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