57CD - Martin Archer - Story Tellers
The Wire's #4 jazz CD of 2016 (Dan Spicer)
First recording by a new sextet, and another release from Discus which follows through Martin's obsession with AACM innovations expressed via dynamic and creative composition twinned with top flight improvising.
A double CD of six long pieces, each thematically linked to make one long cycle which moves between completely notated and completely improvised passages, combinations of both elements, some electric Miles inspired grooves, and strange folk-like drums and drones.
The Story Tellers cycle is divided into six Books each containing five Chapters. Each Book begins with a version of the Story Tellers theme which is played by everyone. The second Chapter is drawn from a group of rhythm pieces. Each Story Teller has their own individual theme, performed as a solo third Chapter. These individual themes are also combined in different pairs with additional textural material and improvisation models to form more Chapters, heard fourth. Some Books end with a Shaman Drone; others have an individual coda as a fifth Chapter.
Most of the music here is heard exactly as played by the sextet in the studio with minimum post production edits and overdubs..
Martin Archer – The Casuist - alto, sopranino and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, bass recorder, flute (B7 only), shaker, chimes, loops & electronics
Mick Somerset – The Wounded Healer - C, alto, bass, meditation, geisha and drone flutes, chalumeau and bass clarinets, shawm, shruti boxes, shaman drums, bells, rattles, gongs, trine, jews harp
Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan – The Barbarian - trumpet
Corey Mwamba – The River Follower - vibraphone
Anton Hunter – The Rain Maker - guitar and electronics
Peter Fairclough – The Wayfarer’s Bastard - drums and percussion
Martin Archer just released his most important record since "In Stereo Gravity". Actually, it might be the most important record of his career. "Story Tellers" is double CD with six 20+minute suites. Themes are interconnected, each of the six musicians gets a "persona". The flow of the album reminds me of Wadada's Ten Freedom Summers. And there are tributes herein to Wadada, Roscoe et Muhal, so you know where the roots of it are. A fantastic listen: complex, deep, yet elemental. Applause for Martin, please. - FRANCOIS COUTURE
How a story begins can be the key to what follows. And so it is here. Peter Fairclough earns his place in the band inside the first three minutes. He answers the introductory fanfares with a lucid percussion conversation that beats a ringing authority upon the drum heads. They are literally twice upon a time; the tom-toms propelling the whole septet into a shuffling deep-funk of glorious proportions. The Corey Mwamba vibraphone set-up is jumping across the melée like a keyboard, while the Archer/Stone-Lonergan horns blow through the rich theme allowing an articulate, agile flute to skid across the groove, cleverly underpinned by guitar chords that sound like they were sampled from a James ‘Blood’ Ulmer session. (They weren’t, but you know, that’s how gravelly they come on. Hunter-does-good.)
There is well over two hours of music on this beautifully put together two-disc recording. Martin Archer is a stickler for detail, so much so this is not a session for the casual listener. Musically it is packed full of information and enquiry, it travels distance both in real time within the studio and in the post-production mixing and engineering. And the ear has to be tuned to the story telling if the listener hopes to make sense of the density of the detail. There is no voice, no text, yet the music contains its own narrative. I always imagined that Miles’ Sketches Of Spain had a lyric. Like Mr Fairclough’s drums, language is not always via the spoken word.
A glance at the make-up of the six musicians involved and the variety of instruments, juxtaposing the double reed shawm, vibraphone, big guitar and a continuum of saxophones and trumpet, makes for multiple colours. The ensemble contains a couple of ‘now’ names like the aforementioned vibes player, Corey Mwamba and guitarist Anton Hunter, alongside UK stalwart-drummer, Peter Fairclough from the Tippett and Westbrook bands. Then there is trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan, fast getting herself a high profile around Manchester, and best-kept-secret Mick Somerset, who is a genuine genie when it comes to interpreting the Archer raison d’être. Structurally the music is divided into six books or characters – one for each musician and then subdivided again; each ‘book’ containing at least one short solo entry for a particular musician plus a ‘band version’ track of one of the characters and a version of the Story Tellers main theme. Each ‘book’ also includes a severe ‘re-mix’ or a coda.
It may all appear rather confusing in print (or screen), but once you sit back with two hours to spare simply exercising the ears, Story Tellers comes into focus just as if you had switched the lights on. Ms Stone-Lonergan is a fine soloist and her horn hones a deep vein centre whenever the whole band gets it ‘on’. Mr Somerset’s flute collection is a prize gift. He is not in the least fey or romanticised, nor ‘jazz’ in the Rahsaan Roland Kirk sense, rather he is an ascetic, a sound-painter with a precise front-line presence which permeates both the ‘written’ and improv sections. His acappella solo on Disc A, track 13, The Wounded Healer, is a delight and the ingenuity displayed in the segue into track 14, The Barbarian, with its weird call-and-response with Archer is a brilliant thing. This in-turn ushers in a fabulous trumpet passage over inactive brushwork from Mr Fairclough. It is definitive 2015/16 contemporary jazz. I hope Martin Archer will be happy with such a description; I mean it as the highest of compliments. By the time they hit Disc A’s track 15, Shaman Song, with the hand percussion pulsing the piece as if digging a path to a rocky salvation, you know this is a band who can work real time just as well as they do the studio.
I can’t allow myself not to mention Anton Hunter’s contribution. The Sandy Brown Jazz website was early to arrive on the Hunter-case. Both of the Hunter brothers (Anton and his sibling, the drummer, Johnny Hunter) have associations with Martin Archer projects. The Guitar-Hunter is not your standard six-string picker. He’s prone to feedback. I love it. He controls the electrics. He pushes it hard. But he also checks it. It can crash. Smash a space. Fry the air. Ride right across a straight rhythm. Drone it. Bury it in crackle as if the circuits have blown. The mercurial Disc B starts with a massive bout of electrics (I think some of it is additional post-production). The Guitar-Hunter is chronic, scratching the surface for two exquisitely tortured minutes before giving way to track 2, the magnificent Like It Was (the damned relative of Like It Is on Disc A). How music can heal its own fractures!! Like It Was pours saxophone, horns, vibes and drums onto the danger represented by the guitar showcase. By the end of Like It Was Anton Hunter is circling Martin Archer’s baritone as if he were begging for a Blue Note.
The closest music I know to the Story Tellers soundtrack is a collaborative album Jah Wobble and Evan Parker made in the year 2000 called Passage To Hades. It also featured Clive Bell on Thai pi saw flute and Jean-Pierre Rasle on bagpipes and crumhorn. And there is something about the use of these ‘non-conventional’ instruments alongside reeds and drums which is both disconcerting yet ultimately empowering. On Story Tellers, by the time Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan hits her stride on the final trumpet coda, Roscoe’s Blues, she has become indispensable. Her classic jazz instrument has had to negotiate its way through such a dense orchestra of colour that somehow it shines forth all the more having kept such exotic company as shawm and jews harp.
I originally picked up on Martin Archer in the previous Millennium when he was a member of the groundbreaking Hornweb Saxophone Quartet. Later, much later, he started working with Julie Tippetts, producing recordings such as Ghosts Of Gold, Fluvium, and the suspend-your-hearing-feel-the-temperature classic that few people know about, Serpentine (all available on the Discus label). There’s a narrative that links Story Tellers to Mr Archer’s other current project Engine Room Favourites. Both carry dedications to the venerable AACM collective from Chicago (Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell et al). Sheffield may seem a mighty distance from the Velvet Lounge, South Side Chicago; sometimes your closest neighbour is not in the immediate vicinity. I rate this new double-disc album highly. What’s two hours? The time it takes to watch a movie; switch off your screens, make a cup of tea and put on the audio, your ears will thank you. – STEVE DAY, SANDY BROWN JAZZ
Martin Archer's Story Tellers is constructed as a series of interlocking vignettes, linked both by certain recurring themes, narrative threads and the attribution of certain functional roles to each of these six musicians. In that sense, you have here what can usefully be seen and heard as a 'concept album' -and, incidentally, a remarkable musical achievement.
Thematic development has frequently been the boneyard of many an aspiring jazz composer. Story Tellers is built from a number of themes. Some are attached to an individual musician and explored both as solo and group pieces. Others—"Story Tellers," "Like It Is," "Shaman Song" and "Dedication Coda"—are explored a number of variations on a theme. Taken as a whole, Story Tellers, is cyclical in form with each cycle returning to one of two possible end points. In these respects, Story Tellers scores strongly in terms of thematic development.
Story Tellers comprises two CDs, 31 tracks of varying lengths and a total of 150 minutes of music. It is impossible to do it adequate justice in a review, so what follows is more a series of reflections on the music as a whole.
To begin, the influences (if that is not too strong a word) here comes from Archer's affection for both Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and for the best of 70s prog and jazz rock. The names checked on the three "Dedication Coda" are Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell but the music here also recalls for me the Art Ensemble of Chicago. One of the great joys on Story Tellers is the way these themes morph so easily from free, abstract structures into powerful, riff-based forms. Part of that is down to the musicians and the way they listen and communicate. Here, drummer Peter Fairclough is, as his name suggests, a rock. (Matthew Chapter 16, Verse 8) His ability to work across stylistic boundaries recalls others such Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and John Marshall.
The other aspect of the music that will strike the listener very forcefully is the use of coloration. Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, arguably one of the most compete vibes player to emerge since Gary Burton, and guitarist Anton Hunter are especially important in this respect. Mwamba gives the music a lucid, liquid, almost mystical quality, a sense heightened by the use of additional percussion and by the amazing range of tones that Mick Somerset draws from his collection of flutes. The effects achieved by Hunter on his guitar are enhanced by both the drone and ostinato patterns he brings to bear but also by the spindly, raga-like melody lines he spins. There is a wonderful depth and richness to the sound Archer and his cohorts achieve that is more often found, if at all, in larger groups in jazz.
Archer himself is on tremendous form, energetic and ruthless on the band version of "Wayfarer's Bastard," appropriately querulous on the solo version of "The Casuist." While I have often noted Archer's abilities as a musical collagist (though here, he reveals also skills comparable to those of a landscape artist), the fact is that he is a fine instrumentalist and improviser across a range of woodwinds.
Perhaps, the revelation here is trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan. I have heard her on other Archer recordings but, on Story Tellers, she seems to be reaching for something highly personal in her playing. Her playing on the band version of "The Barbarian" and on "Dedication Coda—Leo's Dream" reveals that perfect combination in a brass player—excellent tone, exceptional control and articulation coupled with the ability to attack each note when required.
The sheer range of music on Story Tellers is astonishing and stretches with ease from the more pastoral colours of "Story Tellers#2," where the AACM comparison is at its sharpest, to the dark hues of "The Rain Maker—band version." Such contrasts continue throughout. Listen to the polyrhythms that underpin "The Wounded Healer—band version" and compare this with the spacey psychedelia of "Like It Will Be" and the primal beats of "Shaman Song #3" (echoes of Rite of Spring?) This is music shaped built upon a grand vision of what jazz can be. - DUNCAN HEINING, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
As its title hints, this album has a literary spine, albeit one that has scoliosis. Literary allusion remains obscure since Story Tellers is entirely instrumental. Further, encripted within it is a numeric key, that being the number six. It is based on a cycle of six books, each with their own distinct theme, performed by six musicians who each also represent one of the six characters and take the lead or solo over the course of the six character themes that are distributed throughout the two hours and 26 minutes of this bold enterprise.
The album is by and large a live studio recording, but according to the sleevenotes themes often cross reference each other and are melded together at certain junctures in post-production edits. Books One to Three occupy the first CD and the narrative is as digressive and as encyclopaedic as The Life And Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Shifting between Cubist minimalism, Dolphy-esque baroque lyricism, bop phantasmagoria, seething, militant, existential funk and polyglottal free jazz abandon. Books Four to Six open with incandescent guitar feedback and freeze-dried silence. The use of space is unsettling though, as the silence is abruptly broken and events develop a paroxysmic psychedelic fitfulness. One also has the sensation that the magnetic core of the sextet seems to have abandoned its direct gravitational pull and we hear far more simultaneity from the musicians.
Despite their itinerancy and anguilliform fluidity, Archer's sextet maintain a solid collective identity and exert exceptional control over what it is they do. Story Tellers is a perfectly rendered blend of density of restraint, and an intriguing fabulation that doesn't so much demand your time as steal it. - RICHARD THOMAS, THE WIRE
Superb! - SQUIDCO
Un altro progetto estremamente affascinante, accurato e intenso di Martin Archer - KATHODIK
In musikalischer Hinsicht ist eher freier Jazz die Basis dieser Klänge, ein mehr oder weniger improvisiertes, um die vorgegebenen Themen gewobenes Tongemenge, welches aber durchaus strukturiert und oft deutlich rockend aus den Boxen gleitet. Blasinstrumente und die E-Gitarre bestimmen das Klanggeschehen, unterstützt von Vibraphon, recht viel hallender Perkussion und Schlagwerk. Freier Jazz in der Tradition der AACM (der Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), der Jazz mit moderner Klassik verbindet, Brassrock, Retro-Canterburyartiges, buntes Klangmalen und Free-Rock erklingt hier, dicht vermengt, sehr abwechslungsreich instrumentiert, virtuos vorgetragen und bisweilen angereichert mit etwas Elektronik
Wer die etwas bläserlastigen Canterbury-Produktionen der 70er Jahre schätzt, die Alben von Nucleus z.B., der sollte auch an dieser Musik Gefallen finden, so er den keine Aversionen gegen ausgedehntere jazzige Soli, freieres Klangdurcheinander, akustisches Tonschweben und verzerrt-wüste E-Gitarrenexkurse (man höre z.B. “Story Tellers #4”) hat. Gerade die etwas rockigeren Nummern (meist das zweite Stück in jedem Buch) machen ausgesprochen viel Spaß (man höre z.B. „Go Heavy“ oder das voluminöse „Like It Will Be“) und vermengen sehr gelungen elektrifiziertes Lärmen mit geheimnisvollen bis flotte Flötenspuren, Blechexkursen, filigranen Vibraphongespinsten und sehr viel Rhythmus. In den „Shaman Songs“ lassen sich zudem hypnotisch-repetitve Muster ausmachen, tribales Getrommel und allerlei monotonales Tonschweben, was gelegentlich für gewisse krautig-meditative Assoziationen sorgt.
„Story Tellers“ ist ein weiteres hervorragendes Album aus dem Hause Archer, sein bestes seit „In stereo gravity“, welches aus sehr gelungene Weise Jazz, Brassrock, Canterbury und Avantgardistisch-Rockiges miteinander verbindet oder aneinander reiht. Fazit: Schräg, free, intensiv, farbig ... stark! - ACHIM BREILING, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
First off - cards on the table. Where jazz is concerned I am no more than a dilettante. I am familiar with the obvious jazz musicians who crossed over into rock in the mid to late 60s and kick started fusion, and the more well known names like Mingus and Coltrane, and of course with Miles Davis, whose musical genius extends far beyond the jazz base camp, a genre that underwent seismic shifts as a direct result of Miles' innovations on more than one occasion.
That said it has been a pleasure partaking of a crash course into Martin Archer's long held improvisational inspiration, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective of Chicago based jazz musicians formed in 1965 to explore new ways and means of composition to counter the rise of pop and rock that back then was threatening the very existence of their musical raison d'etre. My whirlwind tour of the Windy City's finest concentrated specifically on the three musicians Martin lists in tribute in the cover notes to this fine double CD, namely pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Abrams' Young At Heart/Wise In Time is astonishing....must spend some more time in that universe when I have the time.
Martin has released numerous albums wearing different hats, among which are the explorer of the songform with Julie Tippetts, fabulous and massive Deutschrock improv with Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, and wayward avant electronica with Inclusion Principle, to name but three, but on Story Tellers he returns to his true home, that of composer, arranger and player of reed instruments in a semi-improvised jazz band setting.
Story Tellers is played by a sextet, the double CD comprising six long suites, or "Books", each approximately 20 minutes long, and each with linking themes to create one long cycle. The six Books are divided into five or six Chapters, through which the common themes evolve. Within each Book, "each "Story Teller" has their own solo Chapter...and each of these individual themes are also combined in different pairs with additional textural material and improvisation models to form more Chapters...Some Books end with a Shaman Drone; others have an individual coda as a fifth Chapter." Martin describes all this in the cover notes as a "simple" idea! Well, he may say that, I couldn't possibly comment.
Improvisations on the common theme, rhythmic sections and duets link around a basic structure that gives free reign to all the individual players' not inconsiderable skills. With my knowledge of this area of jazz music being about as deep as the President Elect's intellect, I therefore confess that any insight I may be able to give is and can only be, impressionistic. Ah...that's a good word, this music transfers from the steam powered hi-fi's speakers to this listener as an aural impressionist painting, a place where the ground is constantly shifting and nothing is quite as solid as it may seem.
I particularly dig the odd staccato rhythms of the Like It Is (and Was or Will Be) sections, as it flirts with conventional tuneage in an impish fashion. Another highlight is the minimalist conversation between flute, sax, and later numerous percussion items on the band version of The Barbarian, that ramps up the intensity during a clattering and fraught Shaman Song #2, a piece that ends in a calm medative state, many miles from its cacophonous beginnings. Much like the album as a whole, where you end is not where you begin, but a river runs through it.
The twists and turns continue into Book 4, as Anton Hunter's abstract guitar pushes the raft away from the shore, soon to be joined by tribal drums and sonorous reeds for Like It Was as the ensemble revisit the by now familiar theme, from yet another angle. The transition from the intensive sax parping of Story Tellers #5 to the bass rumble of Like It Will Be moves the listener from one small room to a wide open space of avant-rock expansiveness. You may guess that the Like It... chapters are my personal sonic centres on this album, as they connect most easily to my rockist sensibilities. If there are any jazzers reading this, I make no apologies! Anton Hunter's treated guitar prowls, grumbles, screeches and snarls while drummer and percussionist Peter Fairclough, who may well be the true star of this ensemble, lays down a devilishly blue shuffle that leads proceedings from A to B via deep caverns and dirty ginnels, before taking his own brief solo spotlight with some deft runs and fills on The Wayfarer's Bastard. Just what the doctor ordered!
In the final book, the thrum of the band version of The Wounded Healer rides tumultuous waves before a rare gap in proceedings into Anton Hunter's solo spot, which commences in a considered manner, tension rising incrementally on echoed single notes. Then The Casuist returns to the simple theme, pursued by demons cackling away on percussion and guitar, all the while the sax admirably sticking to its guns. A suitable way to end before the final dedication, this time to Roscoe Mitchell, Martin Archer blowing and bowing out on a smoky blues.
This has been a fascinating trip, and for me an education, and music does not get much better than that. - ROGER TRENWITH, ASTOUNDED BY SOUND
A sumptuous jazz-based release from Martin Archer, the UK composer, bandleader, improviser and wearer of many other hats. Story Tellers contains two CDs generously laden with highly enjoyable English electric jazz, packed with melody, swing, and passion, and bound to appeal to anyone who enjoys the so-called “Electric” Miles records, Keith Tippett’s big bands of the 1970s, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, the Escalator Over The Hill record, and such like. I’m always impressed when I hear a powerful Charles Mingus record and assume that it must be an 18-piece orchestra playing, then am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be a quintet. I had the same sensations when I learned just six players were responsible for Story Tellers, and from what I can gather most of this material is heard as played in the studio, and there is very little post-production work. The band are Mick Somerset, Archer, trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan, vibes player Corey Mwamba, guitarist Anton Hunter, and percussionist Peter Fairclough. All, as it happens, are accomplished bandleaders in their own right. Some are familiar names; Fairclough and Mwamba played on Archer’s Engine Room Favourites record in 2015, for instance.
Speaking of that release, Archer continues his pursuit of the AACM aesthetic, and remains convinced of the value of that high watermark in American jazz. Speaking about it in the context of this project, he says he particularly wanted to arrive at music that was “improvised and personal to the players”, but also wanted to ensure it could be repeatable, with close attention paid to a structural form that would allow this. A certain tension between spontaneity and structure. As ever, Archer tellingly points out that “AACM musicians solved this…issue several decades ago”.
Part of that structure could be the “literary” theme, which adds a frame of sorts; it divides the music on Story Tellers into six Books, each with chapters, and each book telling the story of a particular imagined character. Well, more like an archetype perhaps; for instance, Mick Somerset plays the role of “The Wounded Healer”, Archer is “The Casuist”, and so on. Some of the ideas here may have been inspired by or provided by Mick Somerset, who – though he plays a wide array of wind instruments and percussion – is a self-confessed outsider who works “on the periphery of jazz music”, and is feels more at home with words and stories. The Books are carefully structured, so that each one follows a set pattern – always starting with a stated musical theme to introduce the character, and including a solo section, and a coda. Further, the Books refer to each other, quoting musical phrases from the other Books as appropriate, to suggest cross-pollination and collaboration between the characters. Though what they’re playing is jazz, Archer has pretty much created a classical song cycle; “you could say…[it] comprises six versions of the same piece” is his take on it.
The aim with this book structure and array of characters is not to tell a story in a conventional sense; rather I take it as a metaphor for the collaboration itself, an expression of the way that the players co-operate and interact with each other, “infecting” each other’s themes with their own. This could be further taken as a metaphor for all music (all successful music at any rate), where the joy of creation becomes a shared activity, and not merely a selfish indulgence for one person, a charge that has often been levelled at lead guitarists taking excessive solos in rock music, or any self-indulgent player who merely satisfies their own needs, ignoring the other players, and even ignoring the audience. Conversely, the good vibes of this group transfer directly onto the grooves here – “we had a ball making it”, to use Archer’s own expression – and will pass onto all who hear it. From 10th August 2016. - ED PINSENT, SOUND PROJECTOR