TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 3, 16th May 2018)
AN AVALANCHE OF NEW MUSIC !!!
Welcome to Edition 3 of Trust-The-Doc. This is the second edition to be published in May 2018 and the third within about a month. One might argue that this is indicative of my having too much to say for myself! But I would rather believe it is because there is just so much exciting new music coming at me from a variety of directions and never enough time to write about all of it. This edition runs to seven pages. It gets longer every time!
TTD Ed. 3 focuses essentially on four primary [and very broad] categories of new music - Folk (including Indie-Folk); Leftfield (including classical, electronic & experimental); Jazz (including Jazz Fusion, Afro-Jazz & Funk) & Pop (including Pop, Urban, Indie & Dance genres).
FRESH FOLK FINDINGS
Earlier this month Tom Robinson featured an interview with, and tracks by, Ange Hardy on his Saturday evening show on BBC 6 Music. The interview was genuinely fascinating, hearing Ange explain her harrowing but inspirational story of life on the streets and how she found her way onto the Folk scene. Her songs were striking too, lyrically thoughtful and adorned with some irresistible harmonies. I was particularly taken with Chase the devil down (which led to a pleasant exchange of tweets between Ange and I) and The Hunter, The Prey. She’s made six albums so far and is someone you should check out if you like songs that have the organic earthy qualities of the guitar-toting singer/songwriter but with rich harmonies and imaginative playing and arrangements; a situation helped by her enthusiasm for identifying suitable collaborators to work with.
Sticking with Folk-influenced music Sharon Lazibyrd has been on my radar for a while thanks to her emotionally stirring songs and powerful edgy singing style so I was excited when she told me she had a new album coming out in June 2018. Her current song Half Shame and Half Glory was my favourite track at the Fresh on the Net Listening Post a few weeks ago and having been privileged to receive an advance copy of the album of the same name (out on 8th June), I can tell you firstly that it is every bit as good as I had hoped [and more] and secondly that I will be reviewing it in more detail in Edition 4 of Trust-The-Doc which will be published on or around 30th May.
If I had time I would say more about some of the other fine folk-influenced artists I have heard new tracks by but at least I can mention them by name so, for now, let me recommend that you check out Elizabeth Cornish’s Passing Ships, Hollie Haines’s Except for you, Nic Evennett’s Glorious In-Between (albeit that Nic Evennett’s versatile approach places her in a number of genres) and Who we are by Beth Porter (i.e. of The Bookshop Band) & the Availables. And that, believe me, is a mere snapshot of the intriguing Folk-influenced new music out there right now.
As always there is plenty going on in the musical space occupied by those who enjoy breaking down unnecessary barriers between contemporary leftfield genres. The addition of Elizabeth Alker’s Unclassified to the BBC Radio 3 schedule on Sunday has provided a much-needed response to this growing tendency which is why I am gutted that only six editions were made and Elizabeth tells me it may not be back until Autumn. Come on BBC Radio 3. Make it a permanent part of the weekly schedule. The programme has brought so much joy in its six week tenure. Among the many interesting composers and artists featured on the show in May were Alex Groves whose dreamily chord-based piano piece Curved Form (No 4) was beautifully played by Eliza McCarthy, Kate Carr’s compelling piece of ambient electronic exploration on Rising Waters (Alone in the Dark) and a compelling, ethereal soundscape courtesy of the ever-wonderful Gabriel Prokofiev (Cello Multitracks - Medasyn ‘Defonce dans le 20emme’) as well as two leading voices in that previously described crossover space, Anna Meredith and Hannah Peel, two of my favourite current artists and composers.
If Unclassified provided a bridge between the mainstream and leftfield territory around contemporary art and experimental music Late Junction continues to be the flagship for the non-mainstream and thanks to its amazing presenters [and indeed curators] like Max Reinhardt, Nick Luscombe, Verity Sharp, Fiona Talkington Anne Hilde Neset and others plus the dedicated Reduced Listening production team, it has retained its importance over a long period now. Included amongst this month’s gems have been Sound Artist Cathy Lane whose mind-spinning Nesting Stones was one of several highlights in a superb edition of the show presented by Max, representing harmony through a unique palette of sound. It was also great to hear music by Sylvia Hinz, the stunning contemporary recorder player and part of the experimental trio Xelm Ya who appeared on a compilation album I curated for Demerara Records in 2015 called This is Tomorrow Calling.
Meanwhile, over on sister station BBC 6 Music the fantastic Freak Zone with Stuart Maconie continues to represent a niche that only he could have carved out in the first place, an eclectic but leftfield place where obscure Prog Rock and Psychedelia, cheesy but engaging TV themes, hardcore Alt Rock, contemporary classical, ambient electronic music, [post] industrial, Folkrock, singer/songwriters, quirky or downright strange one-offs and lo-fi pop can comfortably co-exist. Featured recently were Liepzig’s experimental Alt Rockers Black Salvation whose new album is Uncertainty is Bliss. Their sound blends heavy bass and drums, energetic and inventive guitar interplay and lots of vocal echoes. The overall soundscape is dark, loud and full of thoughtful changes. By contrast Trembling Bells have been a recent Freak Zone favourite, offering slightly ethereal Folkrock that veers into Psychedelia and free improvisation. Their new album Dungeness is well worth checking out.
Stuart also featured a stunning piece by Grouper (aka Liz Harris, the name being a reference to the possibly derogatory term for the children in the commune she grew up in) entitled Thanksgiving Song which is at once beautiful, experimental, inventive and disarmingly disturbing. The artist who really grabbed my attention though was Carla Bozulich whose Written in Smoke is a haunting epic of vocal contrasts, psychologically suggestive ambient sounds, electronic buzz notes and musical inventiveness. I have to hear more of this enigmatic and impressive artist.
There is no shortage of innovative and brilliantly curated shows on 6 Music and in a near future edition of Trust-The-Doc I must focus on Cerys Matthews and her lovingly crafted Sunday morning bonanza of international flavours, forgotten classics and unsung heroes but I want to end this section by mentioning the unquantifiable contribution to new music made by Tom Robinson.
There’s the BBC Introducing Mixtape [which this month I had the honour of being featured on in my Environmental Sound Foundation alter-ego with the modal Electro-Funk Dub/World instrumental track Tibet from the new Disunited Nations EP on Demerara Records], his Saturday evening three-hour centrepiece and of course the entire freshonthenet.co.uk platform with the Listening Post, the Fresh Faves and information and tips to help aspiring artists with handling their career ambitions. No-one has done more to take the John Peel legacy to a whole new level and to do so with the benefit of being both a highly successful musician and a top-notch broadcaster. He also finds time to dedicate two hours every Sunday evening to his theme-based request show Now Playing.
JAZZ SCENES CONVERGE AT CHELTENHAM
There has been some superb coverage of the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival and I was fortunate to catch Gilles Petersen and Cerys Matthews dedicating their BBC 6 Music shows to being there. And they are two people who know and love their jazz music. I was especially taken with the interview and music of Arun Ghosh who has fused together the influences of a thorough musical upbringing and his Indian roots on tracks like Nocturne (Chandra Drum). Also on fine form were The Roller Trio who continue to lead the new wave of British Jazzrock and the breathtaking talent that is Seun Kuti who has more than managed to continue his extraordinary family’s legacy and take his brand of Afrobeat and Jazz fusion all over the world.
It was also great to hear veteran funk pioneers Tower of Power and soul and pop legend PP Arnold continuing to entertain generations of fans. And I can’t talk about Jazz without mentioning the excitement of new material by my current [and unequivocal] favourite artist and writer Kamasi Washington. Mary Anne Hobbs featured the stirring full length session version of his Fists of Fury on her Sunday morning show on 6th May (which he had recorded 5 days earlier). Stuart Maconie then did the same hours later on Freak Zone. This is the second preview track I have heard from the forthcoming Heaven and Earth double album due out on 22nd June. On the strength of both and following the incredible Harmony of Difference EP (which ought to have been billed as a mini-album given that it gave us 6 tracks lasting over 30 minutes) in 2017, I can’t wait.
This month also saw a fantastic article in The Guardian by Kate Hutchinson in which she interviewed seven of the UK’s most exciting current Jazz artists. I will be covering this scene in Edition 4 of Trust-The-Doc but in the meantime you can read the article by clicking on the following link:
Not exactly Jazz (although incorporating a Jazz influence along with Blues, Folk, Soul and a host of others in her music) but I couldn’t overlook Mary Anne’s interview with one of the great pioneering British singer/songwriters Joan Armatrading. Her intelligent and compassionate views are always uplifting and the story of her meeting with Nelson Mandela was both moving and funny. It was an absolute pleasure to hear her talk and be reminded of some of her incredible songs.
FIVE MORE EXCITING BANDS & ARTISTS
Last but definitely not least, returning to the topic of freshonthenet.co.uk and the Listening Post, let me introduce another five acts I have had the privilege of getting to hear through my role as a moderator and reviewer for this fantastic new music resource. This month I have chosen another five contrasting bands and artists. They are the unique and eclectic composer and multi-instrumentalist from Aylesbury Jon Samsworth (https://soundcloud.com/jon-samsworth), uplifting melodic Swedish pop duo Isle of You (https://soundcloud.com/isleofyou), highly accomplished Wiltshire singer/songwriter Anna Neale (https://soundcloud.com/annaneale), Warwickshire Pop/Electro/Urban artist/producer Loveday (https://soundcloud.com/thisisloveday) and Hertfordshire based international Island-inspired Alt Rockers San Blas (https://soundcloud.com/sanblasmusic).
Isle of You have really captured my attention. Swedish pair Ida & Elina are probably the duo that 90s SE Londoners Shampoo (remember them?) wished they could be. They are guitar-toting young women whose persona is energetic, fun, upbeat and modern. They have great pop voices that gel really nicely and they can not only pen a convincing pop tune but their arranging skills are impressive too. Their previous track, the guitar-accompanied 50 + 1 was catchy and engaging but it’s the new synth-driven Skintight which I can really hear crossing over into mainstream radio and providing them with the launchpad for a promising career. I just hope radio programmers pick up on it and give them that opportunity. In the meantime watch this space.
Jon Samsworth is a composer whose delicate instrumental piece Echoes on Cambridge Street was a highlight of an already very strong group of new tracks submitted to the Listening Post. His harmonically inventive and at times exquisitely dissonant Coconut Heralds demonstrates his ability to glide effortlessly between harmonic states and contrasting textures. Jon’s music deserves to be heard far and wide so I am stoked that he may be performing soon at one of the Demerara Records Presents … gigs I am curating at the lovely Ivy House in SE London.
Anna Neale has been building a reputation in the West Country as a versatile writer and impressive singer whose sophisticated style, rich textures and harmonic inventiveness bring to mind the likes of Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins, Bjork and even Tori Amos. Her recent track Evolution was a stand-out moment in a strong week at the Listening Post while Losing it all shows her more direct style. Expect to hear more from this talented artist soon.
Loveday doesn’t post a great deal of information about herself but there is a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thisisloveday/ and her debut single Close is sassy, soulful and bristles with energy and attitude. She has a lovely voice and her production skills are well evidenced. She has the credentials to break into the mainstream and needs the opportunity to prove it so watch this one with interest.
I was fortunate to be writing the week’s Fresh Faves reviews for FreshOnTheNet when San Blas’s Drive was voted into the top ten. I was particularly taken with their story of inspiration arriving while watching a burning beach hut (!) and I love how they combine the unique timbre of the Ukelele with an otherwise more British Indie Rock sound. Their songs are strong, built on robust structures and they have an epic quality. Check out the jaunty Reckless and the harder-edged Kiss from Argentina. These guys can knock out a tune but they also put a lot of thought into arrangements and contrasts of dynamics and texture. Those elements are what holds the listener’s attention and sets them apart from the competition. They clearly have a big following already so who knows where the growing attention might take them?
In Edition 4, I would like to write about a band I have come across twice in recent months and who genuinely seem to have all the spirit of adventure, originality and ambition that I love to observe in a band. I am talking about Welsh experimentalists Half Hour at the Hilton (https://souncloud.com/half-hour-at-the-hilton). If you love creatively daring avant-pop HHATH are a must-hear act. So WATCH THIS SPACE!!!
…. AND FINALLY
.Well this third edition of Trust-The-Doc has been full on and the first to run to seven pages. So I hope you find elements that interest you. The central message is: There is so much exciting music out there. You just have to know where to find it. Till the next time.