TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 4, 30th May 2018)
FLOATING AROUND IN NEW MUSIC HEAVEN!!!
Welcome to Edition 4 of Trust-The-Doc. I have to admit to being slightly bowled over by how quickly this blog has gathered momentum. As a result I am being bombarded with new music! But hey! I’m definitely not complaining. You, the readers, might be though as this edition is the lengthiest yet, running to 9 pages! At least it’s free!
So in this issue are:
✦ Reviews of albums by Arun Ghosh & Sharon Lazibyrd
✦ Review of the final edition of Elizabeth Alker’s Unclassified Series 1
✦ Sections on Contemporary Art & Experimental, Folk, Jazz & Pop genres
✦ More exciting bands & artists who have come through the Listening Post
✦ More commentary about what is [and isn’t] happening on national radio
PLUS: NEWS OF THE FORTHCOMING DEMERARA RECORDS PRESENTS …
LIVE GIGS SERIES @ IVY HOUSE, NUNHEAD, LONDON SE15
DEMERARA RECORDS PRESENTS …. @ IVY HOUSE, NUNHEAD, LONDON
I am delighted to announce that I will be curating, promoting and performing at a new bi-monthly Thursday night gig in an attractive and musically engaged corner of South East London. Demerara Records Presents … @ Ivy House, 40 Stuart Road, Nunhead, London SE15 3BE takes place on the first Thursday of the month starting in August, October and December 2018. After that we will review progress and decide whether to go to once a month.
The opener on 2nd August 2018 (doors open at 8PM, tickets only) will be headlined by Jon Samsworth (https://soundcloud.com/jon-samsworth) who I featured in Edition 3 of Trust-The-Doc. Jon and his band will play a set that brings together a veritable melting pot of influences which place his music broadly in contemporary classical, experimental and ambient territory.
My fellow Fresh on the Net moderator and musician extraordinaire Kerry JK (https://soundcloud.com/kerryjk) will be the middle act, playing a solo piano and vocal set which Kerry describes as Punk-Jazz with some poetry and story-telling. Kerry is a gender-fluid artist whose musical output crosses numerous fields with a personality to match so expect to be entertained.
I will be opening the gig in my Nielstromm (https://soundcloud.com/nielstromm) alter ego, a chance to showcase my lesser known library music which is modal electro-classical and ambient in essence. My album Library Music (Vol. 1) is out on Demerara Records on 1st June and you can hear it in full as a playlist @ https://soundcloud.com/nielstromm. You can also check out the video on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3myeTXJf3M
I am pleased to say I will be joined on stage by my long-time friend and fellow composer Helena Gascoyne on piano. Tickets will be on sale via Eventbrite shortly so keep an eye on the live events page on our website - demerararecords.com/demerara-records-presents - and there will be links set up on facebook.com/demerararecords and facebook.com/hornetmuziq.press.
ELIZABETH ALKER & UNCLASSIFIED
I decided to listen to Elizabeth Alker’s Saturday Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 3 recently and was rewarded with an imaginative selection of music including Olafur Arnald’s piece 1995 which is modally inflected and evocative; definitely a young composer and performer worth getting to know more about. Arnald was also featured on Elizabeth’s excellent Unclassified which I hope will be back on air sooner rather than later. The final edition of the show was just so good from start to finish. That makes it difficult to pick out highlights but among them were the harmonically rich deconstruction of orchestral writing by Philipp Rumsch on Prelude played by his own ensemble and the gradually developing string interactions in Donnacha Dennehy’s Tessellatum: Part 2 played by Nadia Sirota (for whom it was composed) and Liam Byrne.
My favourite moment however was the breathtakingly talented Emily Hall’s Mantra performed by a group of musicians including Emily herself. For me, Emily is Britain’s (the world’s?) finest living composer of new classical music using human voices and Mantra is characterised by stunning vocal composing and arranging. That is stunning harmonically, phonically, rhythmically, dynamically and in terms of the uniquely beautiful and ethereal soundscapes she manages to create. This is music I want to just lose myself in and float around in new music heaven. I also recommend checking her 2013 album Befalling with talented sometime Late Junction presenter Mara Carlyle on vocals. Emily’s new album Life Cycle is as breathtaking as it is diverse in influences.
ELSEWHERE IN CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL & LEFTFIELD
Mary Anne Hobbs played a track called Pines by composer and cellist Rob Lewis written for a short film on her BBC 6 Music weekend breakfast show and Rob was invited to spend a couple of minutes explaining the inspiration for the track and his use of solo looping cello put through a number of effects that alter sound properties and create some fascinating outcomes. That was a welcome surprise on a quiet Saturday morning.
There was a fantastic edition of Late Junction (BBC Radio 3) with the amazing Verity Sharp which focused on a theme of “... disorientation, meditation and transformation”. It is worth seeking out the podcast (22nd May). Although not exactly new (2014 in fact), the performance of young American composer Missy Mazzoli’s Vespers for Violin by Olivia De Prato with its eerie glissandi and ethereal harmonic suggestions was quite stunning as was the Transcendence Orchestra’s performance of Upper Windrush.
It sounds like I missed a great event when Colin Stetson played at the Barbican Centre earlier this month. The experimental composer and virtuoso saxophonist apparently blew the roof off the venue with the intensity of his playing and his circular breathing techniques. I wish I had been there to experience that. Colin Stetson has certainly had an amazing year and he looks set to carry on winning hearts and minds with his uncategorizable music.
FOLK & TRADITIONAL MUSIC
I am starting this section with an album review as promised in Edition 3.
Sharon Lazibyrd: Half Shame and Half Glory
(Self-Release, June 2018) https://sharonlazibyrd.bandcamp.com/
Sharon Lazibyrd came to my attention via the Fresh on the Net Listening Post uploader where the title track of this album knocked me for six. It arrived in a week that had, for reasons I will not bore you with, had been a testing one for me [which is rare these days] and the combination of her untempered, brilliantly edgy and loud vocal, Damon Bridge’s sensitive piano and Sharon’s mellow Viola [and Violin] cut my frayed emotions to ribbons. I should perhaps mention that, in my years as a young classically trained musician and orchestral player, Viola was also my instrument.
I am happy to say though that this remarkable track was no one-off. The album simply allows Sharon to stretch out as a writer, singer and instrumentalist. Accordingly we get to experience Sharon laying her emotions bare such as on tracks like Not Blue and the more detached What time is later while a decidedly more upbeat Sharon is in evidence on Don’t Worry All the while the songs are wrapped up in engaging melodies, simple but well-crafted chord changes and thoughtful, understated arrangements and playing.
Again I wish there was sufficient room to expand but it leaves me to say this is an impressive, powerful and thoroughly individual work. Sharon has already had strong support from BBC stations and others. I really hope this proves to be a launching pad for the next level of her development.
Elsewhere in Folk, I was particularly taken with the new track by Simon D James which came into the Fresh on the Net uploader this month. In the Fields brings powerful organic songwriting, thoughtful arranging and a strong confident vocal performance. It was also good to hear another strong track from Merseysiders Mondegreen. Change is more uptempo and intense compared to the brilliantly observed commentary and melancholic feel of the excellent Small Towns. They are a talented and original trio worth keeping tabs on.
First another album review.
Arun Ghosh: But where are you really from?
(Self-Released, October 2017) https://arunghosh.bandcamp.com/
Okay so it’s not a new album but it’s new to me. Arun Ghosh has been an artist I have admired for a while but it was when he was featured on the BBC 6 Music coverage of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival earlier this month that his music really grabbed my attention. So when Arun kindly responded to my comments about his music in Edition 3 by sending me another track and a link to the album, I had to review it.
Arun’s unique musical heritage is neatly encapsulated in the blurb on his Bandcamp page which explains he was “... conceived in Calcutta, bred in Bolton, matured in Manchester and now living in London”. Clearly alliteration is one of the traits he picked up along the journey! Seriously though it is that ability to invent modern Jazz music which comfortably makes room for acknowledgement of his Indian roots, his North West background and his London experience that marks him out as an artist. It isn’t always easy to put ones finger on the flavours emanating from his energetic rhythmic style and mystical melodic flair but it matters not. What is important is that tracks like the driving Smash through the gates of thought and the exotic Punjabi Girl sit easily next to the otherworldliness of Pastoral Symphony (This Land is Mine) and the quite unexpected and utterly original Jerusalem which rounds off an album on which the theme is one of self-discovery in relation to background, the conclusion being that Arun is at once instinctively a child of his Indian origins and yet unapologetically British too. And in any case musicians of his calibre are, in the real sense, citizens of the world whose outlook and experience transcend nationality.
His beautifully mellow clarinet playing matches his skills as a composer and he is ably assisted by an impressive array of top-notch musicians. The use of Tabla and Dholak (especially on the soulful Made in Engand (for Parv) ) add to the Eastern flavour while Arun nods to English Folk with the inclusion of harmonium on five tracks (albeit played in very much his own style). I could go on but space is limited. Hopefully this gives you more than enough of a taste to want to try it for yourselves.
In Edition 3 I mentioned Kate Hutchinson’s excellent article in The Guardian covering seven exciting UK Jazz artists. Among the artists Kate interviewed and wrote about were Catford-born and bred Moses Boyd who, like many young musicians, sees no contradiction in loving Grime artists like Roll Deep and Jazz legend Duke Ellington in equal measure. Boyd is a drummer but he is also an experimenter who uses sound synthesis and grime rhythms within the broad brush of influences in his Jazz-based melting pot. Check out his Absolute Zero EP which has gone nuts since capturing the attention and the remixing skills of Floating Points.
Another artist featured in Kate’s article was Shabaka Hutchings who has been on my radar for a while with his diverse take on contemporary Jazz and his mind-spinning sax and clarinet skills. Hutchings has set my world alight with The Comet is Coming, a brilliantly genre-defying project who made my second favourite album of 2017 and his incorporation of Afrobeat, Dub, Calypso and other flavours into his style makes for a rich flavoured and versatile Jazz hybrid that is audible in all his projects. He has already been called “the British Kamasi Washington” and, given that Kamasi is my current favourite artist, that is some compliment [and a well deserved one too].
Last but definitely not least I have to mention Sheila Maurice-Grey. Another South Londoner [having grown up in Vauxhall], her ability to take her African parental influences and the experience of having soaked up so much of the exciting music coming out of London enables her to write and play instinctively in her own space. Her music is infused with a range of influences that challenge the status quo notion of Jazz in a way that it has needed to be challenged for some time.
I am really missing being able to listen to Resonance FM on my DAB Radio since they moved to DAB+. Not only can I no longer listen on DAB but I cannot listen to the FM version either and the online version depends upon traffic as to whether it will open. I have raised my frustrations with the station who are concerned but no-one seems sure whether there is a solution. I hope one can be found.
Also, thinking about my earlier comments about the gaping hole left in BBC Radio 3’s programme schedule by Unclassified only running for six weeks, is it time the station has a fundamental review of its programming to test whether it is still as relevant and representative as it could be? I certainly believe there is a continuing imbalance between the degree of old and new music. I accept that Radio 3 has to give adequate coverage to hundreds of years of great music but it should nevertheless be flying the flag for the best current composers. That is best as opposed to blandest. There are current composers whose lack of ambition to pursue original or challenging methods makes me question why they get the exposure they are afforded while others who are making far more exciting and progressive music are ignored. Bear in mind that I have no personal axe to grind here since I have had generous airplay on the station.
Three 90 minute editions of Late Junction a week do not resolve that imbalance especially when even that show includes a lot of music that sits outside the contemporary classical spectrum. Making Unclassified permanent would help as it would be another hour of music across a wide range of contemporary styles and thus a distinct brief that doesn’t mirror Late Junction. Perhaps more one-off documentary programmes focusing on contemporary schools of composition could be a way forward. How often has R3 covered [Romanian or French] Spectral Music; German & Japanese Electronic Art Music; Indian Meditative Music; New Complexity etc? There is more that could and should be done to diversify and modernise. Food for thought.
It’s been a good month for instrumental tracks! The Sunriser on Mary Anne Hobbs’ weekend show on BBC 6 Music mid-month was the new single by Scotland’s ever-reliable Pop Art Experimentalists Mogwai. Doughnuts, like a lot of Mogwai’s material, veers close to classical and possibly it is only the use of a drumbeat that just about keeps it in Alternative Pop territory, not that such labels matter anyway. It is slow, atmospheric and builds gradually around synth and strings with a laid back intensity [if that isn’t a paradox].
Similar things can be said about Orbital’s Tiny Foldable Cities which is atmospheric, evocative and set out in subtly stretching layers of sound. A triumphant return for a band who have achieved well-deserved longevity. George Fitzgerald ft. Hudson Scott also have an intriguing instrumental track out called Nobody but you which is electronica with a funky almost Hip-Hop-ish edge and doctored vocal samples. Tom Robinson played a superb instrumental track by Get the Blessing entitled If it can it will on his BBC 6 Music show. It could have appeared under Leftfield or Jazz but I decided it was Alternative Pop (just about). Shades of Pigbag in the funky power-driven playing and intensity of the sax and trumpet.
Tom also played a track which Huw Stephens has been pushing by Atlas Wynd. Helpless is driving Alt Pop with some lovely chords and consecutive tenths that create a striking effect on the guitar and bass. Harder to describe is the excellent Fifteen Eight by Sam Eagle with mixes some really interesting chord choices and syncopated rhythms into an energetic slice of Alt Pop with a folk undercurrent and nods towards Jazz. According to Tom their live set is outstanding.
I also have to mention Mary Anne’s interview with poetry and Hip Hop music legends The Last Poets whose wise and measured panoramic perspective was a breath of fresh air [and also dispelled any lingering myths about their being homophobic which clearly they are not even if they once were]. Their first album in twenty years is a welcome development.
THE BBC BIGGEST WEEKEND
I have listened to and watched most of the coverage of the BBC’s Biggest Weekend taking place across the UK in Belfast, Swansea, Perth and Coventry. The line-up was fantastic this year and among the many highlights were superb performances by Beck, Public Service Broadcasting, Manic Street Preachers, Hannah Peel, Baloji, Goldie, Ed Sheeran, SOAK, Young Fathers, Father John Misty, First Aid Kit, Courtney Barnett, The Breeders, Underworld, Orbital, Caitlyn Scarlett, Emili Sandé, Ash, Jamie Cullum, Craig David, Franz Ferdinand and BBC Young Musician of the year Lauren Zhang plus lots more. Too many to mention but Orbital, Public Service Broadcasting, The Breeders and Goldie perhaps were my highlights.
FIVE EXCITING EMERGING BAND & ARTISTS
So once again it’s time to highlight some of the more interesting bands and artists who have come to my attention via the Fresh on the Net Listening Post. The continuous stream of impressive new tracks we receive is a permanent reminder of just how much talent is out there vying for the attention of an overworked media and industry.
The five acts I have selected are Welsh art-pop experimentalists Half Hour at the Hilton (https://soundcloud.com/half-hour-at-the-hilton/), Jersey-based Alternative Rock multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Astral Cloud Ashes (a.k.a Antony Walker) (https://soundcloud.com/astral-cloud-ashes), London’s cool and energetic in-yer-face [self-styled] Queen of Brit Hop [or maybe that should be Brit Hop Pop] Cherryade (https://soundcloud.com/cherryademusic), the consistently amazing and unique singer/songwriter Chloe March (https://soundcloud.com/chloe-march) and last but not least the sparky Tring/Wingrave-based teenage Pop act Strictly Banter (https://soundcloud.com/user-570135517).
Half Hour at the Hilton are a fascinating entity; possibly more accurately described as a project rather than a conventional band. They met when studying music in Wales and have collaborated on a number of other projects. Somewhat bizarrely they tell me HHAATH is their attempt to present their ideas in a more pop-orientated and accessible form! Likewise their Soundcloud page calls them ‘a fruity salad dressed up as a pop tart’. However poppiness is not the first word that comes to mind on listening to their unique outlandish soundscapes.
Welcome to my house sounds like it was recorded backwards on some sort of loop. The lyrics are necessarily incomprehensible and they never quite complete a musical phrase. But it is compelling listening; like the aural embodiment of a surrealist painting. On the breathtaking Sphere they somehow manage to combine a completely ametrical percussion rhythmic track with a minimal synth part, lyrics that could be in another language (or no language maybe) overlapping before exquisite bendy chords arrive and the vocals go into harmony. It is avant garde in a very Eastern way but it is also very musical and, dare I say, quite beautiful at times. It is also reasonable to declare that nothing else in contemporary music sounds anything like this. The gongs that close the piece are magnificent too.
Ape Rug also uses harmonies though deeper and quite exposed atop a more direct drumbeat. Meat Yale is poppier, kicking off with what sound like they could be Japanese lyrics in agreeable harmonies which are then accompanied by drumbeat and understated but characteristically slidey chords and ambient sounds. The slightly older Flying Kites to China has the unique distinction of actually having lyrics in English and being more like a Psychedelic-influenced piece; a taster of the more daring experiments that have subsequently followed. I look forward to hearing more. I also hope HHATH plan to gig in the London area sometime. That would be a MUST attend event.
I am always pleased to see a new track by the uniquely [multi] talented Chloe March (and no we are NOT related!). Wild Cherries arrived in the Fresh on the Net uploader this month. Even by Chloe’s high standards this is a stunning piece marked out by an eerie melancholy bathed in exquisite chords and unexpected tonal shifts. The lyrics are heart-rending and she delivers them with an almost detached beauty that is accordingly all the more poignant. Fantastic work Chloe. I hope this gets some serious radio support.
Cherryade’s Soundcloud and YouTube pages reveal an impressive output of sparky outspoken urban Pop tracks in which she raps, sings and shouts the odds whether about boys, the Prime Minister or cold callers. The new single Empress is loud, cocky and funny. The same can be said for Get By, Blah Blah and Theresa May (Bulls**t). My more austere friends might bridle at this but I love it when artists come along who exude that instinctive star quality that the rest of us can only aspire to. Cherryade has it in spades and with so many tracks and videos already in evidence, she now needs a shove in the right direction. I will be watching this one with real interest.
Astral Cloud Ashes is the recording and performing name for Antony Walker, a Jersey-based musician who writes and records lovingly crafted Alt Pop that nods more than slightly to the epoch of bands like Dinosaur Jnr, They might be Giants, Throwing Muses and the mighty Pixies [though that is not to suggest the music is retro - he brings these flavours into a thoroughly contemporary context]. His latest track Old Moods is driving and energetic, rising up into a strong chorus but also offering changes of mood and texture that lift his music up a level and keep the listener engaged. It’s taken from his excellent new album Dear Absentee Creator which you can hear at his Soundcloud page. I recommend checking it out.
Strictly Banter is actually a collaboration between singer India and songwriter Josie. The band and song unusually have the same name! It showcases their bright voices and Josie’s songwriting skills which are a thing to watch as she will be working with a range of other artists in the months ahead. In the meantime this song is full of attitude and intent while, as the title suggests, it’s all in good humour. Josie comes from a family with an excellent musical pedigree and, with her popular music composition degree about to kick off in the autumn, she has a fantastic and supportive team behind her. Exciting times ahead.
In Edition 5 (published on 16th June) look out for reviews of Leeds’ top teenage troubadours Backspace who are a seriously exciting prospect, the evergreen experimentalist Rothko proving he has lost none of his penchant for exploration, a new recording of music by uniquely talented UK composer Marc Yeats who continues to maintain incredibly high standards of originality and creativity in the contemporary classical world, more about the Demerara Records Presents … gigs at Ivy House which I am curating and promoting plus plenty of other stuff too.
PS: It’s me writing the reviews for the Fresh Faves at the Listening Post this week. Do come and vote - freshonthennet.co.uk & click on Listening Post (open Friday to Sunday).