Archive for July, 2018

Being a prolific artist and being a surprising, ever-original artist – despite much evidence to the contrary – need not be mutually exclusive.

Pianist/composer Andrea Keller continues to surprise, as well as being one of our most consistently prolific music makers. Her latest project is the ensemble Five° Below and their debut is the six-track teaser Five° Below Live.

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I say ‘teaser’ as this is a preview of a larger work slated for 2019 which will include saxophonists Julien Wilson and Scott MacChonnachie. ‘Teaser’ it may be, but it stands firm and strong as a work in its own right. For this Live album, Keller has intriguingly limited it to rhythm section instruments, with startling results.

The two bass players – Sam Anning on acoustic and Mick Meagher on electric – plus drummer James McLean and guitarist Steve Magnusson, plus Keller herself on piano reimagine a collection of her previous works across a range of styles.

‘Fern Tree’ from 2013’s Family Portraits grows from a textural piano pattern with Keller’s solo morphing from Charles Ives to some real rock’n’roll, before the double heartbeat of the two basses rolls out the joyous dance of Magnusson’s guitar. ‘Of Winter, Ice and Snow’ moves glacially, with guitar swells and sharp shards of piano making this, magically, seem more weather than music. Such is its enveloping and mesmerising atmosphere.a4059568909_10

The mood across Live is largely pensive and dynamically introverted, so the track ‘Grand Forfeit’ leaps out like an animal. Beginning with ominously grinding guitar and electric bass feedback it suddenly surprises with a jagged asymmetrical riff over which Maganusson howls and gnashes. His guitar solo is red in tooth and claw, reminiscent of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp at his most brutal.

‘Warm Voices’, originally from 2013’s From Ether, lulls with double bass chords and percussion moving and out like the sea; the piano is ebbing waves and the guitar is distant clouds on the horizon – the picture the ensemble builds is exquisitely balanced and blissfully hypnotic.

Andrea Keller stretches jazz into whatever she wants here – as a composer, musician and visionary, she always has. Using many of the most noble aspects of modern jazz – its curiosity, freedom and genre-inclusive nature – Keller enriches and expands the form. It is always a thrill to see where she goes next.

Five° Below Live is available from https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

Andrea Keller’s website is at https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

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For a week I have been trying to find time to write my impressions of the new Art As Catharsis release Unfound Places. What I realise I really needed was space.

Even moreso, I needed this sunny mid-Winter Sunday afternoon, with everyone out and me alone in the house. For this new music from Ben Marston and Hugh Barrett is made for the mid-Winter Sunday afternoon of the soul.

Shaped by Barrett’s acoustic and electric keys, and Marston’s trumpet and laptop manipulations/atmospheres the music is evocative of places and faces just out of reach – the haze of memory rather than the data of recollection. There is a difference and this exquisitely conjured music is its soundtrack.

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Soundtrack is the lazy genre-classification Unfound Places calls to mind, only because of the quietly cinematic breadth of tracks such as ‘The Quiet Hero’ (a very Eno title in its entirely accurate vagueness) – which grows and grows imperceptibly over a slowly meshing laptop texture. The pacing of the improvisations/compositions is deftly handled by the two, as the works’ often fragile skein of notes and underlying harmonies rest like fine glass on the air.

Opener ‘The Crisp Breath of Dawn’ has Marston’s trumpet pealing ominously/joyously (the moods are shadowy) over deep textures – his tone is not stridently Morricone yet also not quite as folded-in as Jon Hassell. Eno and Hassell of course come to mind, yet only in the most positive way, taking nothing at all away from Marston’s and Barrett’s vision. a3782214624_16.jpg

The music is not all mist and shadows – ‘Rock the Boat’ seems to have a rhythm and bass line until you realise the keys-bass and laptop tics are just a pattern of texture, unique among the many unique textures each track is played across.

‘The Northward March’ brings to mind the Bowie (and Eno) of Low‘s ambient side – its European sorrow evoking ‘Warsawa’ and bleak history with Hassell-harmony trumpet and the trudge of block chords. Birds fly through sleet overhead. Black birds.

Too often, open-ended works such as Unfound Places push melody down below other compositional qualities – maybe because the bold statement of melody threatens to nail the music down too tight, or can pull up an emotion that is too clear-edged, and the spell is broken. Marston and Barrett don’t shy away from melody – check the blues lines on ‘Sleepyhead’, blues lines which stray into Moorish noir – in fact they use melody, across Unfound Places, to amplify and expand the emotional palette, rather than constrict it.

It is beautiful work.

 

Unfound Places is available from https://benmarston.bandcamp.com/album/unfound-places

Art As Catharsis’ website is at http://www.artascatharsis.com

 

Perth blues-rocker Matty T Wall‘s 2016 debut Blues Skies came out fully-formed as an album of surprising power, variety and originality – the latter a component sorely missed in the current blues scene.

Second albums can suffer from that “sophomore slump” where the artist has shot their bolt, using up all their ideas and energy on the first. Luckily for anyone who loves blues and gun guitarists, Wall’s new collection  – called Sidewinder – takes everything that was so damn good about his debut and works it up a notch – or two.

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Pic by Sean Clohesy

An integral component on Sidewinder is the presence of esteemed sound guru Bob Clearmountain. Having worked with the greats of the age, Clearmountain’s sonic fingerprint adds something remarkable to everything he touches.

In the case of Sidewinder, Clearmountain’s mix serves to focus the inherent power and energy of Wall’s attack into a laser-sharp rush. The two instrumentals here – opener “Slideride” and the later “Sophia’s Strut” – leap out of the speakers, the former a torrent of metallic slide with plenty of greasy Johnny Winter abandon, the latter a masterclass in fretboard hammer-ons/offs, set over some heavy junkyard percussion.Sidewinder-COVER-ART-600x600

We are treated to beautifully leather-slick blues-rock on the title track “Sidewinder” and “Shake It”, the latter’s loose-hipped groove one that would do classic-era Aerosmith proud. Yet, as on Blues Skies, the light and shade are also here: the slinky Shuggie Otis-style soul in the Trombone Shorty cover “Something Beautiful”, some surprisingly jazzy guitar lines in the soul-funk of “Ain’t That the Truth”. And the road-hardened rhythm section of Ric Whittle on drums and Stephen Walker on bass are with him all the way, blasting the light and chilling the shade.

A small quibble is the inclusion of chestnuts “Goin’ Down” and Sam Cooke‘s “Change is Gonna Come” – their presence seems superfluous amongst the riches of Wall’s originals. That said, the monster crunch of the Don Nix perennial and the chance to hear Wall’s vocal shine on “Change…” could almost change my mind.

If there is any justice in this world – and there far too often isn’t – Sidewinder will take Matty T Wall to the top of the blues-rock tree, with the rewards of festival headlines and an ever-growing international following. If his next album is an much of a step up as Sidewinder is from his excellent debut – I have strong hopes that justice will be served.

 

Sidewinder is available from July 2 from Matty T Wall’s website – which also has has Sidewinder launch dates – https://www.mattytwall.com