90CD - Martin Archer - Anthropology Band
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Taking the electric music of Miles Davis as its starting point, Anthropology Band is about finding the atmosphere through a deep rhythm, a searing blues run, a delicate melody, or a cascading solo statement. Band leader Martin Archer has kept the music as simple as possible – often driven by the bassline – and the structures loose, to enable this who’s who of UK creative musicians to let the music breathe in a different way each time it is played. There are multiple chordal instruments in the centre of the sound, allowing each soloist to sit on a kaleidoscopic wave of intercrossing figures which push the music forward.
This double CD presents the music in 2 versions - first version by the core Septet, second version by the Septet ehnaced by a large brass and woodwind ensemble arranged by Charlotte Keeffe and Martin Archer. Our premise for the second version was to try to imagine how Bitches Brew might have sounded arranged by Gil Evans.
Martin Archer - saxophones, electronics, composer
Charlotte Keeffe - trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger
Chris Sharkey - guitar, electronics
Pat Thomas, keyboards, electronics
Corey Mwamba - vibraphone
Dave Sturt - bass guitar
Peter Fairclough - drums
Kim Macari - trumpet
George Murray - trombone
Ben Higham - tuba
Mick Somerset - concert, alto and bass flutes, piccolo
Nathan Bettany - oboe and cor anglais
James Mainwaring - soprano saxophone
Hannah Brady - alto saxophone
Riley Stone-Lonergan - tenor saxophone
Alicia Gardener-Trejo - baritone saxophone
On this double CD, the Anthropology Band is both a septet (on CD1) and an ensemble (on CD2). In both configurations, the band play through a set of fifteen compositions. The whole set is inspired by electric Miles. On the opening track, ‘Fiction Fraction’, I thought I could hear refrains from ‘In a silent way’, ‘Pharaohs Dance, and ‘Bitches Brew’ running through it. Some of these were clear stated by trumpet, others implied and immediately over-written by the electronic effects and other instruments. As the pieces develop, so the Sharkey’s wonderfully discordant guitar buzzes across the themes and the rhythm section drive a solid funk. This is reimagined electric Miles that captures the excitement of the 1970s recordings but never becomes too beholden to the quest to reproduce the ‘sound’. Archer is too subtle a player and band-leader to do anything that simple. Indeed, in collaboration with Keefe, he approached the ensemble versions of these compositions with the question ‘what might Bitches Brew have sounded like if Gil Evans had arranged it?’ Well, one answer to that might have sounded like the Evans various cover versions of Jimi Hendrix songs; which I feel often show how much of the electric sound Evans didn’t quite get – for me, Evans tended to hear ‘rock’ where Miles played funk (albeit heavy, electric, out-there funk). What Archer understands is that space between (indie) rock and funk – and to which he brings his own approach to electronica. This creates a sound that is both contemporary and true to the sounds that Miles (and Teo Macero) were working towards. If this was a single album, the effect would be impressive and, for anyone with an interest in ‘70s Miles, well worth a listen.
On the second CD, the bar is raised further, with Keefe and Archer taking the tunes from the septet and reworking them with a brass and woodwind ensemble. For the first few tracks, the scale of the ensemble is used sparingly, almost as an echo of the saxophone lines or a means of adding spice to the keyboards as they accompany some searing guitar playing and bouncing bass lines (which are played again on the ensemble versions). This gives a different flavour to the pieces, as if they are being played in a hall of mirrors, with the brass and woodwind reflecting and distorting the sax lines. These pieces have a feel of contemporary classical compositions, with subtle shifting of key and careful balancing of sound between the instruments. With tracks like ‘Why so?’ or ‘Snap call / Back wall’ the power of the ensemble comes to the fore and the feeling is of a big band playing post-bop.
I like much of what Archer has been releasing in recent years, but this recording stands head and shoulders above his other recordings. This really deserves a wide and enthusiastic audience and is highly recommended. There is an eight piece concert band that will be touring this set early next year, and that will definitely worth seeking out. - Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS