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
Once again, British multi-reedman Martin Archer leads his large ensemble, Engine Room Favourites, through a myriad of persuasive developments. The band's assertive modus operandi is occasionally sectionalized during various motifs, where minimalist structures, free-form outbursts, structured horns charts and many other factors come into play. Indeed, they pack a mighty wallop coming from all angles on this 76-minute program.
Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba is a colorist via his cool and sleek passages during more conventional modern jazz segments. Yet the ensemble's chameleonic qualities are evidenced on "Perfect Soldier," where big band style choruses are offset with salty spinoffs and violinist Graham Clark's seething solo as the musicians transparently toggle between avant-garde expressionism and progressive jazz formats. At times they launch motifs intimating that an emergency has occurred. Adding some bluesy angst and calamitous exchanges, the band shifts strategy with a budding Latin-jazz groove amid thorny horns and playful discourses on "The Playground In The Desert."
" Happy Birthday Mr. President" is a swashbuckling bop / free bop fest with alternating currents, as the musicians are commemorating a president somewhere on the planet. Moreover, several other thematic buildups on this album are erected with odd-metered arrangements, layered horns, and slowly paced off-centered discourses heard on the final track, "One Minute To Midnight / Beijing Halflife." But leave it to Archer and his upbeat ensemble to foster many divergent pathways and seamlessly converge matters into a dynamic chain of events with a sparkling soundstage and numerous detours. – Four stars - Glenn Astarita, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
An area of jazz still underexplored is that made under the auspices of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), particularly by the Art Ensemble of Chicago during the 1960s and ’70s, their decades of greatest innovation. Although the Art Ensemble’s loose-limbed swagger was jazz-based, blues-imbued and American through and through, it also had a strong African flavour, notably in the way they used small percussion instruments, giving them a role equal in the music to that of saxophones, trumpet, double bass and drumkit. Essentially they drew on the improvisational musics of the black diaspora and recontextualised them in the jazz tradition.
The innovations of Roscoe Mitchell and fellow AACMers, Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams and Wadada Leo Smith weren’t lost on Martin Archer His music, like theirs, draws inspiration from many sources and is ambitious and wide-ranging, as exemplified by his 2016 release, Story Tellers (Discus 57), which assigned specific roles and tale-telling requirements to each of seven instrumentalists. I’m happy to report that Safety Signal from a Target Town is no less ambitious and every bit as successful.
Archer (saxophones, bass recorder) is joined by 12 musicians from the Discus stable (several of whom were also on Story Tellers), all strong improvisers capable of moving seamlessly from open-ended free sections to knotty, fully composed passages. If the large number of musicians on Safety Signal suggests a big band, with sectional play and spotlit solos, well, that’s part of the story but by no means all.
As with the work of the Art Ensemble, instrumental roles are democratised. The ensembles thicken and thin according to need, though there are relatively few moments when everyone plays at the same time. There are two drummer/percussionists and two additional percussionists but, again, they rarely all play at once, though when they do they can sound like a field of cicadas. Even the most tumultuous passages are lucidly presented, helped no end by the top-notch recording, made last year at Real World Studios. The way a squall-section midway through the title track is brought to heel by a descending phrase from Archer’s baritone saxophone, allowing Seth Bennett’s double bass to instigate a jazz-rock section pitched somewhere between the slinky flow of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and the often more rhythmically foursquare early albums by Ian Carr’s Nucleus, is typical of the shifts in emphasis in these compositions and how well they’re handled throughout.
Archer composed the themes and demo’d them at home, overdubbing all the parts himself, and pianist Laura Cole transcribed the material and made scores. She’s also responsible for additional voicings. Between them they’ve done an excellent job; the compositions are memorable and the instrumental configurations offer considerable variety. It’s often in the transitions between themed and open material where you notice how subtly things have been done. There is, for example, an exquisite breakdown section near the centre of the longest track, The Playground in the Desert, where Cole, then Corey Mwamba (vibraphone) are joined by Bennett’s bass in dreamy free improvisation before the theme kicks back in.
Safety Signal from a Target Town turns jazz touchstones over to find out what’s underneath. It’s a strong contender for jazz album of the year! - BRIAN MARLEY, LONDOM JAZZ NEWS
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
Martin Archer impresses by his numerous musical projects. This new release, ‘Safety Signal from a Target Town’, I really enjoyed. A fantastic album! It is the third release of this project Engine Room Favourites. It started with ‘Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites’ in 2013. Archer pointed out that the Chicago-based AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) is his main source of inspiration for this project. The Art Ensemble of Chicago for example was on important exponent of this movement. ‘Bad Tidings From Slackwater Drag’(2015) continues on this road, as does his latest. Archer wrote the music for this release in the last two months of 2016. The ensemble needed no more than two days to record the music. Archer works with a big line up here..... Most improvisations start from melodic and thematic elements plus rhythm, interspersed by climaxing sections of total free improvisation. But how strong these contrasts may be, there is still continuity and a leading focus. It are open spaced out improvisations sometimes with a relaxed groove like in the second part of the title track. They invite the listener to dwell around and feel relaxed in their African flavoured jazzy structures. Archer makes full use of the ensemble, dividing them sometimes in different sections, and giving room for spirited solos. - VITAL WEEKLY
Launched on January 1, 2018, the album introduces new crisp, rich and intense Martin Archer (saxophones) and his new band, made up Mick Beck (tenor saxophone, bassoon), Set Bennett (double bass), Graham Clark(violin), Laura Cole (piano), Steve Dinsdale (percussion), Peter Fairclough (drums), Johny Hunter (drums), Kim Macari (trumpet), George Murray (trombone), Corey Mwamba (vibraphone), Walt Shaw (percussion) and Riley Stone-Lonergan (tenor sax, clarinet). These musicians formed mostly in the school of jazz improvisation, here free to have fun going through and creatively and ruminating genres (bebop, avant-garde, lounge, free improvisation, but also rock-jazz and progressive rock ...) in five long tracks. The shorter, Happy Birthday Mr President with us for 10 minutes, while the longest, The Playground in the Desert, invites us to 20 minutes of careful listening and absorbtion. Are very complex compositions of Archer, excellently arranged and sumptuously played. Their titles, in line with the album name, recall stories and landscapes of war. Alternating pieces written in moments of free improvisation (individual and collective), the general pattern offered is that of presenting themes very well constructed (perhaps it is clearer to simply say: very beautiful), that are otherwise and insistently repeated and alternating with brilliant episodes of interplay improvisation. Alternating, also thanks to a clever use of dynamics, timbral color variety and the sturdiness of the rich rhythm section, different expressive atmospheres, the album is yet another artistic achievement of one of the most creative musicians of the moment, here explicitly inspired by the style of the AACM in Chicago. – Five Stars - A G Bertinetto, KATHODIK
I dream of a life without the obligation of labeling a record. A place where the parallelism of compositional attributes simply warrants pure delectation and implicit comprehension. If this world truly existed, Martin Archer's tireless work would symbolize the necessity of forgetting about roots and derivations to better relish the fruits of sensible orchestral choices, in turn initiating terrific contrapuntal instances.
Saying this might sound peculiar as the leader himself cites essential influences on his creations, especially AACM and British jazz with progressive tendencies; music that — in Archer's very words — combines "considered spaciousness and white heat improvisation". To achieve his goals the composer fully trusts the collective bravura of Engine Room Favorites, a unit of thirteen instrumentalists arrived at their third release. Besides Archer on various saxes we can savor the brilliant playing of Mick Beck (tenor sax, 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 sax, clarinet).
Impressively, the musicians managed to learn rather difficult parts as they were recording them in just two days. This quickness does not detract from the near-perfection of the execution, but surely enhances the overall vibe with doses of animate immediateness. Archer's assignment of melodic materials is flawless and finely balanced, the group's need of respecting the original directives going hand in hand with a splendid feel of acoustic democracy. You can focus on the wholeness and perceive it as an efficient organism — "dissonance" and "consonance" weighing the same, if those terms still make sense today — or get into the individual expressions, intuiting the beauty of a harmonious disposition inside a complex interplay.
This album will have you singing (sort of), swinging, nodding, analyzing and reflecting together with an ensemble of skillful artists sharing the gift of unpretentiousness with their supervisor. The joint vision may refuse classification, but — in stark contrast with what we have been theorizing until now — we will end this writeup doing exactly that: Safety Signals From A Target Town is made of enlightened chamber jazz, with a definite proclivity — to borrow again from Archer — to "keep the blues close". - Massimo Ricci, SQUID'S EAR
The results are colourful, with punchy themes and robust improvisations.....Highly recommended - Andy Hamilton, THE WIRE
A new Martin Archer release is always a special occasion for me – and they seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment, with little sign of stopping and each one creating an original and vibrant take on contemporary jazz. This CD contains a 5 part suite – which is, of itself, an unusual venture for Archer as he is not normally one for the elaborate or programmatic when it comes to composition. Given that the pieces were composed in the last 2 months of 2016, and the titles include ‘The Playground in the Desert’, ‘One minute to midnight’, ‘Happy Birthday Mr President (aka POTUS F U )’, you can read into them a critical appraisal of America’s involvement in military activity across the world. But these are not heavy-handed sermons, and there is much scope to listen to the pieces from many different perspectives. The tunes were composed by Archer, alone in his studio, with him playing all of the instruments. The audio recordings of these were then used by Laura Cole to create the charts from which the players in the ensemble worked – although, to my ears, there is still plenty of scope for the improvisational twist, coming as it does from his insistence on live recording (as opposed to a ‘studio collage’). As with all of Archer’s work, there are layers of influence at work in the pieces. He cites an abiding and long-standing love of the AACM and the enthusiasm and sophistication of their music haunts the pieces here. But there are almost more differences than parallels, as Archer blends in traditional English folk music - particularly apparent in the way that Clark’s violin creates a hybrid music that feels unclassifiable (I hesitate to call it folk-jazz because that fails to capture how he fits with the tunes and the rest of the band). In the liner notes Archer says that he can hear, in these pieces, “echoes…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 have an idea of some of the recordings that he is nodding towards in this, but strongly believe that what he has been developing, particularly with Engine Room Favourites, is something entirely new and contemporary – and so, what is not so common these days, might simply be people who sound like Martin Archer. - CHRIS BABER, JAZZ VIEWS
Safety Signal From A Target Town (DISCUS 66CD) is another exciting record of UK big band music, under the auspices of Sheffield musician Martin Archer (who composed everything) performing here with 12 of his friends and fellow jazzers, appearing as Engine Room Favourites. The Favesters also performed on the two previous albums in this series, i.e. Blue Meat, Black Diesel and Engine Room Favourites and Bad Tidings From Slackwater Drag. Archer intends this project (he has many such on the go at once, which you probably realise if you’re a regular reader) as a direct homage to the Chicago collective, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, with whose aims and ideals Archer explicitly aligns himself. It’s all acoustic music played here by Engine Room Favourites, unless you count the Fender Rhodes piano of Laura Cole, with plenty of brass and percussion, and the spontaneity and warmth of the music is what strikes you up front – the record just never stops giving, generous scads of human-generated music with compassion and creativity.
I mention this because Archer himself has long felt a tension in his own music between the need for improvisation and the need for control. For what I know of his back catalogue, there are any number of records which could be described as “labour-intensive”. This isn’t to say Archer is a control freak who tweaks every last detail on a record. But it’s interesting that all the music on Safety Signal From A Target Town began life in the studio; as he realised the works, Archer played all the parts himself, overdubbing a set of what he calls “demos”. Anyone else would probably have called them finished works. These demos were transcribed by Laura Cole, turned into scores and charts, and Engine Room Favourites then had the music to play in their hands. As part of this, also note the turn-around period; two months for Archer to write the work, 2 days for them to record it. Maybe all that preparation makes performance easier. As a working method, this might not be too far apart from that of Frank Zappa, although by the end of his career the music not only began in the studio, it ended there; complex and abstruse synclavier pieces by the yard emerging from the fingers of this most focussed of control-freaks.
The next thing to note is the storytelling/cinematic side to the work – which is intentional – but manifests itself most notably on the 17-minute title track, and on ‘Happy Birthday! Mr President’. The title track is like a movie soundtrack, full of dynamic changes (as if responding to changes in action and mood on an imaginary screen), and only the most unimaginative listener could not help but conjure up their own stories as they listen. This is exactly what Archer wanted; to “enable the listener to imagine their own story of a world”. Even if ‘Safety Signal From A Target Town’ lapses into a sort of jokey film noir / hard-boiled detective mood now and again (we almost expect a William Burroughs voiceover to appear at any moment), it’s the most effective piece on the record. ‘Happy Birthday! Mr President’ also seems to tell a story of a celebratory pageant, but it’s probably intended as a sarcastic riposte to the rise of President Trump (Archer was composing it in the last two months of 2016), which may be why the story of the world is “moving in exactly the opposite direction to the version most people would wish to live in”. This is Archer’s roundabout way of expressing his dissatisfaction with global politics. While I enjoy the jaunty swing feeling of ‘Happy Birthday! Mr President’, it lacks bite as satire; too reserved, too polite, too English to hit its intended target. For a more successful take on American satire, once again I look to Frank Zappa; his ‘The M.O.I. American Pageant’ from 1967 is a devastating critique of middle American society’s values in music and sound effects, and the Mothers played with far more “grease” than Engine Room Favourites.
However, this isn’t to deny the generous servings of musical excitement on offer; one might single out the efforts of tenor saxman Mick Beck (who solos virtually everywhere), violinist Graham Clark, performing as a slightly more astringent version of Jean-Luc Ponty, the vibraphone of Corey Mwamba…but the whole band are great. I particularly enjoy the large amounts of percussion on the record – three drummers, Peter Fairclough, Walt Shaw and Johnny Hunter are joined by Steve Dinsdale who supplies “floor percussion”, and the combined effects are rich and tasty. Archer’s method of semi-scored, semi-improvised is really paying off; a tune may move from wispy ambiguous moods to wild and freaky blow-outs in the course of a few seconds, and it takes well-seasoned and talented players to be able to do that (I would assume). Archer is not aiming for the sort of heart-stopping dynamic effects which Otomo used to specialise in, and the music remains rooted in jazz traditions, which is what keeps it all approachable and appealing. But the band can also do “discordant and anxious”, if that’s what your dark psyche craves; ‘One Minute To Midnight / Beijing Halflife’ is the token “experimental” work, with plenty of disconnected angsty chords, cymbal rattling and murmuring sounds from the brass and woodwinds. Given that this tune follows the one about the election of the US President, you can draw your own conclusions as to the subtext of this track. ED PINSENT, SOUND PROJECTOR
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.
Feisty...impressively crafted... - JAZZWISE
Im Frühjahr 2018 legt Martin Archer das dritte Album seines Big-Band-Projekts Martin Archer & Engine Room Favourites vor (die ersten beiden Alben waren "Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites" und "Bad Tidings From Slackwater Drag"). Auch "Safety Signal From A Target Town" bietet eine Art von Ensemble-Jazz, in der Tradition der AACM (der Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), vorgetragen von einem kleinen Jazz-Orchester, welches aber diesmal deutlich strukturierter, und über weite Strecken auch rockiger daher kommt als auf den beiden Vorgängerscheiben.
Archer selbst stellt zur Musik fest, dass dies die bisher ehrgeizigste Veröffentlichung des Projekts sei, die meistenteils auf vorher komponiertem und konzipiertem Materials Archers beruht, das dann mit Hilfe von Laura Cole in eine im Studio verwendbare Partitur verwandelt wurde. Frei improvisiert wird hier also wenig, auch wenn man bisweilen einen anderen Eindruck haben könnte.
Eine fünfteilige Jazz-Rock-Symphonie kommt hier aus den Boxen, vergleichbar vielleicht mit ähnlich großangelegten britischen Werken aus den 70ern, Neil Ardleys "Symphony Of Amaranths" z.B., Mike Westbrooks "Metropolis" (siehe auch Solid Gold Cadillac), Michael Gibbs’ "Tanglewood 63", und natürlich "Septober Energy" von Centipede (Keith Tippett). "Safety Signal From A Target Town" steht recht klar in der Tradition dieser Werke, verbindet ausladende Jazzarrangements mit treibenden Rockmustern, Canterburyartigem, folkigen Melodien und freierem Tonmalen, und verwebt diese Ingredienzien zu einem dichten, sehr dynamischen und farbigen Ganzen.
Sax und Violine sorgen meist für die solistischen Einlagen, während das weitere Gebläse und Cole an Piano bzw. E-Piano für das klangliche Grundgerüst sorgen, vielseitig vorangetrieben von der umfangreichen Rhythmusfraktion (inklusive Steve Dinsdale von radio massacre international – der sich offenbar zunehmend von der Elektronischen Musik verabschiedet hat). Mal sehr jazzig und free musizierend, mal rockig schreitend bzw. flotter laufend, mal fast folkig tänzelnd, mal kammerrockig treibend (oft von der Geige dominiert), mal mysteriös und hallend tonbastelnd arbeitet sich die Musik voran, abwechslungsreich instrumentiert, mal schräger trötend, mal luftig klangmalend, mal entspannter groovend, mal derber wütend.
"Safety Signal From A Target Town" ist das bisher rundeste, vielseitigste und (für Proghörer) zugänglichste Album von Martin Archer und den Engine Room Favourites, wobei auch hier sicher keine leichte Kost geboten wird. Wer aber die weiter oben erwähnten Werke und Musiker schätzt, oder auch die jazz-lastigeren Produktionen von Soft Machine (oder aus deren Umfeld) bzw. Nucleus, und keine Aversionen gegen Gebläse und freieres Klangbasteln hat, der sollte sich das Album dringend zulegen. - ACHIM BRIELING, BABYBLAUE ZEITEN
Do třetice všeho výjimečného: Safety Signal from a Target Town, realizované 18. a 19. března 2017 v Real World Studios, Wiltshire, nám znovu zpřítomňuje Martina Archera jako vyznavače těžkotonážních projektů v propojení tradice AACM a anglické progresívní hudby. K jeho Engine Room Favourites náleží (a nemohu si dovolit opomenout jediného, protože všichni zastávají nezastupitelné pozice) perkusisté Peter Fairclough, Walt Shaw, Johnny Hunter a Steve Dinsdale, kontrabasista Seth Bennett, trombonista George Murray, houslista Graham Clark, pianistka Laura Cole (občas skórující Archerovy předlohy), trumpetista Kim Macari, vibrafonista Corey Mwamba a tenor saxofonisti Mick Beck (ten i s fagotem a patří mu všechna saxofonová sóla) a Riley Stone-Lonergan (i s klarinetem). Martin Archer sám je autorem všech kompozic a ovládá (brilantně) sopranino, alt a baryton saxofony a basovou zobcovou flétnu. Titulní skladba, která celé dobrodružství alba zahajuje, je opatrně odhalována klavírem, když se však naráz přifaří ostatní včetně rozkutaných perkusistú, sax předpoví naprosto neočekávanou vehemenci, plnou tápání, šátrání, dynování, rozbrnkávání a přehršlování; všichni na přeskáčku i v souhrnosti najíždějí do neznámých oblastí, přemítají o nich (housle), rozrůzňují se, rozkomíhávají, nájezdují, seskrumážovávají se. Zdá se, jako by se tu odehrávalo několik sól naráz, jež si mohou dovolit jakýkoli osobní výstřelek a nahromadit se do rádoby změtení, přitom však je zřejmé, že každý si přesně uvědomuje, kdy zasáhnout, jak zaprovokovat, jak ukočírovat situaci. Výsledkem je dramatizující rozmáchlení, machrující rozvíjení od symfoničtění po swingování, od tanečnosti k vervnění, je to velkokapelová směs se vším všudy od zanervování do potlachu, plná důraznosti (perkuse), rozletů (saxy) a všeobecného vemlouvání, ale vše je tu samohybné, svébytné, vyvážené. Také Perfect Soldier, překotňující i pozdržovaný, briskně výtržnící na vše strany, je útočný, ale když se dá na ústup, znenadání se vemkne jemnocitné zahauzírování houslí. Jsou to překvapivé zvraty, jakýsi samozřejmý sled opačností, lebedění na ostří, nemátoživé vlnobytnění, prostřídávající neustávající třeštění saxu a zavabankované perkusnění, vše namotávané, dokreslované a konec konců celebrující shromáždivou celkovost. Jednotné nastoupení do The Playground in the Desert je kupodivu pořádkumilovně velebivé, vzájemně srozuměné, probíhající v jednolitém šiku, bok po boku. Což neznamená, že by zároveň nebylo plné zábojného koumáctví, nutkavé krouživosti, probírek odvírek, vyšilovůstek a nárazníkového spěšnění, místy rozvášněného do pronikavého zaběsnění. Ale to hned zmizí, když se skladba převrátí do střídmého hledačství nových šancí (klavír), jemného zauvažování (basa), prostě vážení na lékárnických vážkách, záhadnostního vyhledávání jiného teritoria a nabírání sil, vedoucí k novému rozžití, plnému emocí (s houslovým efektováním uprostřed celistvé zabíhavosti), prostě nástroje jsou tu jako na střídačce, diskutují, oponují si, srovnávají se, prožívají svoje soužití. Dvacetiminutová skladba jako celek má několik vrcholů a několikeré mezihraní, ve svých proměnách zahrnuje šanci rozvinutí na stopáž celého alba, nejde však o hrátky, protože muzikanti se vždy navracejí k tomu, co je důležité, co má až omamující závažnost; v tomto dotýkavém a prosmýkávaném smyslu a důmyslu má výhradní postavení každý nástroj, nikdo tu nejede po vedlejší koleji. Dohadovačnost basy s perkusemi vyvolá napětí i u Happy Birthday! Mr President (netuším, zda má Archer nějakého konkrétního prezidenta na mysli). Každopádně se pozdravný swing vypíná do sólových gratulací, namátkově rozváděných a útěkově prezentovaných; orchestr se naplno rozjíždí, je plný hybného útočnění neútočnění, řetězení přístupů a prostupů. Například housle prozáří téma do svůdnosti a svádivosti, ale každý zde získává prostor pro svoje sdělení i pro návaznost na předchozí dohadování, což vede k vzájemné provázanosti, vyřítivé i zapomalované, přebíravé i probíravé, plné vysoukávavého prolaďování, což fungující součinnost orchestru nikterak neohrozí. Táhlé vynořování závěrečného (devatenáctiminutového) One Minute to Midnight / Beijing Halflife vede ke svíravě vyčkávavé, loudivě snivé a nekormutlivě vyborťované odhadovanosti. Propojné událostnění je jemně náruživé, prohlubované basou, zalíbezněné i proklínavé, vytěsňované i zabořivé, odvíjené s průsvitněním i zamourňováním (náraznění opaků je zřetelnou Archerovou fintou), vede od zaloučněné cituplnosti (housle) přes záhalnou záhadnost až k potichlosti, ba tišině, jež je ústrojně donirvánována. Tři alba, trojí zážitek, pokaždé svérázný, neopakovatelný. Martin Archer je jako skladatel, hudebník i editor skutečně vynalézavý, ne však svéhlavě a za každou cenu. Jeho svébytnost je samozřejmá jako (extrémní rozmezí) počasí. - ZDENEK SLABY, HISVOICE