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
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