66CD - Martin Archer + Engine Room Favourites - Safety Signal From A Target Town
This suite is the third and most ambitious release by my AACM influenced big band. Across three releases, the band has developed from the original idea of saxophone + percussion quartet + studio based orchestration as heard on the first release Blue Meat, Black Diesel and Engine Room Favourites, via a second CD Bad Tidings From Slackwater Drag, which gave the band a simple framework for live performance, and finally to the current release which features a larger group and more complex scores.
I’m not usually one for programmatic music, but these pieces were conceived and written very quickly in the final 2 months of 2016. The titles enable the listener to imagine their own story of a world moving in exactly the opposite direction to the version most people would wish to live in.
- Safety Signal From A Target Town
- Perfect Soldier
- The Playground In The Desert
- Happy Birthday! Mr President (aka POTUS F U)
- One Minute To Midnight
All the music was composed as audio in my studio, with all the parts performed by myself. Laura Cole somehow managed to turn my demos into the scores we used in the studio, and this music could not have been performed without her hard work. I’m incredibly lucky to have access to this fantastic group of players who learned and recorded the pieces from scratch over the course of two days in the wonderful Real World Studio in Wiltshire. Minimum edits and overdubs were made back at Discus Music Studio to complete the release.
AACM music has been a constant throughout my listening life, and when I consciously steered my own music back towards being essentially played live as opposed to studio collaged a few years ago, I was naturally drawn to make my own interpretation of that music, whose combination of considered spaciousness and white heat improvisation continues to be my ideal. However, those of you who know my non jazz music will also be aware that I’m equally drawn to the very English tradition whose spirit produced the finest music of the 1970s from folk and prog through to jazz and improv in this country.
So, I’m pleased and maybe a little surprised to find that the feel of Safety Signal From A Target Town seems to combine both of those traditions. I always stress to the Favourites that the music must always keep the blues close, no matter how abstract it all gets, because that’s the fuel for the passion which drives the music, and in this instance also informs the subject matter hinted at in the titles. But I’m also hearing echoes here from the very English tradition of ambitious, large scale jazz and jazzrock releases, the like of which are maybe not so common these days.
I hope I’m able to make a meaningful addition to that continuum with this release.
MARTIN ARCHER - saxophones
MICK BECK - tenor saxophone, bassoon
SETH BENNETT - bass
GRAHAM CLARK - violin
LAURA COLE - piano
STEVE DINSDALE - percussion
PETER FAIRCLOUGH - drums
JOHNNY HUNTER - drums
KIM MACARI - trumpet
GEORGE MURRAY - trombone
COREY MWAMBA - vibraphone
WALT SHAW - percussion
RILEY STONE-LONERGAN - tenor saxophone, clarinet
ANTHONY DONOVAN - sleeve artist
Here’s a CD that deserves a shout out. The music on this CD flows organically from wild-eyed improvisation to tight-knit ensembles playing Archer’s often intricate charts, and it neatly sidesteps two of the bugbears of jazz in the 21st century: blandness and predictability. With some groups/players you know precisely what you’re going to get from the first few bars, but this takes you to interesting places you had no idea you were going to visit. There’s a conceptual debt to early AACM, especially Roscoe Mitchell’s ensembles, but with light polystylistic touches that incorporate elements of jazz-rock and folk. Avoiding quotation or imitation is the best way to honour the debt, and that’s what Archer does. He and Engine Room Favourites have made a substantial music with its own distinct characteristics. It’s beautifully recorded, too.
Music for a better world - DUNCAN HEINING
So this album music is always full of surprises, interesting and stunning musical decisions and has a marvelous and interesting sound. Bright, evocative and innovative musical language, masterful and original instrumentation, high variety of different music styles, marvelous and outstanding improvising – all these elements create an original, vivacious, dynamic and gorgeous sound. - AVANTSCENA
A smart mix of punchy themes, orchestrated textures & robust improv - SID SMITH
Sheffield’s Martin Archer is one of music’s undersung heroes, tirelessly promoting new music through his and Mick Beck’s Discus label and helming numerous groups, both large and small. He certainly has a penchant for the big band, putting a contemporary spin on prog, krautrock and jazz-rock fusion with Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, and taking inspiration from the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Music (AACM) with Engine Room Favourites. Safety Signal From A Target Town is the latter group’s third and most ambitious release to date. The 13-strong list of personnel reads like a who’s who of improvising musicians outside the capital, from Derby’s Graham Clark and Corey Mwamba, to Leeds’ Laura Cole, and Manchester’s Johnny Hunter. Trumpeter Kim Macari and saxophonist Riley Stone-Longeran are now based in London, but maintain strong links with the Scottish and Northern scenes.
As Archer writes in his sleeve notes, although he’s not much given to programmatic music, “the titles enable the listener to imagine their own story of a world moving in exactly the opposite direction to the version most people would wish to live in.” The music was written in the final months of 2016, so it’s perhaps no surprise to see a track called ‘Happy Birthday! Mr President (aka POTUS FU)’. Archer demoed all the parts himself, before calling on Cole to help write the score. Once assembled, the group banged it all out in two days: impressive.
The title track begins with a pensive piano motif, around which saxophone, skittering percussion and bass carefully circle. Archer’s sputtering baritone sax kicks things up a gear, and the piece goes through several stages before resolving in a Rhodes-laced Latin groove that’s offset by Macari’s angular trumpet. The animated rhythms of ‘Perfect Soldier’ have something of the hip, metropolitan feel of early 60s Blue Note, with Mwamba’s vibraphone dancing around Seth Bennett’s pacey bass runs. The final passage introduces a sweeping modal theme with a Middle Eastern flavour. That continues on ‘Playground In The Desert’, the main theme of which has a touch of Sun Ra’s big band exotica. The mood darkens halfway through as the piece breaks down into a reflective piano, bass and vibraphone feature.
Violinist Graham Clark gets an extended feature on ‘Happy Birthday! Mr President’, swinging like Billy Bang or Renee Baker over a sardonic big band riff. ‘One Minute To Midnight/Beijing Halflife’ ends the album on a more abstract note, with Mick Beck’s bassoon and George Murray’s trombone negotiating an otherworldly environment of percussive textures. Gradually, a jagged motif emerges, only to fall away for an arco bass feature. The band slowly re-enters in an improvisatory manner, leaning heavily on unconventional tones and extended techniques. No matter how free it gets, there’s an underlying structure at play, so that when we arrive at the wistful violin and piano coda, the listener feels that they have been taken somewhere. A terrific big band suite, giving space to individual voices while forming a cohesive whole. - STEWART SMITH, THE QUIETUS