Monday, 22 December 2014

Oblik: Order Disorder (Ormo Records, 2014)

Let's not beat around the bush, this is one hell of a record. I have to wonder how come I've never heard of these guys before? Luckily, for me, Sylvian Didou dropped me a line from Nantes (France) to see if I'd be interested to hear his record, ObLik: order disorder. ObLik's bandcamp site describes their music as: "A la croisée entre le jazz et la musique improvisée, cette formation mélange tradition et modernité"*, which indeed sums up the group's music very succinctly. The album, out on the small French label Ormo Music, is an outlet for several of Didou's projects. The label has a few other little gems also worthwhile checking out, one example being The Wøøøh - more on that at a later date. In the meanwhile I'll stick to the most recent release, Oblik.

In a time when jazz tends to be based around the virtuosic soloist, this record demonstrates how the group is stronger than the individual. The album has a fantastic collection of compositions which enable the superb ensemble to create many delightful musical episodes. Composer and bassist, Sylvain Didou, has made some remarkable arrangements which really hold together well, describing the compositions as 'Mingus-esque' might give you some sort of clue as to the direction the music takes.

The quality of the music means that each track has plenty of high points, great melodies, group and solo improvisations, rhythmical developments, in fact so much it's nigh on impossible to pick out any one thing. Of the ten pieces, the amazing opening track Le Chat (tk1) takes us on a thirteen minute tour which makes you curious to find out what else will follow. The stuttering melody and sprinkled piano lines lead us into a complex arrangement where the whole group comes together to play a looping melody. The horns are split up into various configurations so that some play the unison melody whereas others join the piano and bass to play a counter melody. It's a powerful start to the album. The melodies of Longitudinal (tk2), Jazz, Jazz (tk3), Yeah (tk5) and Enea (tk8) are other compositions which shine out brightly. Even if melody is one of the main elements, pieces, such as Perdrigon (tk7), start with a skilfully arranged theme, but soon the ensemble dives into free form improvisation where everyone adds their voice as needed. 3D (tk9) builds from a tenor sax/bass duet into a finely detailed miniature piece where the sax line holds the composition together leaving the other instruments to gradually creep in unnoticed, playing atonal bluesy lines that wind around each other. On this record the soloists all come up with fine offerings, but, interestingly no one soloist grips the limelight, making the album a real ensemble work. 

As I mentioned earlier, the way the compositions are built reminds me a little of the way Charles Mingus liked to compose, finding ways to inspire his players but also to work within the framework of each piece, which could include tempo changes, stop-time and much more. Another reference is the ensembles sound - partly due to the groups make up - echoes, in a way, Elton Dean's Ninesence, mixing styles and strong melodies to great effect.

I said at the beginning this a very fine album which has many strengths. It's certainly one of the best albums I've heard this year, I suggest that you rush off to ObLik's bandcamp site, give it a listen, and see if you agree!

Highly recommended.  

Here's an mp3 of Perdrigon, track seven from the album  

ObLik is: Pierre-Yves Merel - Tenor sax; Alan Regardin - Trumpet; Alexis Persigan - Trombone; Cyril Trochu - Piano; Fabrice L'Hotellier - drums; Sylvian Didou - Double bass.   

If you're a Facebook user (I'm not) then there's also a link to Ormo Record's page here.

* = Translation: Somewhere between jazz and improvised music, this group mixes tradition and modernity"  

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Olie Brice Quintet: Immune to Clockwork (Multikulti, 2014)

This is a recording that I've been waiting for since sometime. Hints on Olie's site about the existence of the group, and the probable recording, have been appearing for some time, therefore, to finally see (and hear) the fruits of this group is very exiting. Along with Olie Brice (bass and compositions), there's UK musicians Mark Hanslip, tenor sax; Alex Bonney, trumpet; Jeff Williams on drums, and an interesting addition is that of Polish clarinettist, Waclaw Zimpel on alto clarinet. Fusing a combination of rhythmic and rubato melody lines, the music that Olie Brice writes reminds me, at times, of Ornette Coleman's 1970s Broken Shadows period. The idea of chord-less quintet playing a mixture of free oriented musical styles, makes for interesting listening, and something which suits this approach to making an improvised music which is neither totally free, nor written, but another form of modern jazz which takes its inspiration from all genres.  

Brice's compositions, although strongly routed around free improvisations, also have melodies and chord progressions, which are used as a backbone for the group to develop their own free-er ideas. This helps make the album easily accessible and yet in no way compromises the soloist's own playing. The musicians manage to sustain the high level of group work throughout the album, working around the themes to produce some fine music. Each piece has its own atmosphere, often presenting a melodic motif which the group then dissects as it chooses.

Mark Hanslip's sinewy tenor sound snakes over the compositions, moving happily between dense melodic lines or textured multi-phonics to create some great music. The underrated Waclaw Zimpel, for all that don't know him, is one of the new breed of clarinettists working on the excellent Polish improvised music scene. His playing is always exciting, rooted in melody, yet always looking for new ideas and ways of expression. Check out his playing on the Hera records (on Multikulti), in collaboration with other's, or his own quartet. The other front-line player, Alex Bonney, also deserves a quick word. His playing is definitely understated, yet always perfect for each situation he plays in (he's also a laptop wizard, engineer and producer). Here he uses melody in a way that reminds me of players such as Bobby Bradford.   

As for the music on the album, there are several highlights to be found pasted throughout, here are some which spring to mind:

On the opening piece (The Hands, tk1), Mark's tenor roams around finding lines that work with the original melody which he also manages to incorporate within his solo, something we rarely hear nowadays in jazz.

Crumbling Shyly (tk4) and Tell Me Again (tk7) both hark back to 60s style rubato melodies that lurch forward before opening up to allow the horns to weave lines over the turbulent rhythm section. Tell Me Again, which closes the album, has a particularly poignant melody which the soloists seem to capture perfectly.

What Might Have Been (tk5) a fine ballad feature for tenor sax where Mark Hanslip shows how he is a master of free form and melody. 

The Old Yedidia (tk2), starts with a melancholic theme before giving way to a lilting 6/8 section for the solosits. Alex Bonney's trumpet leads off, playing some lovely phrases which keep within the boundary of compositions original idea. Waclaw Zimpel follows a different path, taking a more open approach to the music. His improvisations although rich in melodic ideas, react differently to the themes. His playing, which reminds me a little of John Carter, goes more for a mixture of sonic textures, sometimes gentle and at other times his searing lines push the rhythm section to follow him.

On Immune to Clockwork (tk3) the ensemble works tightly together, improvising as a group before letting Olie Brice and Jeff Williams take over, leading us to the end of the piece with a mixture of rhythm and melody.

This leads me to the fine work of Olie Brice and Jeff Williams throughout the record. They both work with the front-line in a way that compliments and supports both the front-line and the music throughout, a perfect team in such a situation. It's a pleasure to hear these fine musicians working together, it would be great to see the group live as music such as this benefits from being heard played in front of an audience. However, the music that the quintet makes is strong, manages to remain innovative and truly accessible, what more can one ask!


Try this track "Crumbling Shyly" (track #4):

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