Monday, 30 July 2012

AG8tet - blowing my own trumpet.

Since the past year (or less) I've been rehearsing with the AG8tet. AG = Antoine Guenet, a keyboard player I met whilst playing for a short while with Michel Delville's Wrong Object. Antoine and I enjoyed writing and playing tricky charts for that group, and since we had plenty of shared references (music and musicians) I was very happy that when he decided to form his AG8tet he invited me to be a part of that project. The basic principal for his octet is 3 groups made up of two trios, and one duo. The groups are as follows : 

Antoine Guenet : Yamaha CP-80 Electric Grand Piano
Susan Clynes : Vocals

Steven Delannoye : Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Lieven Van Pee : Double Bass
Simon Segers : Drums

Joe Higham : Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Dries Geusens : Electric Bass
Stijn Cools : Drums

The music that Antoine writes is written differently (mostly) for each ensemble. That means that whilst one group is busy counting away in 5/8 the other one may be counting their scores in 7/4 etc. There's also a fair bit of room to decide (in some cases) which notes you decide to play also as sometimes you have rows of notes to play in rhythmic groups, of which you must choose when and how to play. Antoine seems to play both parts, making a kind of harmonic glue which holds the whole thing together. Susan Clynes writes the words which at times reminds me of Annette Peacock's psychedelic alternative look at the world type of texts. And to a certain extent her voice (Susan's) comes across in the same way .... interestingly she hadn't heard of Annette Peacock.

The first concert that we did was a small try-out in the Trefpunt, a Gent institution which prides itself on nurturing new talent. However the 'big' concert, or premier, was to be at the Gentsefeesten (*) a large yearly event which (if you look at the program) features loads of live music, theatre events and other animations, with non stop drinking for ten days. Anyhow, luckily for us the festival (which is organised by Trefpunt) was filmed. It was interesting to be able to see how the whole thing sounded, and looked, after all that rehearsing. The concert can be found on YouTube (in six parts) if you're interested, and of course you can follow through to see the whole thing - see below. 

I'd of posted all the videos but unfortunately the embedding code is switched off, however as you can see below there is one part (Pt3) that's available. If you like this then click the following link and happy viewing and listening - it's about 50mins in total. 

*= If you're interested you should look up the history of this festival as it's rather interesting.   

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A summer breeze is here!

There's a kind of buzz in the air here in Brussels. The buzz which last for a few days is the waves created by by the exodus of thousands of people leaving the city for the summer. Many head back to their families in Morocco or Turkey, the rest of them head to France, Spain, Italy or wherever they can find sun, or is that the holiday house? Summer is nearly upon us, well at least we have a bit of sun and blue skies, my kids are on holiday officially and things are not so busy. Time to find something that's bright and breezy to listen to? No problem there as David Caldwell-Mason came to the rescue a few weeks ago when he sent me this excellent CD - titled, 'Cold Snap'.

Yes, I don't expect anything when people send albums to me. Most are a pleasant surprise, although I don't always write about all of them. The best thing is to remember the old Monty Python idea of 'expect the unexpected', and either the music is completely mind blowingly avant-garde or on other occasions it's mainstream music (often jazz) that has a slightly different edge to it. After all, not everybody has to re-invent the wheel, although often some seem to think they do. In my (limited) experience just playing honest music gives the best results, although not always an audience or fame. Here we have an album which to me is a great example of pure jazz, modern and accessible, swinging and melodic. David Caldwell-Mason's Cold Snap is anything but cold. In fact - to my ears - it's the opposite, more like a warm breeze which blows through your house. The trio works it's magic around some very catchy melodies which is certainly an important argument when recommending an album such as this. Often young players today have formidable techniques, play at any tempo and can swing in 4/4 or any odd meter thrown at them. But unfortunately there's one gift that cannot be taught and that is a melodic ear! Whether you talk about mainstream jazz or avant-garde searchings, someone who has a melodic ear will make music out of whatever resources they have at hand. Caldwell-Mason seems one such person, and his music is surely very romantic in melodic richness, a little along the same lines as Fred Hersch ... if I have to make a comparison. Here David Caldwell-Mason has used a set of compositions which are often deceptively simple, yet give the group ample scope to exploit the form and melodies in many different ways. Tunes such as the opening Unfold (tk1) and Don't Worry, Mama (tk2) along with Without Fear or Trembling (tk8) all seem to have a strong sense of modern Americana in their melodies, conjuring up images of an American landscape of small towns that are familiar to all yet not often visited. Maybe this connects the music to folklore of sort, and probably hints of European roots as well.
But not all the melodies are bright and breezy. With Fear and Trembling (Tk3) is exactly what it says and the title track Cold Snap is certainly more of a thoughtful reflection, a moment of introspection. Two tracks which both jump off the CD are the inclusion of Beyonce's Single Ladies and great re-take on Meteor from the very original pop group The Bird and the Bee. Both tracks are well crafted versions of the two pop songs. I suppose that we're now well used to hearing updated versions of chart hits redone for jazz records, and these two little remakes certainly add to the originals. It's particularly interesting to hear how much the group gets out of Beyonce's monophonic hit, in it's original version a melody that pivots harmonically, spinning around a very basic monotone riff. Here David Caldwell-Mason finds some very nice middle ground in-between, keeping the basic idea but really adding some subtle touches to open up the tune to improvise on. 'Meteor' is already much richer material, but the group really changes the main section (originally a verse?) becoming a laid-back swinging pedal with hits and an altered melody which develops into a gentle improvisation. Talk Talk (Tk 7) is almost a pop tune in it's own right - who will write some lyrics for this one - and for me one of the highlights of this CD. 

Without fear or trembling (Tk8)

In all of this you have a very solid rhythm section that pushes David and the music to all possible places. Kellen Harrison (*) and Ari Hoenig play in a very fluid way which carries the music way beyond your average piano trio. There seems to be a great vibe going on between bass, drums and piano, playing somewhere between straight ahead jazz and with a slight pop sensibility, very relaxed and very swinging.

All in all I'd thoroughly recommend searching this one out, especially if you're a piano trio fan, and of course if you like your jazz modern but not 'out'. Lastly I suspect that this could be one hell of a group to check out live (if they play live), and one only hopes that we'll hear more of David Caldwell-Mason as it will be interesting to see how he develops this very accessible jazz music that he's developing.   

* = Kellen seems to get around, and probably very versatile if this album is anything to go by. I couldn't find out much, but I noticed he was already reviewed on the Beninghove's Hangmen .... another nice group! 
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