CD Round Up – Part 2: Pigs and ANt (Figes and Nowak)

The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.

kfwwFirstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records .  There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick  Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.time-being-front

There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back.  The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties.  The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets.    Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.

Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before andynowakthe summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since.  This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement.  First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony,  Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos.  Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November

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Greg Cordez Quintet – Paper Crane, CD & Launch Gig

It’s taken a while. Bass player Greg Cordez had the tracks recorded a year ago we were hearing, having herded the frighteningly busy team of Jake McMurchie (tenor sax), Nick Malcom (trumpet), Jim Blomfield (piano) and Mark Whitlam (drums) into the studio. The occasional teaser has appeared on his website but now Paper Crane is released on Ninety and Nine records and the artefact is here, the CD cover artfully designed to look like it might have been recovered from a batch of a 1000 Paper Cranes and the quintet were at The Hen and Chicken on Sunday to launch it.

But first that CD:  If an un-rushed build-up to the release was a deliberate strategy to stoke tension and anticipation,  it mirrors much of the music on the compelling recording.    A throbbing, repeated bass note launches Real and Imagined, Brown Bear begins with a lightly stepping repeating motif, piano and bass spelling it out, 8’23” with chiming piano chords, Black Bear arrives  through clattering  percussion and an insistent piano note. Each time, layers accrete and momentum builds as the piano binds things to together and the horns conjure affecting, slow moving melody lines.  No need to rush. As these pieces reach their climax there’s a powerful emotional charge. There’s plenty of scope for soloing to grow out of the ensemble playing. Shcrodinger vs Cat with a thumping rock vibe and Up Quark with its rolling, propulsive momentum really build up a head of steam.   Ballad November is a lyrical song, Malcolm’s keening trumpet sculpting beautiful lines over the cycling harmony.   There’s a coherent musical vision running through the set, providing a frame for these formidable musicians to really sing and stretch.

If the recorded music draws the listener in and holds them, the live experience added another dimension. As carefully constructed as these compositions are, the repeated figures and riffs and driving grooves seemed to liberate McMurchie and Malcom further, Brown Bear stimulating a volcanic solo from McMurchie and Malcolm really letting fly on Blood Orange, a rare imported tune.  Blomfield cut loose on 8’23” spiralling off into a solo piano interlude now rhapsodic now an eruption of two fisted rhythm, exploiting all the piano’s quirks.

They launched this music in style with a few ‘new’ ones from the Cordez pen whetting our appetite for more recorded output to come.  No need to rush. The steady evolution will be compulsory viewing. Cordez himself supplied one the moments of the evening as he and Blomfield played All That Is as a duo, the bass channeling Charlie Haden with a sonorous melody and singing harmony from the piano.

A delight of an album, a fabulous gig.

 

Bristol Composers Collective go Ensemble, Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol, Monday 11th November

What a stroke of inspiration: The packed stage (was it eleven or twelve of the collective up there?), instruments stilled, reduced to a choir with just composer Dan Messore’s Metheney-esque guitar quietly etching out the hymn like melody of ‘Passing Vision’ underneath layers of vocal harmony. After an action packed evening it was a magical way to close.

A relatively new venture, the Composers Collective have held three or four sessions previously, performing short sets of one or the other of the gradually expanding membership’s original music.  Making music and working together is the priority. Self promotion and publicity have come a poor second. This was my first taster of what is emerging having found out about a couple of previous sessions after they happened and this one proved rather special.  For the occasion the pattern had changed a bit and the rough rules seemed to be: select your band/ ensemble for the occasion from the members (newly launched website tells us who most of them are), write/ arrange original music for them, preferably rehearse, definitely perform.  Given the quality of players and writers on that list it’s a recipe for something special, the prospect of a few under rehearsed rough edges only adding to the high wire act thrills and so it proved to be with no holding back on the complexity and drama of the writing.

The second half of the evening featured the collective as an ‘orchestra’ with a small string section (double bass, cello, violin) as well as the full rythmn section (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards) and a frontline shuffling all manner of reed instruments and flutes and judicious use of effects. A simple flowing motif on guitar pegged by a sparse bass riff introduced Will Harris’ Damp Squib  before a gorgeous pallete of sound coloured a soaring melody that launched an impassioned

The collective dig into Will Harris' 'Damp Squib'

The collective dig into Will Harris’ ‘Damp Squib’

solo from Jake McMurchie on tenor.  Jim Blomfield stripped the ensemble back to a mere six piece but he certainly made them work. If this wardrobe had any doors, they’d have been kicked open by his ‘Pregnant Pause’. Odd time fragments and riffs played variously and separately by Kevin Figes on baritone, Nick Dover on tenor, McMurchie now switched to soprano until a crackling funky groove gradually merged and locked into a rocking pulse with a few handbrake turns between solos and switches to solo riffs before screeching to a halt with a tumbling riff from the keyboard. That raised the roof before Dan Messore’s ‘Passing Vision’ charmed us out of the door.

The first half had been a short set from ‘the slightly more established’ Kevin Figes Octet (two rehearsals and one previous performance apparently) with double drums including Mark Whitlam who was a fixture for the evening, double vocals from Emily Wright and Cathy Jones as well as a more regular front-line and rhythm section. ‘Loft Space’ had an epic feel to it with a slower section all rousing melody and jazzy prog rock anthem  before the angular grooves and fiery soloing kicked in.

If all that emerged from this collective was nights like this giving the creative muscles of the group the opportunity to work out and experiment, then it will surely have been worth it. What a delight it was just to listen and watch. But keep an eye on this.  Put such a rich mix of talent and creativity together and who knows what surprises and new directions will emerge. If the word spreads much more, the Wardrobe may need an extension. The next session is January, the website is www.bristolcomposerscollective.co.uk/ and there’s a twitter feed @BristolNewSound.