TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 23, 31st March 2019)
Welcome to Edition 23 of Trust The Doc. Please visit and ‘like’ the Trust The Doc Facebook page - https://facebook.com/TrustTheDoc - and if you don’t already do so, please follow both @Hornetmuziq & @DemeraraRecords on Twitter. I will of course follow you back. Communication and dialogue are always good.
Edition 23 is slightly shorter than recent ones. Partly that is because, with the Fresh on the Net in-box closed for a fortnight, I have been using the extra time to attend to other things and have had less new music to plough through. There are still 17 artists and bands in this issue though so happy reading folks!
✦ VANISHING POINT: As BNDR prepare to video & live stream Thursday’s gig
✦ SCROWE: London-based Composer Steven Crowe with a new clarinet duet
✦ ANNE LOVETT: French Pianist-Composer mesmerises Fresh on the Net
✦ LATE JUNCTION: Join us in fighting cynical BBC cuts to new music on 3
✦ EMPIRICAL: MOBO-winning Quartet on last ever edition of World on 3
✦ EBO TAYLOR: Veteran Ghanaian jazzer on BBC Radio Three again
✦ AFRO-CUBAN ALLSTARS: Celebrating 20 years with a Glasgow gig
✦ FLOOK: Long-running British Folk Quartet with new album released
✦ RHIANNON GIDDENS: Earthy bluesy Folk from Ireland-based American
✦ JON MAGNUSSON: Folk and Soundtrack sounds from Stockholm
✦ DIDENTICALS: Urban vibes with a Nigerian Reggae kinda thing
✦ EROTIC SECRETS OF POMPEII: Televangelistic Lounge Music from Bristol
✦ JUNO: Plenty of Alt Pop jangle courtesy of four lads from Hampshire
✦ THE BIG CAT: Brotherly songwriting duo from Brighton with cool band
✦ ROSIE TEE: Birmingham songsmith with a treasure trove of influences
✦ WASUREMONO: Epic Pop Futurism from the wilds of Bradford on Avon
✦ LIGHTS THAT CHANGE: Ethereal ambience from North Wales
✦ FAODAIL: Scotland’s enigmatic ambient artist keeps the tracks coming
VANISHING POINT: LUVIA’S LABEL TO LIVE STREAM ENTIRE EVENT
The next Vanishing Point @ The Ivy House in Nunhead, South East London takes place on Thursday 4th April and it is set to be a memorable night. bndr Music, the digitally savvy indie label, will be filming and live streaming the entire event.
We have their artist Luvia (https://soundcloud.com/luvia_music), a Fresh Faves poll topper from December 2018 who has already been given star billing by Liverpool Sound City and Live in Leeds. The 19 year old singer-songwriter only recently returned from a triumphant performance in Hollywood and is managed by the awesome Kelly Munro and his End of the Trail Creative. Check out the video for her new single Hunted - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_ilh3dZrwM
Main support will be another exciting female talent Yvonne Hercules (https://soundcloud.com/yvonnehercules) who I saw playing at the Good Mixer in Camden Town a few months ago and was highly impressed by (see Edition 15 of Trust The Doc). In my review I compared her to a young Joan Armatrading mixing it with India Arie. Yvonne cites Bessie Smith as a key influence too and her music makes room for these organic and yet explorative influences. Check out the video for her beautiful song Wolf Cry - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5B9EVGLg5A
Before that it will be my electronic urban pop and genre mash-up duo Environmental Sound Foundation fronted by the amazing singer-poet Dilara (while I hide behind a synthesizer, latop and mixer!). And anyone who has seen our recent gigs will be in for a surprise (from our opening track). The only clue I will give is that when Dilara and I met as fellow Goldsmiths students in 2011 (when I was 48 and starting a PhD and she was 18 and starting a degree), one of the reasons our unlikely friendship kicked off was a shared reverence for Stevie Wonder and a number of Soul and Jazz artists). Nearly 8 years later those musical allegiances remain as strong as ever! In the meantime check out our Soulful Drum’n’Bass track The Ebb & Flow - https://soundcloud.com/e-s-foundation/the-ebb-flow-radio-edit-by-environmental-sound-foundation
CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL, EXPERIMENTAL & LEFTFIELD
… so talking of Goldsmiths (an institution with an amazing knack of surfacing when talking about people involved across all areas of new music), I had previously studied there for a masters in composition where one of my classmates (2009 - 2010) was a charismatic young guy called Stephen Crowe. It was obvious to his peers then that he had a pretty special talent coupled with the drive and determination to take his ideas into the wider arena.
He has already gained a formidable reputation for his unique operas and his work with others including another Goldsmiths alumnus and friend Benedict Taylor (who many of you will know for his Viola improv, his label CRAM and regular appearances at Cafe Oto).
So it was a great pleasure to receive a track in the Fresh on the Net in-box by Scrowe (https://soundcloud.com/scrowe). Dovetails 14 (That shepherd’s pie was stunning …) is a clarinet duo performed by Tom Jackson (yet another Goldsmiths alumnus and collaborator in common, albeit a decade ago in my case!) and Alex Ward. The track blends their clarinets with electronics. The precise harmonic language is hard to identify without the aid of a score. Stephen combines rapid, swirling figures that make use of the 12 tones and bend towards what sound (to my admittedly dodgy ears) like microtones. This is especially so with the more sustained elements which, when the two clarinets play long notes a fluctuating semi-tone apart, bring to mind Radalescų’s Inner Time II. The contrasting rhythmic configurations and the intensity of the electronic sounds make this a compelling piece that whets the appetite for more such fare.
Scanning the accompanying Soundcloud page, I then came across another stunning piece. Honeyvoiced Mythweaver: Sappho Songs is a track recorded live at Acker Stadt Palast in Berlin in 2018. A female choir offers some of the most exquisite vocal harmony you will hear on any contemporary piece while the harp and lyre writing (and playing) is breathtaking and the Sappho adds a deep drone effect. If I am gushing when writing about that it is because this is just outstanding composition that places Stephen among the most exciting composers currently active in art music. I could listen to this developing combination of striking sonic contrasts and bold statements of musical language all day. The skill he demonstrates here is something pretty rare. https://soundcloud.com/scrowe/honeyvoiced-mythweaver-sappho-songs
There is plenty of high quality music to get your teeth onto on the Scrowe Soundcloud page, not least the stunning Cello piece Porcupine Fence performed by Jessica French and Goldfinch Acupuncture for two Descant Recorders (which, trust me, take the sound of the primary school instrument of choice a long way from Away in a manger or Peace Pudding Hot!!).
A composer of a very different kind but nonetheless impressive is French musician Anne Lovett (https://soundcloud.com/annelovett) whose The Eleventh Hour took the FOTN Fresh Faves by storm earlier this month, surprisingly topping the poll (not that we list who came where by the way) against a strong field of more typical FOTN-type tracks.
Harmonically her music is largely tonal (perhaps leaning towards modality) and, in that respect, she isn’t trying to start any revolutions. But when an individual can produce such life-affirmingly beautiful, melancholic music and apply great arranging skills, it is a joy to hear. Here the upper register strings emit single note cries over deeper string chords and rolling piano arpeggios and chords. Midway through, the tempo and mood changes, staccato chords accompanying a more legato melody which is subsequenly harmonised with a hint of counterpoint. Shades of Gorecki come to mind here, contemporary yet slightly nostalgic preceding dramatic piano and another shift in mood. It eventually returns to a state of deep chords, simple melodic figures and plenty of space between events. Beautifully written and it clearly captured the imagination of our discerning Listening Post audience.
My good friends Ming and Jon also picked it out from that batch of faves and featured it, along with lavish praise, on the excellent Monday Night Ride Out on Exile FM (https://exilefm.com).
The campaign to #SaveLateJunction (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0003rrv) is well underway following the announcement of a decision by BBC bosses to cut the programme from its current four and a half hours a week down to one two hour show on a Friday night. Although we have finally won the campaign to get Unclassified into a permanent slot, this decision still means that overall there will be a reduction in the amount of new and cutting edge non-mainstream art and international music.
I made the point on Facebook and Twitter last week that I owe my career as a composer and artist to Late Junction including the privilege of playing the BBC Introducing Stage at Latitude. But I am just one of many composers and artists who have relied on the show’s support. It is a unique concept that manages to mix the most leftfield and uncompromising elements of art music with world and traditional music, progressive folk and jazz and a host of other flavours. I am already irritated by how much of the programme’s weekly schedule is given to individual artists and others picking their personal playlists which, with the best will in the world, are never going to include any new music. At a time when there is so much creativity out there we need as much airtime as possible so that everyone can get heard by the widest possible new music fanbase. Cutting it further will be disastrous for new music and bad for Britain’s place as a hub for creative originality and innovation. We have to take a stand and let the BBC know they have got this totally wrong.
I have been speaking off the record with one or two figures close to the show who, for obvious reasons cannot be seen publicly to criticise the BBC but who are deeply upset by the decision. It breaks my heart to see people who have shown such commitment to foraging for and supporting new music being left feeling this way.
The excuse given is government cuts but I don’t accept that for one moment. Even if there is political pressure from our moronic Tory government to take cuts out on avant-garde interests, the station still has to broadcast twenty-four hours a day and there is already far too much time given to playing music from well over a hundred (and much of the time several hundred) years ago. The following link is for a petition. If you haven’t already done so, please sign and share it.
The final episode of BBC Radio 3’s long-running Jazz on 3 (as it makes way for a replacement programme) saw the outstanding MOBO-winning quartet Empirical (https://www.empiricalmusic.com/bio) playing live at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone in London. Their unique sound that blends Alto Saxophone, Vibraphone, Double Bass and Drums with a desire to infuse influences from a variety of sources is a breath of fresh air.
WORLD IN MOTION
Okay so it’s not new music but it may be new to most people. I have mentioned the veteran Ghanaian musician, composer, producer and band leader Ebo Taylor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19SLUVaOfCs) in a previous edition of TTD and this month his 1980 classic Love and Death was included in BBC Sounds’ Music Planet World Mix (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0003rt4) reminding me both of his lilting fluid Afro-Jazz style, lightness of touch as a guitarist and his pleading, bluesy vocal style. The above link takes you to the track on YouTube.
Afro-Cuban All-Stars (https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Afro-Cuban%20Allstars) were featured this weekend on BBC Radio 3’s show World on 3 playing live in concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The legendary band, who are recognised as being the springboard for the Buena Vista Social Club concept, celebrated 20 years in the business with a line-up that included veteran Cuban musicians alongside a younger line-up with their eyes on the modernisation of the music scene in their changing post-Castro homeland.
I must confess that I am not a big listener to BBC Radio 2 but I did take the time to listen to the affable Mark Radcliffe’s The Folk Show where I was very taken with new tracks by two contrasting contemporary Folk acts.
Flook (https://flook.co.uk/about-me/) have been around for twenty years, their longevity a tribute to their friendship and ongoing hunger to farm new and fertile musical ground. They have a new album Ancora and Mark played the track Ocean Child, a busy and upbeat slice of Celtic dance with a subtly jazz-infused edge that allows room for improvisation. Very worthwhile checking them out if you enjoy escaping into a mystical world of Celtic sounds and accomplished musicianship that both respects and contemporises tradition.
Rhiannon Giddens (https://soundcloud.com/rhiannon-giddens) is from North Carolina but these days lives in Limerick in the Irish Republic. With a penchant for the kind of intense percussive style of Folk that leans into singer-songwriter territory one might more readily associate with the likes of Joni Mitchell, her latest offering is a duet with Francesco Turrini that is bluesy and powerful though leant an inherent folkiness by the busy fiddle playing and tuned percussion. She has an earthy powerful alto voice that lifts the song and nods towards Country and Blues (shades of Bonnie Raitt maybe). It’s impressive stuff and worth taking time to hear.
I was pleased to receive a direct submission from Swedish Folk singer-songwriter Jon Magnusson (https://soundcloud.com/beljon86) who was keen to get feedback on his recent works.
Tables have turned is folky but adorned with tasteful strings and accomplished acoustic guitar picking. It has an engaging melody and Jon’s distinct voice is produced with a slightly otherworldly undercurrent which works really well.
April Sun mixes Dylanesque clanging chords with an appealingly vibrato-driven organ and basic percussion. It turns out to be an instrumental in which guitar and piano also take turns in bringing additional strings to his bow. There is more on the Soundcloud page that is worth exploring. All intriguing stuff that suggests Jon has plenty to offer as his style continues to develop.
The early Easter break for Fresh on the Net (due to the BBC 6 Music Festival and Tom Robinon’s short solo tour) meant that, as well as receiving a large quantity of good tracks from a wide spectrum of genres at the beginning of March, I then also had a rare opportunity to spend a bit more time than usual exploring radio shows and online platforms. Edition 23’s Pop Scene hopefully reflects this.
When you have to listen to as many new tracks as I do in an average week, you tend to hope for the occasional song that really stands out for the crowd. So enter Lagos-based Didenticals (https://soundcloud.com/didenticals). Their track Fakosi is a smooth but energetic hybrid of Urban Pop, Reggae, Hip Hop and Afrobeat. The vocals (in broadly tenor male voice) are instantly engaging and soulful while the harmonies are sweet, the beat is tough and syncopated and events dive in and out of the mix. It is also very catchy and tailor-made for modern radio.
Make we go was recorded two years earlier and is more coventional Urban Pop replete with a mid-song rap but again with a cool beat and lush harmonies. Didenticals are certainly an interesting act. Judging by the pic the name refers to them being twin brothers. I look forward to hearing more.
Alternative Rock & Indie
One track that immediately grabbed my attention on first listen was the superbly named Erotic Secrets of Pompeii (https://soundcloud.com/eroticsecretsofpompeii) whose dark, slightly disturbing but also extremely musical track Terrible Fish flew out of the speakers. Deep paranoid vocals, buzzing synths, fantastic chord changes and a stonking beat set the scene. The lyrics are intriguingly mock-operatic or perhaps melodramatic. The hook is strong and the instrumental play is powerful, punchy and positively irresistable.
They have a lot of new material on their Soundcloud page including the astonishing Crocdillian which is deliciously kitsch and Stab the Hunchback (what fun they must have dreaming up titles!) which is like Gary Numan in a horror-filled nightmare jamming with Tom Waits and Franz Ferdinand! Utterly Rudderless has a driving (synth) Rock riff offset by more vocal kitsch drama and frantic beat. They do love to switch up and down by semi-tones but hey, it works.
Their Soundcloud blurb states they are an ‘... apocalyptic lounge act playing danceable, televangelist jingles with hooks so bent you could catch an octopus with them’. If that doesn’t make you want to check them out I don’t know what will!
Juno (https://soundcloud.com/j-un-o) describe themselves as ‘four lads from Hampshire making music for people to jump to’ which goes very well with their breezy Indie jangle. They are a tight unit with busy bass and drums supporting appealing guitar interplay which gets rockier in the latter part of the song. The singer’s voice is unusual which lends them an extra edge. The song Do you want me? Is catchy, uplifting and full of beans. I look forward to more of this soon.
Another track that really appealed to me this month was Big Cat’s (https://soundcloud.com/bigcattheband) Waiting Outside Alone which, unless I have completely misread the lyrical content, appears to be a slightly rueful comment about the Brexit debacle. It is delivered courtesy of a charmingly retro slice of Soul-Pop complete with horns that sits somewhere between The Beatles and Dexys Midnight Runners but with a host of other influences that are hard to nail down but might include Paul Weller (circa Style Council) and a hint of Boz Scaggs. It is certainly an example of really skillful songwriting matched with a band with the gravitas to pull it off and make it sound fresh and contemporary.
Cinematic & Epic Soundscapes
For me probably the stand-out track at the last FOTN Listening Post before the break came courtesy of Birmingham’s Rosie Tee (https://soundcloud.com/rosieteemusic). The song Chambers is hard to pigeon-hole on account of being so full of great ideas, sumptuous chord changes, spine-tingling harmonies and contrasts of mood, timbre and texture. It is so musical and inventive. Her Soundcloud page calls it Alt Pop and I suppose it is in the broad sense of being alternative to the pop mainstream. But then it’s a long way from Indie. So perhaps Cinematic or Epic or just ethereal pop. Aarrgh! Why does it matter? It is just outstanding and the expert musicianship complements Rosie’s distinct and dexterous voice. There are two versions of the track and they are both completely marvellous (i.e. they actually make me marvel!).
If you are wondering whether Chambers is a fluke, that notion is quickly dispelled upon hearing Almost War with more enigmatic soundscapes, sumptuous harmonies and some subtly interweaving strings and synths. Again the arranging skills are just breathtaking. It is a year old though. So some more new material woud be a welcome development. What a talent though.
Wasuremono’s (https://soundcloud.com/wasuremonomusic) Are you ok? Is another fascinating piece of work. Their choice of a Japanese word meaning ‘lost article or something forgotten’ goes with the almost but not quite cheesy synth-driven sound of their music with vocals produced with layers of unison and so much echo it sounds almost displaced. Then suddenly a harmony arrives that is quite gorgeous. All the while the drumbeat sounds not unlike a tinny drum machine. The overall effect is of a slight otherworldliness and agreeably trashy pop sound. The hook is catchy as hell too.
Lonely Type is similarly marked out by a cool mix of slightly tinny synthiness with the over-the-top reverb vocals singing an instantly infectious melody and lovely harmonies. I love originality and fun and this band have both in spades. Very impressed. They hail from Bradford-on-Avon (not to be mistaken for Bradford in West Yorks)l This Bradford is in the Western Counties (Wiltshire to be precise).
Electronic & Ambient
North Welsh act Lights That Change (https://soundcloud.com/lightsthatchange) absolutely stole my attention with the track Too Close To Heaven. When it missed out on getting to the FOTN Listening Post, I immediately chose it to be my Vanishing Point track on Exile FM’s Monday Night Ride-Out. Brainchild of guitarist and composer Marc Joy, Lights That Change is essentially a fluid project through which Marc collaborates with others. In the case of Too Close To Heaven it was vocalist Rachel Dunn (also known for her own project Siren Song). The track is simply extraordinary. If you knew nothing about LTC you could be forgiven for assuming it was all created by using synths and programming. Such is the stirring ethereal and futuristic ambience that builds so impressively. It is possible that one might guess that the ghostly voices were provided by an actual singer but it is less likely you would know that all the instrumental music was achieved using two tracks of guitar put through particular effects units. It is an outstanding and highly inventive piece.
Exploring other tracks on the Lights That Change Soundcloud page has led me to the tranquility and oddly affecting major key resonance of Celest (Remix), essentially a series of changes emanating from broken chords of tonic, subdominant and dominant on the guitar, almost a 12-bar-like affirmation of the diatonic language but presented in a calm ambient form like waves crashing gently on a distant shore. In a sense such a simple statement of the three principal chords of any major scale ought not to work or at least hold my interest for nearly five minutes. In fact it saves the best for last as, with the chords quietening down, you are able to more clearly hear the harmonic overtones that ensue, adding a spectralist element to this unusual piece.
Conversely, despite its saccharine-suggesting title, Feed Me Sugar is darker, mixing minor key chords with a crackling and slightly disarming ambience and distant sounding and reverberant percussion as if caught in a room to room jam with the Cocteau Twins next door! The particular clever effect at play here is how chords dissolve into other chords so that there is a sense of continuous change. The ending, in which bendy sounds fade out imitating what might be seabirds, is unexpected and works well.
Sea Like Glass finds Marc back in major key though the chord changes are offset by a drone bass some of the time. Again he strums the guitar in such a way as to produce broken chords which add to the aura of floating echoing ambience. His ability to make what ought to be quite limited chords sound so beautiful and compelling is quite unusual. It is music that I have no desire to switch off.
Faodail (https://soundcloud.com/faodailmusic) aka the seemingly introspective Scot with a determined policy of telling the outside world as little as possible about himself or even which part of Scotland he is from, continues nevertheless to win admirers by following an ancient tradition known as making one great track after another! The latest is Looming which begins enigmatically with a combination of sustained synth notes and ambient sounds before an agreeably intrusive beat cuts a dramatic path right through the centre of the track. Either side of the beat floating chords and sounds continue. When the drums break off you realise the whole soundscape has changed. It is clever, understated and invites a lot of mix and match harmonic outcomes.
I would review further tracks but actually they are tracks I have already reviewed in past editions of Trust The Doc such as the wonderful Northbound. Faodail continues to turn out these amazing sound sketches and has had some success with BBC Introducing and Fresh on the Net over the past year. Expect to see that grow in 2019.
AND FINALLY …..
So that’s it for Edition 23. Edition 24 will be published on 15th April which also happens to coincide with it being my turn to write up the Fresh Faves reviews. Better get listening early then! See you all in half a month’s time. Neil xxxxx