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Album reviews & features on Stoney Lane artists and recordings

Live At The Spotted Dog

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Ben Lee - In The Tree - Stoney Lane Records

Hans Koller Retrospection cover Stoney Lane Records

Mark Pringle - A Moveable Feast

Live At The Spotted Dog
Various Artists
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Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen
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Jonathan Silk
Fragment
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Ben Lee Quintet
In The Tree
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Hans Koller / NDR Big Band / London Ensembles
Retrospection
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Mark Pringle
A Moveable Feast
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Live At The Spotted Dog Stoney Lane Records 01

Various Artists / Live At The Spotted Dog

#SLR1878 – Released 26th January, 2018
★ Listen • Buy • Download:
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Jazzwise Magazine February 2018

Jazzwise Magazine

Selwyn Harris

February 2018

 

 

★★★★

“In a sense, variety itself is the key characteristic of the Birmingham scene,” says leading Birmingham jazz impresario Tony Dudley-Evans in the liner notes to this fine selection of live performances from a regular musician-run Tuesday night session at the Spotted Dog pub.  Listening through the CD, you wouldn’t argue with his conclusion.  New and older generations combine in an open minded scene, but one that seems to avoid some of the faddish, cliquey tendencies of London.

For the three opening tracks, the veteran saxophonist Stan Sulzmann shares the stage with an exuberant Big Band formed from students from the Birmingham Conservatoire jazz course.  There follows a pair of forceful Ornette-influenced tracks by the currently Birmingham-based New York saxophonist John O’Gallagher in trio with Andrew Bain and Michael Janisch.  Former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of The Year Jonathan Silk has recently impressed with his large ensemble commissions and his Fragment ensemble’s ‘First Light’ evocatively combines strings and jazz rhythm section.  It also features an effervescent solo from local trumpet hero Percy Pursglove.  The quintets of feisty mod-jazz guitarist Ben Lee and delicately poised trumpeter Sean Gibbs make a nice contrast.  Well presented with a good ‘live’ sound quality, this is an enjoyable mini-tour of the current Birmingham jazz scene.

 

Live At The Spotted Dog

Various Artists
Live At The Spotted Dog

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Mike Collins / Jazzyblogman

Mike Collins  Twitter icon

25th March 2018

 

 

 

This CD is a triple advert and celebration of jazz in Birmingham. Recorded live over three nights at the Spotted Dog in the city’s Digbeth area, its a lure to the weekly Tuesday night session. The range is head-spinning. A big band of Birmingham conservartoire students led by Stan Sulzmann no less (how did they get them all in the pub?) with the richness of Sulzmann’s imagination and arranging on display; a ‘blink and you could be in downtown New York’ trio of Brum-by-way-of-Brooklyn altoist John O’Gallagher, Mike Janisch and Andrew Bain; genre hopping strings-joins-small-band of Jonathan Silk’s Fragment; eclectic, small band, rip-it-up performances from guitarist Ben Lee‘s quintet and Sean Gibbs’ Fervour. All that adds up to a compelling advert for the richness and quality of the local jazz scene. And it’s available to us all thanks to Birmingham’s own Stoney Lane label. It’s a really high quality recording and nicely packaged with an illuminating set of liner notes from impresario and Brummy jazz champion-in-chief, Tony Dudley Evans.

Such is the variety, that high points might depend on your own particular jazzy preferences. Standouts that grabbed me were Stan Sulzmann’s arrangement of the The Thrill is Gone and his fluid solo; Percy Pursglove’s trumpet solo on Jonathan Silk’s First Light is an emotional high. The intensity and interaction of the O’Gallagher’s trio on the dense abstraction of Extralogical Railman is riveting. Wild rocky scronk with a wry glint in the eye for the crunching riff that provides the hook to Ben Lee’s Beginning of the End always makes me smile, and its hard not to left a bit happier by the album closer, Sean Gibbs’ Cheer Up Old Bean, with its unashamed good humoured shuffle. This is a satisfaction guaranteed listen in my book.

Live At The Spotted Dog

Various Artists
Live At The Spotted Dog

#SLR1978

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The Jazz Mann

The Jazz Mann

Ian Mann  Twitter icon

22nd February 2018

 

 

 

★★★★

This new album is the second to feature performances recorded live at the weekly jazz nights held at the Spotted Dog pub in Digbeth, Birmingham.

The first, “Jazzdosnaygrowontrees”  was a self released fund raising compilation curated by the then organisers Jonathan Silk and Richard Foote back in 2016. Mainly sold at gigs the album featured an excellent selection of music by Birmingham based artists and my review of the album can be read here.

This second instalment will be more widely available and has been given an official release on the Birmingham based Stoney Lane record label established and curated by guitarist Sam Slater of the band TG Collective.

Supported by a Kickstarter campaign the new album again features performances by predominately Birmingham based musicians and yet again it features some excellent music from a variety of line ups ranging from trio to big band. The album features informed, lucid liner notes by promoter Tony Dudley-Evans, “Mr. Jazz” to Birmingham jazz audiences for so many years.

However Dudley-Evans, best known for his role with the Jazzlines organisation, is not directly involved in the organisation of the Tuesday night sessions at the Dog, for this is very much a musician run enterprise. Here’s something of a potted history;

Jazz at the Spotted Dog began in 2011 and was the creation of Miriam Pau and saxophonist Mike Fletcher. At first the idea was just to host local bands and jam sessions but the night soon gathered a good reputation and the Dog found itself part of the national touring circuit with a more formal gig stating at 9.00 pm followed by a late night jam. Apparently even Wynton Marsalis popped in one night for a blow.

Trombonist Richard Foote and drummer Jonathan Silk took over the reins in 2013 and continued to host Jazz at the Spotted Dog with an indefatigable and infectious enthusiasm.  Both were born in Scotland but are graduates of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire who have stayed on in the city to make major contributions to the Birmingham jazz scene in their dual capacities as performers and promoters.

More recently pianist David Ferris and trumpeter Sean Gibbs took up the baton, with the latter subsequently superseded by saxophonist Chris Young. But despite the personnel changes the format of the evening remains essentially the same with both local and touring bands continuing to visit the venue.  During the ‘concert set’ a jar is passed round to collect the suggested donation of £5.00 – something of a bargain considering the quality of the bands the venue attracts – but nominally admission is free.

Foote and Silk were still co-ordinating the programme when these recordings were made during the summer of 2016. Both appear on the album as performers and they also contribute to the album’s liner notes with a lengthy list of “thank yous”.

Among those thanked is the pub’s highly supportive landlord John Tighe. The Spotted Dog is a friendly institution situated in what was traditionally the Irish quarter of Birmingham and the décor still has an Irish theme. The pub is listed in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and offers a good range of beer at sensible, and sometimes bargain, prices.

I’ve visited the Dog on a couple of occasions, just staying for the ‘concert’ sets, and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. One of these events was an early performance by the Mercury nominated Dinosaur group led by trumpeter Laura Jurd.

If I lived a little closer I’d happily visit the Dog more frequently but it’s on the East side of the city, basically the wrong side for me, and not particularly easy to get to by car.  And with the jam sessions going on into the small hours of the morning it’s not particularly practical to undertake a fifty mile drive afterwards. However for any jazz fans living in Birmingham and its more immediate environs and who haven’t found their way to the Spotted Dog yet a visit is highly recommended.  As it is I largely have to be content with supporting the venue from afar, publicising its events and writing about enterprises like this second, very good, album.

Turning now, at last, to the music. The Dog has played host to many nationally known jazz names, among them saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Julian Arguelles and Iain Ballamy and pianist/vocalist Lianne Carroll.  London based Sulzmann has particularly strong connections with Birmingham and has taught at the city’s Conservatoire where he is an Honorary Fellow.

The first three tracks feature Sulzmann leading a big band comprised mainly of graduates from the Conservatoire on three of his own compositions. Recorded on 27th September 2016 the line up features;

Stan Sulzmann, Helena Kay, John Fleming – tenor saxes
Chris Young, Elliot Drew – alto saxes
Colin Mills – baritone sax
Tom Walsh, Sean Gibbs, Mike Adlington, Aaron Diaz – trumpets
Kieran McLeod, Richard Foote, Tom Dunnett – trombones
Yusuf Narcin – bass trombone
Ben Lee – guitar
David Ferris – piano
Nick Jurd – bass
Jonathan Silk – drums

First up is a rousing arrangement of Sulzmann’s composition “Chu Chu” with its warm, authentic big band sound full of rich horn voicings and vibrant rhythms with drummer Silk playing a big part in both driving and colouring the music.  Sulzmann, alto saxophonist Chris Young and trombonist Kieran McLeod all make substantial contributions as soloists and there’s also some tight, punchy ensemble playing as the album gets off to an invigorating start.

“The Thrill Is Gone” adopts a gentler, more considered approach with its subtle nuances and textures. That said the ensemble passages sometimes embrace a grandeur that is reminiscent of the large ensemble writing of the late Kenny Wheeler, a long term Sulzmann associate. Sulzmann probes with subtlety and at length on tenor, dovetailing neatly with Lee’s guitar. There’s also a majestic trumpet solo from Tom Walsh that incorporates some stunning high register playing.

The last of the big band selections is the Sulzmann tune “Westerly”, which features one of the composer’s most beautiful and memorable melodies. This forms the vehicle for a flowingly lyrical piano solo from David Ferris. Sulzmann subsequently trades tenor solos with Helena Kay, their lucid, conversational playing well supported by Sulzmann’s sophisticated ensemble writing.

Quite how they managed to fit all the musicians of the Sulzmann Big Band into the tiny back room at the Dog remains a mystery but there would have been considerably less difficulty in accommodating the trio of alto saxophonist John O’ Gallagher, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Andrew Bain. Their two tracks take the music into freer, more obviously improvised territory with the trio interacting effectively around the frameworks of compositions by the saxophonist and bassist.

A leading figure on the New York jazz scene O’Gallagher has spent time in Birmingham studying for a PhD on the latter day music of Coltrane. During his time in the city he’s made a huge contribution to the Birmingham jazz scene as both a performer and as an educator.

First the trio explore one of O’Gallagher’s favourite themes, “Extralogical Railman”, the title an anagram of Charlie Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”. It’s a tune that O’Gallagher has recorded twice on his “Honeycomb” and “Live in Brooklyn” albums. Despite the Parker reference the performance also owes something to the methods of Ornette Coleman. O’Gallagher is an intense, imaginative and often fiery soloist and he stretches out at length above the fluid rhythmic accompaniment supplied by Janisch and Bain. The saxophonist is a highly accomplished and fluent improviser, a real ‘monster’ of a player who has made a big impact on the UK jazz scene, often in the company of drummer Jeff Williams. “Railman” also demonstrates Janisch’s formidable abilities as a bass soloist as he enters into a prolonged dialogue with Bain.

Janisch’s “The JJ I Knew” is dedicated to his late brother and originally appeared on the composer’s “Paradigm Shift” album as a solo performance on electric bass. Janisch has subsequently re-worked the piece, arranging it for sextet and for trio as featured here. There’s an urgency and garrulousness about the music as exemplified by O’Gallagher’s exploratory opening solo. This is followed by a polyrhythmic solo drum passage from Bain before a collective restatement of Janisch’s theme.

In 2016 Jonathan Silk released the hugely impressive album “Fragment” on Stoney Lane Records. This showcased his large ensemble writing on a project that included strings as well as conventional jazz big band instrumentation. The album was an artistic triumph for Silk and my review of the work can be read here.

On 14th June 2016 Silk took a scaled down version of the Fragment ‘orchestra’ into the Spotted Dog featuring;

Percy Pursglove – trumpet
Emily Tyrrell, Beth Bellis – violins
Victoria Strudwick – viola
Katy Nagle – cello
Toby Boalch – piano
Nick Jurd – bass
Jonathan Silk- drums

This compilation features “First Light”, a piece from the “Fragment” album that was inspired by the landscape of Silk’s native Scotland. Rich, warm string textures combine effectively with Boalch’s lyrical piano and Silk’s delicately nuanced drumming. Silk’s writing for strings is genuinely impressive and shows great sophistication, dynamic awareness, and maturity but its arguably Pursglove’s mercurially eloquent trumpet solo that represents the true highlight of this performance.

Guitarist Ben Lee is a Conservatoire graduate now based in London. Back in May 2016 he was still an important and increasingly individual presence on the Birmingham jazz scene who had just recorded his début album “In The Tree” for Stoney Lane Records.

The quintet that graces that album is featured here on two Lee compositions with the guitarist joined by Chris Young on alto sax, Richard Foote on trombone, David Ferris on organ and Euan Palmer at the drums. From the album “Beginning of The End” is thrilling, highly contemporary jazz that borrows liberally from rock music. Combining experimentation with quirkiness and a strong sense of groove this is high octane stuff with Young delivering a biting alto solo, but the playing from the whole ensemble is energised and razor sharp throughout.

The new tune “Talk To You” exhibits similar qualities with its jagged, fractured, heavy riffing fuelling powerful solos from Young on alto and the leader on guitar, his playing richly inventive and already highly distinctive.

Finally we hear trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ quintet Fervour, a group containing the now familiar figures of Lee on guitar, and Palmer on drums plus Nick Jurd on bass and Andy Bunting at the piano. Gibbs’ tune “Cheer Up Old Bean” embraces more of a straightahead jazz feel than Lee’s pieces and there’s also an element of funk in Jurd’s springy bass groove and Bunting’s deployment of a classic electric piano sound on his lengthy, but inventive solo. The leader then takes over with a breezy, fluent, pure toned trumpet solo. There’s an essential joyousness about this performance that ensures that the album as a whole ends on an uplifting, effervescent, celebratory note – which is as it should be on this diverse but richly rewarding portrait of the Birmingham jazz scene.

As Tony Dudley-Evans points out in his liner notes there is no recognisable sound or style that distinguishes the Birmingham jazz scene but this album does demonstrate the variety and vibrancy of the music being created in the city, from small group to big band and with musical styles embracing jazz, rock, classical and more. It’s also cross-generational, featuring everybody from recent graduates to elder statesmen such as Stan Sulzmann.

Despite the diversity “Live At The Spotted Dog” actually hangs together very well as an album,  thus embodying the Spotted Dog ethos. It’s a great snapshot of the Birmingham scene and features some excellent playing and writing. It’s also good to see the album getting some national attention with a very positive four star review from Selwyn Harris in the February 2018 edition of Jazzwise Magazine.

Support this album and help to keep Jazz At The Spotted Dog a focal point of the Birmingham scene and hosting top quality live jazz.

Live At The Spotted Dog

Various Artists
Live At The Spotted Dog

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London Jazz News

London Jazz News

Mark McKergow  Twitter icon

January 2018

 

 

This collection of new music recorded live at The Spotted Dog in Birmingham gives a fascinating and tantalising glimpse into the second city’s thriving jazz scene and its up-and-coming stars.

The Spotted Dog has been home to weekly Tuesday jazz sessions which allow the local talent, particularly those springing from the Birmingham Conservatoire, space to present new music late into the night. Founded by saxophonist Mike Fletcher with Miriam Pau and then continued by Jonathan Silk, Richard Foote, Dave Ferris, Sean Gibbs and Chris Young, the pub in a formerly industrial area off Digbeth brings an intimate connection between musicians and audience. This collection was recorded over three nights in 2016, and presents a real treasure trove of musical collaboration.

The album leads – both on the sleeve and on the disk – with three tracks from Stan Sulzmann and a big band of Birmingham Conservatoire graduates plus a few regular associates. Of course it’s all very well played, Sulzmann is on good form on tenor saxophone and there is a particularly nice solo from trumpeter Tom Walsh on the ECM-ish The Thrill Is Gone. However, this is far from the main attraction of this collection – it serves more like an hors d’oeuvre for the four outstanding smaller groups who come later.

First up is an extraordinary trio led by Scots-born drummer Andrew Bain and featuring Americans alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher and double bassist (and 2016 MOBO award nominee) Michael Janisch. Both Bain and O’Gallagher have been studying for jazz-based PhDs at the Conservatoire, and they clearly know a thing or two about how to put together top-class music making the most of this rather sparse line-up. O’Gallagher combines boppish virtuosity with bluesy, rootsy intensity and an expressive tonal palette to conjure up sustained solos on both his own Extralogical Railman and Janisch’s The JJ I Know. Janisch himself participates with huge concentration and interaction, his bass sounding warm and full even in this relatively informal live recording. Bain – allegedly the leader here but never taking more than his share of the spotlight – is right in there too, and the 20 minutes of music flies by in a heartbeat. If these three made a full CD, I’d play it till it wore out.

Jonathan Silk’s Fragment ensemble takes that unusual move of putting a string quartet – two violins, viola and cello – alongside a jazz quartet. First Light starts with the strings to the fore, before Percy Pursglove’s trumpet takes a splendidly fluid solo.

The Ben Lee Quintet takes a more energetic route, having the instrumentation of an organ trio (Dave Ferris on organ holding down the bassline, Lee on guitar and Euan Palmer on drums) combined with a juicy front line of alto sax (Chris Young) and the trombone of Richard Foote. The quintet make great use of the range of the alto/trombone combination to give some rich harmony lead lines on Beginning Of The End before Young’s full-on growling solo. Talk To You starts with a heavy Hendrixy riff which ebbs and flows through the number, giving Lee a fine opportunity to show delicacy as well as power in his soloing.

Although this is a live album, the applause at the end of the performances has mainly been edited out. This helps with building the collection as a sustained listen and it’s easy to forget the context – until the last number starts with Sean Gibbs addressing the audience and introducing his Fervour quintet to appreciative applause. Cheer Up Old Bean gives an upbeat bouncing conclusion to the album with Andy Bunting’s Rhodes piano and Gibbs’ trumpet loping along over the confident bass of Nick Jurd.

With very comprehensive sleeve notes from Tony Dudley-Evans (who has played a leading role in Birmingham’s jazz scene for well over 30 years), this is a fine showcase for both the city’s musicians and the output of the Stoney Lane label.

Live At The Spotted Dog

Various Artists
Live At The Spotted Dog

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Bebop Spoken Here

Lance Liddle  Twitter icon

6th January 2018

 

 

 

There are some serious musicians on this and it shows. Recorded at the Spotted Dog, one of the happening places in the Nation’s Second City, it sounds like it was an uproarious night, though I’m assured the venue is no stranger to great nights of Jazz.

Many will hear the first set as big band music, and there’s plenty for lovers of the sound; great blasting ensemble playing and assured soloing from the horns as they take their turns. But, as a BB philistine, I elevate this to what I consider the higher status of orchestral jazz, more akin to Duke and Gil Evans and, as the liner notes point out, to Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor.

The next couple of tracks feature the sax, bass, drums line-up which so captured my imagination when I saw JD Bloom in London last year.  Janisch is a safe pair of hands on bass and I’d buy anything he plays on. Bain on drums is inventive throughout, following O’Gallagher as he weaves his alto through two long pieces, one by Janisch and one of his own.

Jonathan Silk’s Fragment mixes the brilliant trumpet playing of Percy Pursglove with a string quartet and gradually a standard jazz rhythm section. There are many precedents for this type of thing and this is up there.
Guitarist Ben Lee takes the next one with his quintet featuring organ, alto and trombone. He demonstrates a flair for composition and some unusual influences as a guitarist which I found highly intriguing; quirky but serious.
He also plays on the final track (as he does on the first three) on another fine small group offering, this time by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, which features some fine piano soloing and comping from Andy Bunting on electric.
Plenty here for lovers of big band or small group jazz and particularly anyone who appreciates the variety.
(Steve T.)

Stan Sulzmann Big Band: (sax) Stan Sulzmann, Elliot Drew, Chris Young, Helena Kay, John Fleming, Colin Mills, (trumpet) Tom Walsh, Sean Gibbs, Mike Adlington, Aaron Diaz, (trombone) Kieran Mcleod, Richard Foote, Tom Dunnett, Yusuf Narkin, (guitar) Ben Lee, (piano) David Ferris, (bass) Nick Jurd, (drums) Jonathan Silk.

John O’Gallagher (alto), Andrew Bain (drums), Michael Janisch (bass).

Jonathan Silk’s Fragment: Percy Pursgrove (trumpet), Emily Tyrell, Beth Bellis (violin), Victoria Studwick (viola), Katy Nagle (cello), Toby Boalch (piano), Nick Jurd (bass), Jonathan Silk (drums).

Ben Lee Quintet: Ben Lee (guitar), Chris Young (alto), Richard Foote (trombone), David Ferris (organ), Euan Palmer (drums).

Sean Gibbs’ Fervour: Sean Gibbs (trumpet), Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass), Euan Palmer (drums).

Live At The Spotted Dog

Various Artists
Live At The Spotted Dog

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Gonimoblast Live - Stoney Lane Records #SLR1966

Gonimoblast / Gonimoblast Live – with Arve Henriksen and Maja SK Ratkje

#SLR1966 – Released 30th June, 2017
★ Listen • Buy • Download:
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The Guardian

The Guardian

John Fordham  Twitter icon

31st August 2017

 

 

 

Gonimoblast Live with Maja S​​K Ratkje and Arve Henriksen review – electronica with improv clout  ★★★

Gonimoblast are a London and Midlands five-piece electronica band, formed by bassist Chris Mapp after an inspiring trip to Norway’s Punkt festival, and including Polar Bear electronicist Leafcutter John and free-jazz drummer Mark Sanders. The group recorded two successive live shows for this limited-edition, screenprinted double album, with celebrated Norwegian adventurers Maja SK Ratkje (vocals) and Arve Henriksen, who plays flutelike, wind-toned ambient trumpet. The effects often suggest rubbed wineglasses or babbling brooks, but there are plenty of smoky, mysteriously hooting jazz-horn sounds and the participants’ jazz links are plain in both the rhythmic language and the collective improv feel. The disconsolately echoing purity of Ratkje’s chants dramatically contrast with churning electronic undercurrents and Mapp’s fast-moving basslines, while her scat-like staccato inventions rise amid orchestral effects like hordes of violins. Henriksen’s half of the set is more song-shaped, as his plaintive trumpet exhalations and querulous-chorister vocals wheel amid fast, free-swing drum patterns, church-organ reverberations and nudging jazz-piano chords. It’s electronica, but with plenty of mood-swinging clout.

Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen

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The Wire Magazine

Mike Barnes

September 2017

 

 

 

“… One thing that Gonimoblast particularly seek in their improvisation is a kind of blurring of each musician’s roles so that the listener concentrates more on the overall picture rather than specific exchanges. Not that this implies a muddy sound. The disc featuring Ratkje on vocals, processing and oscillators begins in a spacious, lyrical way. She is always a strong live performer, both solo, and in a group format as evidenced on last autumn’s live album by SPUNK, Still Eating Gingerbread For Breakfast. She works within the mix until about 25 minutes in, when a sudden outburst of terse, gestural sounds of tuned percussion and flurries of low-end synth, catches her ear and she really sings out, while subjecting her voice to processing.

The performance is subtle throughout. Later on, there are sections of multilayer electronic and voice loops, and towards the close she enters a kind of clearing, singing a wordless almost folkish melody with long held notes while the ensemble off inquisitive clicks, purrs and mumbles. This all rises in intensity towards the close with waves of cymbals and Ratkje’s distant eerie shrieks.

Gonimoblast were keen to get Henriksen’s participation as they are fans of his group, Supersilent. The performance her carries quite a different mood from that group and from the Ratkje CD, beginning with a hushed, literally muted, trumpet soliloquy and gently buffeting noises. Henriksen also sings chorister falsetto in the first half of the set as electronics signal through space like early Popol Vuh and then he loops his trumpet while playing a top line. There’s no big finale here; in fact, it winds right down to a slow, melancholic trumpet melody weaving through flickering detail, with admirable restraint shown by all. Both sets are object lessons of how to listen to other musicians while improvising.”

Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen

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Jazzwise magazine cover September 2017

Jazzwise Magazine

Peter Bacon  Twitter icon

September 2017

 

 

★★★★

“Although jazz is a vehicle for both individual and group identities, in many bands it is the personality of the character of the individuals that we most easily identify. Chris Mapp’s way of working is very different and through this Birmingham/London Quartet has developed a strong character – abstract, free improv but with a basis in dark, Scandi death-metal – it is very much a group sound and concept that we hear most strikingly. In fact, it is often hard to tell which sound is being generated by which member of the group, even when experienced live. A pair of rainy autumn evenings in a black-box theatre in Digbeth, Birmingham, complete with atmospheric light show and two esteemed Norwegian guests, has resulted in a pair of CDs, and the music works just as well on a recording as it did in live performance.

The first disc, with Ratkje, is very much a slow-build affair, growing ever-so-gradually from space-filled bloops and bleeps to a monumental climax/release of all that stored-up intensity.

The night with Henriksen is in some ways a less abstract affair. The trumpeter/singer is more of a melodist and the band responds to his often delicate, devotional way of performing, with a sensitively supportive soundscape. Try ‘Part IV’ for a prime example. It’s no surprise that the Norwegians fitted in so well; Mapp’s visit to the Punkt Festival some years back was a crucial trigger to the creation of Gonimoblast. The results are both highly original and strongly impressive. These discs, Birmingham-based Stoney Lane’s eighth release, are part of a limited edition of 408 copies, carefully produced in screen-printed sleeves designed by Tom Tebby.”

 

Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen

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All About Jazz

All About Jazz

Mark Sullivan  Twitter icon

25th August 2017

 

 

“… They take a generally minimalist, ambient approach.  But Disc One has plenty of interesting details: the almost Spaghetti Western-sounding whistling on Part I; the skittering electronics in Part III; and the insistent rhythmic looping in Part IV, for example.  Ratkje’s vocals first become audible in Part II, but they are electronically processed in such a way that they blend into the rest of the texture.  Concluding Part VI features some lyrical singing (accompanying herself via looping), but it builds to a thunderous climax.

Henriksen’s trumpet makes its entrance during Part I on Disc Two, a lyrical contrast to the electronics underneath it which morphs into a looped electronic presence.  Part II features his vocals, as does Part IV (employing that angelic falsetto sound, looped with itself).  Part V goes heavily into Jon Hassell world music territory, with looped trumpets that could be heard as an homage – a lovely, unexpected musical event. The Hassell sound continues into Part VI in the form of electronically harmonized trumpet.  Henriksen also takes his most lyrical trumpet solo in the set, accompanied only by sparse electronics.  There’s another section with electronically treated trumpet, then the set concludes with beautiful falsetto vocalise.

Gonimoblast has been performing together for several years, and have developed a rich ensemble sound in which it is often difficult to hear where one musician ends and another begins. The group is elevated by these Norwegian guests: the album is especially recommended to Arve Henriksen fans. The double CD albums feature original artwork by artist Tom Tebby, with each individual album screen-printed, hand painted by the artist and assembled by hand. It’s a striking package, an art object in its own right.

Read full review

Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen

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London Jazz News

London Jazz News

AJ Dehany  Twitter icon

August 2017

 

 

“… it was support from Birmingham promoters Jazzlines and Jerwood Charitable Foundation funds that gave them the dirty time to develop the strong focus and unity of purpose that have characterized their performances since the start of 2015.

Live was recorded over two nights in November 2015 at The Crossing, an expansive black box theatre among the evocative dereliction of warehouses and canals in the former industrial district of Digbeth, Birmingham. The group’s activity earlier in the year has been represented on three online releasesAlways Darkest Before Dawnn(with trumpeter Sam Wooster), The Depths, and Flatland (with Shabaka Hutchings). This is the first Gonimoblast recording to be released by the Stoney Lane label, in a lavish, limited edition screen-printed by artist Tom Tebby.

This double live album is a plateau from which to view the group’s dizzying progress. There’s a symphonic sense of overall form that develops and emerges from the group’s strong discipline and cultivation of intensity over the discs’ slowly burning two hours. Each disc is centred around a guest. The first is Norwegian vocalist Maja S.K. Ratkje, performing with discreet microphones and several layers of processing.

The group opens with quiet abstraction: pointillist daubs of percussion and sound in a discrete  integrated sound world. There is a deliberate blurring of electronic and acoustic elements. A sound you might ascribe to the kit might come from Leafcutter John, and vice versa. With the whole group apart from Sanders using electronics there is an enjoyable uncertainty in not being sure who is doing what, what is improvised, what is live, what is created in the box and what has been fed back and reprocessed. It takes a couple of listens to separate out the threads and even then you’re never completely sure.

As the interactions develop, more typically “musical” and tonal elements are introduced, with electronic whistling, mechanical drones and intense playing from Sanders and Mapp. Material gathers and loops in thorny clumps of texture, thickening and driving forward with darker intent. Maja Ratkje’s vocals become a larger presence; speech particles patter through delay pedals, half-thoughts are churned into glossolalia; and only in the first hour’s climactic finale is there conventional singing, in a beautiful clear Scandinavian voice. You can picture the players silhouetted against columns of light, which they were on the night. Hurricanes and helicopters crescendo, synths sweep incandescently across the sharp horizon of a white sky with an inscrutable universal emotionality reminiscent of Sigur Rós.

The second disc features trumpet player and vocalist Arve Henriksen. It launches almost in medias res into an unsettling sound world of throaty vocal phrases underpinned by clattery arrhythmias. It has more of the doomy sense of Chris Mapp’s work prior to Gonimoblast and to be found in the heavier moments of Fram from the second album The Depths. Even with electronic manipulation Henriksen’s trumpet is inescapably tonal but the more conventionally musical sense of the second hour complements the first’s sonic abstraction — though any provisional key centre keeps shifting, approximating a modernistic atonality between moments of suggestive tonality: the sort of thing scholars argue about with regard to harmony and modality in Debussy and Stravinsky. Compared to the sensational but more obviously free jazz impetus such as we heard in their intense work with Shabaka Hutchings mere months before, Live is an impressive and satisfying integration of supposed opposites: tonal and textural, sonic and musical, electronic and acoustic, composition and improvisation. It’s slow burning 21st-century music for a time of ceaseless noise.”

Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen

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Dalston Sound

Tim Owen  Twitter icon

July 2017

 

 

A gonimoblast is a storage or generative cell in algae, so I guess adopting the name for a band suggests an urge to seed something rootless, in which case kudos to Chris Mapp and co. for this lively synthesis of improvisation and electronics.

Gonimoblast the band is Mapp on bass and electronics with Mark Sanders on drums and percussion, Dan Nicholls on keys and synth, and Leafcutter John playing electronics, a light interface and music box.

Sanders is one of London improv’s most versatile, but he’s also held the drum chair in Jah Wobble’s Deep Space band. Leafcutter John may be best known as a part of Polar Bear, but their most radical adventures in sound manipulation (cf. In Each And Every One) are closer to orthodox than Gonimoblast, which draws more deeply on John’s DIY electronics.

Gonimoblast was active throughout 2015. Always Darkest Before Dawnn was the first of three previous releases recorded and released that year, the last with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings depping for Nicholls (all are available via the group’s Bandcamp).

The 2CD Live documents concerts on two consecutive November evenings, with guests Maja SK Ratkje (voice, electronics, oscillator “and things”) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet, pocket trumpet, vocals, electronics).

The set with Henriksen moves quickly from gameboy Leafcuttings into a glitched gloaming probed by deep bass surges and skittish percussion, a Supersilent-like setting for wordless vocals by Henriksen with a hint of Diamanda Galás archness.

There’s an abstract fusion quality to Mapp’s basswork, and Henriksen’s trademark trumpet makes explicit a connection to Scandinavian jazz, but Nicholl’s synths set the music on a more opaque drift into stillness, and Henriksen’s wordless soprano takes on a purer liturgical quality.

His sampled and looped trumpet on the long fifth index probes Jon Hassell’s Fourth World concept, then Sanders introduces bolder pan-cultural pulses with deep bass drum booms and Leafcutter John throws down wayward midi tweaks and twitches.

A slightly less coherent stand-alone sixth index, with its late injection of harp-like music box and fractured emotive vocals over minimalist loops, sounds like it might have been an encore/afterthought.

The previous night’s recording, featuring Ratkje, begins with theremin-like whistling amid a riffling, fluid soundscape as Ratkje’s vocals offset slithery strings.

Where Henriksen’s aesthetic predominates Ratkje seems keener to find new specificity in this new context, and her contributions are more ingrained.

After index 2 takes a darker turn, 3 becomes more playful, and as the first solid bass and percussion sounds emerge Ratkje’s vocals are sampled and (literally) spun. At length the group settle into a dirty-silent whirl of turntablist run-out bridging into index 4, where loops with a hint of tautly rhythmic west African guitar bleed into smears of electronic distortion and synth gloaming.

Index 5 locates more equilibrium and directionality. Ratkje conjures siren voices bedded with soft bleeps and skittering, then sets up a lazy keening over hazy electronics and bass throbbing. The set gets edgier, but retains an etherial, numinous quality pending a climactic accumulation of tension.

Each of these sets is a distinctive fusion, outlying any of the participants’ core catalogues, and it’s an excellent summation of Gonimoblast’s year of intensive woodshedding.

The physical edition, on Birmingham-based Stoney Lane Records, is limited to 408 copies, which come in handmade sleeves individually screen-printed and hand painted by artist Tom Tebby. Definitely worth an investment.

Gonimoblast
Gonimoblast Live – with Maja SK Ratkje & Arve Henriksen

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Jonathan Silk / Fragment

#SLR1977 – Released 4th November, 2016 ★ Listen • Buy • Download: BandcampAmazonProperMusic • iTunes • Deezer • SpotifyApple Music

UK Vibe

UK Vibe

Mike Gates  Twitter icon

5th December 2016

 

 

 

★★★★★

Award winning drummer and composer Jonathan Silk has been a driving presence on the Birmingham jazz scene since graduating from the city’s conservatoire in 2011. Let’s make no bones about it, “Fragment” is an ambitious project, with its 19 strong big band and 13 piece string section, and the resulting album is nothing short of spectacular. The recording brings together key players from both Birmingham and London and is conducted by Silk’s fellow Scottish drummer Andrew Bain. Silk is a rising star on the British jazz scene, and this album fully justifies that tag, with 11 tracks of invention, subtlety, power and grace succeeding in making this one of the musical highlights of 2016. The stunning compositions are performed in style by a band that features some of the finest talent in the UK; with wonderful contributions from Percy Pursglove on flugelhorn, Mike Fletcher on alto and flute, Chris Maddock on alto, John Fleming and Joe Wright on tenor, Rob Cope on baritone, Reuben Fowler, Mike Adlington, Matt Gough and Tom Walsh on trumpet, Thomas Seminar Ford on guitar, Andy Bunting on piano and Nick Jurd on bass… to name but a few. Emily Tyrrell leads the strings.

Recorded at Angel Studios in London and produced by Chris Mapp and Jonathan Silk, credit has to be given out for the quality of the recording itself. Mixed by Alex Bonney and mastered by Peter Beckmann, the recording is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. The balance is perfect, with every instrument sounding exactly as it should, all beautifully clear and in its right place, from the fiery brass to the lush strings to the wonderful rhythm section.

Stylistically one might make comparisons with works by Maria Schneider, Vince Mendoza and Gil Evans, but what is more obvious is the fact that Silk is confident enough to tread his own path, unafraid to write with a conviction that belies his age and experience. The tunes are varied in style and the mix of big band and strings works superbly well, each being integrated intelligently and thoughtfully, rather than one being bolted on to the other, as heard elsewhere on too many occasions. “Fragment” has so much going for it. Brilliantly composed, expertly performed, with a change of pace and feel always just around the corner, there’s a wide variety of powerful and intense soloing coupled with a gentle time and space for the more reflective moments.

There are times when listening to this album where I thought ‘Wow, I’d love to hear a strings only/orchestral soundtrack from this guy. Tracks like “Reflection” offer an insight into the beauty of the composer’s musical mind, making for an emotional and thought-provoking listen. And then there are times when I thought ‘Wow, imagine if this guy was let loose with an avant-garde big band- the fires of hell would be let loose!’ The title track for instance is an exploration into varied rhythmic cycles and the development of groove based, hard-hitting material overlapping the many layers of the band and set against some frantic improvisation. I also like the clever use of instrumentation employed throughout the album, for example, the stark beauty of classical guitar and flute on “Withdrawal”. As with many of the pieces heard here, the stunning implementation of brass and strings working together in harmony is a pleasure to behold.

Inspiration for many of the tunes comes from Silk’s Scottish roots, his world travels and the ever-changing natural landscape. “First Flight” captures that twilight hour, whether from an early morning start or a very late finish. The musicians explore a winter night spent with whisky and friends. The second part of the suite, “Last Light”, is written around late night wanderings, in particular a small Scottish island harbour, the knocking boats and quiet waves, ending on a note of restfulness and hope. “Barefeet” was written following the composer’s time in South Africa, walking up to one of the world’s highest waterfalls, the Tugela Falls. Taking similar inspiration, “Buchaille” pays homage to the once-volcanic mountain region of Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands. As ever with any new musical adventure, the listener will find his/her own inspiration and thoughts from the music being performed, but it’s always good to hear from the writer as to what inspired them on their journey. And talking of journeys, how good it is to see an independent record label such as Stoney Lane Records continuing to release striking, dynamic music of such undoubted quality.

If, like me, you relish the opportunity to hear and see wonderful music such as this performed live, then don’t miss out on the chance to see Jonathan Silk with full big band and strings playing live this coming Friday, 9th December at The CBSO Centre in Birmingham. It’s a mouth-watering prospect.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Bebop Spoken Here

Lance Liddle  Twitter icon

3rd November 2016

 

 

 

Drummer Jonathan Silk’s new album on Stoney Lane Recordings features no fewer than thirty three musicians conducted by fellow drummer Andrew Bain. Thirteen of them are string players augmenting something approximating a conventional big band line-up. The strings are heard first on Introductionwith tracks two and three gradually introducing one or two soloists from the jazz ensemble – first featured soloist Percy Pursglove, flugelhorn then Rob Cope, baritone, followed by other unnamed soloists from within the sections. A recording on this scale is an ambitious undertaking – both musically and financially – and Fragment succeeds magnificently.

Jonathan Silk leads from the front on the title track. A dynamic composition, several solo spots – including Andy Bunting, piano and Thomas Seminar Ford, guitar – are framed by cracking section work from all concerned. Silk’s broad palette has perhaps been coloured by mentors Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider. Fool’s Paradisehears the multi-layers of high-octane NYC Monday night outfits yet the composer asserts his right to apply the brakes, signal a (flugel) change of direction before releasing the hand brake once more.

All compositions are by Jonathan Silk. The drummer’s writing avoids the possibility of a ‘jazz and strings’ mish mash; strings are given breathing space, the horn players are given plenty of space to play the jazz. Recorded in January 2016, Silk acknowledges a range of funders (including the BBC Performing Arts Fund) in the making of Fragment. A case of money well spent.      

– Russell

Andrew Bain (conductor), Percy Pursglove (flugelhorn), Mike Fletcher (alto saxophone, flute), Chris Maddock (alto saxophone), John Fleming (tenor saxophone), Joe Wright (tenor saxophone), Rob Cope (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); trumpet & flugelhorn: Tom Walsh, Reuben Fowler, Mike Adlington, Matt Gough; trombone: Kieran Mcleod, Richard Foote, Yusuf Narcin; Andy Johnson (tuba), Thomas Seminar Ford (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano, Nord), Toby Boalch (piano, Nord), Nick Jurd (double bass, electric bass), Jonathan Silk (drums), Tom Chapman (percussion); + violin: Emily Tyrrell (leader), Katrina Davies, Sarah Farmer, Ning-Ning Li, Beth Bellis, Kathryn Coleman, Zhivko Georgiev, Pei Ann Yeoh; viola: Victoria Strudwick, Eileen Smith; cello: Lucy French, Katy Nagle; double bass: Ayse Osman 

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Marlbank

Stephen Graham  Twitter icon

1st November 2016

 

 

 

★★★★

My limited familiarity with the work of Jonathan Silk goes back three years to Uncouth, his self-released big band debut featuring Percy Pursglove, another big band affair, returning here as a significant flugelhorn muse.

The drummer on this studio album recorded in Angel in January 2016, one of London’s top recording studios, a studio where Guy Barker recorded ‘Underdogs’  for instance on the classic 2002 album Soundtrack, has better studio sound and production for sure than Uncouth and Silk’s writing is equally of a high standard, 11 tunes this time by the Scot – more bang for your buck.

Silk’s style has changed since that earlier album, the style fitting less into the Gil Evans bracket and more brashly avant garde certainly in the early tracks. Pursglove is not so dominant as before, the ensemble conducted by Andrew Bain more the instrument this time, a difficult feat to achieve, Hans Koller perhaps the closest in terms of ensemble style as a comparison companion but maybe even touches of Maria Schneider’s work in the arranging applies.

Reuben Fowler, the most startlingly individual young British jazz trumpeter of his generation, incidentally is among the trumpet section. But singling out individuals (because so many shine in contributing to the collective strength of the ensemble that also bristles with a 13-piece strings section, adding to the brass, reeds and full rhythm section) to shower praise on one though tempting would be invidious.

Take a punt on this on release later this week if you are in a physical music-buying mood: the CD sound will be much better than the download spec for one and the barely there satin artwork is better experienced on card even than on a high resolution screen for a better sense of the David Stanley painting (the style of which reminds me of some paintings to be found in Tum label artwork).

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Jazzwise Magazine February 2017

Jazzwise Magazine

Nick Hasted

February 2017

 

 

★★★

Silk, a regular drummer with Soweto Kinch, gratefully used the BBC’s financial support to study with Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza.  This second album with his Big Band is the first result, adding a 13-piece string section, and aiming to put this still bigger band’s intricate and distinct cogs through their paces.  It’s an imposing ship to steer, but, a la Ellington, soloists’ characters shine through.

Languid trumpet lines ease their way past strident brass fanfares, while dreamy piano swirls around sinuously swooning sax in ‘Prelude’, contrasting with Fragment’s funk strut and Withdrawals‘ pastoral strings.  Best of all is Barefeet, which begins with the romance of a 1940s dance, and is marked by castanet-like, drum-kit percussion.  Tapping the emotional resources to match his burgeoning compositional technique is the next step.

 

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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AP Reviews

Adrian Pallant  Twitter icon

6th December 2016

 

 

 

A BIG BAND ALBUM whose stratified multicolours and dynamics are echoed by the cover art of British painter/printmaker David Stanley, Fragment is the original work of award-winning drummer and composer Jonathan Silk.

Increasingly a major presence on the Midlands’ contemporary jazz scene, following on from his graduation at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011, the Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2014 has worked with luminaries such as Iain Ballamy, Stan Sulzmann, Liane Carroll and Soweto Kinch; and in addition to celebrated big band mentors Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza, his drum tutors Jeff Williams and the late Tony Levin are cited as big influencers of his style.

Across a full hour, Jonathan Silk’s expansive canvas is varietally layered-up by impressive forces – a big band of 19 and a string section of 13 (just look at those credits below) – with fellow drummer Andrew Bain conducting and flugelhornist Percy Pursglove in a featured role (both are respected educators at Birmingham Conservatoire). Just as unfamiliar, abstract visual art can require time to develop, meld and be understood, this impressionistic approach has taken a while to reveal an identity; yet it increasingly entices with maturity of arrangement and strong musicianship, seamlessly blending scene after scene of energised drama (Silk on the drum stool) with rivulets of subtlety. In fact, rather than offering up the usual waymarked path of favourite tracks or standout melodies, it becomes an immersive experience in which to progressively savour different illuminations of the composer’s thoughts.

Softly grooving Buchaille (a beloved munro in the Scottish Highlands) luxuriates in close-knit brass and reeds, hitting high trumpet peaks before descending to quiet valleys of improvised trombone – but Silk’s way is to keenly press on as unison strings provide an almost Manhattan-style, bustling backdrop; and First Light‘s sustained serenity (recalling “a winter night spent with whiskey and friends, awaiting the snow reports at 6am”) supports Percy Pursglove’s mellow, watchful flugel, with the composer’s sensitive development fusing strings with a gently rhythmic momentum.

The drummer makes his mark in wildly percussive, brassy Prelude before segueing into South African-inspired Barefeet which fascinates with unpredictable jabbing piano and acoustic guitar – an example of the unlikely hues which Silk fashions. His searching miniature, Reflection, even suggests a route into movie soundtrack, preceding In Thought‘s similarly sublime, piano- and violin-graced journey. The spiky, perilous rock-guitar adventure of title track Fragment is a winner, teeming with electric bass-driven, saxophone-rippling life as guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford’s improvisations encourage bold, brass syncopation and a full-throttle display from Silk; and he is so adept in contrasting fervour with the finely-orchestrated tranquillity to be found in Withdrawal and end piece Last Light.

But it is perhaps Jonathan Silk’s broadest piece – eleven-minute Fool’s Paradise – which singly showcases his solidity and reach as a composer, the episodic variations (including inspired use of Hammond organ voice, and open spaces for extemporisation) providing a clear glimpse of a bright future. Hook up a few, memorable themes and there’ll be no stopping him!

As with most recordings, it’s a privilege to revisit and enjoy these luscious soundscapes at will – but it must certainly be exhilarating to also witness this scale of ardent musicality in a live setting. Good news, then, that 2017 tour dates are to be announced.

Released on Stoney Lane Records, Fragment is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Herald Scotland

Herald Scotland

Rob Adams  Twitter icon

23rd December 2016

 

 

 

CLACKMANNANSHIRE-born drummer Jonathan Silk won the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title in 2014, by which time he was already making his presence felt on the jazz scene in Birmingham where he graduated from the conservatoire three years earlier.

Fragment is his second album and it showcases his talents not just as a drummer but as a composer and orchestrator. Scored for a nineteen-piece big band supplemented by a thirteen-strong string section, it’s ambitious in scale and adventurous in its approach, drawing together brassy power, a crisp, dynamic rhythm section and the strings’ gracefulness and colour with skill, sensitivity, urgency, and descriptiveness.

Silk studied with top American composer-arrangers Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider and while their influence is audible there are Scottish tones too, notably on Buchaille, and a loose-limbed African quality to Barefeet. At nearly eleven minutes, Fool’s Paradise is quite the epic, swirling keyboards, riffing guitar and whipcrack drums leading to an intimate horn and piano duet before the full ensemble gathers momentum. Impressive stuff.

 

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Bandcamp Daily

Dave Sumner  Twitter icon

16th December 2016

 

 

 

The Best New Jazz on Bandcamp: November 2016

While Jonathan Silk’s debut Uncouth was a nice enough big band release, it was a bit by-the-numbers.  It certainly didn’t attain the emotional impact or compositional depth of his newest, Fragment.  Commanding a 19-piece big band and a 13-piece string section handily, Silk paints an entire landscape of imagery with his compositions, rather than the isolated still-lifes of his debut.  And though the album is full of dreamy harmonies and deep melodies, Silk infuses it with plenty of distinguishing elements to break up any potential sameness. On “Prelude,” the band comes out throwing punches, with a punctuated tempo like the stomp of boots and some crisply-delivered saxophone soloing.  On “Barefeet,” the ensemble boisterously lifts their voices to the sky and shouts with all they’ve got.  And then there’s “Fools Paradise,” which is unleashed in a series of intensifying surges.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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The Jazz Mann

The Jazz Mann

Ian Mann  Twitter icon

30th December 2016

 

 

 

★★★★½

The Scottish born drummer and composer Jonathan Silk graduated from the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and elected to stay in England’s ‘second city’ becoming a vital and galvanising presence on the Midlands jazz scene.

As well as playing drums in numerous Birmingham based bands Silk was a driving force in the now defunct Cobweb and Blam! musicians’ collectives and has also co-ordinated, in conjunction with his ‘partner in crime’ the trombonist Richard Foote, the hugely successful “Jazz at The Spotted Dog” programme at the pub of the same name in Digbeth. The ‘Dog’ hosts both local and touring musicians with London based bands regularly visiting the venue.

In early 2016 Silk and Foote, the self styled ‘Spotted Bros.’ released “Jazzdosnaygrowontrees”, a compilation album featuring tracks by Birmingham based artists that served as a fund-raiser for Jazz at The Spotted Dog. Silk appeared on tracks by the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, pianist Toby Boalch, alto saxophonist Chris Young and a piece by his own Jonathan Silk Big Band sourced from his début album “Uncouth”, originally released in 2013.

Currently Silk plays with the Birmingham bands Trope and Young Pilgrims and has toured nationally with saxophonist Soweto Kinch’s trio. He has also performed with vocalist Lianne Carroll and with the saxophonists Stan Sulzmann and Iain Ballamy. Over the years Silk has performed at the Cheltenham and London jazz festivals as well as Birmingham’s own, much missed, Harmonic Festival.

“Fragment” represents Silk’s most ambitious project to date and expands, dramatically, on the success of “Uncouth”. The new work teams Silk’s nineteen piece Big Band with a thirteen piece string ensemble to create new music that is truly orchestral in its scope. The album also features Percy Pursglove as a guest soloist, specialising here on flugelhorn, and with Silk occupying the drum chair the ‘orchestra’ is conducted by his fellow drummer, and fellow Scotsman, Andrew Bain.

Three years in the making the “Fragment” project is a direct result of the financial support offered to Silk by the BBC Performing Arts Fund. This allowed the aspiring composer to study with two of the giants in the field of large ensemble and orchestral jazz, Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza. Although the resultant music reveals the influence of both these luminaries, particularly Schneider, Silk also acknowledges the inspiration of his Birmingham drum teachers Jeff Williams and the late Tony Levin and of the cutting edge New York musicians drummer Jim Black and saxophonist David Binney.

The music is also influenced by Silk’s Scottish roots and his later world travels with a number of the individual pieces being inspired by the natural world. The album was recorded in London but is released on the new Birmingham based label Stoney Lane Records and features specially commissioned artwork by the artist David Stanley. The album is co-produced by Silk and Birmingham bassist and sound artist Chris Mapp with engineers Steve Price, Jeremy Murphy, Luke Morrish-Thomas, Peter Beckmann and the ubiquitous Alex Bonney all involved at various points in the recording process.

Silk summarises his intentions for the album as follows;
“The music aims to explore a dynamic journey through the large ensemble, taking advantage of the variety of different instrumental forces and framing the unique improvising voices within the ensemble”.

The album itself commences, appropriately enough, with “Introduction” which acts as a kind of “two minute overture” and features Silk’s lush, but never cloying, writing for strings, a velvety flugel horn cameo from Pursglove and the composer’s delicately brushed drums. It’s an assured and impressive beginning.

This leads us to “Buchaille” which is named for “Buchaille Etiv Mor”, a mountain in the Glencoe region of Scotland that represents the first ‘Munro’ to be climbed by Silk and his late father. The music captures something of the grandeur of the Scottish landscape with Fletcher’s flute adding a folk element to the arrangement. The music rises and falls, the dynamic contrasts reflecting the ever changing moods of the Highland weather, with solos for trombone and baritone sax. The latter is definitely Rob Cope but it’s unfortunate that the lavish album packaging doesn’t list the individual soloists, therefore I’m unable to be as specific with regard to the trombonist. But overall it’s the ensemble sound that counts. Silk has clearly learned well from Schneider and Mendoza and his writing and arranging are truly impressive as he blends the sounds of horns and strings seamlessly and effectively with the latter deploying both pizzicato and arco techniques.

“First Light” is also inspired by the Scottish mountainscapes, this time in winter as Silk and his friends, warmed by whisky, await the 6am snow report. Rich, colourful string textures set the scene before Jurd’s acoustic bass and Silk’s brushed drums ruffle the air of serenity. Piano is also added to the mix as the music gradually begins to build with Pursglove’s elegant and eloquent flugelhorn the featured solo instrument. Both Pursglove and Silk have been recipients of Fellowship Awards from the Birmingham based Jazzlines association and on the evidence of this piece it’s easy to see why.  As musicians and composers each just gets better and better with the passing of the years.

It’s strange to find a piece titled “Prelude” at number four in the running order. This turns out to be a punchy piece of writing featuring the massed power of the horns allied to Silk’s forceful drumming. A more freely structured section features alternately squalling and brooding tenor sax but again it’s not possible to specify the soloist.

However it’s true that the piece does act as a prelude as the music segues directly into “Barefeet”, a composition inspired by Silk’s time spent walking in the Tugela Falls area of the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. Seminar Ford’s guitar features prominently in the earlier stages of the piece, the ‘foothills’ if you will, before the band strikes out for the summit with a blazing alto solo, most probably by Fletcher, leading the way.

The aptly named “Reflection” represents something of a pause for breath, a serene interlude featuring gently layered strings and lyrical acoustic piano.

Piano also introduces “In Thought”, an unaccompanied, classically influenced, passage leading into one of Silk’s loveliest compositions. A showcase for Pursglove’s mellifluous flugelhorn plus strings and rhythm it also features a passage of solo violin, presumably played by leader Tyrrell.

Following two relatively peaceful interludes the title track raises the energy levels once more with punchy, racing horn lines and propulsive drum and electric bass grooves. Spacey keyboard sounds give way to a sparkling acoustic piano solo, this followed by some uncredited sax duelling and finally some soaring, high octane electric guitar from Seminar Ford. There’s even something of a feature for the leader’s drums. Reviewing the album for his Jazz Breakfast website Peter Bacon remarked that this piece sounded something like the theme to a sci-fi serial, something I can relate to, although, for me, the sheer urgency and energy of the piece suggests a futuristic cop show.

“Withdrawal” is another of the gentler ‘interlude’ pieces that punctuate the album and features the combination of Seminar Ford’s guitar, in gentler more acoustic mood here, and Fletcher’s flute, these augmented by sumptuous strings and horns.

At a little under eleven minutes “Fool’s Paradise” is the lengthiest composition on the album, an episodic piece that passes through many moods and sections. It begins in rousing fashion with fan-faring horns and swirling Hammond style sounds from the keyboard players, with the leader’s powerful drumming driving the whole thing along. A gentler middle passage finds Pursglove in an intimate duet with one of the pianists before the band returns for an anthemic closing section featuring an uncredited sax soloist alongside the soaring fluency of Pursglove’s flugel.

The closing “Last Light” is inspired by the tranquillity of a small Scottish island harbour. Silk’s drums feature prominently, his mallet rumbles representing the gentle knocking together of boats in the waves as the string and brass arrangement seeks to convey a message of “restfulness and hope”.

“Fragment” is an extremely impressive piece of work and, for me, Silk achieves his objectives brilliantly. Although he has clearly learned much from his mentors his music never sounds like that of Schneider or Mendoza, it is very much an expression of Silk’s own musical vision. It’s a remarkably mature piece of work with the strings fully integrated into the music and with the overall sound feeling wholly natural and organic. Pursglove is an inspired soloist but every individual in the ensemble performs well on an album that represents something of an artistic triumph for Jonathan Silk. Peter Bacon cites a lack of memorable melodies but there doesn’t sound to be very much wrong with “Fragment” to me.

Unfortunately I missed the recent live performance of the album at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham (Peter also reviewed this for the Jazz Breakfast) and at the time of writing no other concerts are planned. However let’s hope that this music will be heard live again in the future. This is music that deserves to reach a wider audience, perhaps the Cheltenham or London Jazz Festivals would be suitable forums for Silk to get this music ‘out there’.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Mike Collins / Jazzyblogman

Mike Collins  Twitter icon

20th February 2017

 

 

 

Jonathan Silk‘s Fragment is another set of original music, but using an altogether different palette.  Silk has written for a big band augmented by a 13 piece string section. He’s put his studies with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider to good use creating sweeping, dynamic pieces. Some, like Introduction, Prelude, Reflection are very short setting us up for more prolonged development. After swelling strings, the trumpet entrance on Introduction is a catch the breath moment before Buchaille kicks in, layers build up and solos swoop over stabbing interjections from the ensemble. The title track Fragment  is high octane, burning improv over a rocky clatter. Fool’s Paradise’s succession of episodes uses the full range of the the band building to a climax, the trumpet section soaring over a clamorous sax solo before calm descends.  There’s some glorious playing from individuals and the whole ensemble. This is a notable achievement and too many strings to count added to the bow of Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records who put this one out.

If 2017’s crop of recordings produces many like these two, it will be a very good year.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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The Jazz Breakfast

Peter Bacon  Twitter icon

6th December 2016

 

 

 

This is the most ambitious release yet from the young Birmingham jazz scene, and quite possibly from any Birmingham-based jazz musician. Drummer Jonathan Silk has expanded his big band to 20 players and then added a 13-piece string section.

Silk has been studying with two of jazz music’s finest composer/arrangers, Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza, and has clearly been an attentive student: this album is filled with mature and sophisticated writing. With these large forces to write for, Silk still manages to leave space in the mix, and the music has a broad sweep of light and shade. Though I do have a caveat.

As with the Silk band’s first disc, Uncouth, Percy Pursglove is an eloquent soloist, and his improvisations provide most of the strong melodic content against these harmonically expansive, rhythmically varied, atmospheric soundtracks.

The opening Introduction introduces us to Silk’s string-writing, a graceful, faintly melancholy progression overlaid with a perfect little flugelhorn vignette from Pursglove. Then it’s on to the high altitudes of Buchaille, Mike Fletcher’s flute floating like whisps of cloud round the mountainside of brass steadily rising in pitch and intensity, before settling into trombone solo which could be Kieran Mcleod or Richard Foote (a soloist list in the cover would have been nice) and a baritone solo from Rob Cope against a characteristic Silk bouncing pulse. The strings build like amassing clouds.

First Light features Nick Jurd’s double bass and Silk’s brushes in amongst the strings. There is a quiet tension in the music, as if this is a dawn hard-won, or perhaps a vaguely ominous day approaching. Prelude ups the power with a punchy bit of tight horn writing – and playing – including a brooding tenor solo (John Fleming?). Barefoot – Thomas Seminar Food is the featured guitarist – lightens the mood a little but it’s not exactly sunny. Well, not until Mike Fletcher lets rip with a blistering alto solo – a real highpoint of the album – and the band gives him all the support he deserves.

Reflection continues the series of shorter, string-dominated “interludes” which appear throughout, this time with piano (Andy Bunting or Toby Boalch) the featured instrument. In Thought sounds fairly through-composed aside from the Pursglove flugel improvisation – a real peach of a solo. The title track feels like a sci-fi serial theme tune, brassy and electric, underpinned by Jurd’s electric bass, Silk driving hard and with Ford in soaring jazz-rock mode. The longest track, Fool’s Paradise, goes through a few moods and features another fine solo from Pursglove, and the album ends with another evocative string piece, the leader’s drums leading into a final rich brass conclusion.

After the first few listens to this album I had the nagging feeling there was something missing, and although it has been somewhat ameliorated since, I still can’t quite shake that feeling. I went searching for enlightenment in the cover, and found these words from Jonathan: “The music aims to explore a dynamic journey through the large ensemble, taking advantage of the variety of different instrumental forces and framing the unique improvising voices within the ensemble.” And I can’t fault him there: “dynamics” – yes; “journey” – it feels like it; “different instrumental forces” – tick; “improvising voices” – yep.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the missing ingredient is strong tunes. It’s like a big cast scene in a blockbuster movie without the main characters; like a studio mix of all the musical channels except for the one that contains the lead melody line. There are little bits of melody, but often they could easily be accompanying horn parts or counter melodies rather than the real thing. For the most part the really strong melodic content is not written by Silk but improvised by Pursglove or Fletcher or the other soloists.

Of course, this might be Jonathan’s aim. It is suggested in the album title, perhaps? Those bits of written melody certainly have the substance of fragments. And in the abstract art of the cover? Yes, maybe I’m wanting a stronger story or narrative where impression and suggestion is all that is intended. But I can’t help feeling that while he learned all the right things from Schneider and Mendoza, he somehow missed the crucial lesson on writing strong melodies – the kind that stick with the listener after the impressions of the arrangments have dissipated. And I fully accept that this is a question of personal taste. You might not hear it the same way at all. And, incomplete or not, it’s still a brilliant achievement.

Go buy it. And go hear it live.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment - Stoney Lane Records

Jonathan Silk
Fragment

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Hans Koller - Retrospection - Stoney Lane Records

Hans Koller / Retrospection

#SLR1920 – Released 15th April, 2016
★ Listen • Buy • Download:
Bandcamp • AmazonProperMusic • iTunes • Deezer • Spotify • Apple Music

 

Jazz Journal July 2016

Jazz Journal

Michael Tucker  Twitter icon

July 2016

 

 

 

Retrospection One ★★★★★
Retrospection Two ★★★★
Retrospection Three ★★★★

“A force to be reckoned with on the British scene … his approach to the interplay of the historical and the contemporary is as open-minded as it is creative … every track here will amply reward attention.”

Hans Koller Retrospection cover Stoney Lane Records

Hans Koller
Retrospection

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Jazzwise

Stuart Nicholson  Twitter icon

June 2016

 

 

 

“Bavarian pianist Hans Koller has been resident in the UK for 25 years and presents a sumptuous three-disc anthology of his work on Retrospection. An illustration of his broad musical horizon, the first disc gives a nod of approbation to bebop (through reworking of originals by Parker, Tristano and Herbie Nichols); disc two salutes German Romantic poetry through the work of Friedrich Hölderlin sung in translation by Christine Tobin, while the final disc features the NDR German Radio Big Band with Koller arrangements that bring the influence of Gil Evans, George Russell and Mike Gibbs to the fore. Impressive stuff.”

Hans Koller Retrospection cover Stoney Lane Records

Hans Koller
Retrospection

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UK Vibe

UK Vibe

Mike Gates  Twitter icon

5th May 2016

 

 

 

★★★★★  The triple vinyl album is a beautiful thing to behold. Original, inspiring artwork graces the sleeve, along with extensive liner notes from John Fordham … The sound quality coming from my speakers is impeccable as the opening track from Retrospection One, Lennie Tristano’s “317 East 32nd Street” kicks into life. Big, beautiful brass is the order of the day. Koller’s originals are stunning, the pristine and intelligent arrangements a beacon of light, at times piercing and fierce, whilst at other times, as heard on “Solitudes”, swimming with subtlety and grace. Koller’s music isn’t necessarily always the easiest to connect with, but once my ears were tuned in correctly, I discovered a depth within the music that is rarely heard. The celebratory “Ah-leu-cha” takes Charlie Parker’s composition onto a new level. It swings like hell and brings the best out of the soloists. Steve Swallow provides the backdrop for “Clouds of Joy”, a tune that begins like a traditional jazz/blues piece, before developing into an uplifting journey, its melody carrying the listener skyward.

Whether you are a big band music lover, a Hans Koller fan, or a jazz enthusiast who just enjoys great music, “Retrospection” is a must-have triple album. There’s so much to enjoy and it’ll keep you occupied for days…weeks…months. Whichever way you look at it, it’s an incredible achievement from Hans Koller, and has to be rated as one of the most important and musically rewarding releases in 2016.
Read the full review

Hans Koller Retrospection cover Stoney Lane Records

Hans Koller
Retrospection

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The Jazz Breakfast

Peter Bacon  Twitter icon

10th May 2016

 

 

 

“… There is an introspective, intellectual quality about the music but also a searching spirituality; there is a tartness in the harmony but it isn’t harsh or sour; there is no sweetness here and yet there is warmth; it’s all deeply serious but there is a smile lurking at the corner of the mouth; it’s both strong and strenuous, yet also gentle and pliant; it’s in many ways reserved and cool, yet also generous.

There may be no easy answers, then, but it’s still full of love: for the music, for Hans’ fellow musicians, for the act of communication itself, the chance to play for people, the opportunity to be heard. A listener can feel the love in this music.

Hans Koller has made some fine music in the past, but Retrospection feels like a real leap forward. One album on its own would be solid evidence of that; three all at once is an abundance of riches. Buy a limited edition set before they all go is my advice – this is not just a purchase for this year but an investment in your listening future.

Read full review.

Hans Koller Retrospection cover Stoney Lane Records

Hans Koller
Retrospection

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