November may be approaching, but the rattle of my letter box this week heralded nothing more alarming than works from F-IRE, and what a treat its turned out to be. The works in question were vocalist Fini Bearman‘s treatment of Porgy and Bess and Pembroke Road, the debut release by young London based guitarist Leo Appleyard both released under the ‘F-IRE presents’ imprint. With Porgy & Bess Bearman steps up, takes the most standard of American song-book material , salutes the genius of Gil Evans and Miles in taking Gershwin’s melodies and songs as a starting point and then completely re-re-invents them. This is what Porgy and Bess might have sounded like if Gershwin had written it after the 60s Blues boom and on the back of the rootsy R&B inflected rock that sprang from it. It Aint Necessarily So wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Mayall album, Ross Stanley supplying the earthiest of organ solos; My Man’s Gone Now has a rockier feel, Robert Plant given the nod as inspiration,Matt Calvert‘s jangling bluesy guitar creating a haunting atmosphere. I Got Plenty of Nothin‘s jaunty two feel injects a seam of country into the groove. Through it all Fini Bearman’s supple vocals by turns growl, float and skip delivered with just the right weight. If that was all, this album would be would be great fun, but with some of the arrangements the emotional reach goes up a gear. Porgy I’m your Women Now builds over steady arpeggios with a soaring emotional vocal and re-weaving of the melody. I Love’s You Porgy is a show stopper, John Blease scattering restless percussive patterns from his kit underneath ethereal delayed guitar chords as Bearman seems to just drape an emotional lyric over it all. This is an album that’ll keep popping up in my speakers. Its an individual and emotionally charged re-working of classic material. Guitarist Leo Appleyard‘s album takes us into different, jazzier territory. An understated but lively sound draws the listener in to strong melodic themes blending his resonant guitar sound with Duncan Eagles‘ clear toned but warm, sighing tenor sound. The pieces are often even quavered with a folky undertow, invariably subtly shifting in pace and atmosphere as a mood or ideas develop. On Mass its overt with Neil Yates trumpet adding colour and a melancholic edge. There’s thoughtful, lyrical soloing all round, with Appleyard showing his got plenty of imagination when it comes to shaping ideas on the fly with Max Luthert on bass and Eric Ford on drums constantly jostling and breaking up things up, particularly on Mass and Anywhere South, an almost straight ahead sounding swinger. There’s a lovely loose, quiet flowing feel to this music from a writer and player with plenty to say, but he wont be shouting at you and he’s assembled a band who understand that. My ear was constantly drawn by the intensity and fragility with which Duncan Eagles plays. Eric Ford’s drumming is uniformly delightful adding tension and colour without ever needing to thunder.
The quality of music, the writing, arranging and playing is outstanding on both these albums and its worth saluting again (their accolades have been many and deserved) the work F-IRE and other musician run collectives in bringing so much varied and exciting music to a wider audience whilst keeping the musicians in the driving seat. Three cheers from me.