87CD - MPH - Taxonomies
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MPH came together in 2018 at the suggestion of Alex Maguire, who had worked with Mark Hewins and Martin Pyne individually. The trio plays completely improvised music. All three musicians have diverse musical interests and a wealth of experience, and this results in music with a gloriously wide frame of reference: their playing can be by turns playful, ethereal, earthy, abrasive, delicate and lyrical. Listeners will hear influences from many sources, ranging from the blues to the jazz abstractions of Jimmy Giuffre and the prepared piano sounds of John Cage.
The album was recorded live over two days. The first was on 15/08/18 at Playback Studio in Margate where Alex played Hammond Organ, Mark digital slide guitar and electronics, and Martin moved between vibraphone with electronics, drums, and a spot of processed Wave Drum. The second track on the album, “False Jasmine”, was actually the first piece the group played together. The second day was at TallGuy Studio, Egham on 16/08/18. Alex switched to acoustic piano, while Mark used a big fat jazz guitar, again with electronics on a few pieces, and Martin played acoustic vibraphone, with and without preparations, and some small percussion.
The titles are inspired by the wonderfully evocative traditional names for various flora and fauna, suggestive of timeless narratives, characters, landscapes and mindscapes.
Alex studied with Howard Riley, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Steve Lacy. After attending the Barry Summer School (with Tony Oxley, Keith Tippett etc.) he co-founded the improvised music night ‘The Ping Pong Club’ at the London Musicians’ Collective with percussionist Steve Noble, performing with Derek Bailey, Paul Rutherford, Evan Parker, Ernst Reijseger, Toshinori Kondo and Tristan Honsinger (among many others), and dancers Steve Paxton,Kirstie Simson, Julyen Hamilton and Katie Duck. Alex has additionally worked with Theatre de Complicite, the National Theatre (UK) and has been a member of Richard Sinclair’s RSVP, The Canterbury Legends (with the late Hugh Hopper and Didier Malherbe), Pip Pyle’s BASH!, many Elton Dean formations, Sean Bergin’s MOB with Han Bennink and Wolter Wierbos, the Michael Moore Duo, and Quartet, as well as a scorching duo with Stefano Maltese and the Roberta Maci’s Sicilian Quintet. Alex was the keyboard player for the final line-up of Hatfield And The North, performing and recording in Europe, North and South America and Japan. Alex is also an award-winning UK state-registered Music Therapist specialising in forensic psychiatry and has published and presented this work at conferences throughout Europe and the US.
Martin grew up with a very classical music education playing percussion in orchestras. His love of tuned percussion in particular led him to both Milt Jackson and Gary Burton, and hence to jazz in general, and the door to free improvisation was opened by the recordings of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. Martin worked with contemporary classical groups while at the same time founding the improv trio Dangerous Kitchen with saxophone legend Stan Sulzmann and fellow percussionist Simon Allen: together the trio recorded an album which was the first release on Martin’s own label TallGuyRecords. After working through a period where he fell out of love with jazz, he formed a trio, Busnoys, with Jeff Spencer and Trevor Davies , playing his own compositions. They have recorded three albums, including contributions from Get The Blessing members Jim Barr and Pete Judge. Martin has also recorded a duo album with noted improvising pianist Stephen Grew, as well as a solo vibraphone record. He is currently writing songs in collaboration with jazz singer Laura Zakian: the first fruit of this, Laura’s EP Minor Moments, was released earlier this year. Martin has a longstanding involvement with contemporary dance and over the years has collaborated with acclaimed choreographers including Mark Baldwin, S Ama Wray and Zamira Kate Mummery. Most recently he composed a score for Mikaela Polley’s ballet Interplay, and toured with Images Ballet Company in Spring 2019, performing live on stage. Another of Martin’s ongoing projects is his partnership with pianist Stephen Horne, accompanying silent film: they have performed together around the world and have an extensive repertoire, recently premiering their own new score to the 1928 sci-fi classic, Metropolis.
Mark Hewins' professional career as a guitarist began at 15 with the London band Mother Sun. Early work included John Stevens' Dance Orchestra A Luta Continua (alongside Phil Collins, John Martyn, and Danny Thompson); also multiple projects with Elton Dean. He played on Dave Sinclair's Moon Over Man album and with him in The Polite Force (1976-8, Canterbury Knights album). He was in Going Going (1990) and Caravan of Dreams (1991) with Richard Sinclair. and in later incarnations of Soft Heap (with Dean, Pip Pyle and John Greaves CD; A Veritable Centaur). He was a member of Gong for a long world tour in 1999 and has also worked extensively with Hugh Hopper, including a Duo (CD ‘Adreamor’) and Mashu (CD, ‘Elephants in Your Head’) (1995-8) subsequently working with Mashu and Gong percussionist Shyamal Maïtra on other projects, including a duo and a trio with Carol Grimes. Other collaborations include work with Dennis Gonzalez and Andrew Cyrille amongst others in the U.S. In Europe with Django Bates in Research; (Social Systems LP). Hewins' first solo album was The Electric Guitar (1987) released by Daagnim in the US. He was asked by Lou Reed to be his guitar tech on several tours and is mentioned on the CD ‘Songs for Drella’. He led a big band FF, his dance band Tritonik (with Tania Evans, who went on to Culture Beat), and the Music Doctors (with Dean and Lol Coxhill). He has alsoplayed with Julie Felix, Lol Coxhill, Bill Bruford, Fred Frith, Joe Lee Wilson, Dudu Pukwana, Mervyn Africa, Anthony Aiello and more recently Bob Geldof.
Alex Maguire - Hammond organ / piano
Martin Pyne - vibraphone / drums / percussion / electronics
Mark Hewins - guitars / electronics
Considering how long and varied the careers of Alex Maguire, Martin Pyne and Mark Hewins have been, this is the first time that the three have played together, and Discus is the perfect home for their meeting of musical minds as MPH. The CVs of the three members include an incredible variety of musical styles that seems to have culminated in a freedom that is quintessentially pastoral, yet is full of rustling movement and then periods of calm. It is perhaps Martin’s love of tuned percussion and subtle rhythms that prevents these vignettes descending into formlessness, but instead allows them that unlimited freedom that charms from the off.
The deep resonance of the low piano notes, the slow chatter of the percussion, the gradual unfurling of the higher piano notes introduce opener “Tormentil”. The percussion is busy, gently urging the piece along, crisp and clear. In the background are hidden things, the odd blare, rustles and creaks. The textures shimmer in the odd silences, a brief guitar snippet is glimpsed through undergrowth. There is that melancholy of early morning apparent here.
Each of the tracks is named after various flora and fauna, and there is something in the mystery and vividness of the titles that evokes these restless soundscapes. The structure of “False Jasmine” is not so important. It is more about the movement, with some tension released from the organ while the vibes and snappy percussion shuffle around one another in an awkward but welcoming dance. You feel the random movement of the wild, the action and reaction, jostling and cajoling as the instruments take it in turns, offering one another a chance for comeback. You almost feel wind moving through the studio, snatching at sounds and jerking them around, and then moving on.
“Finger Muscle” is slower, with a little more care in the blurred guitar and vibes interactions. The players draw the movements out, savouring them in a way that they didn’t have a chance previously. This and “Meadowsweet” are more about the feelings of the players, less about the reaction to what is being lobbed across the studio, but they don’t allow the sounds to be confined. If they need to briefly scamper, then they do; but the piano and vibes duet is divine and where there is even more space, the vibes echo, hanging in the air like gossamer. On the whole, theirs is an amalgam of styles that becomes a style of their own, but the spare Americana-flecked vibe to “Psychedelic Frogfish”, with its shuffle of brushed snare does head us in a new direction; somewhere desert-y with the lonesome cry of the guitar and the dust-cloud of the Hammond lurking in the distance.
The insistence of the percussion on “Eyebright” is a constant as the languid piano notes drift and decay before our eyes, and that incessant movement travels through the long-form desert vibe of “Purple Loosestrife” as well. Here, over eleven minutes, the trio interact with chuckling creatures playing around your feet, bobbing and weaving, rather like the runaway piano of “Rocket Larkspear” that seems to break away with dizzying hops, skips and jumps. The sensation of chains dragging attempts to keep up with the vivacious piano — but by the time it arrives, it has done everything it needs to and skips laughing into the distance.
As the album draws to a close, the juxtaposition of the vibes-led “Lamina” to the mayhem of the previous track gives you full appreciation of the joy the trio has playing together, and by the time the textural smorgasbord of “Sally Lightfoot” has played out, you do have to sit back and take a breath. Taxonomies is a wonderfully intricate but playful and joyous selection of pieces. A one-off? Who knows, but it would be difficult to follow it up. - Mr Olivetti, FREQ
Most releases by Discus Music are about projects from the Sheffield-scene around Martin Archer. There are exceptions, however, like this one by the MPH trio, which is a trio of Alex Maguire (piano, Hammond organ), Martin Pyne (vibraphone, drums, percussion, electronics) and Mark Hewins (guitars, electronics). The trio started in 2018 when Maguire invited Hewins and Pyne to join forces. All three made their marks and have long and varied careers to look back upon. Mark Hewins operated mainly in Canterbury music-related projects (John Stevens, Elton Dean). Also, Alex MacGuire, who studied with John Cage, Steve Lacy, etc., played with many musicians from the Canterbury-music scene and was a member of the last Hatfield and the North-line up. Besides he also worked with improvisers like Derek Bailey, Tristan Honsinger, and so on. Pyne maybe is the least well-known of the three, but at the same time, he is working with the widest musical range involving classical, jazz, improvisation, dance and theatre productions. No doubt the three met in earlier combinations, but this is the first time they operate as a trio. All improvisations show a different face. They integrate many different influences. The cd opens with the ethereal ‘Tormentil‘ with MacGuire on piano and Pyne playing hand percussion. The delicate soundscaping is also part of many of the following improvisations on this CD. On ‘Finger Muscle’ they a blues, or play with the blues. Likewise ‘Psychedelic Frogfish’ is submerged in a bluesy atmosphere. ’Purple Loosetrife’ is more experimental and has lovely playing on the Hammond organ by Maguire. ‘Rocket Larkspear’ has a strong drive with restless piano playing by Maguirre in the foreground. ‘Lamina’ starts as a very subtle soundscape, but thickens from time to time into very intertwined playing. Their communicative interactions are a joy, but in the end, it also remains a bit too much without structure. In the end, I asked myself what made me feel a bit uncomfortable about their excursions. Sometimes I hoped for a bit more structure and focus. But no doubt with their spirited and rich interplay there is more than enough to be enjoyed here. – Dorf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY.
Under the deceptive guise of easily absorbed melodies and rhythms, this is gently and subversively experimental. Subversive and submersive, this album lurks beneath a deceptively placid surface. No matter the occasional sweetness, and the apparently feather-delicate melodies, those opening notes on the piano betray a touch, a soupçon of menace. In fact, taking the opener Tormentil, the congas, the elusive drone, the light (Alice) Coltrane-ish spirituality, it’s an odd mix on paper but via the ears, it breathes perfect sense. As does #2, False Jasmine which bounces around, strong on the vibes and theremin-like electronics; a frenetic improvised ‘60s B-movie soundtrack (probably a subtle underpinning for the obligatory tripping out scene). Jazzier, bluesier improv comes courtesy of the guitar and organ driving Psychedelic Frogfish… And so on, the trio flows from hypnotic airs to free collision, oddball quirk, pastoral meditation, maybe a touch of Third Stream, and yet everything coheres: balanced, luminous, seductive. Described individually, the tracks can seem a weird collection but the introspective, unhurried flow of ideas and interplay, and the almost songlike structures lull the ear, leading to a number of ‘How did we get here?’ moments when the conscious brain takes note. In fact, the album cover may be the best indicator of what’s going on: natural, organic music… with thorns. - A JAZZ NOISE
MPH sind Alex Maguire, Martin Pyne und Mark Hewins. Alle drei sind seit 30-40 Jahren in der britischen Musikszene in vorwiegend jazzig-rockigen Gefilden aktiv, Maguire und Hewins zudem auch in einigen BBS-relevanten Projekten und Bands. Hewins war z.B. schon Mitte der 70er als Gitarrist bei Polite Force tätig (siehe "Canterbury Knights"), später bei Soft Heap (festgehalten auf "A Veritable Centaur"). Zudem war er an Projekten von Richard Sinclair, Hugh Hopper und Elton Dean (siehe z.B. "Bar Torque") beteiligt, und 1999 einer der Tour-Gitarristen von Gong. Auch Maguire war im Canterbury-Bereich aktiv, spielte mit Pip Pyle und Elton Dean, war der letzte Tastendrücker von Hatfield And The North, und ist, neben Tätigkeiten in diversen eigenen Projekten (z.B. dem Alex Maguire Sextet), eine der Macher der Band douBt. Pyne betätigte sich dagegen bisher eher in Jazzkreisen, bzw. beschäftigt sich mit Elektronischem oder frei Improvisiertem.
2018 taten sich die drei zusammen, um Canterbury-inspirierte Musik zu improvisieren. An zwei Tagen im August spielte man verschiedene Nummern ein, die im Herbst 2019 von Discus Music unter dem Titel "Taxonomies" auf CD veröffentlicht wurden.
Hammond Orgel, Piano, Vibraphon, Gitarren, allerlei Perkussion und diverse elektronische Sounderzeuger bedienen die drei Protagonisten vornehmlich, und verweben diese frei improvisiert zu dichten, sehr abwechslungsreichen, eher ruhig und getragen dahin wogenden Gemengen. Erstaunlich sanft und luftig ist diese Musik über weite Strecken, vor allem im Vergleich zu den dem Rezensenten bekannten früheren Werken der Beteiligten, vor allem Hewins’ ("A Veritable Centaur" sei hier nochmal erwähnt). Fast zerbrechlich sind diese Klänge oft, bestehend aus verhaltenem Gitarrenzupfen, hallenden Pianolinien, dezenter Perkussion, glockigem Vibraphon und verspieltem Georgel. Die Orgel ist eigentlich das einzige Instrument, welches bisweilen etwas lauter aufbraust. Zusammen mit den Elektronikklängen sorgt sie aber auch für eine gewisse krautig-kosmische Atmosphäre, für ein freiere Wuseln und Wabern, das an die frühen 70er gemahnt (man höre z.B. "False Jasmine"), an Soft Machine oder auch Terry Riley.
Richtig laut wird es hier also selten, doch ist diese Musik auch keine seichte Fahrstuhlmusik. Durchaus frei und klangmalend gleiten die verschiedenen Instrumentallinien durcheinander, eher getragen zwar meist, aber bisweilen schon angeschrägt und kantig, mit experimentellem Charakter. In "Rocket Larkspear" ist man auch einmal verhalten, fast free-jazzig am Wüten, und gegen Ende des abschließenden "Sally Lightfoot" lässt das Trio es fast krachen. Viele fast erhabene, delikat wabernde und kristallin strahlende Stellen gibt es aber auch. Will sagen, "Taxonomies" bietet nicht schräges Improvisationsgequietsche Marke nichtgeölte Tür, sondern vorwiegend atmosphärische Tongespinste und Klanglandschaften mit jazzig-Canterburyartiger Atmosphäre.
Instrumentale und sehr farbige Improvisationen mit Canterbury-Flair bietet "Taxonomies" also, elektronisch schwebend, jazzig wuselnd, kosmisch wabernd und freiformatig tonbastelnd. Wer die formloseren Exkurse, elektronischen Einlagen und jazzigen Experimente von z.B. Soft Machine bzw. den verschiedenen Projekten der einzelnen Mitglieder jener Band schätzt, sich das Ganze aber entspannter, gelassener und verspielter vorstellen kann, versehen mit jazzigem Pianogeklimper, der/dem sei "Taxonomies" sehr empfohlen. - Achim Brieling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
A deceivingly splendid recording of totally improvised pieces done live in the studio over a two day period, that often fools the listener into being certain the music was previously composed and rehearsed. But that is the measuring stick of great musicians who can come together, play on the fly, and create magic. This is precisely what the trio MPH did here. And the fact that the three have never played together (Maguire had played individually each with Pyne and Hewins, but none of them all together as one band) before makes it an even more remarkable.
From ethereal adventure, exotic journey (not too far from Oregon, various ECM outfits, and high-end ambient fusion bands), psychedelic impetus, avant jazz (Keith Tippett and early company, outer limit jazz), playful encounter, starlight escapades, tilted thresholds, all in contemplative theater, 'Taxonomies' gifts all of those and beyond. If indeed there was a proposition, the three musicians here may have established that they would open the floodgates to allow anything, and for all brain cells to work in unison, to make a masterpiece. The declaration was achieved.
Nothing is stationary, but all is a steady revolution around an axis, that moves either suddenly with alarm, slowly and carefully, and/or spasmodic with suggestion. All with intention and lyrical dissolve. After one listen, it is obvious that these three artists have great patience, to let the impromptu music flow as it will, and take its place, in a rightful order, no matter what the urge might have tried to suggest otherwise. Alex Maguire - piano / Hammond organ, Martin Pyne - vibraphone / drums / percussion / electronics, and Mark Hewins - guitars / electronics, make a fascinating debut release together.
The first session was with Alex (the man who suggested this project) playing mainly Hammond organ. The second day was with him on acoustic piano. Mark performed digital slide guitar and electronics, and Martin took on vibraphone and electronics, drums, and Wave drum on day one. Then on second session, Mark played jazz guitar and electronics, while Martin handled acoustic vibraphone with or without treatments, and percussion. Spots of the jazz guitar give off shades of Ralph Towner/Bill Frisell, yet so many substantial influences exist to pin down anything broad.
The titles of the works are inspired by various flora and fauna, sich as 'False Jasmine', 'Meadowsweet', 'Purple Loosestrife', and 'Sally Lightfoot'. The names are to suggest "timeless narrative, characters, landscapes and mindscapes." This they do, in full bloom. The catholic palette of settings from lazy daydreaming to rippling directions, and exotic chance, provides the audience with a series of short films for the ears and imagination. 'Taxonomies' is very curious, distinguished and inventive. - Lee Henderson, BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE
MPH came together in 2018 at the suggestion of Alex Maguire, who had previously worked separately with both Martin Pyne and Mark Hewins. Given their varied backgrounds in jazz, free improvisation, rock and classical musics, dance and theatre, it is no surprise that the three have performed a music here that is gloriously eclectic and wide-ranging in its references, by turns playful, ethereal, abrasive, earthy, delicate and lyrical.
What is surprising, however, is that the entire set is totally improvised. I say surprising, not because the musicians are not themselves fine improvisers, but that the music sounds almost through composed in places, or at least structurally organised. There is a solid logic to each piece, the wooden percussion of Pyne on the opening Tormentil, for example, shuffling out a rhythm over which Maguire plays a delightfully engaging melody set off by Hewins’s Latin guitar, together sounding as if this was a piece into which they had put considerable thought beforehand. Likewise, the intertwining of vibes, piano and guitar on Finger Muscle suggests prior organisation. But not so, if they are to be believed.
Interestingly, the first day’s music, with Maguire on organ sounding more like Sun Ra than anyone else, is looser and more evidently improvised, but again still has a form about it that suggests pre-thought. That tension between free improvisation in the studios and harmonic and rhythmic coherence on the finished CD is what gives this set its power, and its great appeal.
By the way, all the track titles are, in their words, “inspired by the wonderfully evocative traditional names for various flora and fauna, suggestive of timeless narratives, characters, landscapes and mindscapes.” Evocative, that’s the best word to describe this set. - Simon Adams, JAZZ JOURNAL
Wholly improvised music doesn’t hit my radar much these days – gone are the days when some of Elton Dean’s more obtuse workings arrived through the postbox with a reverberating clunk – and a slight nervousness on my part as to what they might contain musically. ‘Taxonomies’ is the opposite – an album I actively sought out as it was clear on hearing the first few bars on Bandcamp that this was an album not only worth pursuing, but likely to involve rewards for repeated listening.
Some context: this is a collaboration between three musicians, two with a clear Canterbury vintage. Guitarist Mark Hewins is something of a hero in these quarters: he pursued many of our mutual inspirations to Canterbury in the Seventies where he collaborated with the likes of Dave and Richard Sinclair and Graham Flight in the Polite Force, resurrected Soft Heap with John Greaves, Pip Pyle and Elton Dean in the Eighties, and collaborated with Hugh Hopper extensively in the Nineties. He also pioneered the Canterbury scene’s presence on the web with musart.co.uk, and remains particularly active in convening various Canterbury ‘supergroups’ of sorts – a resurrected MASHU with Shyamal Maitra and Jack Monck this autumn in Gasny, plus a current collaboration with Lyn Dobson (from Soft Machine’s ‘Third’) and Eric Peachey (Khan). Pianist Alex Maguire was a long-time collaborator with both Pip Pyle and Phil Miller and architect of the remarkable memorial concerts which celebrated the musical legacy of the latter at the start of 2019. Martin Pyne is the multi-faceted percussionist player who completes this rather excellent trio.
‘Taxonomies’ is relatively sonically benign for the most part: with piano and vibraphone providing wonderfully organic sounds, often in tandem, whilst Hewins alternates between etched out guitar textures one will recall from his ‘Adreamor’ album with Hugh Hopper, and some subtle bluesy themes. Best of all are the opener ‘Tormentil’, where Maguire’s tinklings recall Sophia Domancich’s beautiful melodies on Pip Pyle’s ‘Up’ (common ground here as both were latter-day keyboard players with Hatfield and the North), set against some gently propelling hand drums from Pyne. Or ‘Finger Muscle’, a sleazy jazz growler with cascading piano and vibe brought back to base time and time again by Hewins’ guitar. The eerie building of atmosphere within ‘Meadowsweet’ and the beautiful chimes of ‘Eyebright’ set against the gentle pitter patter of percussion, are also fine moments. Elsewhere the soundscapes are more questioning, particularly further into the album, where Maguire’s spooked out Hammond organ, particularly on ‘Purple Loosestrife’ conjures up visions of a somewhat nightmarish fairground ride. Or ‘Rocket Larkspear’ where Maguire’s virtuosic navigation around his piano creates a Keith Tippett-like pummelling of the eardrums. These later tracks are not an easy ride, but shouldn’t detract from some of the simple beauty of many of the earlier themes in the album.
Just an explanation of the various exotic titles here: ‘Taxonomies’ was recorded live over two days, taking its inspiration from a variety of unusual fauna and flora, and is namechecked not only in its track listings but also captured in Mark Hewins’ stunning photography contained in the packaging surrounding this unusual release. - FACELIFT