86CD - Corey Mwamba - NTH
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The idea for putting together this group, at the time I did, represents a slow movement. This is a group of people that I had wanted to put together for a while; some of the music was written almost fifteen years ago. But then, as it began, we accelerated; we played live four times, the final time coinciding with my last time.
Andy, Johnny, and Laura have given so much in performing and dealing with the material. What these musicians and friends have done, to me, reflects a core tradition in jazz -- to deal and commit to the material and make new things, present new ways of listening and expressing: to move beyond the limits of the marks on the page, towards feeling.
Corey Mwamba - vibraphone, glockenspiel, beak flute
Laura Cole - piano
Andy Champion - double bass
Johnny Hunter - drums, small percussion
A top 25 release (all genres) of 2019 - Richard Williams, A BLUE MOMENT
It's very difficult to review a Corey Mwamba record, because he's simply never been a musician who makes records. He's an activist, promoter, educator and researcher foremost. Now that he's withdrawn from public performance, the difficulty is compounded, and we're left with a feeling that anything that comes out under his name should be considered research notes rather than product.
And yet NTH is a beautifully crafted group record that features material written up to 15 years ago. It comes out on the extraordinary Discus label, shepherded by Martin Archer, in whose large ensemble Engine Room Favourites the vibraphonist has played. Mwamba is noted for the generosity and range of his associations, working with artists as different as Nat Birchall Quartet and the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, of which he is an honorary member.
NTH finds him in company with pianist Laura Cole, bassist Andy Champion (who also works with Mwamba in the Anglo-French Sonsale) and drummer Johnny Hunter. It's a different vibe from his yana group: quieter, no less melodic but also more abstract in conception. The pace and density of the sound varies considerably from track to track, with "against all known things" looping a lovely, elliptical melody fragment round and round the way you might turn a jewel or crystal in the light, to the spacious, almost fugitive "never a state" which threatens to crumble like a leaf if you turn the volume up.
Mwamba's vibes playing is perhaps closer to Khan Jamal's than any more obvious antecedent. He doesn't suggest a Jackson or Hutcherson lineage, very occasionally recalls Gary Burton's open form two-mallet approach, but nothing of Joe Locke's bravura. He has worked at times with OR and takes something out of that approach to multi-instrumentalism, adding dulcimer and allsorts to his acoustic toolbox. That's a fair description of his method.
You sort of feel that Mwamba could turn up in any situation and put things right or make something new for you, depending on need or wish. NTH sits comfortably in almost any space you have. It's exciting, utile, calming, beautiful and intellectually functional: all at once. Hard to review. Best just to listen. And take note - - Brian Morton, THE WIRE.
When he started making his own music, Corey Mwamba explains, it was mainly electroacoustic. But “any conversation about black British experimental music is a short one, even today, and I am never included in it”, he comments – so he focused on vibes, as a performer.
As a live performer, that career has now ended, he explains, in a statement somewhat reminiscent of Glenn Gould. Mwamba made the decision a few years ago, and his farewell gig was in his hometown of Derby on 23 March this year. But he will still be making home recordings, and continuing as creative director for Derby Jazz and Out Front!
Among the bands that he’s created or worked with, this quartet hasn’t performed a lot – just four times, the last time on Mwamba’s final date. The leader explains that this was a group he’d long planned to put out – and that some of the material was written as much as 15 years ago. He rightly applauds the way that the players “move beyond the limits of the marks on the page, towards feeling”, presenting “new ways of listening and expressing”.
I knew the participants as skilled performers, but their empathy and feeling on this date go beyond what I’ve heard before – making this a really outstanding recording. Mwamba’s sparkling, iridescent vibes and Hunter’s eager grooves are a highlight, but they are beautifully complemented by the bass playing of Champion and by Cole’s piano.
One of my favourites here is the opening track, Against All Known Things – which backs up the claim that this is rhythmically minded free improv. After a free opening, the vibes state a catchy theme that gets repeated through the performance, with the other instruments twisting and swirling around it, and Hunter providing a compelling groove. Sub(taste) is if anything even funkier, but also free; Orison, in contrast, is a quiet, fragmented exploration. A compelling release. – Andy Hamilton, JAZZ JOURNAL
NTH is a much more rhythmically minded beast. The beautifully rhythmic drumming of Johnny Hunter allows Corey’s searching vibes and the playful piano of Laura Cole full rein in chasing and tagging one another. To me the vibes always sound as though they are the precursor to something mysterious and unknown; a sense of expectation is always present in that soulful ring and it is never more so than here.
“Never A State” finds the double bass of Andy Champion slowing things down, moving like a sleepy river with so much space that when the sounds appear, exploding like bubbles on the surface, there is a soothing quality that Laura’s waterfall piano continues on “Sub(taste)”. It is a joy that takes it form almost post-rock territory and dips into ’60s jazz, with shades of Bill Evans. “Orison” is more sparse; a shake of bells, a hint of the vibes, it is like searching for raindrops after the sun has come out and started to dry the leaves. Here and there patches can still be seen, waiting for the sun to uncover them, and through it all, the bass retains an irregular heartbeat.
The album mainly moves at a languid pace, but the quartet can really play high-velocity jazz if they wish to and “Situations” is perfect. In fact, the bass and drums move at such a pace they seem to leave the piano trailing in their wake as it ascends and descends, striving to keep up and eventually losing its way. How it evolves into a West Coast workout is a mystery, but the following two pieces descend into mellow melancholy, slow and sweet yet slightly wistful.
They don’t like things to carry on for too long at a particular pace, so long penultimate track “Over Leagues” is vibes and drums jazz craziness. The drums are pushing the vibes, urging them to follow their pattern, but it doesn’t work — so they try with the piano instead, but the tag-team playing of the drunken, heel-dragging piano and the vibes seems to confuse the drums, and they eventually fold, allowing the others to set the meandering pace. The quartet really knows how to play to one another’s strengths and on final track “Vertumnal” the bass and piano circle like wary cats sizing each other up as the vibes try to intercede or just set something off. In this way, all the gaps that might appear in the sound are filled up, subtle drops squeezed into spaces, new directions taken, but without leaving the other players too far behind. It moves in lovely waves and is a joy to hear unfurl.
Once again, Discus have discovered more fresh angles for jazz and long may that continue. - Mr Olivetti, FREQ
Corey Mwamba lives and works in Derby. Above all, he is player of the vibraphone, but also dulcimer and electronics. As a performer and Composer, he works in contexts of jazz and contemporary music. He was a member of Nat Birchall’s Quintet and Engine Room Favourites, a large ensemble led by Martin Archer. This cd documents music performed by his quartet. Music that Corey wrote over a period of fifteen years, performed by Laura Cole (piano), Andy Champion (double bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums, small percussion). Mwamba plays vibraphone, glockenspiel and beak flute. After several gigs, this quartet became a tight unit and ready for some recordings. There is not much work by Mwamba out on cd. Two releases by his main group Yana with Dave Kane and Joshua Blackmore. In 2016 ‘Paperstone Suite’ a trio recording with Champion and Ntshuks Bonga appeared on FMR. Together with Champion he also participates in the Anglo-French quartet Sonsale. And in 2015 Slam Productions released an album by The Spirit Farm that had Corey, Johnny Hunter among others as members. I guess ‘Nth’ is his most personal release, reflecting his compositional work. Even more, while this release marks the end of Corey’s careerMas a performing musician. “What these musicians and friends have done, to me, reflects a core tradition in jazz -- to deal and commit to the material and make new things, present new ways of listening and expressing: to move beyond the limits of the marks on the page, towards feeling.” Opening track ‘Against all known Things’ opens with a great intro by bass and drums, before the vibraphone joins in with a melodic theme. ‘Never a state’ starts as very open collective improvised. Gradually they develop a focused and dynamic interplay. ‘Entwined Reveries’ is a dreamy ballad, followed by the complex rhythm-based ‘Over Leagues’. I like them most in their up-tempo excursions, like ‘Situations’ that has a great piano playing by Cole. In all they offer a varied bunch of strongly jazzy compositions that are more complex than they may sound at first hearing. - Dorf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY
With Mwamba having composed all the tracks except for one group improvisation, NTH has more of a unified vision. But the key to these pieces is how the quartet’s individual interpretation defines it in a unique fashion. Despite the instrumental affinity no one would confuse the bands for The Modern Jazz Quartet, or even the Mastersounds. Compare the extended “Orison” for instance with “Entwined Reveries” to get an idea of the quartet’s range. Vibrating and airy, the first is involved with restrained story-telling. It matches bell-tree-like shakes, trebly piano key tinkles and distant drum rolls in an affirming pattern that still leaves enough space for Mwamba to express himself via icicle-thin metal bar patterning as well as multiple-mallet sparkles. In contrast, slower and more ballad-like “Entwined Reveries” develops from unaccompanied motor-slowed echoes from the vibist to a double bass pulse that is fluid enough to build excitement as the pianist adds baroque-like decorations. Polyphonic intent keeps the mood unforced without ever being cloying. This sophisticated swing permeates much of the rest of the session, in spite of attempts to thicken the action. “Over Leagues” for instance has mercurial glockenspiel reverberations from Mwamba and heavy drum smacks from Hunter, while Cole digs into the darker recesses of the piano. Quicksilver vibe reverb keeps the narrative lively though.
Even the group-created “Never a State” with its disjointed moody beginning, which encompasses arco bass string swabs, piano soundboard echoes and an affiliated spray of vibraphone pings, doesn’t upset the musical equation. If anything its linkage to the concluding “Vertumnal”, which remains low-key as the theme moves from piano to vibes patterning with bowed bass strings and drum clip-clops underneath, confirms the session’s singularity of vision expressed by a quartet of connected players.
Exposing the proper mix of lyricism and pulse, both discs confirm how the vibraphone’s distinctive qualities can be adapted to equally attractive situations. - Ken Waxman, JAZZ WORD
Granted I was certainly smitten by Corey’s way with the beaters ‘n’ mallets on tracks such as “Alsten” and “Four Free to One” on the Sunshine! Quartet release (Discus 59), but I did have reservations about whether the sonic vocab of the vibraphone could carry an entire c.d. as the principal voice, being a bit of a niche instrument and all that entails. But then, come to think of it, it never put a crease in the careers of Gary Burton, or even Robert Wood did it? NTH isn’t on that particular kind of wavelength though. Even with mixing, mastering, producing and writing credits (bar one), bearing the C.M. signature, this nine-tracker is undoubtedly a democratic group exercise. One good example being the opening “Against all Known Things”. Its breezy themes place Corey plus pianist Laura Cole, double bassist Andy Champion and Johnny Hunter on drums, smack dab in the middle of a swinging sixties continental feature, exclusively peopled by Gauloises-smoking, alienated hipster types. Existential jazz meets the Noveltones if you will… And that’s something that’s markedly at odds with the stately and sometimes poignant themes of “A Door to the Sea”, while “Orison” and “Entwined Reveries” both book a ticket to a more nocturnal world in which atmospherics and mood shifts gently override the quartet’s melodic outpourings.
The opening piano foray on “Situations” belies its workaday title and turns everything previous on its head. Scuttling crabwise, its angular and somewhat fractured approach smacks of Bowie’s sideman/auxiliary Spider Mike Garson, but it’s debatable whether anything so “out” as this was heard during his solo tour of the U.K. in 2019. Engrossing tracks all without a doubt. though as to the visuals, that roofing slate-grey sleeve art does bring out the nit-picker in me and really does undersell the contents by a good country mile or two.
Oh, and being a sucker for obscure instrumentation, I was intrigued to find that Corey was also credited with ‘Beak Flute’ (?). Having played NTH for the nth time, said beast could not be found by me for love nor money. So… an e-mail resulted in Corey kindly replying with the fact that it can be located on “Never a State”, springing into life for just twenty-one seconds; (from four minutes, fifty-four to five minutes, fifteen). Now there’s pin-point accuracy!! - Stephen Pescott, SOUND PROJECTOR
Od Coreye Mwamby, hráče na vibrafon a zvonkohru (občas i na zobcovou flétnu), mám v živé paměti desku Don´t Overthink It (s Davem Kanem a Joshuou Blackmorem), vydanou na Clean Feed v roce 2013. Ale jeho jméno se mi především naléhavě připomíná právě v projektech Martina Archera (viz Blue Meat, Story Tellers a Sunshine! Quartet). Tentokrát vede NTG Quartet a po svém boku má kontrabasistu Andyho Championa, pianistku Lauru Cole a bubeníka a perkusistu Johnnyho Huntera, kteří s ním jeho devět skladeb – vlastně osm a jednu improvizaci (71 minut, devětatřicet vteřin) nahráli 15. a 16. června 2019 v newcastleských Blank Studios. V protikladu k Londonovým překypujícím Rituálům působí NTH poněkud obstarožněji (nikoli starožitněji!), bohorovněji, v souladu s názvem vstupního Against All Known Things obeznámeněji. Hned tady zaujme zvonivý vibrafon, vtíravý, ale melodický, solidní, leč nehledačský, až notoricky zopakovávaný, výrazná basa a nepřestajně horempádné, až hromovládné bicí, obé rovněž takřka neproměnné, pouze porichtované do porychlování. Jednotónově nasměrovávané, jemnocitně vytitěrňované Never a State (ano, to je ta jediná kolektivní záležitost) je nasoukáváno propauzovaně, s polozasouvanou šolíchavostí, jako kdyby bylo objednáno pouze na čtvrt úvazku, je úponkové, ale čas od času vyhecovávané, celistvě však probíhá z poklidna do poklidna. Nad rytmickým podhrázděním (bicích a basou) si Mwamba vede svoji melodickou linku Sub(taste), plnobití rozmarně prošpílcovává klavírní rozprostraňování, vlnobitně rozkochané, jako kdyby bylo vytrženo z celku a opětovně do něho vsazeno. Takřka dvanáctiminutový Orison je zámatně vyšpitávaný s vklouzávavými bicími, je nenabaživě vytísňovaný a zádumně vyprecizovaný. Jeho náznačnost mi spíše připadá jako hudební podhoubí, pro(p)létavé a jemně shánčlivé (místy zahánčlivé), vyvrbuje se roztočivě, po troškách, vřavně i rozvarně, rozpadavě i zapadavě – jako záminka spíše k neexistující budoucí skladbě. Také Situations vyvolávají spíše existující a dokonavé epizody, poskládávané z obdobných prefabrikátků, ač občas zátřesně vrdlouhavé (v náznaku) nebo merčivě rozobchvatněné, Mwamba totiž dovede výsledné znění zrozdychtit, zrozmarnit, aniž se holedbá. A Door to the Sea zvolené téma spíše zlicoměrňuje, zúkradkuje a váhavě, až zpromarňovaně načrtává, zatímco Entwined Reveries je jemně, až jednozrně vrší, vytajemňují, prozámlkují, pozmizíkovávají, a když nás zaskočí prolahodění kompozice, ta zmizí, jako by byla záměrně nedokončená. Mwamba v téměř jedenáctiminutovém Over Leagues rozhybní dosavadní porůzněné peripetie, jako by se k nim záměrně vracel, aby si je zopakoval, spěšněji, zádumčivěji, svévolněji, aby vydůraznil pocit bezmezné provázanosti alba, což však napodiv nevede k nějakému novému vyzvoňování, vyvolňování nebo rozhybňování; i zatumlování působí upokojivě, i dokolečnění obnáší proznívavou věnčivost. Zbývá ještě něco na závěr? Ovšem, Vertumnal obdobné prorůstání a naznačování ještě více vyprůzrační, vytěkává tady v našpitávaném skřítkování, tam procinkává do vzlínavého vyvrbování, onde se nacvrčuje do rozvíjivé produšenělosti. A když i ta dozkomírá, zrekapitulujeme si, že vlastně ani jako by nešlo o celistvé skladby, nýbrž spíše o puzzlování „výňatků“ do závlačněného celku, aby vše do sebe důvěrně zapadalo.
Dvě alba, každé svým – jiným – způsobem pozoruhodné, na to má Archer nos. Koho nebo co zvolí na přetřes příště? - HISVOICE