111CD - James Mainwaring - Mycorrhiza - CD plus downloadTweet
Mycorrhiza is the term describing the symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and a plants root system. The fungi forms networks between the trees, allowing them to communicate. Often nicknamed the ‘wood wide web’, the network allows trees to send each other nutrients and warn each other about predators such as bugs, deer, or harmful pathogens. This album is inspired by natural systems like this and is concerned about the human impact and the corruption surrounding it.
The album flows like a single piece, in a calm and restrained, yet unsettling way, and the rhythmic content ramps up towards the end. As the album progresses it becomes centred around the human voices which give this work much of its special character. In reflection of restraint, interestingly, James, who is a virtuoso saxophonist, is very sparing with his solos, giving them a different kind of impact. On alto and tenor, they are present most clearly towards the ends of ‘Statues’, ‘Year of the Snake’, ‘Woken up by Dogs’, and mid-way through ‘Our Lungs’. Genre-wise, the album appears to occupy its own space, the strings possibly evoke 1970s leftfield BBC documentary soundtracks – the other closest reference point might be the post-Henry Cow body of music, maybe News From Babel?
Following the album’s introduction, which is an excerpt from a conducted improvisation, there are two forest-influenced tracks: ‘Dawn’, which is an improvisation narrating the forests’ first light and dawn chorus, and ‘Komorebi’, which is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “the scattered light that filters through when sunlight shines through trees”. James wrote this piece at dawn while recording the field samples in the park near the house where he grew up. The house was recently sold to HS2 to make way for a new rail line. Alongside the loss of 1000s of homes – HS2 is in the process of destroying 108 ancient woodlands and 693 wildlife sites. The following track, ‘Roots’, was created via an improvisation using quiet sustained notes with electronic overdubs by Chris Sharkey. ‘Machines’ aims to interrupt the album and change the direction - like diggers showing up to destroy the forest. ‘Statues’ is a song that relates to feelings of powerlessness in reflection of the consequences of HS2. ‘Dotted Line’ is a composition reverting to the style of ‘Komerebi’, but with the new information in mind. ‘Web’ and ‘Interlude’ are the final improvisation excerpts on the album, which James states ‘I chose, edited, and ordered the improvised tracks aiming to form a narrative with the compositions and songs – to me they’re as important and valuable. The band's contribution and collective understanding of the music was amazing, I’ve felt extremely lucky to be working with them throughout the process.’ ‘Our Lungs’ was written during the summer as reports that fires were getting out of control in the Amazon rainforest were announced. ‘Globe’ is more sci-fi influenced - it’s a song about Earth thankfully waving goodbye to humans, so it can start recovering. A selection of humans escapes so they can live on a spaceship while the rest of them die. This is followed by another instrumental tune, ‘Year of the Snake’ which leads to the final track of the album, ‘Woken up by Dogs’, which is inspired by the extinction rebellion and their acts of civil disobedience.
James Mainwaring is a saxophonist, composer and singer-songwriter based in Leeds, UK. While his background is in jazz and rock music, his music aims to be genre-fluid, and as a saxophonist, he is interested in augmenting his sound with extended techniques and electronics. Since moving to Leeds to study at Leeds Conservatoire where he is now a tutor; he has released three albums with the Mercury Prize, Jazz FM and MOBO nominated Roller Trio and toured extensively throughout the UK, Ireland, Europe, as well as British Council funded performances in South Korea and North Sudan. He has also led Tipping Point, who released The Earthworm’s Eye View in 2015, the Guardian described the album as ‘playful, dark, skilful and spontaneous… a sure-footed trip across many persuasions in contemporary music’. As well as a bandleader/collaborator, he has toured/recorded as a sideman with artists such as Nduduzo Makathini, (Ikhambi), Django Django, John Law (Configuration), Dave Kane, Morten Schantz, Sean Foran, Martin Archer, and Space Fight.
Aby Vulliamy - viola, vocals.
Michael Bardon - cello, double bass.
Fergus Quill - double bass.
Steve Hanley – drums.
Chris Sharkey - electronics.
James Mainwaring - saxophones, compositions, arrangements, lyrics, vocals, field recordings / granular synth, Fender Rhodes, piano, and flutes.
Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Mainwaring brings his many skills and interests to bear on this fascinating project, one which transcends categorical trappings to imaginatively engage the senses and the spirit. Through an approach conflating composition and improvisation, Mainwaring and his associates augur what is ostensibly a ‘jazz’-inflected recording that makes ample use of vernaculars broached from classical and chamber-music forms, effortlessly working a mojo one could only describe as fleet and free. While choirs ache with the mournful cries of strings, cellos, viola, and double bass, wrapped in exquisitely-rendered tapestries of granular synth and field recordings that serve as a piquant backdrop for his own sax playing, Mainwaring and his collective weave an overarching narrative that reckons the composer’s world-weary sadness and escalating disenchantment with the destruction of his British homeland and the planet at large. Though organized as thirteen vignettes of definable provenance, the record flows as one magnificent piece, the strings establishing a variety of gestural textures that Mainwaring complements with his sharp, concise horn phrasing and impeccably chosen electronic ornamentation. Of particular note is the graceful, serene “Our Lungs”, where oscillating digital tones make up a thick underbrush of sound upon which course a lyric about vanishing air, mirrored in oxygenated percussive overtones and whitewashed strings. The similarly designed “Statues” bifurcates a technology wrestling with its ancient, hand-plucked folk-story, a contemporary Fairport Convention unsure of its synthesized footing in a digitized, post-classical milieu. “Woken Up By Dogs”, at six-plus minutes the longest track, resonates with a barely-controlled intensity, electronics like estranged insects buzzing about a gathering front of cello, skanking piano, bass, thunderous drums, and sax that resolves itself in illustrious splendor. A rich, rewarding, and thoughtful recording, redolent of our chaotic times, joyously cathartic and all the more vital for it. - Darren Bergstein, DMG, NYC
Several years ago I caught enough James Mainwaring at a live gig to convince me he’s a special saxophonist. Believe me I like ‘special sax players’. That’s not what this album is about. Mycorrhiza is an album attempting a deep audio environmental treatise and that goes way beyond being a virtuoso on reeds. If like me your knowledge of James Mainwaring is limited to past projects like Roller Trio, Tipping Point and Space Fight, I suggest you actually put those interesting recordings to one side. Mycorrhiza is a different prospect. The focus is given over to a collective ensemble invoking the very nature of organic life vs the danger represented by manmade infrastructures.
It’s a subtle work, fragile and flawed in places yet positively rich in resonance in many others, it deserves major exposure. Past projects have taken Mr Mainwaring to the Mercury Prize and MOBO. Are such institutions able to seriously embrace what’s on offer here? Let’s call it what it is, the environment, the central global issue; constantly ignored despite the media branding of good people like Attenborough and Thunberg. If the implications of Mycorrhiza were to take central stage… we would be invoking an organic revolution. The heartening start to James Mainwaring’s music is the piece Komorebi; built around cello, double bass and viola, a slow arco and pizzicato figure sound-tracking the idea of the sun rising through trees. In print such a description can translate as mere romanticism, it isn’t. The need for the sun to rise is a cold hard fact. And that is present in this music. Mycorrhiza is a suite rather than a collection of tracks but there in the individual titles is the sense of the depth: Machines, Our Lungs, Year Of The Snake, Woken Up By Dogs. Clearly there is grit beneath ‘the natural selection’ of nutrients. Personally for me, the occasional ethereal voice castings could have taken on a tougher, rougher route to the roots. The word Mycorrhiza refers to fungicides relationship to root systems. It’s not mystical magic but biological fact. For me, the worth of the material asks for a honed well-weathered larynx like Robert Wyatt to draw lines beneath its meaning. Something Mainwaring’s tenor and soprano saxophones hit on in a well targeted precise manner in the last nine minutes. I hope someone somewhere is going to get behind this recording. It will require promotion and championing, as does its underlying message. We all need to hear this, one way or another. - Steve Day: August 2021
Rather lovely - Stuart McConie, FREAK ZONE BBC6
Mycorrhiza, I am reliably informed, is the symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and a plant’s root system. I should have known that, having read the amazing book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben which makes you think about the very forces of nature that keep us alive in an entirely different way. Because, of course, we now know that trees communicate- maybe they don’t walk about like in ‘Lord of the Rings’ but they are part of an incredible social network and ecosystem nicknamed the ‘wood wide web’. So we have ‘Dawn’ which is an astounding evocation of nature: ‘waking up’ in a forest, birds sounding as if they are stretching to greet the new day and trees creaking to shake off the darkness and welcome the light- and it’s all done on viola, cello and electronics. (The flurry of activity, conjuring up images of a constant stream of messages and warnings is similarly depicted later on ‘Web’). ‘Komorebi’ depicts the scattered sunlight that filters through the trees. Mainwaring is a saxophonist by trade but adds synth, pianos, flutes and field recordings to this thought provoking conceptual album. The mood changes on ‘Machines’ as the diggers arrive to destroy over a hundred ancient woodlands to start building the HS2. ‘Statues’ follows, as resignation dawns that resistance may be futile (The book ‘Overstory’ has a similar theme as occupiers try to prevent the destruction and death of a forest), viola player Aby Vuilliamy sings on this backed by Mainwaring, a superbly crafted jazz piece with double bass (Fergus Quill), Steve Henley (drums) and a fluid, reflective sax solo. ‘Mycorrhiza’ deftly mixes improvisations with compositions, showing Mainwaring’s skill as an arranger and producer (along with Tim Thomas). ‘Our Lungs’ features the harrowing lyric ‘Our lungs are burning’ and concerns the Amazonian rainforest fires- this has become even more topical now given the increasing impact of global warming crisis on our forests. ‘Globe’ imagines a time when the “parasites in paradise’ are told to “go and don’t come back” to leave Gaia to recover from the damage done by humankind. ‘Woken Up By Dogs’ took me back to walking miles around London a couple of years back on day one of the Extinction Rebellion protests and one can easily imagine this number being done by one of the Canterbury bands of the past or any of the ‘Rock in Opposition’ bands of the past. There are not enough true concept albums about these days, in my opinion, especially concerning issues that really, really matter but Mainwaring and his gifted companions have given us not only one of the finest and most relevant albums of this year but one that will stay relevant for many years to come. The album will have lasting appeal to lovers of progressive rock and jazz- don’t miss it, a continuous and reassuring listen with an affirmation that there are people who really care out there, enough to write a whole suite of music about the perils our planet faces. - Phil Jackson, ACID DRAGON
Born in Warrington in 1989, saxophonist James Mainwaring has set such a system in sound on his second, appropriately titled solo album. The "Mycorrhiza", released by Discus Music in August 2021, feels quite like jazz and the music to be found is mostly of an acoustic character. String instruments (viola, cello and double bass) determine the sound, in addition to Mainwaring’s sax and all kinds of percussion. The same create a kind of jazzy chamber music, but it has been pollinated in many ways with subtle electronic sounds, recordings of nature sounds ('field recordings'), singing and a few (post)rock excursions. The music of formations such as Clogs, Aranis, Metamorphosis (CZ) or Rachel's is not so far away here, but "Mycorrhiza" is more jazzy, free-format (RIO-like), electronic and in places also rockier. Wind noises can often be heard very restrained in the background, as well as discreet electronic patterns that waft ethereally, almost a little cosmically (you can hear e.B" "statues"), even if the strings quickly provide a chamber music atmosphere again. Worn vocals are also heard from time to time, elegiacally restrained, often performed in duo (Aby Vulliamy and Mainwaring). The drums sometimes ensure that the music picks up speed and then rocks jazzily. In "Globe" even 'real' chamber post-rock realms are achieved. But before that comes the highlight of the album, the wonderfully filigree-intense "Our lungs", in which an electric piano echoes to repetitive string patterns, the sax languishes, which all in combination with the worn vocals ensures that you really believe you are listening to the mushroom roots growing. "Mycorrhiza" is a beautiful, in places almost delicate, but sometimes also quite slippery album for border crossings between jazz, string-heavy chamber music and post-rock, which offers colorful-progressive tone paintings of a more acoustic character, which were sometimes provided with an electronic primer. If you appreciate the music of the chamber ensembles mentioned above, you should give "Mycorrhiza" a dash of Henry Cow, a pinch of electronics and some post-rock (and are interested in mushrooms). – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
Saxophonist James Mainwaring occupies a sort of indeterminate zone between improvisation and composition. His latest album for Discus is titled after the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi and its 13 pieces carry a similar sense of integration between the instrumentation. The signature piece is ‘Komorebi’, which features Mainwaring’s sax alongside mournful strings and field recordings of birds made near the house where he grew up, an extra level of significance when you learn that the house is scheduled to be demolished as part of the HS2 construction project. On ‘Statues’, which begins as an understated ballad and ends as a free and urgent piece, Mainwaring’s playing nods reverentially in the direction of Paul Desmond; ‘Globe’, on the other hand, makes an unexpected left-turn into synthesiser minimalism and insistent post-rock, angular musings. - https://furtherdot.com/
James Mainwaring is a saxophonist, composer and singer-songwriter based in Leeds, where he studied jazz at the College of Music. He participates in numerous collaborations – acoustic and electronic – with other Leeds-based improvising musicians. Most known he is for his work with Luke Wynter and Luke Reddin-William as Roller Trio. With experience in jazz and rock music, he wants to create genre-fluid music. And this new album is a good example of this approach. The term 'mycorrhiza' refers to the relationship between fungi and plants root systems. The fungi make up a network that makes it possible for trees to communicate with one another. Mainwaring chooses this phenomenon to express his deep concerns for climate change that inspired him in writing new material. The musical performance is by Aby Vulliamy (viola, vocals), Michael Bardon (cello, double bass), Fergus Quill (double bass), Steve Hanley (drums), Chris Sharkey (electronics). Multi-instrumentalist Mainwaring plays the saxophones, vocals, field recordings, granular synth, Fender Rhodes, piano and flutes. Even though the dramatic climate situation inspires the music, it is remarkably harmonious and friendly except maybe for the short spooky 'Intro'. 'Dawn' is the next, and it is an open sound-orientated improvised texture. 'Komorebi' is a reflective string-dominated melodic piece with field recordings of nature in the background. 'Statures' starts with spacy electronics before strings begin their melodic interaction, followed by vocals by Vulliamy and Mainwaring. 'Dotted Line' is a fine instrumental work of chamber music reminding a bit of the work by Zazou. 'Web' is again an example of open abstract improvisation. Overall the music breaths a rustic atmosphere; there are no confronting drastic manoeuvres or gestures. Instead, the music moves on gently and comforting, using jazzy or more poppy motives. Nice work! - Dolf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY
Mycorrhiza describes the ways in which fungi colonize the roots of a host plant, sometimes in a symbiotic manner (particularly in the ways in which the fungi can channel water and nutrients) but sometimes parasitically. The scrabbling that introduces the opening tracks, ‘Intro’ and ‘Dawn’, could be a metaphor for the spreading of these fungi. The collection of slow-burn compositions have the sense of a Suite, reflecting the natural world. With titles like ‘Roots’ (track 4), ‘Komorebi’ (track 3 – referring to the dappled light of the sun through leaves), ‘Web’ (track 8) one can see the influence of the host trees; with titles like ‘Machines’ (track 5), ‘Our lungs’ (track 10) and ‘Globe’ (track 11). The musicianship is of a very high standard, and the intricacies of Mainwaring’s compositions are compelling, drawing the listener into a complex world. But equally compelling is the ways in which Mainwaring’s vocals intersect with those of Aby Vulliamy (whose own 2018 ‘Spin Cycle’ has her unique approach to soft, almost whispered lyrics over musical forms that simulate the complexity of natural forms). As well as celebration of nature, the album has a clear and heartfelt warming of humankind’s destructive presence. Mainwaring’s lyrics for some of the pieces follow a structure dictated by syllable count. like Japanese haiku poems. On ‘Our Lungs’ he says ‘Our lungs are burning… Our lungs are dying’; on ‘Globe’ he says, ‘They burn and flood / The ground is aching / Its hands are waving / You were parasites / In paradise / Now go and don’t come back’. But there is also recognition of the challenges that come from protesting to spread this warming. On ‘Woken up by dogs’ Mainwaring makes reference to ‘men in black and white’ who ‘cuffed my hands / Ripping the superglue’. The use of glue has been particularly widely reported in relation to Extinction Rebellion, and while there is nothing on the album’s sleeve to signify links to this movement, the pieces emphasise that many ways in which humankind is harming the planet and other species. So, a clear and heart-felt Ecological warning wrapped in a suite of highly effective tunes. - Chris Baber, https://www.jazzviews.net/
In a quiet, almost sidelong way, the new album by the British saxophonist and composer James Mainwaring is a meditation on the damage inflicted by the Anthropocene epoch on the ecosystems of its host planet. Its title, Mycorrhiza, refers to the interaction between fungi and trees, a scientifically observed phenomenon that allows trees to communicate with each other in order to aid their individual and collective survival in the face of threats. This might not be an obvious topic for a composer whose work is rooted in jazz, but it’s a good one. Charlie Haden and Carla Bley reflected similar environmental concerns on Time/Life, the last album they made with the Liberation Music Orchestra, but Mycorrhiza finds its own tone and trajectory, largely through the discreet use of field recordings and of the possibility of occasionally and subtly using the organic sounds of free jazz to evoke — but not imitate — the noises of the natural world. Apart from Mainwaring, who doubles on flutes and keyboards and also sings briefly on several of tracks, the players are Aby Vulliamy (viola, voice), Michael Bardon (cello), Fergus Quill (double bass), Steve Hanley (drums) and, on four of the 13 tracks, Chris Sharkey on electronics. Mycorrhiza is a programmatic piece with a message, but the narrative content never feels didactic or overbearing. The first section is not even a minute long: a mood-setting hustle of free bass and drums under held notes from saxophone and viola. There’s a sharp cut to the rustlings, scrapings and chirpings of post-SME improvisation, followed by a sort of chamber chorale for bowed strings and saxophone, like a gentle English pastoral version of the Sauter/Getz Focus suite. A piece called “Roots” uses harmonics to suggest organisms communicating and growing together. “Machines”, 28 seconds long, introduces staccato syncopations from strings and horn. “Statues” is full of melody before Mainwaring and Vulliamy intone a lyric — “Did you hear the latest news / Shaking hands in marble rooms…” — in bleached-out unison tones that would fit nicely on to Robert Wyatt record. Against the restrained, finely phrased urgency of Quill’s bass and Hanley’s drums, the composer takes the first real solo of the piece, a rhythm-hurdling saxophone improvisation carefully blended into the ensemble architecture. That description gets us halfway through a set of pieces that continue through a further variety of dovetailed moods and approaches, gathering in intensity through the scrabbling of “Web”, the etherised tintinnabulation of”Our Lungs” (its lyric a haiku-like four lines) and the baleful agitation of “Globe” until it reaches the finale, “Woken by Dogs”, the longest track at six and a half minutes. After a lyrical piano opening, Mainwaring sings: “Woke up by dogs / Barking in my ears / And just as I feared / The men in black and white are here / Road full of signs / Warpaint ’round my eyes / As they cuffed my hands / Ripping the Superglue began…” Short, fast saxophone-led unison figures are undercut by jolting drums and slowly rising string glissandi until all sounds evaporates into silence. The warning is not new, but such a creative restatement as Mainwaring achieves in Mycorrhiza is welcome and necessary. You could, I suppose, mentally switch off the message and just enjoy the sounds for their own sake. But since those sounds in this form are driven by a belief in the necessity of repairing the damage done by the human race during its time on earth, and thereby extending the lease a little longer, that would seem foolish. - Richard Williams https://thebluemoment.com/