and composing is key to living a life of successes, happiness and sound mental health.