Thursday, 16 February 2017

Madwort Saxophone Quartet - Live at Hundred Years Gallery

I recently received an album from the Madwort Saxophone Quartet.  They are anagrammatically named for the quartet's leader/composer, Tom Ward (of Porpoise Corpus fame. I think I saw them once, did they play at The Others? Either way, at the time of writing, I have the tenuous honour of being the last person to mention that band on twitter.). I wanted to use gears as a metaphor for this album, but gears are a horribly overused metaphor in music chat.

People often use gears - usually "well-oiled" - as a throwaway phrase to imply a group of musicians who work together impressively. Even more bizarrely, whether or not this is a good or bad thing depends on context. This largely misses the point of gears, leaving much scope to extend this metaphor beyond the reach of plausible readability. Which is precisely what I intend on doing.

For example, a section of the wikipedia entry on the design and manufacturing of gears - which will surely be deleted soon, as it is almost entirely without citation - points out that "cast iron, steel, brass and bronze are preferred for manufacturing metallic gears with cut teeth." That might as well have been the pull-quote for this review. The very material of the saxophone's body is a basic component of this album. At first listen, there is almost total timbral unity. Notwithstanding some very sparing use of extended techniques, the outer limits of these saxophones are left unexplored. While I have loved the increasing sonic variety of some artists I've been following, this group (almost by definition!) represents the opposite extreme.

The quartet's timbral unity is relative, though, as the differences between the players and instruments make this such a fascinating, mechanically imperfect album. Turning up the volume, we see right down into the brush-marks in the lacquer (detail so often obfuscated by live recordings - e.g. the Paris Saxophone Quartet's cavernous disc of Bach arrangements).  The best example of this is on Mad Giant Bee, where the players duel in overlapping ranges before leaping and diving back into their own registers.

Another highlight for me is Islands in the Green, a rotating, never-resolving hymn. In my head, it's the organ voluntary in a village church so remote that nobody noticed when Jackie Mclean turned up about 3 minutes in, spilt his coffee all over the keyboard, and disappeared back into the cemetery. Meanwhile Cath Roberts is grinding around and around, reeling out a gritty left hand continuo.

Handbuilt by Robots is where the gears metaphor comes into its own. In the piece, the players are staged as stacks of gears: similar shapes, different sizes, meshing together, doing what people often forget what gears really do: rotating at different speeds.

Overall the album is somewhere between contemporary jazz and modernist ballet. In fact, everything about this album lends itself to dance: The phrasing is so human, with wild leaps, maddening loops, and vigorous, unforgiving rhythm. Reeds are chewed and caressed, fingers rattle, and onlookers honk - it's an orgy of dogged machinery that mimics and demands the human body.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Some 2016 thoughts before I get started again...

It's been a while. Over a year, in fact, away from the blog. I've been listening lots, and playing more than I did for years. I have also been continuing to gather music that I keep meaning to write about.

I had a car with a CD player for a bit. That was fun while it lasted.

Michael Chillingworth's debut lived in that car for a while. It's still so clear in my head - and perhaps it always will be - the moment when I pulled out onto the main road towards the highway and his solo started. I think I tweeted shortly after something about how happy it made me. It still does. At first, you might think there was something innocent about his playing. It's unashamedly pretty, but deceptively sharp - fiendish, even. And the same goes for the pieces themselves - somehow both larger and smaller than life. Chillingworth gives us a glimpse of what is going on in his head, and then condemns us to a real world that will never be quite as colourful.

It was the start of me playing more and more over the 6 months that followed. It took me about a fortnight of listening to the album on a loop for me to get my mum's old guitar (which I'd taken with me to Luxembourg) out of its case and try to play back some of those opening lines that had been branded into the side of my brain.

I had a 12-hour drive to Italy to burn through a whole stack of discs - only a few memories of that stick out: I got hung up on Melt Yourself Down's phenomenal first album - a whirling shitstorm of noisy joy, overflowing with hooks and hollers. I was carried - unfazed - over the Italian motorways, by the phantasmagoric arrangements on Donna Lewis' Brand New Day.

Anyway, I'll be trying to write more - sometimes with new records, and sometimes catching up on the past year - so keep an eye out.

Monday, 25 January 2016

C&L January mixtape

Merry 2016 C&Lers. Here's a playlist for listening... I've been too busy to keep up with actual write-ups of stuff, but here's a playlist of some listening from January, all heartily recommended by me...

Individual tracks after the jump...

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Celebrating back to the future day in jazz...

Below is my selection of things that happened on the actual Back To The Future days in jazz history/present. Please get in touch (comments, twitter, whatever) if you can think of any more!

12th November 1955: Dexter Gordon Quintet recorded 'I Should Care'

Dexter Gordon!

(My earlier, erroneous entry, which I enjoy too much to delete: Lover Man - Jackie McLean)

Miles had just gone under the knife... but in five days his band were to lay down the first 'Round About Midnight session... but ON THIS DAY, was laid down this gem, recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ:

  • Jackie McLean - Alto Sax
  • Donald Byrd - Trumpet (sits out, but yknow, he was there)
  • Mal Waldron - Piano
  • Doug Watkins - Bass
  • Ronald Tucker - Drums

26th October 1985: Freddie Hubbard

This was actually recorded on the 25th, but hopefully the gig went on late enough to count?

21st October 2015: Tonight there's a bunch of stuff happening around London, you should go see some of it...

Huw V Williams' Hon album launch at the Vortex (click flier for more info)....

Or alternatively, the Corrie Dick/Maarten Hogenhuis trio with special guests Miriam Ast and Rob Luft at the Spice of Life.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Vula Viel remix EP, plus some nerding out on buzzing gourds...

In the run-up to the Vula Viel album launch, taking place at the end of this month (see flyer below) I wanted to give a bit of love to the remix album. There's a wealth of imagination here that bears deep listening. I think it's worth nothing that a couple of the band members themselves have contributed some incredible cut: Dan Nicholls' remix is an absolute brain-melter, and the additional vocals on the Dave De Rose mix really set it apart. It's really interesting to see how different musicians have latched onto different elements of the original piece, and the overall album is incredibly varied - a million miles away from those 6-remix maxi-CDs from 90s/00s chart music (although they are a guilty pleasure of mine... janet jackson anyone? my guiltiest being deliberately tracking down the cheesiest versions of Kelis' Trick Me).

My favourite moments are where the buzzing of the gourds are brought to the front (as they are even in the original mix). I love all that lovely natural distortion, and it seems I'm not the only one. For anyone else out there who's interested, I found this paper about mathematically modelling the Gyil's sound with an aim "to provide performers and composers an audio effect that can be applied to the signal of any mallet percussion instrument" - ultimately spreading something of this joyful sound far and wide. Just look at those frequencies once you add the gourd:

You can listen to / buy the EP below, and the full album is available for pre-order from Vula Viel's bandcamp.

Smiling music

Here's a great video of Corrie Dick's Band of Joy performing live at Oliver's. I just love the energy in this video - really positive vibes and lots of smiles amongst one another. Sharing sincere happiness is one of the things that makes playing music together so enriching, and Corrie has really captured it with this video, gathering a phenomenal lineup of players, and highlighting that intense energy with the dancers Paulina Lenoir and Luke Bullen.

If you're currently too hungover from the con last night to handle percussion and horns at this time of day, here's that Little Lions track again for good measure. In video form this time. Those smiles, though!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Assorted C&L update: Mark Pringle at the Oxford, Con Cellar on Friday, and *even more* Little Lions

Mark Pringle's Moveable Feast live at the Oxford

Pianist Mark Pringle put together an incredible band for this gig. Pringle's music brought the best out of this quartet - one can only imagine the additional joy had Josh Arcoleo been able to make the date as planned. Joe Wright's tenor tone was just so ridiculous - a flute one minute, a bone-saw the next. James Banner was boxing away so hard at that bass I thought it was going to fall apart in his arms - an exciting player with loads of great musical ideas. He and drummer Euan Palmer were so locked in; even during delightful, clattery, free passages, it was fruitless to try and discern where one player ended and the other began.

Con Cellar line-up for Friday

Ok, so the lineup for Friday is - as usual - awesome. Difference this time is that I should be able to make it *in person* this time. Everyone else should too.

Mark Lewandowski Quartet:
  • Mark Lewandowski – double bass
  • Tom Challenger – tenor sax
  • Liam Noble – piano
  • Gene Caldarazzo – drums
Lloyd Haines Trio:
  • Lloyd Haines – drums
  • Josh Arcoleo – tenor sax
  • Chris Hyson – double bass

More Little Lions to listen to...

This band keeps popping up every so often to lob very pretty music at the internet. This track was recorded live at Dempsey's in Cardiff, and made my Sunday morning just wonderful.