Friday, 12 September 2014

Marc Ducret: Tower-Bridge (Ayler Records, 2014)

For all of those who haven't heard Marc Ducret's Tower series, now is maybe the time to start. This record represents the last instalment of an incredible journey through many musical territories, yet with one musical thread tying them together, that of Marc Ducret's original musical thinking. Tower-Bridge is the fifth, and supposedly last part of the series (see below) which took as its inspiration Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada. There are copious liner notes - as liner notes throughout the various volumes - which give some explanations to the connection between the music and the book, but for this short review it is suffice to quote the Ayler Record's presentation which states, "[t]he music [is] composed to convey Nabokov's text complex structure and writing process"¹.

Although I reviewed several albums from the series - digital versions sent by Ayler records - so I haven't seen the covers.  However, I did get a hard copy of this latest record. I'll mention the music shortly but the packaging of this disc merits a detour. The album is made up of double CD, with triptych folding sleeve, a small booklet with extracts from Nabokov's Ada, and an interesting fold-out with some notes from Ducret - which include a score of his composition Real thing #3. A last bonus is quite a crowd draw, access to exclusive video content, a 23 minute film by Sylvain Lemaire titled Tower in the Mist. I won't tell you what's on the film, after all that would only spoil the surprise! So, what can I say except buying a 'physical' copy is well worth the money.

The music on the album is taken from two live concerts recorded in Strasbourg in 2012, producing around a 100 minutes of music over the two CDs. Like the previous albums, this recording re-examines pieces from the 'tower' series. An example such as sur l'électricité (tk1 CD1), has been presented in two formats. The first time was on volume two with Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Dominique Pifarély: violin and Tom Rainey on drums, along with Ducret on guitar. The second time was on volume four (an excellent album), where Ducret performed a selection of these pieces in solo format on acoustic guitar.² The appeal of Tower-Bridge lies more in the extended performances of these pieces, and of course the line extended up that performs them. The musicians, 12 in all, are the sum of all the albums in the series, forming a sort of mini big-band. This produces plenty of sparks and some fine music with powerful solos supported by tight ensemble playing.

If you haven't heard Marc Ducret's music before and you're open to rock meets free-jazz meets Zappa meets contemporary classical music, then you'll love this. There's plenty of dynamic interaction between the musicians. Ducret has a knack in providing action-packed pieces, his rhythmic concept often develops around tight interlocking contrapuntal lines to produce long melodies which have a logic of their own. He also loves to use dissonance as a tool, combining it with rhythm in a powerful combination.

There is so much on this record it would be impossible to delve into each piece. A few highlights include Tim Berne's inimitable alto leading the way on sur l'électricité (tk1 CD1). This track has a lot of information, a great theme, and plenty of muscular interludes with several gripping solos. The fantastical atmospheres conjured up in Real thing #1 (tk2 CD1) builds around a succession of duet/trio sections leading gradually to feature for the violin of Dominique Pifarély. Track 3 (CD1), real thing #2 has a wonderful strident solo from Kasper Tranberg (trumpet) who manages to ride over the heavy rocking ensemble, punctuated by powerful piano chord clusters. Softly her tower crumbled into the Sweet Silent Sun (tk1 CD2) flies out of the speakers like an angry neighbour shouting. The final track of the album L'Ombra di Verdi (tk3 CD2) produces a mysterious theme in the closing half which hangs somewhere between a film noir theme and a 6/8 rock ballad.

What else can we say about such a great record? I guess that if you haven't heard Ducret before this is a good place to start, there's fine compositions and performances all here. And, if you like this then you'll need no encouragement to look into his work even further. As for Marc Ducret fans, if you haven't got this one, buy it!

The website says this is a limited edition of 1000. 

Here's a video of the group live. The recording is more 'centred' sound-wise, but here you get some idea of the groups sound, and size. If you look for Ducret's Tower-bridge project on Youtube you'll find plenty of other examples.

The musicians on this record are: Kasper Tranberg - trumpet; Dominique Pifarély - violin; Tim Berne - alto saxophone; Matthias Mahler - trombone; Fidel Fourneyron - trombone; Alexis Persigan - trombone; Frédéric Gastard - bass saxophone; Antonin Rayon - piano; Sylvain Lemêtre - percussion,vibraphone, xylophone, marimba; Tom Rainey - drums; Peter Bruun - drums and Marc Ducret - electric guitar

Other albums in the Tower-bridge series:
Tower, vol. 1, Tower, vol. 2, Tower, vol. 3, Tower, vol. 4

¹, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
² It's interesting to add that volume four is the only record that has pieces unique to that record. There are a few pieces which are re-examined from the other volumes, however, tracks: From a Distant Land; Sisters; Ada; ... A Distand Land; Sybil Vane, and Electricity (by Joni Mitchell), are to be found only on this album.  

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Russ Johnson: Meeting Point (Relay Records, 2014)

It's always exciting when I see Tim Daisy's name on a record. For me he's one of the top drummers out there on the jazz and improvised music scene. In the past few years he's started his own label and this is the twelfth release - if you include the four live recordings in the catalogue. If you don't know the label be sure to check out the back catalogue, which has some fine recordings. If you don't know Tim's playing then I suggest you take some time to listen to his past work. He's been involved in some of the most interesting contemporary jazz and improvised music projects of the past years.

This latest release is from trumpeter Russ Johnson. Johnson is a fine player who's no newcomer to the jazz and improvised music scene. If you check out his blog you'll see a fine range of projects he's been involved in. I originally saw him many years back with Michael Bates' Outside Sources, playing some gigs in Europe. Since then his name has appears regularly, either in one of his own units, with bassist Cameron Brown or the Belgian saxophonist, Robin Verheyen's NY Quartet. 

In the meanwhile, the new record from Russ Johnson Meeting Point is the eighth studio project to come out on Relay Records. On this record Russ has chosen a quartet line-up made up of: Jason Stein – bass clarinet; Anton Hatwich –bass; Tim Daisy – drums, and of course Russ – trumpet.

The album uses melody, combined with free elements, to build compositions and improvisations, giving a nice balance between the two, that make the music easily listenable, yet challenging. The first track Lithosphere is a funky piece, with bass and bass clarinet underpinning the melody in what could be either a bass-line, or counter-melody. When the solos start, the bass and drums keep the whole thing together, but, whilst the trumpet solos above, the bass clarinet punctuates below, coming in from time to time with ideas to accompany. Eventually the two wind instruments swap places, as one fades out the other steps forward. 

The other pieces constantly move between styles. Confluence tracks 2-4, are (I imagine) a sort of suite - titled: 'Introduction', 'Part I', 'Part II'. Russ Johnson leads the way using the material from Part I, developing it as a drum duet. He stays close to the melody, not tempted to use his chops, other than for dynamics. Eventually the whole band joins in and the piece takes a sort of slinky feel, looping around the bass line with Jason Stein playing some excellent bass clarinet, managing to avoid melodic clichés by searching out sounds that fit within the harmony. It's a solo bass clarinet that carries us across into the Part II, creating a dark sombre atmosphere. Russ Johnson plays a lovely rubato theme which gives the ensemble a cue to step up the volume and energy. Tim Daisy leads the way with a great drum solo which evolves out of the music, until almost from nowhere we are introduced briefly to the first theme, which fades into the background. Great piece, fine playing all round.

There are three pieces titled Conversation, (tk5 with Stein, tk7 with Hatwich, tk9 with Daily). These improvised duet pieces add a nice touch (and interlude) to the album's main tracks. Each one has something special, according to the instrumental combination.

This leaves us with Clothesline (tk6), Chaos theory (tk8) and Half Full (tk10). Chaos theory is an excellent track, starting off with an 'Ornette-ish' type theme, which develops into a wonderful rubato piece where the rhythm section and soloist play off each other, melodically and rhythmically. It has great energy, and an elastic feel which keeps you listening. And, there's some fine soloing from everyone!

The last track Half Full is a very gentle piece, again using the melody as a bass line and the basis for the improvisations. It's a great way to finish off the album. The track gradually builds up its energy as it heads towards the end, stretching the time feel like an accelerating train. This gives a sense of urgency to the track, and brings us to the end of a very satisfying album. 

The music and the group are top notch throughout, keeping you fixed to your seat. It really combines so many elements, but, it a coherent way. It's a slow burner, as I've noticed through the weeks, which is perfect, after all who wants to know a whole album straight away? 

Great album, recommended to all who enjoy swing, freedom, melody and creativity.        

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