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
Martin Archer is one very busy man. As well as running the Discus label, he seems intent on putting out album after album with various different collaborators and under numerous styles. It doesn’t feel like so very long since the Anthropology Band‘s album rose like an incredible new sun over my world and I have been living with it since, trying to put its two-and-a-half hours of instrumental odyssey into something that makes sense — and doesn’t drift into a 10,000 word treatise on why it is possibly the most expansive and fulfilling jazz-based album it has been my pleasure to sink into. - Mr Olivette, FREQ
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
Archer is a composer who often seeks inspiration from a specific musician, period or style. This can be krautrock, progressive rock, AACM or Miles Davis, as is the case with this new two cd set. In two different line-ups, he offers interpretations of the same material: a set of fifteen compositions that are played in identical order. On the first CD, we hear a septet of Martin Archer (saxello, electronics), Charlotte Keeffe (trumpet), Chris Sharkey (guitar), Corey Mwamba (vibraphone), Pat Thomas (keyboards), Dave Sturt (bass guitar) and Peter Fairclough (drums). For the second version the ensemble is extended with brass and wind sections: Martin Archer (sopranino, tenor and baritone saxes, bass clarinet), James Mainwaring (soprano sax), Hannah Brady (alto sax), Riley Stone-Lonergan (tenor sax), Alicia Gardener-Trejo (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Mick Somerset (flutes, piccolo), Nathan Bettany (oboe, cor anglais), Charlotte Keeffe (trumpet, flugelhorn), Kim Macari (trumpet), George Murray (trombone) and Ben Higham (tuba). From the first moment, it is evident that for this project Archer is inspired by Miles Davis in his 70s electric phase. Archer composed
catchy motives and grooving vehicles that are open and loosely structured. Creating space for echoing electronics and sparse accentuations. Blues, jazz and funk are never far away. The musicians play with verve. Of course Keeffe on trumpet, the excellent drumming by Fairclough and, above all, the great guitar interventions by Sharkey, for example in ‘People Talking Blues’. Arrangements for the extended version are 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.” This way an old dream of Archer came true: to make an album that presents compositions in two different versions. Why this dream I wondered. But whatever the reason may be, I never thought in this case that one version was enough. Both recordings satisfy and have a
lot to offer. With Miles as a starting point, Archer and his companions succeeded convincingly in creating a similar atmosphere that stands solid on its own two feet. Big fun! - Dorf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY
Martin Archer, creative hub of the Sheffield jazz/avant music scene, and main man behind Discus Music, has realised a long-held ambition with this album, presenting the same music in two strikingly different formats. The former relays the music in its “core state”, in this case a fusion septet, and the latter laying it down in the form of an orchestrated larger ensemble, with an arrangement underlining the fusion heft of the smaller grouping.
Anthroplogy Band, by its very name implies something human, but somehow primal, and the first septet CD gives that idea form. Using the space offered by simple bass riffs, the music goes through changes, taking in psychedelic guitar, with sax and trumpet punctuation, luminous electric piano, and bass-led vibraphonic cosmic drift.
The amiable piano lurch of Snap Call/Back Wall wakes us from temporary reverie, and the finger-poppin’ call and response of sax, trumpet, and squall guitar converse in strange tongues as mental fingers are clicked in time. This album centre point injects a sense of humour into proceedings, not dissimilar to what Faust used to do in another time and in another universe. It also serves to highlight the musicality on offer here, and puts to rest any fear of anything excessively outré. Martin has been known to scare the chickens, but avian peace is maintained here!
Just as Miles was a master of using the space between the notes to maximum effect, so we find the same methods applied here, the comedown from Snap Call… stretching through the understated balladry of the short but sweet Common Cause, and lingering within the sonorous and lithe People Talking Blues, which slowly but surely rises to the challenge, on the back of some fabulous trumpet blowing. Softly softly catchee monkey… in fact, the spacious groove continues until we arrive at the phat and funky concluding track The Wrong Stuff, a dishevelled lurch of a thing with a gloriously and intentionally messy guitar solo.
The big band arrangements on the second CD sees Martin’s septet compositions reimagined in tandem with trumpeter and flugelhorn player Charlotte Keeffe, with both attempting to answer the express question “what might it have sounded like if Gil Evans’ large arrangements for Miles had continued on into his electric era?”
The angry molten guitar squelch of Give Me Back Some Truth is here aided by the heavies of the orchestrations, and the added weight is carried with growing menace. There is more going on within the spaces of The Dancer and the Spark, fleeting conversations in the zoo at night. Behind Another Son becomes detective noir, but the murder weapon stubbornly refuses to be found, the arrangement is intricate, and becomes dense.
The repetitive Soft Machine-like bass riff of Why So? is now expanded into new territory, and its big, confident re-arrangement works just fine. And so we arrive back in the middle, where a looser, more fluid version of Snap Call/Back Wall is the order of the day, and all sorts of space fauna zooms about and happily squawks away around the big brass-and-reeds riff. The Gil Evans/Miles question of earlier has been well and truly answered.
Luckily for us all, Martin tells us that this music is “designed for concert performance”, and that “this band will be touring the U.K. in the new year”. Can’t wait! - Roger Trenwith, THE PROGRESSIVE ASPECT
Martin Archer is one of the heroes of British music. He’ll be best known to some as a member of Hornweb, but having more or less renounced live playing for studio work and shepherding the eclectic Discus imprint, he has gone on a long and fascinating journey, exploring electronic music, “classical” compositions, making records with Julie Tippetts and other collaborators, and is now back in a realm that approximately fits the parameters of post-bop jazz. In terms of his instrumental and stylistic range, influence and dedication, he has some claim to be dubbed Britain’s Anthony Braxton, but less cerebral and “cool”.
What we have here is basically two separate performances of a single notated piece by Archer, orchestrated for the second version in collaboration with Charlotte Keeffe. Unexpectedly, or not, Archer takes Miles Davis’s electric period as his starting point, which makes sense for the septet, but posing the ensemble players the intriguing question of what Bitches Brew would have sounded like if arranged by Gil Evans, rather than jigsawed by Teo Macero.
For a time on the second CD, the ensemble seems to be doing little more than adding shadow lines to the saxophone and trumpet, but gradually the band comes together, not just expanding on the small group concept (“with orchestra”) but creating something new out of the same basic material. Wishful thinking might lead you to hear snatches of Miles music in the mix: I got a couple of earworm tags of Bitches Brew itself, but these are incidental. Archer has form with (kraut)rock, classical, ambient and just about everything in between and this represents one of his boldest and most interesting syntheses.
Chris Sharkey and Peter Fairclough are key elements in the mix and the sense of constant return is hypnotic. The sections are mostly short and to the point, so there’s no question of inaccessibility and a pervasive (he’ll hate me using the word) pastoral strain keeps the urban thump in check. - Brian Morton, JAZZ JOURNAL
Though Martin Archer's Anthropology Band readily acknowledges its debt to electric era Miles as its starting point, it quickly hurtles off into its own distinctive space. Chris Sharkey's vivid, blazing guitar adds a fevered counterpoint to Archer's sinuous brass themes which frame much of this 2 CD set. Gong bassist Dave Sturt adds notable definition. - Sid Smith, PROG
The first surprise of this album is that it is… double! And when you know the relentless talent of Martin ARCHER to produce albums of ultimate quality, it just means double helping of pleasure! Because the whole art here is to take the music of Miles DAVIS as an inspirational, technical and philosophical point of reference before attempting the adventure beyond, in the pleasure of what will be accomplished and in the pride that what will be finished.
Of course, only musicians in full possession of their art can follow the path of Miles DAVIS and beyond. However, by choice, but also for safety, so as not to lose either the musicians or the listener, Martin ARCHER here chooses only a straightforward method. There is always a fundamental axis in his works, an easy-to-follow melody, an omnipresent bass, an occasional signpost that makes you never feel lost in the forest of notes.
However, at the same time, this landmark allows all the surrounding adventures, but pleasingly we always stay in a very musical place, it is the imperative goal. And in the nobility too. The music of Miles DAVIS was of great nobility, and Martin ARCHER never forgets that.
And with Anthropology Band, Martin ARCHER shows that he does not lack ambition either, since the album, as we said, is double. Anthropology Band A implements a varied septet of musicians while Anthropology Band B relies on a larger but more structured group of instrumentalists. The result in both cases is obviously different. On the one hand the musicians improvise freely around the chosen axis, while on the other side the improvisation is more organized so that it can nevertheless be carried out with great fluidity.
But in any case and on each piece, believe me, it's great Art, with a big A. - Frédéric Gerchambeau, RYTHMES CROISES
Five stars. Again a creative project by Martin Archer. In this double CD, first a set (CD A) and then a wind orchestra (CD B) are active, playing the "same" music, the same songs. And so we can have two versions in one fell swoop: a great idea, ambitious and winning. The style is towards electric Miles, progressive rock, and, on some tracks, improvised modern jazz. Wide and open structures, imbued with a beautiful blues feeling, which allow those who find the inspiration to assert their expressiveness. However, it is always Miles' imprint that dominates, not least because of the pervasive presence of Charlotte Keefe's trumpet (CD A), which is joined on CD B by Kim Macari (and many other winds). Among the other more interesting aspects of the double work there is a kind of rhythmic-melodic ideé fixe, which (at least so I think) on both records crosses various tracks, (e.g. the two recordings of Behind Another Sun and Give Me Back Some Truth), acting as a glue between the tracks. The sound (also thanks to Chris Sharkey's distorted guitar timbres, Pat Thomas' acoustic and electric piano and Corey Mwamba's vibraphone) is very well-groomed and captivating. Archer's stable does not disappoint, nor does it disappoint those who, with skillful creativity, organize and guide it. - A. G. Bertinetto, KATHODIK
An ambitious project in which Archer's compositions are played through by a septet, then re-visited by a brass and wind ensemble. Moreover, Archer starts from an intriguing position, evoking the atmospherics of In A Silent Way and, to a degree, Bitches Brew. And if that weren't layering enough, the ensemble addresses the question "what if Gil Evans has arranged electric era Miles?". So, the ensemble version of The Dancer And The Spark employs spiky brass punctuations suggesting more than it demands. Charlotte Keeffe deserves a special mention. She not only does a spendid Miles, especially on Give Me Back Some Truth, but she also finds her own voice amid the echoes of 50 years ago that Archer is keen to evoke. For good measure Keeffe co-arranged the ensemble pieces where the chamber-like use of flutes and bass clarinet contrasts with the more electronic, guitar and keys driven first album.....All credit to Archer, Keeffe and this band of young lions (Mwamba not the least) for setting themselves such a Milesian task. - Andy Robson, JAZZWISE
Anthropology Band is a joint endeavour by Martin Archer, who composed the septet music on CD one, and trumpeter and flugelhorn player, Charlotte Keefe, who helped to compose the brass and wind ensemble version of the same fifteen part work on CD two. Version one starts in avant-garde form with Chris Sharkey’s electric guitar, Pat Thomas’s Rhodes and Corey Mwamba’s vibraphone gradually entering; Dave Sturt (well known to us through rock collaborations) on bass, and Peter Fairclough on drums. John McLaughlin immediately springs to mind in the guitarist’s approach, while the trumpet playing and overall feel is suggestive of Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches’ Brew’ and ‘Big Fun’ period. ‘The Dancer and the Spark’ reveals what a gifted trumpet player Charlotte Keefe is, with Pat Thomas adding thoughtful piano backing. There is a rock interlude on ‘Behind Another Sun’ with a memorable bass riff, splendid vibes, trumpet soaring over the electric piano chording with guitar interjections. ‘Why Say?’ has a thick layer of bass (Sturt’s bass playing throughout is amazing), Archer’s tuneful saxello building an atmosphere over shimmering vibes and electronics. ‘Concrete on Sunshine Steps’ affords space for the bass while ‘Snap Call/ Back Wall’ has an excellent strident four note electric piano motif that proves, along with the staccato guitar and saxello, that the Anthropology Band can swing with the best of them. As we progress Fairclough’s thoughtful drum work becomes more central, the expressionistic guitar giving way to trumpet again in the longest number, ‘People Talking Blues’ (10 minutes), a sleepy extemporisation, flugelhorn playing a part and, before we know it we have reached the final piece ‘The Wrong Stuff 4 U’ which is another inspired piece of jazz rock fusion with a great bass riff and fast flowing trumpet, perfectly complemented by the vibes, which plays a significant part in the music. So another eighty minutes is to come on CD two and it is intriguing to listen to how the same music reveals different characteristics with no fewer than five saxophonists, including Martin Archer, who plays soprano, tenor and baritone, as well as bass clarinet (as does Alicia Gardener-Trejo). Mick Somerset’s variety of flutes and piccolo and Nathan Bethany’s oboe and cor anglais give the music a different sound, of course, but the integrity and impact of the basic piece are both retained and enhanced in this other version, which answers the question as to why release the same piece twice with different instruments and arrangements. Central to it all is Charlotte Keefe once again, who continues to coax some amazing sounds from her trumpet and flugelhorn, and who is joined by a brass section of her own comprising another trumpet, trombone and tuba. My first instinct on listening was to listen all over again and I wasn’t disappointed. The way in which atmospheric, improvisational sections of music burst into fully-formed pieces of jazz rock, which are both memorable and infectious is a joy, and Martin Archer and his gifted accomplices have pulled off a very rare trick in producing music that is true to the spirit of free form jazz and yet features melodies (and funkiness!) rarely heard since the heady days of the birth of jazz rock fusion. - Phil Jackson, ACID DRAGON