60CD - Archer / Clark / Grew / Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum
Second release in a new series of small groups drawn from members of the Discus Music family. The concept is for the group to meet, write, rehearse and record in one single session - old school style!
Ten compositions from all four players edited into a continuous sequence of structure and improvisation, embracing melody, texture and pure abstraction.
Once again in collaboration with the fabulous Chilean artist Gonzalo Fuentes / Guerrilla Graphics.
Martin Archer - alto, sopranino and baritone saxophones
Graham Clark - violin
Stephen Grew - piano
Johnny Hunter - drums
Fresh, dynamic, uninhibited and virtuoso - ACHIM BREILING, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
Amanda’s Drum is the opening track, I’ve no information about Amanda especially as the percussion on the album belongs to ‘Johnny’s drum’. It is Mr Johnny Hunter himself who crashes onto the scene at this party. If you’ve been reading in-between the lines of the Sandy Brown Jazz website over the last 18 months you’ll already know he is one of our favourite drummers. This album goes a long way to explaining why.The quartet line-up on Felicity’s Ultimatum is sonically balanced (plus, the whole album has 10 track titles naming particular women and their possessions – in Felicity’s case it isn’t an object, but a demand and she gets the title track).
The vivid presence of Stephen Grew broods over this album, a detailed pianist capable of restraint as well as full-on crescendo; a player who keeps a low profile yet is among the most deeply inventive pianists in the UK. His solo album Lit & Phil Suite, reviewed in August 2015, is worth catching. Here in Martin Archer’s quartet Felicity sessions he acquits himself with aplomb, tirelessly sparking events whilst still holding up the middle ground, spraying tough and tender lines with purpose. Graham Clark’s violin is a smart addition. He’s a member of Archer’s small big band, Engine Room Favourites, and a number of other Discus projects. Years ago I used to catch Mr Clark in Bristol. He seemed to play every gig possible, and ended up in Europe in a late version of Daevid Allen’s Gong. Here he bows with stealth.
On the short, Jane’s Ruin, it begins with Hunter and Grew stoking a fire of repeats and then you detune your ears to an awareness of Mr Clark’s strings gradually harmonising the picture until he is countering their statements. On Bessie’s Greens, in effect a ‘Bird’ Parker abstraction for Martin Archer, the violin turns the tables and produces a coda of guile and smooth grit. It’s beautifully executed. Of course, there is no bass player. I’m a believer in bass players, but sometimes if a substitution is made, or even, heaven forbid, the daring do of leaving the bottom end totally empty, what you get is a space. And space can be just as productive as filling it with time and motion. What you get on Felicity’s Ultimatum is a lot of light and air around Martin Archer’s sopranino and alto horns, particularly when chorusing with violin. When they need something deep down underneath there’s the occasional use of baritone sax to burnish the bottom.
It also means that the Hunter-Drummer designs his own line – Sonya’s Goat could be modern be-bop if they let it, but the drums are constantly re-folding the rhythm round a circular improv catching on the hop the composition element. I’m not saying a bassist couldn’t have found a home here, but leaving the vacancy allows for an open door policy when it comes to running the voodoo down (so to speak).
Okay, right in the centre of the running order is Masayo’s Experiment, one of two improvised workouts. I can reveal the worse kept secret ever, that Masayo Asahara is someone very close to Martin Archer’s heart, particularly since they share the same initials. Love it. Masayo’s Experiment sounds different to the other tracks. Same line-up, same recording session, but twice the length of most of the companion pieces, it positively tracks forth like searching for its own story. They wait for each other. Right at the beginning there’s this hint of strings and horn testing weight and wait. How long is he going to hold that note? How heavy is he going to make the irruption? Mr Grew’s entry seems to settle things down for a while, but damn, he drops out again. It is Martin Archer getting in touch with his Masayo Asahara which propels the quartet forward and it is Johnny Hunter flicking cymbals and fast hi-hat that presents everyone with a firm basis to heave in a dramatic central cascade. Turn it up! The foursome become ferocious. For a while they sound invincible until they eventually break down into a keyboard abstraction. And they grow space between them as if the empty quarter were additional colour. Mr Archer takes time out on each of his three horns. A reminder that despite his reputation as a producer/composer, he’s actually a soloist with a very broad range; a systematic sax maestro. Masayo’ Experiment leaves the speakers with Clark’s violin taking on what amounts to the classical form. I wonder what he’d be like in a Kronos Quartet set-up?
My tip for listening to an album is always listen to the last track. How musicians choose to end a session is as important as how they begin. Agnese’s Fan (as in those whirring electric things, essential to life in Thailand if not in Derbyshire) begins almost silently. Agnese does not whir. There’s a filigree of Johnny Hunter percussion, cracking wood, low rushed rolls, soft strikes, crushed touches on cymbal bells. Unison lines from Clark/Archer throughout; Grew gracing a counter melody from in-between the air pockets. They all arrive at the end together, unhurried, harmoniously true, speaking through instruments which deliver an Ultimatum that I can only guess at. I don’t need to know the detail. I have just played Agnese’s Fan four or five times. If they have the time to take five and half minutes to play it, I certainly have half an hour to examine my own response. This is music. No one has come here to mark time.
Once more Martin Archer has produced another fine and detailed thing. He’s been around a long time but some people finally come into themselves just at the point when the hot chocolate is being poured for them. There’s nothing sickly sweet about Felicity’s Ultimatum. This is a definitive Ultimatum delivered by a different kind of quartet. And it is music conceived out of a history but only possible because it is played as of NOW. I’m even going to suggest that if Sandy Brown were alive today he could be taking his clarinet to Sheffield. He never stood still. To maintain the mainstream it has to have fresh water, to be continually on the move, alive to organisms, eventually it will sublimate itself to the oceans. At which point we have to encounter the deep. – STEVE DAY, SANDY BROWN JAZZ
This return to real time improvisation presents an intriguing prospect, and Archer doesn't disappoint. There is much to enjoy.....Archer and Clark become like a hybrid instrument melting into balletic sweeps from Johnny Hunter's kit in a spacious and disciplined improvisation - PHILIP CLARK, JAZZWISE
Ten compositions from all four players edited into a continuous sequence of structure and improvisation, embracing melody, texture and pure abstraction. – SQUIDCO
The bracketed subtitle "Rachel's Walk(with Roscoe)" is a dead giveaway. Though Martin Archer has released a compendious jumble of music through his Discus label, he maintains an abiding fascination with the music of Roscoe Mitchell and the extended AACM family. It's plain as day right from the opening moments of this new album by a hand-picked quartet of Discus associates: the fanfare like head of "Amanda's Drum" presses Archer's vinegary sopranino sax into astringent unison with Graham Clark's violin, vividly recalling the collaborations of Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins. At the same time, Stephen Grew's nervous piano ripples pull against the precise percussion undertow of Johnny Hunter's woodblock ping and miniscule rattle. - DANIEL SPICER, THE WIRE
On ‘Felicity’s Ultimatum’, a different blend of instruments produces a different set of musical patterns. On first listen to this, I wasn’t aware that the quartet lacked a bass, so compelling was the rhythmic drive across the 10 pieces. Here, Archer works with the violin on Clark (a member of Archer’s ‘Engine Room Favourites’ small big band, as well as Gong and the Magick Brothers), the piano of Grew (who, amongst other projects, duets with saxophonist Trevor Watts and plays in the improve-electronic ensemble Grutronic) and Hunter (also of Engine Room Favourites) on drums. On several tracks, saxophones and violin work together as one pair, and drums and piano as another. So, on ‘Jane’s Ruin’, track 2, sax and violin provide a sort of drone as backdrop to the punchy exposition of the theme by piano and drums, or on ‘Bessie’s Greens’, track 3, sax and piano play a sort of blues theme, punctuated by piano and drums. What I enjoyed was the ways in which Grew and Hunter were often exploring the shadows around the main themes in wonderfully rich detail. It is interesting to note that Hunter, as well as a skilful improv-jazz drummer, is also involved in dub reggae and this might have come into some of the ways that he found space between the different instruments for his drum patterns. Of course, this makes it sound as if there was a clear demarcation of roles and it is quite clear that each player has equal contribution to make (not just in terms of the credits on the track listing) but also in terms of when and how they take solos across the pieces; occasionally two solos collide and then bounce off each other, at other times an instrument comes to the fore and the others drop back to leave it space. What is delightful about the way that the quartet works here is the way in which there never seems to be any hesitation as to when to play or what to play. There is sense of instinctive collaboration in the ways that each piece develops. Bearing in mind that this set, like that on the first CD, was planned, practised and recorded in a single session, there is a lot to admire in the ways that the players are able to create music. What is even more impressive is that the pieces are of such quality and are so memorable. One of my favourite pieces on this CD was ‘Amanda’s Drum’, track 1, which begins with a sort of saxophone fanfare over jagged piano and skittering drums before dropping into a violin piece that carried the elegiac air of a sonata. The piece felt so well structured that it was difficult to get any sense of the performance being ‘free’. But, what you get on these CDs is the way that Archer (as he’s often done in the past) is able to work with musicians to blur the boundaries between the composed, the improvised, the random and silent spaces in between each of these. – Chris Baber, Jazz Views.
Discus label-head, saxist, composer & producer, Martin Archer, now has a stable of British jazz & creative musicians who he selects from for each of his different projects. This (so far) one-time quartet features Graham Clark on violin (formerly with later Gong projects), pianist Stephen Grew (who works with Trevor Watts & a piano quartet w/ Keith Tippett, Howard Riley & Pat Thomas) and drummer Johnny Hunter (who has worked with Mr. Archer on several projects).
What I like most about Mr. Archer is that writes new music for each of his dozen plus projects, rarely dealing with exclusively free music which is much easier to do with musicians of a certain caliber. Although Mr. Archer wrote half of the ten tracks here, other members of the quartet have also contributed a few pieces. “Amanda’s Drum” starts off with a quick written theme which then slows down to a freer sounding episode. Each of the song titles refer to a thing or an idea which is owned by a different woman. There are two improvised pieces here which sound partially written or at least thoughtfully handled. Unlike many of Mr. Archer’s other projects, this one is mostly acoustic. On “Masayo’s Experiment”, the longer of the two improv pieces, the quartet really stretch out with some incredible tight, intense and festive interplay. The improvised pieces or sections make for some stunning playing since everyone listens closely and reacts by in surprising ways. The written sections bring things into focus and show some tasty fragments arranged in different ways. Violinist Graham Clark, who I’ve only heard from a few times in the past, really stands out here, soloing as well as interacting impressively within different bursts of activity. Archer’s “Rachel’s Walk” features his bari sax leading the way through a strong walking groove, with Mr. Grew’s piano erupting into an incredible piano solo midway. There is way too much great music here to describe considering this disc is some 75 minutes long. Considering that Discus has recently hit their 91st release, how Mr. Archer maintains such a successful batting average is hard to belief. Discus may just be the UK label of the last few years! - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
L’etichetta Discus-Music presenta quesot nuovo lavoro divertente e ispirato di Martin Archer ai sax, Graham Clark al violino, Stephen Grew al piano e Johnny Hunter alla batteria. Si tratta di dieci tracce, tutte dedicate ad altrettante donne (Amanda’s Drum, Jane’s Ruin, Bessie’s Green, e così via, compresa la traccia eponima Felicity’s Ultimatum), in parte caratterizzate dalla presentazione di brevi temi ripetuti (alcuni molto cantabili e facilmente memorizzabili) che lascia poi spazio alle improvvisazioni, spesso molto libere e nel complesso sostenute da un robusto groove. Particolarmente riuscite sono la collaborazione tra i sax e il violino (molto bravo Clark, anche negli accompagnamenti), senza dimenticare il solido contributo di batteria e piano (capaci di intessere convincenti maglie di suono), così come l’alternanza tra le melodie (a volte solo accennate, altre volte nettamente scavate nella materia sonora) e la pura astrazione. Registrato in un sol giorno nell’ottobre 2016, il CD restituisce la freschezza di una session d’interplay musicale in cui gruppo e solisti diventano alternativamente protagonisti, distribuendo equamente nell’intreccio di composizioni e improvvisazioni il peso di monologhi e conversazioni - Alessandro Bertinetto, KATHODIK (4.5 STARS)
The label Discus-Music presents this new diverting and inspired work by Martin Archer - sax, Graham Clark - violin, Stephen Grew - piano and Johnny Hunter - drums. This is ten tracks, all dedicated to as many women (Amanda's Drum, Jane's Ruin, Bessie's Greens, and so on, including the eponymous track Felicity's Ultimatum), marked by the presentation of short repeated themes (some very singable and easily memorable) which then leaves room for improvisation, often very loose and overall driven by a strong groove. Particularly successful are the collaboration between the sax and violin (excellent Clark, also in the accompaniments), without forgetting the strong contribution of drums and piano (able to weave compelling sound links), as well as alternating between melodies (sometimes only hinted at, sometimes sharply cut into the sound) and pure abstraction. Recorded in one day in October 2016, the CD brings the freshness of a session of musical interplay in which group and soloists become alternately protagonists, distributing evenly in the interweaving of compositions and improvisations the weight of monologues and conversations. - Alessandro Bertinetto, KATHODIK (4.5 STARS)
Felicity’s Ultimatum je v určitých bodech s předešlým albem shodné, v jiných protikladné. Je muzikantsky více rozlišené, tematicky naopak ujednocené vztahem k dívčím jménům od Amandy přes Rachel až k titulní Felicity. Tyto sondy mají jako základ zřejmě zkoumavé, až průzkumné portrétování, zároveň však obsahují podotazníky vzhledem ke zvolenému námětu, spjatému s portrétovanou osobností. A tak se charakteristiky čenžují od rozjásanosti přes paběrkování nebo tirádovost po rušnou vévodivost či něhyplné odhalování. Zásluhu na vyznění mají všichni: Clark s tklivými houslemi, provláčňujícími děj, hazardujícími s jednotlivými tóny, nadnášejícími se v zastíraném napětí nebo v závratňujícím náletování, ale také s polosmělými výmyky do vzrušeného reje; zákopné bicí Johnnyho Huntera, prosakující do vybíjeného horempádění, dohmatávající se do dunivé kanonády či ruinující příběh do virválu; Grew s klavírem, který čas od času přebírá úlohu sdělovatele, někdy s meditativní výtržností i výdržností, jindy převalivou hravostí, provokující k dalším intimním sdělením tu s roztěkaným znervózněním, tu s vydůrazněnou přehršlovostí, ještě jindy s tlumenou podrážděností až po závodivé běsnění. Hunterovy saxofony to vše prolínají s neutrhačnou povídavostí, až žvanivostí, s chamtivou proderností, vzpěňují vzedmuté proudnění, plné šejdrujících malichernůstek, z(á)vratně se promyškovávají tónovými chumly, vymiliskovávají se do nečekaných dimenzí, protikladně exhibují s houslemi, s nimiž jsou v důvěrném propojení, jeho varovný baryton si perfektně, až do překotné tancechytivosti zaduetuje s bicími. Od zašifrovávané zajíkavosti s drobítkovými prořeknutími přes ráznou plavnost až po vzpříčený nadchaos, tak probíhá celý tento „den žen“ a vyúsťuje v libozvučnou objímavost, zúročuje předestřenou poctu a něhu. Martin Archer s touto proorganizovanou závratností opětovně prokázal nejen, že si ví rady s každou (vy)volenou situací, ale že zvládne postupy, jaké si prostě zamane. - KULTURNI