Devil Take The Hindmost – an Allan Holdsworth biography

Devil Take The Hindmost – The Otherworldy Music of Allan Holdsworth – Ed Chang – Jazz in Britain412 pages

with John Taylor – photo: Uli Rohde

It’s perhaps surprising that until now there hasn’t been an Allan Holdsworth biography: for many guitarists (and fans of guitarists) he simply is ‘it’, a phenomenally gifted and idiosyncratic player whose abilities, temperament and ideas took the guitar to places never before seen. Ed Chang’s comprehensive account of his work is a 400 page+ epic which follows an unusual format, but leaves few stones unturned in its seeking out of Allan’s (and others’) thoughts on his journey from working men’s clubs to adulation and critical acceptance. Around the time of his death he was voted the best guitarist of all time by the readers of ‘Guitar Player’ with 10 times as many votes as any other player(!), but seemingly any success never extended to material wealth or an exalted sense of self-worth.

The book is the second printed release on the roster from Jazz in Britain, whose stated role is as “A not-for-profit organisation, whose aim is to collect, curate, preserve, celebrate and promote the legacy of British jazz musicians”. The irony is that Allan in latter years gained the acceptance his talents deserved principally over in the States, coinciding with his movement towards more solo material. His CV was an extraordinary one prior to that, as almost unwittingly he passed through any number of bands with direct or loose connections to the Canterbury Scene: Nucleus, Tempest (latterly with Ollie Halsall), Sunship, Soft Machine, Gong, Bruford and UK.

‘Igginbottom – photo: Dave Freeman

Chang’s approach is an unusual one: each chapter concentrates on an album or a band stint (particularly in the Seventies, Allan’s sojourns with projects were generally brief), sets the context, and thereafter the narrative is largely quote-based. The analysis is saved for notes on each release which accompanies that chapter as Chang painstakingly describes, minute by minute, each musician’s roles, piece by piece. This format reflects the book’s web-based origins at http://threadoflunacy.blogspot.com/  – where particular periods in Allan’s musical history were assembled post by post in an ongoing blog. These analyses can also include additional quotes from musicians involved providing further commentary, increasingly so as the book progresses (the section on Allan’s late Eighties solo album ‘Secrets’ for example, extends to 8 pages!), presumably because there are many more contemporary interviews available from the late Eighties onwards. Personally I tended to skip these blow by blow accounts with the promise to myself that these might form an invaluable reference tool in the future when re-visiting the relevant albums. Which indeed they did when reviewing the accompanying CD release ‘Warleigh Manor’.

What comes across despite the heavy reliance on external quotes is that Chang really does know his onions: the introduction alone where the subject’s style was broken down into harmony, melody, rhythm and articulation is expressed in succinct understandable explanations for us musical Luddites, as close an explanation as possible as to why Holdsworth’s style was unique and strikes a chord with us, even down to an illuminating description (supported by quotes throughout the book) of Allan’s embracement of ‘wrong’ notes and chords, and his overarching approach to shifting time signatures which allowed him always to maintain his place within a piece. Chang’s writing style at the start of each chapter is fluid but not overly verbose, and therefore always accessible.

with Bill Bruford, photo: M Coralnick

What is particularly interesting for me (and presumably for readers of the blog too) are those chapters on those Seventies collaborations – and whilst a ’94 Facelift interview proves to be a major primary source for that period, there are other insights into Igginbottom, Nucleus, Sunship and Soft Machine in particular which I’d not seen before.  The book also brings into focus various connections with other, mainly British jazz musicians which continuously reoccur, not just Gordon Beck from the Sixties through to the Nineties, but also Ray Warleigh, Jack Bruce, John Marshall, Alan Pasqua, Gary Husband and many more.

For the Canterbury completist, it’s slightly disappointing that the odd relevant collaboration is only briefly referenced (e.g. the Gongzilla project is only alluded to in the discography, a shame as it was a reunion of old collaborationists with some particularly seismic solos, plus a clear reference to the book’s subject in ‘Allan Qui?’; Soft Machine’s ‘Land of Cockayne’ receives similar treatment); but frankly the scope of the book is so far reaching that this is nit-picking. And such is the all-embracing nature of the chronology that reading through the book had me reaching for a pen to note down new curios to explore: such as the ‘Sherwood Forest’ demos with Jack Bruce in the late Seventies, or a version of ‘The Abingdon Chasp’ with Ray Warleigh, Bill Bruford, Francis Moze and Jeff Young from around the same period.

with UK – photo M Coralnick

I’m guessing that as a personal fan I would have welcomed more in-text information about Allan’s progressions between bands (this is saved until a later appendix) and some more personal insight into a man who on a single meeting I found to be engaging but a severe perfectionist –  ‘allergic to compliments’, as Dweezil Zappa put it. The fact that the initial biographical notes on the circumstances of his upbringing stopped me in my tracks brought it home to me that I was yearning at times for more information about Allan the man. There are hints everywhere that when he was not happy with projects he tended to lay waste around him – and there are numerous inferences to personal hardship which we can deduce from the fact that he frequently appeared to be without record deals, equipment, or even money to get home at various points in his career. Plus, dare I say it, a love for the finer things in life evidenced by numerous song titles referencing ales and spirits (as well as mention within one section of him going on stage after ‘at least 10 pints’, his playing seemingly unaffected). Another quote mentions a ‘6 year hole’ which we can guess the timeframe of but not the context. In that respect the book is a function of its format, where chapters clearly concentrate on specific events rather than the overall flow of events.

The latter part of the book is a series of appendices which are illuminating in their own right: a summary of the ‘gear’ Allan used throughout his career, an analysis of his ‘musical style’ which again, in describing the initial appearance of a  ‘swooping, floating tremolo bar style’ on ‘Gazeuse!’ finally helped me understand the trademark sound I’d loved all these years; and a detailed chronology of musical events in Allan’s life from the early Sixties onwards which does much to address that overall progression. There’s also a fascinating compendium of the regular sessions Allan did with others for the BBC (featuring amongst others John Marshall, Ron Mathewson, Tony Coe, Ray Warleigh, Gordon Beck, John Stevens, Jeff Clyne, Pat Smythe and Geoff Castle) –  there were 13 in total between 1972 and 1981, which best contextualise Allan’s freejazz alter ego alluded to on the recently released ‘Warleigh Manor’ CD. Plus of course a comprehensive discography and the publication of two extensive interviews from 1991 and 2000 respectively.

As with all the best biographies, the reader emerges with something of a better understanding of the history of a musician, and a yearning to revisit the music which drew one to the biography in the first place; plus a desire to seek out some of the missing pieces in one’s own collection. And a satisfaction that this is a job well done, deserving of the considerable talents of its subject….

Order your copy of ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ at DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST – The Otherworldly Music of Allan Holdsworth

Warleigh Manor

Holdsworth, Warleigh, Matthewson, Spring: Warleigh Manor – The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol 1 (Jazz in Britain)

cassette 1

This previously unreleased session from four established British jazzers was unearthed as a byproduct of research for the Ed Chang’s Allan Holdsworth biography ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ by Jazz in Britain, and represents part of a series of projects which encapsulates a lesser known aspect of Holdsworth’s history which Facelift first explored in issue 2 as far back as 1989. There was a period right at the end of the Seventies, largely before his movement towards solo bands and compositions, and intertwined with his bread and butter work as a blindingly brilliant solo guitarist, when there existed a parallel universe in which Holdsworth was involved in freeblows with key improvisers from the British jazz scene including John Stevens and Ron Mathewson. It is the opening up of the latter’s extensive archives for Jazz in Britain which has produced this particular slice of history. Memories are so vague that the session cannot even be accurately dated, although the best guess is 1979 or 1980.

In fact the genesis of this particular recordings could be traced back much further – when I interviewed Allan Holdsworth back in 1994, he talked of a particular period in his life when, in the middle of a three year stint in the very early Seventies as a jobbing musician for the Glen South Band, he attended a jazz workshop and met Ray Warleigh, who offered him a room in his house down in London should he ever decide to relocate – which he subsequently did, opening up a whole host of opportunities which led on to Nucleus and then beyond… Appendices in the forthcoming biography also allude to BBC sessions with double bass player Mathewson and drummer Bryan Spring going back as far as 1972 and 1974 respectively.

cover

Whilst ‘Warleigh Manor’ is very much in the manner of those late Seventies John Stevens freeform blasts, it’s  softened considerably by the joyous nature of Ray Warleigh’s performance, initially through his warm, florid, flute (Soft Machinists will be familiar with his appearances on ‘Bundles’ and later ‘Land of Cockayne’) but also through tenor sax which alternately squawks and croons. On the opening track (‘Warleigh Manor Part One’) the initial bursts are pretty much one player soloing at a time, flute, semi-acoustic guitar and bass, before eventually this hardens into tenor sax and hitempo guitar flurries. We do eventually get the expectedly difficult high intensity listening, somewhere between the full on blast of Stevens’ ‘Touching On/Retouch’ projects and the sometimes mellower collaborations with Gordon Beck but it is Warleigh bringing the piece back to some semblance of melody which rescues the listener time and again.

inside CD

Interestingly enough, Holdsworth spends most of ‘Warleigh Manor Part 2’, another track in excess of 17 minutes, on violin – the only time I can instantly recall him playing that is for very simple motifs on ‘Flight Part 4’ on Gordon Beck’s magnificent ‘Sunbird’. Here he plays more adventurously in a 3-way somewhat manic workout with flute and double bass (Mathewson’s bowed sections here are probably the highlights of his contributions on this album; drummer Spring is generally well down in the mix), before the piece eventually settles back into more considered tones with guitar with even some reflective passages. But there are no easy gains here.

Track 3 is a series of ‘Outtakes’ featuring some truly superb flute soloing over walking bass and relatively conventional guitar patterns. As the title suggests, this ‘piece’ is broken up by studio discussions, which, depending on your viewpoint either gives either context or possibly frustration to what could well have been the highlight of this album. But any doubt that it is Warleigh who is the clear star of the show is dispelled with more memorable flute passages throughout the bonus track ‘Do It In Two’, where, with the most established swing rhythm of the album, Holdsworth also briefly starts what probably constitutes his only conventional solo of the album, away from what appears to be a standard diet of improvisational counterflurries, before he appears to have second thoughts, allowing flute to come to the fore again.

If the glory here is Warleigh’s (a real revelation for me) then this is still a fascinating further opportunity to see the lesser spotted Holdsworth in his late Seventies freejazz alter ego. And it whets the appetite nicely for further discoveries both within and beyond the forthcoming biography.

Order ‘Warleigh Manor’ below:

Warleigh Manor: The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol.1 (Holdsworth, Warleigh, Mathewson, Spring)

And the biography here:

DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST – The Otherworldly Music of Allan Holdsworth

How to support our musicians on Bandcamp Friday!

bandcamp

In these uncertain times, I’m seeing lots of posts from musicians we all know and love who are having gigs cancelled left right and centre with no immediate prospect of any income from live performances.

Thought it might be a good time to post a list of links to musicians we can all support through their bandcamp pages – Bandcamp are waiving commission fees tomorrow, which presumably means that more money from sales goes to the artists.

The list is, I’m sure far from exhaustive at this stage (and not all links are Bandcamp ones) , but please feel free to contact me with additional links I can potentially add…

(And I appreciate that many others apart from musicians are being affected economically at the moment)

Bands/Musicians

Soft Machine https://www.softmachine.org/news

Planet Gong https://www.planetgong.co.uk/ – go to the Bazaar page

Caravan – https://officialcaravan.co.uk/shop/

Steve Hillage  https://stevehillage.bandcamp.com/

Dave Stewart – https://burningshed.com/store/davebarb

Daevid Allen – https://daevidallen.bandcamp.com/

Theo Travis – https://www.theotravis.com/index.php/shop

Ian East – https://ianeast.bandcamp.com/

Fabio Golfetti – https://fabiogolfetti.bandcamp.com/

Dave Sturt – https://www.davesturt.co.uk/

Kavus Torabi – https://kavustorabi.bandcamp.com/, Utopia Strong https://theutopiastrong.bandcamp.com/

Mark Hewins – https://markhewins.bandcamp.com/

Friendly labels

Discus – https://discusmusic.bandcamp.com/

Moonjune – https://moonjunerecords.bandcamp.com/

Phil Miller Legacy https://philmillerthelegacy.com/ – lots of freebies!

Jazz in Britain  – https://jazzinbritain1.bandcamp.com/music

Links to other stuff we’ve reviewed:

Zopp – https://zopp.bandcamp.com/

Cary Grace – https://bandcamp.com/cary_grace

Lapis Lazuli – https://lapislazuli.bandcamp.com/

Invisible Opera Company of Tibet – https://invisibleoperacompanyoftibet.bandcamp.com/

Magic Bus – https://magicbus2.bandcamp.com/

Diratz – https://carla-diratz.bandcamp.com/releases

Ultramarine – https://real-soon.bandcamp.com/

System 7 – https://system7.bandcamp.com/

Manna Mirage – http://www.mannamirage.com/

Droog5/Relatives http://www.relativesrecords.com/

Andy Bole – https://andybole.bandcamp.com/

Wizards of Twiddly – https://twiddlywizards.bandcamp.com/

Gong Expresso – https://www.facebook.com/GongExpresso/

Soften The Glare – https://softentheglare.bandcamp.com/

Acid Mothers Temple – http://acidmothers.com/

Syd Arthur – https://sydarthur.bandcamp.com/

Zopp: Zopp (Bad Elephant Music)

zopp pic

I’ve rarely seen excitement from various Canterbury uberfans to rival that which has accompanied the airing of a single sampler track from this debut album, and having been in the lucky position to have had access to the entire release for a month or so now, I can confirm that Zopp is a significant event in the pantheon of new ‘Canterbury’ music even if it emanates from a relatively youthful individual from the East Midlands!

‘Zopp’ is almost a lost album in the Egg canon, albeit imbued with a fresh energy without some of that band’s austere and self-consciously classical reference points. Ryan Stevenson comprises the vast majority of Zopp (the only other ‘constant’ member is drummer Andrea Moneta). Whilst Stevenson acknowledges Mont Campbell as a reference point in conversation, and even more obviously so Dave Stewart in sound, there is a lightness of touch more in common with the expanded instrumentation of Hatfield and the North, the comparisons helped by the fact that Stevenson doubles (or triples) on guitar and bass respectively.

The opener ‘Swedish Love’, with its high plaintive wordless voice (from Caroline Joy Clarke), in unison with keyboards, could not be more of an obvious reference point to Amanda Parsons circa ‘Tenemos Roads’, but it is not long before ‘Before The Light’ sets the project’s stall out fully. Used as a taster introduction to the album (you can listen to it here – tasty indeed) – the  blaring, weaving introduction eventually settles to a myriad of time signatures and keyboard sounds, instantly recognizable from the Canterbury idiom, before being topped off by cyclical Oldfieldesque guitar.

zopp cover

Possibly best of all is ‘V’ –, punctuated almost throughout by mesmeric pulsing keyboards. This also contains many of the classic Canterbury elements. Bass sounds wander around underneath keyboards which alternately ripple or fanfare stridently Dave Stewart style, in search of that perfect countermelody. This is also the track that Theo Travis is credited on for flute, although you could be forgiven for missing this in amongst the orgy of Hammond and Mellotron, whilst fellow Tangent member Andy Tillison, who guests throughout the album, is also credited here for piano. This is a piece which, ‘Newport Hospital’ style, returns time and again to base for its imposing central theme before noodling off for another fine solo.

Also right up there is the final track, the fanfarish, brilliant ‘The Noble Shirker’ where the main theme reprises continually, with keyboard soloing around it in more considered fashion – more Dave Sinclair than Stewart in its clinical quest for each perfect note. As this track develops, it’s clear that this is something of a statement, a triumphal squaring of the circle, an exultant conclusion that recalls Khan’s ‘Hollow Stone’, with the soloing sax of Mike Benson added to boot.

And for a while, those latter three tracks were all I listened to on this album, impossible as it was to wrench myself away from the repeat button. But there are hidden depths and slow burners elsewhere: ‘Sanger’, almost an outtake from National Health’s ‘Missing Pieces’ (or even Gilgamesh), with its dual guitar/keyboard dual lines recalling Alan Gowen and Phil Lee as much as Stewart/Miller, time signatures changing at drop of a hat – themes which are gentle but disquieting rather than soothing  until drums help to ramp up the momentum. ‘Eternal Return’ chugs along with a series of heavy organ riffs competing for space with a National Health-like guitar line, and the lovely piano-based ‘Sellanra’ is a brief moment of reflection amidst the shifting sands of its surroundings. And I’m still discovering new elements on practically every repeated listen.

Zopp is a quite superb project and album, instantly recognisable in all its challenging glory for lovers of the Canterbury genre – how lucky we are to have such a fresh and innovative interpretation of familiar styles 50 years on.

Order Zopp at https://zopp.bandcamp.com/

Discus Music

discus

A short and well overdue post regarding the label Discus Music, Sheffield’s innovative and well-regarded music label which is at the forefront of new releases varying from leftfield rock to jazz and songform, and which also features many musicians fondly regarded by fans of the Canterbury scene.

The label is a champion of releases from Keith Tippett, who in the wake of a very serious illness recently, has a forthcoming album with partner Julie Tippetts which relies on your support via crowdfunding for its release in 2020. Elsewhere in the catalogue is the excellent MPH album ‘Taxonomies’ reviewed here last autumn and featuring Hatfield and the North’s Alex Maguire and the ubiquitous Mark Hewins alongside Martin Pyne. Label owner Martin Archer’s Anthropology Band, an ambitious electro-jazz collective,  is powered along by Gong bassist Dave Sturt, whilst The Eclectic Maybe Project’s  ‘Reflection in a Moebius Ring Mirror‘ is a progressive/experimental album from  Guy Segers which includes recent Facelift reviewees Carla Diratz and Dave Newhouse and Michel Deville, alongside fellow Univers Zero emigre Andy Kirk.

Gong/Magick Brothers violinist Graham Clark appears on East of Eden’s Ron Caines’ album with Archer ‘Les Oiseaux de Matisse‘ whilst ex In Cahooter Sarah Gail Brand and long-standing Elton Dean collaborator Mark Sanders appear on Orchestra Entropy’s ‘Rituals’ and I dare say if you work your way through the 80 or so strong back catalogue you will find many further links. Well worth signing up for email updates perusing the full catalogue at http://www.discus-music.co.uk  or even better sample some of the various wares at http://www.discusmusic.bandcamp.com. A full press release of current/future releases follows:

DEAR LISTENERS – Thanks for taking a few minutes to read about these recent CD/DL releases from Discus Music.  We hope you’ll find some sounds to enjoy within our ever expanding catalogue!  Please visit http://www.discus-music.co.uk to buy or http://www.discusmusic.bandcamp.com to have a browse through the sound files.  Click on each sleeve image below to visit the Discus website.  All prices include post and packing worldwide.  And don’t forget there’s a 30% reduction on everything you spend over £25 on the site (discount not available on Bandcamp purchases) – MARTIN ARCHER

MARTIN ARCHER – ANTHROPOLOGY BAND – DISCUS 90CD.  Taking the electric music of Miles Davis as its starting point, Anthropology Band is about finding the atmosphere through a deep rhythm, a searing blues run, a delicate melody, or a cascading solo statement. Band leader Martin Archer has kept the music as simple as possible – often driven by the bassline – and the structures loose, to enable this who’s who of UK creative musicians to let the music breathe in a different way each time it is played. There are multiple chordal instruments in the centre of the sound, allowing each soloist to sit on a kaleidoscopic wave of intercrossing figures which push the music forward.

“Five stars.  Again a creative project by Martin Archer….. And so we can have two versions in one fell swoop: a great idea, ambitious and winning. The style is towards electric Miles, progressive rock, and, on some tracks, improvised modern jazz. Wide and open structures, imbued with a beautiful blues feeling, which allow those who find the inspiration to assert their expressiveness. However, it is always Miles’ imprint that dominates, not least because of the pervasive presence of Charlotte Keefe’s trumpet ….. Archer’s stable does not disappoint, nor does it disappoint those who, with skilful creativity, organiSe and guide it.” – A. G. Bertinetto, KATHODIK

“Though Martin Archer’s Anthropology Band readily acknowledges its debt to electric era Miles as its starting point, it quickly hurtles off into its own distinctive space.  Chris Sharkey’s vivid, blazing guitar adds a fevered counterpoint to Archer’s sinuous brass themes which frame much of this 2 CD set.  Gong bassist Dave Sturt adds notable definition.”   – Sid Smith, PROG

On this double CD the music is presented in two versions, firstly by the live band:  Martin Archer – saxophones, electronics, composer / Charlotte Keeffe – trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger / Chris Sharkey – guitar, electronics / Pat Thomas, keyboards, electronics / Corey Mwamba – vibraphone / Dave Sturt – bass guitar / Peter Fairclough – drums.  And on the second CD an 11 piece brass and woodwind section, arranged by Martin and Charlotte, is added.  We wrote these parts with the idea in mind “what would Gil Evans have written for Bitches Brew?”

WALT SHAW – BURNT WITH A BRILLIANT LIGHT – DISCUS 91DL. (Download only)  “At the opening of my solo visual art exhibition at Déda, Derby, January 11th 2020, I did a solo percussion performance. I used drums, cymbals, gongs, bowls, home-made instruments and objects.  The performance consisted of 10 short sound ‘sketches’, each one dedicated to a different artist that has meant a lot to me in my artistic development. I am always looking for processes that in some way fuse my love of sound and the visual art medium.  So hopefully each percussion ‘sketch’ appropriately invokes the spirit of each artist with my personal sound interpretation.” – Walt Shaw

“We’re not sure whether he was a painter or a percussionist first, only that he has been doing this for quite a long time and is incredibly talented.  Shaw also makes many of his own instruments (often from scrap) and has a special affinity for gongs.  Earlier this year, his two worlds collided in an enjoyable way: a solo percussion set performed at the opening of his art exhibition at Deda.  Each short “sketch” is dedicated to an artist who has influenced Shaw…..But whether the cover draws the attention to the music, the music to the art, or the titles to the work of others, all components work in connection ~ like an assemblage or a collage.  The circle is complete.”  – Richard Allen, A CLOSER LISTEN

ARTICLE XI – LIVE IN NEWCASTLE – DISCUS 89CD.  Article XI came together in 2014 when Anton was commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival to create a new set of music for large ensemble. This record continues the group’s explorations into large ensemble collective composition, with two new pieces alongside re-imaginings of two pieces from their debut 2018 album. “Live in Newcastle” was recorded at the Bridge Hotel during a concert for Jazz North East, long-standing supporters of improvised music, and a night which bandleader Anton Hunter has had a long relationship with over the years.

Sam Andreae – alto saxophone / Oliver Dover – alto saxophone / Simon Prince – tenor saxophone & flute / Cath Roberts – baritone saxophone / Graham South – trumpet / Nick Walters – trumpet / Kieran McLeod – trombone / Tullis Rennie – trombone / Seth Bennett – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums / Anton Hunter – guitar

THE GEORDIE APPROACH – SHIELDS – DISCUS 84CD.  Ståle Birkeland – Drums / Petter Frost Fadnes – Saxophone & Electronics / Chris Sharkey- Guitar & Electronics

“Shields is their major statement: two long, no-edits performances recorded in a converted Methodist church in Leeds.  The saxophone, guitar and drums trio…..sound like anything but – the huge, echoing rumbles of “North” resemble slowed down whale song or tectonic chatter; they just come from sax or guitar, but flanged and gated and utterly, fascinatingly denatured.  There is a deep understanding between the players, bacause both movements…..move with an almist narrative logic, as if a journey has already been made.” – Brian Morton, THE WIRE

RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS – DREAM FEATHERS – DISCUS 88CD.

“Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more.” – Adrian Pallant, AP Reviews

“I could do a track by track description, much better to hear this wonderful recording for yourself.  These are all Ron Caines tunes, yet the ensemble is everything.  In places the Gus Garside/Johnny Hunter bass/drums team hang on it like Carter and Williams from the Miles Davis Quartet, such is their stealth.  Laura Cole’s piano (acoustic & electric) structures the fix.  Anton Hunter’s guitar, pithy, not over played.  Archer’s multiple “hornweb” on African Violets, a gift.  He and Hervé Perez provide all kinds of enhancing, yet nothing diverts from the Caines tenet. By the time the ensemble reach the final track, Almazon/1934, they are essential.  That hanging piano rings out a melody like bells from a high tower. Ron Caines, tenor purchasing another plangent melody squeezed by electrophopia. In the transfer from Almazon to 1934 the guitar is pushed through a gizmo, grinding the notes to audio dust accompanied by a field recording of bird song.  And the horn, a lone deity left to flood the senses. Magnificent.” – Steve Day, stevedaywordsandmusic

In this continuing series of releases with Ron – the mastermind behind East Of Eden, one of the most creative and adventurous groups to come out of the 1960s collision between jazz, rock and psychedelia – we seem to have arrived at an interesting place where an ostensibly straight jazz group playing beautifully realised melodic material is somehow unexpectedly pulled sideways into a strange alternative electroacoustic universe. We like this little clearing in the forest which we’ve found for Ron’s music – and in many ways it mirrors the pioneering work of his early music with East Of Eden, all be it with technology which was not available to those musicians in those days. Come hear this master melodist at work. Album artworks by Susan Caines.

credits

Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones
Martin Archer – bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole – acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez – field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter – guitar and electronics
Gus Garside – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums
Gus G

MPH – TAXONOMIES – DISCUS 87CD.  Alex Maguire – piano, Hammond organ / Martin Pyne – vibraphone, drums, percussion, electronics / Mark Hewins – guitars, electronics.

“The titles of the works are inspired by various flora and fauna, sich as ‘False Jasmine’, ‘Meadowsweet’, ‘Purple Loosestrife’, and ‘Sally Lightfoot’. The names are to suggest “timeless narrative, characters, landscapes and mindscapes.” This they do, in full bloom. The catholic palette of settings from lazy daydreaming to rippling directions, and exotic chance, provides the audience with a series of short films for the ears and imagination. ‘Taxonomies’ is very curious, distinguished and inventive.” – Lee Henderson, BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE

MPH is a trio featuring three of the most creative musical minds on the improv scene today. Their music draws from a huge range of genres to create bewitching and astonishingly original sound pictures, shot through with vitality, tenderness and humour. Taxonomies is the trio’s debut album, taking inspiration from a quirky perspective on the natural world.

COREY MWAMBA – NTH – DISCUS 86CD.  Corey Mwamba – vibraphone, glockenspiel, beak flute / Laura Cole – piano / Andy Champion – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums, small percussion

“NTH is a rhythmically minded beast. The beautifully rhythmic drumming of Johnny Hunter allows Corey’s searching vibes and the playful piano of Laura Cole full rein in chasing and tagging one another. To me the vibes always sound as though they are the precursor to something mysterious and unknown; a sense of expectation is always present in that soulful ring and it is never more so than here.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

“The idea for putting together this group, at the time I did, represents a slow movement. This is a group of people that I had wanted to put together for a while; some of the music was written almost fifteen years ago. But then, as it began, we accelerated; we played live four times, the final time coinciding with my last time. Andy, Johnny, and Laura have given so much in performing and dealing with the material. What these musicians and friends have done, to me, reflects a core tradition in jazz — to deal and commit to the material and make new things, present new ways of listening and expressing: to move beyond the limits of the marks on the page, towards feeling.” – COREY MWAMBA

ORCHESTRA ENTROPY – RITUALS – DISCUS 85CD.  The classic language of European free improvisation carefully sculpted into a series of movements for large ensemble by composer / improviser Matt London.

“The Discus catalogue is now large and incredibly varied. This is one of its finest moments.” – Brian Morton, JAZZ JOURNAL

“On Rituals, composer and saxophonist Matt London expands his new music group Ensemble Entropy into a ten piece improvising orchestra.  The musicians are free to interpret London’s language score as they see fit, the intention being to sculpt the improvisations so that the music develops and transforms along an ancient element journey.  As powerful as the full ensemble can be, London maximises its impact by breaking it down into smaller groupings via two trio sub-pieces.  “skelf” (Scots for splinter) is a scrabble of electric guitar, double bass and drums, while “antiphon” is an elegant interlude for strings.  Tom Ward’s inquisitive clarinet and Sarah Gail Brand’s puckering trombone bring the orchestra back in over Mark Sanders’ woodpecker percussion, leading to a stately closing theme reminiscent of Eyvind Kang.”   – Stewart Smith, THE WIRE

“RITUALS is an extended work for ten improvisers presented on two hand drawn panels. This language score consists of various open notations, graphics plus two trio sub-pieces titled skelf (electric guitar, double bass and drums) and antiphon (violin, viola and double bass) for the performers to decipher. The intention is to sculpt the improvisations so that the music develops and transforms along an ancient elemental journey, with the composer not as a totalitarian figure of authority, instead giving the performers the guidance, the licence to explore and discover who they are within it.” – Matt London

Matt London – tenor saxophone, director / Georgia Cooke – alto flute / Tom Ward – bass clarinet / Seb Silas – baritone saxophone / Sarah Gail Brand – trombone / Rebecca Raimondi – violin / Benedict Taylor – viola / Seth Bennett – double bass / Moss Freed – electric guitar / Mark Sanders – drums

ECLECTIC MAYBE BAND – REFLECTION IN A MOEBIUS RING MIRROR – DISCUS 83CD.  A second volume of the Guy Segers (ex Univers Zero) project where the basic live band session is enhanced by an extensive post production involving contributions from a wide range of improvising musicians. Located musically between edgy jazzrock, electronics and improvisation, the release has been a surprise best seller, and this time round the tracks are built around a large and ever shifting cast of players:

Carla Diratz (Vocals)  Cathryn Robson (Vocals) Roland Binet (Flute, Piccolo) Martin Archer (Sax Sopranino & Alto) Joe Higham (Sax Soprano & Tenor, Electronics) Dave Newhouse (Sax Alto & Tenor, Bass Clarinet) Jean-Pierre Soarez (Trumpet) Ariane Plumerel (Violin) Sigrid Vandenbogaerden (Cello) Michel Delville (Guitar) Eric Lemaître (Guitar) Ángel Ontalva (Guitar) Andy Kirk (Guitar, Keyboards) Catherine Smet (Piano, Keyboards) Guy Segers (Bass, Programming Virtual Instruments) Franck Balestracci (Keyboards, Drums) Dirk Wachtelaer (Drums)
“Overall, Reflection In A Moebius Ring Mirror is a release of unparalleled scope, almost astounding in its reach, but with its beauty and sense of questing allowing the listener opportunities to immerse themselves. The players are all superb, and Guy’s way around the studio means that his constructed tracks are seamless yet exploratory. It is well worth taking a dip into these welcoming waters — but watch out for the currents.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

INCLUSION PRINCIPLE – ARKIV – DISCUS 82DL.  Nu-Jazz / electronics / improv group Inclusion Principle has been performing live since 2006. Commencing 2019, we have started to create an archive of our concerts under the ever evolving catalogue number Discus 82DL.  The first three concerts, featuring the group in its early duo format of Hervé Perez and Martin Archer (saxophones and laptops) are available now.

KEITH TIPPETT – THE UNLONELY RAINDANCER – DISCUS 81CD.  We’re massively proud to be bringing to you this re-release from 1980 – Keith’s first ever solo piano release, which predates his Mujician series from the following decade.  These exciting and vibrant performances, recorded live on a tour of the Netherlands in 1979, have been carefully remastered from the source tapes.  In Keith’s view, this music forms the template for his future solo work up to the present day.  Out of print for many years, and unknown to most, this vital document will be a must for all fans of UK creative music.

“The re-blossoming of a long dormant rose.  Or oak, as Tippett twice visits the folk melody of Tortworth Oak, though he soon transcends the tune with his massive chording, ocean-wide sense of dynamics and wrists of iron that allow him to repeat hot forged figures and trills with an unremitting, unswerving attack.  With different pianos at different venues, there is a variation in tonality and ambience, but that adds to the overall richness of the sound quality, the narrative of the tour, as well of each cut.  And that is Tippett’s gift to the listener, that even in the most expressionistic passages, there’s an organic storytelling arc to each piece, even within the epic Steel Yourself.  This is improvised but not avant-garde music that disappears up its own arch.  It’s music with a heart of soul that can barely contain itself.  But it does, just.” – Andy Robson, JAZZWISE – EDITOR’S CHOICE

MARTIN ARCHER – ANOTHER FANTASTIC INDIVIDUAL – DISCUS 80CD.  Solo music for woodwind, percussion and minimal electronics. “This is the first time I’ve made an album on which I’m the only performer. I’ve been playing AACM style saxophone for more than 40 years now, and this collection – a mixture of solo and small ensembles, sometimes with percussion or minimal electronics – presents everything I’ve learned about the instrument as a player and composer in that time.” – Martin Archer

“One of the pleasures of Martin Archer’s recordings is anticipating what he has in store for the listener…Very carefully overdubbed…The improvising is excellent and some of the tunes are masterful…Outstanding!” – CADENCE

FROSTLAKE – ICE & BONE – DISCUS 79CD.  Ice & Bone – long awaited second CD by multi-instrumentalist frostlake (Jan Todd) who has been busy writing and recording for the improvising band Orchestra of The Upper Atmosphere. Ice & Bone is now finally released and the distinctive sound palette of her debut CD ‘White Moon, Black Moon’ continues – acoustic and electronic sounds washed with layered vocals and the creative bass of Terry Todd.  They have played out live as a duo and here are studio recordings of their live set.  The mix of acoustics strings/wind instruments with ethereal synthesizers and percussion takes you to another world- from the gentle terror of ‘60’s B movie ‘The Lake’ to the classic folk horror of ‘When Trees Sing/Find Me’.  Ice & Bone unwraps the darker layers of the mind in dreams and the unexplained.  Driving bass and drums grind it back to reality in ‘Just A Game’ and ‘The Last Time’ so this album is caught between the worldly and the unworldly – British psychedelia at it’s best. Field recordings add a sense of time and place in the eerie, natural world that frostlake creates and shares it’s stranger secrets.

‘Ice & Bone’ is a gorgeous, dreamy and rich with haunted folk, of lost ghosts, calling from another world, whispering sweet things in your ear. – Lee Henderson – BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE

BECK HUNTERS – HAS IT BEEN FOUND? – DISCUS 78CD.   Mick Beck – tenor sax, bassoon, and whistles / Anton Hunter – guitar / Johnny Hunter – drums.  A new set of improvisations from this formidable team of master musicians.

Terrifying thunders, trembling solos, vibrant and powerful climaxes, light, expressive, passionate or luminous melodies, turbulent rolls, breaking sessions, driving sequences of repetitive notes – all these elements and moods are gently combined together. The music has impressive sound – it has driving and expressive mood. – AVANT SCENA

DAS RAD – DAS RAD – DISCUS 75CD.  Nick Robinson – electric and acoustic guitars, loops, electronics
Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinets, flutes, recorders, melodica, keyboards, electronics, synth bass
Steve Dinsdale – electric drums, acoustic percussion, synth.

Stunning prog-friendly improv-rock from Sheffield stock.  If you don’t know the name of multi-instrumentalist and Discus Musics’ owner Martin Archer, then you’ve not been paying attention to some of the most interesting developments in British jazz, psych and rock during the last 25 years.  His latest cross-genre experiment finds him in the company of guitarist Nick Robinson and Radio Massacre International’s keyboardist / drummer Steve Dinsdale.  An extremely accessible, at times almost poppy collection of instrumental tracks, it’s a skilful integration of jazzy muscularity, noodling electronica and invigorating surges of air-punching rock.  Mostly they appear as concisely constructed bursts with a punk-like brevity that brings urgency and impact to scrunching guitar riffs and luminous shafts of Mellotron strings.  However, their two epic-length explorations Porto Steps and London Steps combine mesmeric mid-tempo beats and throbbing bass to frame scudding sax drifts, twinkling daubs of guitar and billowing atmospherics to form a blissful and immersive environment.  Elsewhere two sumptuous acoustic guitar pieces add bucolic interludes to an album already overflowing with expressive tunes and startlinf quality. – Sid Smith, PROG

MAJA BUGGE – NO EXIT – DISCUS74CD.   Maja Bugge – cello

The Norwegian cellist Maja Bugge’s second solo album “No Exit” was recorded inside Standedge canal tunnel by Hervé Perez. The music on this album is mainly improvised and responds to the 3 ¼ mile long tunnels unique acoustic and sounds. She is also using the history of the site as an inspiration echoing the rhythmical patterns of feet moving the boats through tunnels in the 19th century and the sound of stones being carved out of the ground 200 years ago.  This results in a haunting, meditative and expressive improvisation. It is a homage to a unique site and its sound. The “lone” cello responds to the unpredictability of the space and together they make something.

Recorded by sound engineer Hervé Perez in the tunnel, 200 years old and over 3 miles long, of Standedge, West Yorkshire, the disk has the solo performance of the Norwegian cellist, residing in Lancaster, Maja Bugge. Her instrument interacts with the unusual environment, meditative atmosphere-generating sound improvised melodic lines and melancholy. The Standedge Tunnel, five tracks Lullaby for Legging, Passage, Boat and No Exit recall the experience of the tunnel through which the monologue of the arc of the musician seems to seek a dialogue, an interaction, a possibility of communication. The dramatic character of the music is appreciated especially knowing the particular situation of the context of his performance. – A G Bertinetto, KATHODIK

 

RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS – LES OISEAUX DE MATISSE – DISCUS 72CD.  Ron Caines -alto and soprano saxophones / Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinets, software instruments / Laura Cole – grand piano, electric piano / Gus Garside – double bass / Johnny Hunter – drums / Hervé Perez – live sound processing, shakuhachi / Graham Clark – violin, electric guitar.

Ron Caines was the mastermind behind East of Eden, whose groundbreaking first two albums Mercator Projected and Snafu, mixing psychedelic rock, jazz, bluebeat, poetry, electronics and studio experimentation, were massively influential on teenage me at a stage when I was starting to explore the limits and possibilities of music.  It is a massive honour to be able to record with Ron all these years later.  This CD is a collision of pure jazz skill happening in real time and studio collage.  We hope, even though the music is quite different, that it contains a spark and continuation of the “arts lab” ethos of Ron’s early work with E of E.

This is outstanding!  Loose and supple playing. Hints of Mingus at his freest, mixed with Eastern influences and even traditional jazz. Really strong compositional ‘springboards’. Record of the week!! – MATT PARKER, BRITISH PROGRESSIVE JAZZ

 

LAURA COLE – ENOUGH – DISCUS 71CD.  Laura Cole – piano

“A mood of calm introspection sits over this collection of pieces for solo piano.  Yet, within that, Cole succeeds in exploring divergent avenues of expression.  the first disc contains her arrangements of compositions by various associates from the UK jazz scene:  Jason Yarde’s “Unisome (Unisin, Unison, Unisone, Unisum)!” is a fugue-like puzzle tackled with insouciant Monkish precision;  Kim Macari’s “Default Settings” mingles harp-like sweeps of the piano strings with intensely intimate vocal mutterings:  while Corey Mwamba’s “forgotten letters; Bereft; Tears: bright grey” is a solemn 15 minute suite of scattered stipples and enigmatic phrases.  On the second disc, Cole presents her own compositions and improvisations, revealing a quietly emphatic sense of space:  “The Crossing…” employs long pauses and isolated sonar-like notes, while “Extinguish” bathes in the warm glow of the sustain pedal” – DANIEL SPICER, THE WIRE

 

“A very personal statement from an engaged  musician! “– VITAL WEEKLY

 

 

ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE – THETA FOUR – DISCUS 70CD. 
A snarling mix of prog / zeuhl / Alice Coltrane / Terry Riley

“When it comes to Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere’s Theta Four, describing it as ‘epic’ feels like selling it short. The large ensemble harnesses a hybrid patchwork of electro-acoustic textures that brings to mind the spacey explorations of Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Can et al. Choirs, choppy strings, throbbing beats, dreamy vocals and snarling bass rise and soar into bold themes creating a diverse and thrilling listen. If you’re unfamiliar with their previous three albums, then start here.” – SID SMITH, PROG

 

“Spare me for a few minutes to tell you about an amazing album that came out last month. This album is θ4 (Theta Four), by the incredible Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere. This experimental album takes you many places, from the atmospheric, almost ambient and contemplative, nebulous threnodies to the upbeat, vigorous, and eclectic parts more reminiscent of some of the more creative progressive rock of the 70s. This album is fabulous and deserves your attention for every minute of its runtime”. – Dave Tremblay, HEAVYBLOGISHEAVY

Cary Grace: Lady of Turquoise

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Photo credit: Mark Brookes

Cary Grace has become something of a fixture at Kozfest, that annual celebration of psychedelic music which doffs its cap more than a little to the legacy of Daevid Allen and company. On my first visit there she appeared in a band including erstwhile Gong/Here and Now guitarist Steffe Sharpstrings (the performance was captured as ‘The Uffculme Variations’), then in 2018 we saw her with Yamma, a pop up band featuring Mike Howlett, Graham Clark and Basil Brooks of Zorch. She clearly has a knack for getting on board seminal figures in the scene. However, I think Yamma, the first time I’d seen her perform, might have given me the wrong impression of her work, as this ambient, experimental music with only the occasional smattering of vocals, is almost entirely removed from her latest project ‘Lady of Turquoise’, an ambitious double album which is largely song-based.

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Cary Grace is an avowed champion of modular synths (and a few squirming Blakeesque motifs are evident of this on the instrumental opener ‘Khepera at the Dawn’), yet ‘Lady of Turquoise’ is more than anything a celebration of hypnotic, droned out guitar from a variety of proponents, including Grace herself. The first notable evidence of this is the excellent ‘Into Dust’, a hypnotic, feedback-heavy trudge with guitar from John Garden and treated vocals. ‘Afterglow’ is doomier still, with restrained guitar distortion in the background  as Grace drawls through a spoken word accompaniment, her American accent softened by a decade or so’s residence in the West Country but no less impactful for that – often dipping into edgy, disquieting menace.

The ballad ‘Film Noir’ features an aching introduction courtesy of the sax of Ian East. Often within the chaos of live Gong it’s easy to forget quite what a sweet soprano sound he makes, this is equally matched by the beautifully delivered vocals, perhaps Cary’s strongest performance on the album. This is one of three tracks Steffe Sharpstrings adds guitar to, apparently the original recordings of his contributions dating back to sessions for her album ‘Tygerland’ back in 2015, although he makes his own mark most tellingly through the blisteringly bubbling soloing on the rocky ‘Castle of Dreams’.

Graham Clark also adds an electric violin to the country-ish ‘Costume Jewellery’, alongside the plucked strings of Andy Bole on bouzouki and laouto – this track is notable for some quite Daevid Allenesque guitar obtusions from John Garden in what turns out to be an eleven minute extended cool down, which I suspect might be most representative of the band’s live performances.

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Best of all are ‘Letterbox’, elevating from some initial campfire strum’n’croon into  glorious raucous wahwah from Garden, and ‘Sacrifice’, another track going into double figure length, a memorably simple slow bluesy guitar riff performed by the author herself, and embellished by frequent soloing breakouts (from Steve Everitt), some lovely Hammond noodling beneath and increasing swathes of texture from all directions – a fantastic barrage of interconnected sounds all told. Whilst there are moments throughout the album of quiet reflection, and Grace’s fine, clear voice means she is adept enough at this (witness the harmonized vocals on ‘Without A Trace’) , the music defaults time and time again to those drawn out bluesy, guitar-heavy drones, powered along by a core band of Andy Budge (bass) and David Payne (drums), It is these core three, who along with Victoria Reyes (keys) and Everitt, will be performing with Cary Grace at the Avalon weekender at Easter and beyond. And as she ascends the Kozfest bill with every passing year, who can predict who else might join her on stage this year?

https://music.carygrace.com/album/lady-of-turquoise

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Thanks to the English Language students at Oldham Sixth Form College for their input into this review!

 

Exclusively stream ‘Warleigh Manor’, featuring Allan Holdsworth

Ahead of the publication of the Allan Holdsworth biography ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ by Ed Chang, the very good people at Jazz in Britain have allowed Facelift an exclusive stream of the entire contents of a rarity unearthed during research for the book, to be released on April 15th 2020, the same day as the biography.

Warleigh Manor: The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 1 features Allan Holdsworth, Ray Warleigh (ex Soft Machine), Ron Mathewson and Bryan Spring in a free blow from (probably) 1979.

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Many thanks to Matt Parker from Jazz in Britain for allowing us to share this with you.

Full ordering details for the album at https://jazzinbritain1.bandcamp.com/releases

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Full details of how to order ‘Devil Take The Hindmost’ to follow…