Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fabled EP review - storied, dramatic, indie-film jazz

My advocacy for jazz as film soundtrack cannot be understated, and has only been strengthened through the experience of updating this blog: I have campaigned for Troyka to be introduced to J. J. Abrams, and I've been exposed to Tom Challenger's epic sci-fi work with MA.

Fabled, then, is inspired by the other end of the film spectrum. The record - without cliché - hooks onto tropes from more melodramatic indie film soundtracks: shimmering instrumentation, open rising lines, crystal clear suspensions. Rapley's writing combines all of this with just the right elements of contemporary Jazz composition and improvisational space. I'd heard some of the pieces before from Sam Rapley's trio recordings, but they have really been brought to life here in a way that captures his influences from the world of cinematic music.

The idea of stories runs throughout the EP, and each piece is strongly thematic with a clear arc. Rapley is a deeply sentimental architect, who throws everything at this record - watercolours, fireworks, mist and storm. His playing has a unique character to it - a very sweet tone, that can, as the most human of characters so often do, turn and turn again until it has suddenly become the gut wrenching obsession you always feared (see that note in the recording below).

Compared to the trio recordings, Alex Munk's guitar work in particular is elevated by a number of elements. Right from the start of the EP, there is something magical about the rhythmic tension between Munk's line, and Will Glaser's dusty, muted drumming. The texture is beautiful - it reminds me of Bill Frisell's soundtrack work (if that's not too hackneyed) - but it's the groove - the rhythmic distance between Glaser and Munk that really makes it special. Will Glaser and Conor Chaplin represent something of the perfect rhythm section for an EP of this type: controlled, spacious, and deeply centred on the melody. Furthermore, the inclusion of drums and bass has freed up Matt Robinson on piano to play a wider range of roles, from supporting the melodic lines to glistening with loops of top-end arpeggios.

One of my favourite soundtracks is the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou. According to Cinematographer Roger Deakins:
"Ethan and Joel favored a dry, dusty Delta look with golden sunsets. They wanted it to look like an old hand-tinted picture, with the intensity of colors dictated by the scene and natural skin tones that were all shades of the rainbow."
The soundtrack was central to the conception of that movie, and when T-Bone Burnett was enlisted to construct it, he wanted to reflect the dust and the sepia tones throughout. Of course, this holistic approach to film and soundtrack working together might not possible for an EP of this sort. That said, the pieces have a story and a setting all of their own, which is deftly captured in the texture of the sound itself. A nod then, to Daniel Keinath and Alex Killpartrick. These arrangements could have been flattened in the wrong hands, especially had the detail in the mid-range been ignored. The result of Killpartrick's close attention to the mix is a soft but precise sound, with the sort of resonance that grounds it firmly in a room, rather than abstract space. These subtleties reward close listening on wide speakers if you get the chance.

Both Frisell and Burnett are both rooted in the country tradition, and while Rapley doesn't share this (no reason he should), he does however have the strong melodic sensibility that has allowed them to resonate so strongly with film audiences. What Fabled manages to do is therefore comparable, carrying Rapley's personal voice in a way that is not only easily imagined on the big screen, but stands alone as a deeply moving piece of work with its own narrative.

What's most powerful about this record is that it never shies away from ascending into ecstasy, descending into oblivion, when the moment demands it. In Fabled, Rapley presents all the makings of a hypermodern soundtrack, well constructed, sonically pristine, but with all the rushing warmth and hazard of the human psyche.

The EP is released tomorrow - 12 March 2015 - and is available to buy on CD/digital from Bandcamp (embedded below). Here's the closing track from the EP, Yellow Card, including a rough location of that note.