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Ashley John Long - Psi Rating: 3 out of 5 Demonstrates his exceptional facility and command of his instrument and repeated listenings are likely to reveal hidden depths.

Ashley John Long

“Psi”

(FMR Records FMRCD434-0217)

Double bass virtuoso Ashley John Long is a Cardiff based musician who has become a popular and near ubiquitous presence on the jazz scene in South Wales and the English West Country. Long has recorded with leading ‘regional’ musicians such as pianists Dave Jones and Mike Collins and his work with nationally known figures such as pianists Geoff Eales and John Law and trumpeter Chris Hodgkins has also enhanced his reputation. Long has also performed and recorded with Cardiff based cult favourites Heavy Quartet.

As a ‘first call’ bassist for the leading musicians in South Wales, the South West and beyond Long has played with a whole host of top class soloists including trombonist Gareth Roberts, guitarist Remi Harris, trumpeters Gethin Liddington, Ceri Williams, Jamie Brownfield and Jonathan Crespo and saxophonists Derek Nash, Simon Spillett, Alan Barnes, Lee Goodall and Greg Abate, the latter an American visitor. Other international collaborators have included the Spanish pairing of Juan Galiardo (piano) and Arturo Serra (vibes).

But Long has more than one string to his bow. A graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff he’s also a supremely accomplished classical double bass player with a particular interest in the baroque. He is also a composer in this idiom and has written contemporary chamber, orchestral, operatic and electronic works. For more information on this aspect of his work please visit http://www.ashleyjohnlong.co.uk

At the other end of the musical spectrum Long has become increasingly fascinated with the art of free improvisation, a subject tackled in clarinettist (and frequent Long collaborator) Tom Jackson’s liner noes for “Psi”. Among those with whom Long has worked in this field are pianist Keith Tippett, saxophonists Paul Dunmall and Rob Smith, drummer Paul Hession and the extraordinary American guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Eugene Chadbourne.

More recently the outrageously talented Long has been performing on his ‘second’ instrument, the vibraphone, on which he’s an astonishingly accomplished player with a mastery of the four mallet technique. Long leads his own group from the vibes and has also played the instrument with the Heavy Quartet. Recently he made his recording début on the instrument, doubling on bass and vibes on Dave Jones’ “KeyNotes” album.

I know Long’s bass playing best from his work with relatively straight ahead jazz groups. I’m particularly admiring of his work as a soloist, both with and without the bow, his frequently astonishing virtuoso technique allied to an advanced sense of imagination and inventiveness makes for consistently absorbing and entertaining solos.

The obligatory bass solo during a standards based heads-solos-head set will be when many jazz fans head for the bar or go for a leak – but not when Ashley John Long is playing. This musician’s solos are never, ever boring, which makes him the ideal performer to take on the challenge of the unaccompanied double bass CD.

“Psi” is a series of eleven solo double bass improvisations recorded in November 2016 at Cardiff University’s Concert Hall. The album title may possibly be a nod to free jazz guru Evan Parker’s record label of the same name. In any event it follows in the wake of a small but significant canon of recordings in the same format by such celebrated names as Dave Holland, William Parker, Barre Phillips, Miroslav Vitous, Eberhard Weber and Arild Andersen - with the last two both benefiting from a degree of electronic enhancement, notably live looping. A less familiar British counterpart would be “Live At The Ridgeway”, an all acoustic recording by Calum Gourlay released in 2015.

Gourlay’s album contained interpretations of written material by jazz composers such as Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden. Long’s is entirely improvised and commences with the alternately eerie / abrasive arco atmospherics of “Azure Day” which combines cello like melancholy with spiky, aggressive, percussive bowing as Long introduces some of the extended techniques that inform his improv work.

“Organon” is two minutes of pizzicato virtuosity, again utilising a degree of extended technique. Long also makes effective use of space, a quality doubtless enhanced by the location of the recording.

“Polynya” features the percussive percolations of the bow on – and possibly between – the strings as Long once again explores elements of extended technique. He produces some truly extraordinary sounds here.

Ditto “Shell Of Sky And Earth” with its remarkable bowed and plucked sounds, some of them exploring the very lowest registers of the instrument before Long settles on a rhythmic pattern that is almost hypnotic.

The brief “Khnemu” continues Long’s experiments with extended technique with its percussive pizzicato sounds while the similarly concise “Eclisse” adopts a more conventional plucked sound more consistent with straight-ahead jazz – but even here Long is pushing at the boundaries.

“Marine” is a stunning arco excursion featuring some dramatically abrasive bowing.

The near eleven minute dedication “For Peter Reynolds” is arguably the album’s centrepiece, a creepily atmospheric improvisation featuring grainy, at times almost subliminal bowing that sounds like the soundtrack to a low budget sci-fi movie. Very Blair Witch Project, very subterranean.
This segues into the shorter “Shard”, a briefer passage of spiky, but marginally more conventional, arco bass.

“Cloud Hill” marks a brief return to plucked virtuosity with Long adopting a relatively conventional (for him) pizzicato jazz bass sound.

The closing “Varshan” represents a final demonstration of Long’s virtuosity with the bow, something which is also a feature of his more orthodox jazz performances. Highly dexterous and richly evocative it signals the conclusion of a remarkable album.

An unashamedly avant garde recording “Psi” represents an uncompromising and highly personal piece of work. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, not even Long’s legions of admirers in a straight ahead jazz context, and probably not his classical fans either. But it does demonstrate his exceptional facility and command of his instrument and repeated listenings are likely to reveal hidden depths. Nevertheless, like most freely improvised music, Long’s solo bass work is probably something best experienced live. 

If Long was based in London he’d surely be much better known, certainly in a jazz and improvised music context. 

His next appearance (that I know of) in an orthodox jazz setting will be with the Jonathan Crespo quartet at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny on Sunday 30th July 2017. For details please visit http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

Psi

Ashley John Long

Monday, July 24, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3 out of 5

Psi

Demonstrates his exceptional facility and command of his instrument and repeated listenings are likely to reveal hidden depths.

Ashley John Long

“Psi”

(FMR Records FMRCD434-0217)

Double bass virtuoso Ashley John Long is a Cardiff based musician who has become a popular and near ubiquitous presence on the jazz scene in South Wales and the English West Country. Long has recorded with leading ‘regional’ musicians such as pianists Dave Jones and Mike Collins and his work with nationally known figures such as pianists Geoff Eales and John Law and trumpeter Chris Hodgkins has also enhanced his reputation. Long has also performed and recorded with Cardiff based cult favourites Heavy Quartet.

As a ‘first call’ bassist for the leading musicians in South Wales, the South West and beyond Long has played with a whole host of top class soloists including trombonist Gareth Roberts, guitarist Remi Harris, trumpeters Gethin Liddington, Ceri Williams, Jamie Brownfield and Jonathan Crespo and saxophonists Derek Nash, Simon Spillett, Alan Barnes, Lee Goodall and Greg Abate, the latter an American visitor. Other international collaborators have included the Spanish pairing of Juan Galiardo (piano) and Arturo Serra (vibes).

But Long has more than one string to his bow. A graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff he’s also a supremely accomplished classical double bass player with a particular interest in the baroque. He is also a composer in this idiom and has written contemporary chamber, orchestral, operatic and electronic works. For more information on this aspect of his work please visit http://www.ashleyjohnlong.co.uk

At the other end of the musical spectrum Long has become increasingly fascinated with the art of free improvisation, a subject tackled in clarinettist (and frequent Long collaborator) Tom Jackson’s liner noes for “Psi”. Among those with whom Long has worked in this field are pianist Keith Tippett, saxophonists Paul Dunmall and Rob Smith, drummer Paul Hession and the extraordinary American guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Eugene Chadbourne.

More recently the outrageously talented Long has been performing on his ‘second’ instrument, the vibraphone, on which he’s an astonishingly accomplished player with a mastery of the four mallet technique. Long leads his own group from the vibes and has also played the instrument with the Heavy Quartet. Recently he made his recording début on the instrument, doubling on bass and vibes on Dave Jones’ “KeyNotes” album.

I know Long’s bass playing best from his work with relatively straight ahead jazz groups. I’m particularly admiring of his work as a soloist, both with and without the bow, his frequently astonishing virtuoso technique allied to an advanced sense of imagination and inventiveness makes for consistently absorbing and entertaining solos.

The obligatory bass solo during a standards based heads-solos-head set will be when many jazz fans head for the bar or go for a leak – but not when Ashley John Long is playing. This musician’s solos are never, ever boring, which makes him the ideal performer to take on the challenge of the unaccompanied double bass CD.

“Psi” is a series of eleven solo double bass improvisations recorded in November 2016 at Cardiff University’s Concert Hall. The album title may possibly be a nod to free jazz guru Evan Parker’s record label of the same name. In any event it follows in the wake of a small but significant canon of recordings in the same format by such celebrated names as Dave Holland, William Parker, Barre Phillips, Miroslav Vitous, Eberhard Weber and Arild Andersen - with the last two both benefiting from a degree of electronic enhancement, notably live looping. A less familiar British counterpart would be “Live At The Ridgeway”, an all acoustic recording by Calum Gourlay released in 2015.

Gourlay’s album contained interpretations of written material by jazz composers such as Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden. Long’s is entirely improvised and commences with the alternately eerie / abrasive arco atmospherics of “Azure Day” which combines cello like melancholy with spiky, aggressive, percussive bowing as Long introduces some of the extended techniques that inform his improv work.

“Organon” is two minutes of pizzicato virtuosity, again utilising a degree of extended technique. Long also makes effective use of space, a quality doubtless enhanced by the location of the recording.

“Polynya” features the percussive percolations of the bow on – and possibly between – the strings as Long once again explores elements of extended technique. He produces some truly extraordinary sounds here.

Ditto “Shell Of Sky And Earth” with its remarkable bowed and plucked sounds, some of them exploring the very lowest registers of the instrument before Long settles on a rhythmic pattern that is almost hypnotic.

The brief “Khnemu” continues Long’s experiments with extended technique with its percussive pizzicato sounds while the similarly concise “Eclisse” adopts a more conventional plucked sound more consistent with straight-ahead jazz – but even here Long is pushing at the boundaries.

“Marine” is a stunning arco excursion featuring some dramatically abrasive bowing.

The near eleven minute dedication “For Peter Reynolds” is arguably the album’s centrepiece, a creepily atmospheric improvisation featuring grainy, at times almost subliminal bowing that sounds like the soundtrack to a low budget sci-fi movie. Very Blair Witch Project, very subterranean.
This segues into the shorter “Shard”, a briefer passage of spiky, but marginally more conventional, arco bass.

“Cloud Hill” marks a brief return to plucked virtuosity with Long adopting a relatively conventional (for him) pizzicato jazz bass sound.

The closing “Varshan” represents a final demonstration of Long’s virtuosity with the bow, something which is also a feature of his more orthodox jazz performances. Highly dexterous and richly evocative it signals the conclusion of a remarkable album.

An unashamedly avant garde recording “Psi” represents an uncompromising and highly personal piece of work. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, not even Long’s legions of admirers in a straight ahead jazz context, and probably not his classical fans either. But it does demonstrate his exceptional facility and command of his instrument and repeated listenings are likely to reveal hidden depths. Nevertheless, like most freely improvised music, Long’s solo bass work is probably something best experienced live. 

If Long was based in London he’d surely be much better known, certainly in a jazz and improvised music context. 

His next appearance (that I know of) in an orthodox jazz setting will be with the Jonathan Crespo quartet at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny on Sunday 30th July 2017. For details please visit http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk


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