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Elliot Galvin Trio - The Influencing Machine Rating: 4 out of 5 Reflects the times in which it was created and as such represents Galvin’s most mature musical and artistic statement to date.

Elliot Galvin

“The Influencing Machine”

(Edition Records EDN 1103)

“The Influencing Machine” is the third album as a leader by the Kent born pianist and composer Elliot Galvin. It follows his 2014 release “Dreamland” and his Edition Records début “Punch” (2016).

Galvin studied at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music alongside the trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd and the pair helped to found the Chaos Collective of young musicians, the majority of them Trinity graduates. Galvin is concurrently a member of Jurd’s Mercury Music Prize nominated electro-jazz quartet Dinosaur and has also performed in groups led by the saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows, bassist and composer Huw V. Williams and guitarist Dan Messore.. More recently he has been involved in a freely improvising duo with the vastly experienced drummer Mark Sanders.

But Galvin’s primary artistic outlet remains his trio featuring bassist (and occasional guitarist) Tom McCredie and drummer/percussionist Corrie Dick. The latter plays with Galvin in Jurd’s Dinosaur group and replaces Simon Roth who played a significant role on the Galvin trio’s first two releases.


Describing Galvin as a “pianist” is rather too simplistic. I decided to check out this trio at a performance at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in September 2015. That show is reviewed elsewhere on this site but nothing had quite prepared me for the Galvin live experience as the leader augmented the venue’s grand piano with a plethora of his own devices including toy piano, kalimba, melodica, stylophone, music box and cassette recorder.  He’s also a skilled accordionist and deploys this instrument both with his own trio and as part of bassist Huw V Williams’ group Hon.

Galvin’s technical brilliance is matched with a very British sense of eccentricity that has invited comparisons between Galvin and that other great keyboard maverick Django Bates, an acknowledged influence. Galvin’s music has the same sense of humour and irreverence and, like Bates, a fascination with subjects that might be considered ‘eclectic’ or ‘left field’. His wide ranging  influences span the obvious jazz and classical reference points plus Dadaism, Surrealism, literature, film, theatre and music hall.  There’s something of the ‘mad professor’ about Galvin, a quality that has found expression in the quirky, darkly humorous music of “Dreamland” and “Punch” and in his manic, but thoroughly engaging live performances.

“The Influencing Machine” finds Galvin and his colleagues continuing to progress and offers an even wider sonic pallet with Galvin expanding his musical arsenal with the addition of electric keyboards including Hammond organ and analogue synths plus an array of self hacked children’s toys salvaged from charity shops. Meanwhile McCredie appears on electric guitar in addition to his usual double bass.

“The Influencing Machine” is inspired by the book of the same name, written by the modern day author Mike Jay about the 18th century figure James Tilly-Matthews (born 1770). A fascinating character Tilly-Matthews acted as a double agent for the English and the Revolutionary French while also operating as a tea merchant, architect and political thinker. The first documented paranoid schizophrenic he was committed to Bethlehem psychiatric hospital (aka ‘Bedlam’) in 1797.

Among his delusions Tilly-Matthews was under the impression that his life was being controlled by a machine, the Air Loom, which was operated by a gang of criminals and spies skilled in pneumatic chemistry who used their abilities to ‘pre-magnetize potential victims with volatile magnetic fluid’.

Galvin discovered Jay’s book at an exhibition about insanity and its treatment at the Wellcome Collection in London. Tilly-Matthews was the first person to claim that he was influenced by a machine rather than God and Galvin was struck by the parallels between Tilly-Matthews’ Air Loom and contemporary social media, particularly in the wake of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, two events that Galvin personally found to be profoundly distressing.

In an interview with Nick Hasted for the February 2018 edition of Jazzwise magazine Galvin explained that “The Influencing Machine” is, in some respects, a protest album without words. “It’s a subversive way of including meaning without lyrics” Galvin explains, also referencing the way in which his compositional approach was influenced by a visit to a Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at the Tate Modern. The way in which the artist deliberately blurs and smudges the elements of his collage artworks finds parallels in Galvin’s writing on some of the pieces, including the opening track “New Model Army”.

Despite the obviously Cromwell-ian reference in the title “New Model Army” is a subtle deconstruction of the South American communist anthem “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”.  It begins as a kind of musical curtain raiser with its sparse piano chording, moody, grainy bowed double bass and the gentle clatter of sticks on rims. There are also traces of minimalism and electronica which become more overt halfway through the piece as Galvin’s piano skips lithely above a percolating rhythm that sounds as if its being generated by an arcade gaming machine.  It all clocks in at just under four and a half minutes but in typical Galvin fashion the piece crams a lot of information into its relatively brief duration as it mixes mood, styles and diffuse musical elements.

The brief “La Machine”, all fifty eight seconds of it, harks back to earlier albums with its typically impish mix of piano with the sounds of toys and other devices plus the use of sampled voices and other sounds.
This segues seamlessly into “Red and Yellow” with its chunky piano riffing and solid, but off kilter, grooves. But before too long Galvin is subverting his own creation via changes of pace and the use of sampled voices. McCredie’s double bass comes briefly to the fore before a tumbling, vaulting Galvin piano solo. The pianist has technique to burn but it’s always deployed to support his already audacious ideas rather than as an end in itself.

On the stately, haunting “Society of Universal Harmony” Galvin dispenses with his usual jocularity to deliver something possessed of a genuine, but chilling beauty. Sparse, anthemic piano combines effectively with bowed bass, subtle percussive embellishments and the understated but intelligent and imaginative of electronic and toy generated effects.

“Planet Ping Pong” marks the first outing for McCredie on guitar, his joyous West African hi-life stylings combining with Galvin’s various keyboards, toys and devices to invigorating effect. There’s also an exuberant acoustic piano solo from Galvin above infectious, colourful, odd meter grooves.

“Monster Mind” seems to mirror Tilly-Matthews’ mood swings with its outbursts of ferocious Neil Cowley / Bad Plus style piano riffing punctuated by more reflective episodes, often with McCredie’s bass coming to the fore.  As the piece progresses the music becomes even more unhinged with Galvin’s playing migrating to the kind of avant garde territory inhabited by Keith Tippett, Cecil Taylor, Myra Melford et al. There’s also the metallic thrash of Dick’s increasingly busy drums and percussion.  Thanks to their association with Dinosaur Galvin and Dick have developed an almost telepathic understanding and the latter’s playing, frequently busy, but always bright, responsive and intelligent represents a key component of the Galvin trio’s sound.

The intro to “Bikini Island” incorporates a wide range of sounds generated by a variety of keyboards, samples, toys and devices. Verging on collage (that Rauschenberg influence again) or music concrete it’s discomforting and unsettling and reflects Galvin’s love of artists such as Captain Beefheart and John Zorn with their ‘cut and paste’ techniques. A sampled countdown makes it clear that the title is referencing the US atom bomb tests on Bikini atoll, although I suspect that there’s a loaded dig at contemporary reality TV somewhere in there too. The second half of the piece is rather more orthodox and includes some chunky piano riffing, although even this section could hardly be regarded as being straightforward.

“Bees, Dogs and Flies” has been singled out as one of the album’s most significant pieces as Galvin re-harmonises a Renaissance folk melody and treats it to the judicious use of prepared piano techniques. Dick underpins it with percussive sounds derived from West Africa and McCredie’s resonant bass provides additional gravitas, while a Hammond organ drones almost subliminally somewhere in the distance.

McCredie cranks his guitar up on the album’s penultimate piece “Boys Club”, which also features Galvin on a self hacked child’s toy guitar. There’s piano and drums too on the album’s most visceral track, a piece with a bristling energy and urgency that is reminiscent of the music of New York’s Downtown scene. The versatile McCredie reveals he’s no slouch on the six string with an impressive performance.

The brief “Fountainhead” closes the album, an atmospheric piece featuring ghostly, echoed piano, suggesting the loneliness of space – or of the inmate’s padded cell.

Without the press release, liner notes and Nick Hasted’s Jazzwise interview the back story behind “The Influencing Machine” wouldn’t have been quite so apparent to me.  And while it’s true that knowing the background enhances and heightens the listening experience it’s equally true that the music on this album would impress without any prior knowledge as to its sources of inspiration.

“The Influencing Machine” is a darker album than its predecessors, less playful and light-hearted. In this sense it reflects the times in which it was created and as such represents Galvin’s most mature musical and artistic statement to date. This time round the toys, devices and samples are used for unsettling, rather than comic, effect and once more Galvin deploys them intelligently and effectively. There’s less of a sense of novelty, these elements now seem to be more fully integrated into the fabric and texture of the music.

Although solely credited to Galvin I still prefer to think of this as a trio recording as both McCredie and Dick make huge contributions to the success of the album as a whole. “The Influencing Machine” may be a darker, more mature album than its predecessors but it’s still jam packed full of intelligent, imaginative ideas, all of them brilliantly realised.

I’ve been championing Galvin and his music since I first heard him two and a half years ago. The rest of the world now seems to be catching up, a process that this record, plus the success of Dinosaur will only encourage.

 

The Influencing Machine

Elliot Galvin Trio

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Influencing Machine

Reflects the times in which it was created and as such represents Galvin’s most mature musical and artistic statement to date.

Elliot Galvin

“The Influencing Machine”

(Edition Records EDN 1103)

“The Influencing Machine” is the third album as a leader by the Kent born pianist and composer Elliot Galvin. It follows his 2014 release “Dreamland” and his Edition Records début “Punch” (2016).

Galvin studied at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music alongside the trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd and the pair helped to found the Chaos Collective of young musicians, the majority of them Trinity graduates. Galvin is concurrently a member of Jurd’s Mercury Music Prize nominated electro-jazz quartet Dinosaur and has also performed in groups led by the saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows, bassist and composer Huw V. Williams and guitarist Dan Messore.. More recently he has been involved in a freely improvising duo with the vastly experienced drummer Mark Sanders.

But Galvin’s primary artistic outlet remains his trio featuring bassist (and occasional guitarist) Tom McCredie and drummer/percussionist Corrie Dick. The latter plays with Galvin in Jurd’s Dinosaur group and replaces Simon Roth who played a significant role on the Galvin trio’s first two releases.


Describing Galvin as a “pianist” is rather too simplistic. I decided to check out this trio at a performance at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in September 2015. That show is reviewed elsewhere on this site but nothing had quite prepared me for the Galvin live experience as the leader augmented the venue’s grand piano with a plethora of his own devices including toy piano, kalimba, melodica, stylophone, music box and cassette recorder.  He’s also a skilled accordionist and deploys this instrument both with his own trio and as part of bassist Huw V Williams’ group Hon.

Galvin’s technical brilliance is matched with a very British sense of eccentricity that has invited comparisons between Galvin and that other great keyboard maverick Django Bates, an acknowledged influence. Galvin’s music has the same sense of humour and irreverence and, like Bates, a fascination with subjects that might be considered ‘eclectic’ or ‘left field’. His wide ranging  influences span the obvious jazz and classical reference points plus Dadaism, Surrealism, literature, film, theatre and music hall.  There’s something of the ‘mad professor’ about Galvin, a quality that has found expression in the quirky, darkly humorous music of “Dreamland” and “Punch” and in his manic, but thoroughly engaging live performances.

“The Influencing Machine” finds Galvin and his colleagues continuing to progress and offers an even wider sonic pallet with Galvin expanding his musical arsenal with the addition of electric keyboards including Hammond organ and analogue synths plus an array of self hacked children’s toys salvaged from charity shops. Meanwhile McCredie appears on electric guitar in addition to his usual double bass.

“The Influencing Machine” is inspired by the book of the same name, written by the modern day author Mike Jay about the 18th century figure James Tilly-Matthews (born 1770). A fascinating character Tilly-Matthews acted as a double agent for the English and the Revolutionary French while also operating as a tea merchant, architect and political thinker. The first documented paranoid schizophrenic he was committed to Bethlehem psychiatric hospital (aka ‘Bedlam’) in 1797.

Among his delusions Tilly-Matthews was under the impression that his life was being controlled by a machine, the Air Loom, which was operated by a gang of criminals and spies skilled in pneumatic chemistry who used their abilities to ‘pre-magnetize potential victims with volatile magnetic fluid’.

Galvin discovered Jay’s book at an exhibition about insanity and its treatment at the Wellcome Collection in London. Tilly-Matthews was the first person to claim that he was influenced by a machine rather than God and Galvin was struck by the parallels between Tilly-Matthews’ Air Loom and contemporary social media, particularly in the wake of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, two events that Galvin personally found to be profoundly distressing.

In an interview with Nick Hasted for the February 2018 edition of Jazzwise magazine Galvin explained that “The Influencing Machine” is, in some respects, a protest album without words. “It’s a subversive way of including meaning without lyrics” Galvin explains, also referencing the way in which his compositional approach was influenced by a visit to a Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at the Tate Modern. The way in which the artist deliberately blurs and smudges the elements of his collage artworks finds parallels in Galvin’s writing on some of the pieces, including the opening track “New Model Army”.

Despite the obviously Cromwell-ian reference in the title “New Model Army” is a subtle deconstruction of the South American communist anthem “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”.  It begins as a kind of musical curtain raiser with its sparse piano chording, moody, grainy bowed double bass and the gentle clatter of sticks on rims. There are also traces of minimalism and electronica which become more overt halfway through the piece as Galvin’s piano skips lithely above a percolating rhythm that sounds as if its being generated by an arcade gaming machine.  It all clocks in at just under four and a half minutes but in typical Galvin fashion the piece crams a lot of information into its relatively brief duration as it mixes mood, styles and diffuse musical elements.

The brief “La Machine”, all fifty eight seconds of it, harks back to earlier albums with its typically impish mix of piano with the sounds of toys and other devices plus the use of sampled voices and other sounds.
This segues seamlessly into “Red and Yellow” with its chunky piano riffing and solid, but off kilter, grooves. But before too long Galvin is subverting his own creation via changes of pace and the use of sampled voices. McCredie’s double bass comes briefly to the fore before a tumbling, vaulting Galvin piano solo. The pianist has technique to burn but it’s always deployed to support his already audacious ideas rather than as an end in itself.

On the stately, haunting “Society of Universal Harmony” Galvin dispenses with his usual jocularity to deliver something possessed of a genuine, but chilling beauty. Sparse, anthemic piano combines effectively with bowed bass, subtle percussive embellishments and the understated but intelligent and imaginative of electronic and toy generated effects.

“Planet Ping Pong” marks the first outing for McCredie on guitar, his joyous West African hi-life stylings combining with Galvin’s various keyboards, toys and devices to invigorating effect. There’s also an exuberant acoustic piano solo from Galvin above infectious, colourful, odd meter grooves.

“Monster Mind” seems to mirror Tilly-Matthews’ mood swings with its outbursts of ferocious Neil Cowley / Bad Plus style piano riffing punctuated by more reflective episodes, often with McCredie’s bass coming to the fore.  As the piece progresses the music becomes even more unhinged with Galvin’s playing migrating to the kind of avant garde territory inhabited by Keith Tippett, Cecil Taylor, Myra Melford et al. There’s also the metallic thrash of Dick’s increasingly busy drums and percussion.  Thanks to their association with Dinosaur Galvin and Dick have developed an almost telepathic understanding and the latter’s playing, frequently busy, but always bright, responsive and intelligent represents a key component of the Galvin trio’s sound.

The intro to “Bikini Island” incorporates a wide range of sounds generated by a variety of keyboards, samples, toys and devices. Verging on collage (that Rauschenberg influence again) or music concrete it’s discomforting and unsettling and reflects Galvin’s love of artists such as Captain Beefheart and John Zorn with their ‘cut and paste’ techniques. A sampled countdown makes it clear that the title is referencing the US atom bomb tests on Bikini atoll, although I suspect that there’s a loaded dig at contemporary reality TV somewhere in there too. The second half of the piece is rather more orthodox and includes some chunky piano riffing, although even this section could hardly be regarded as being straightforward.

“Bees, Dogs and Flies” has been singled out as one of the album’s most significant pieces as Galvin re-harmonises a Renaissance folk melody and treats it to the judicious use of prepared piano techniques. Dick underpins it with percussive sounds derived from West Africa and McCredie’s resonant bass provides additional gravitas, while a Hammond organ drones almost subliminally somewhere in the distance.

McCredie cranks his guitar up on the album’s penultimate piece “Boys Club”, which also features Galvin on a self hacked child’s toy guitar. There’s piano and drums too on the album’s most visceral track, a piece with a bristling energy and urgency that is reminiscent of the music of New York’s Downtown scene. The versatile McCredie reveals he’s no slouch on the six string with an impressive performance.

The brief “Fountainhead” closes the album, an atmospheric piece featuring ghostly, echoed piano, suggesting the loneliness of space – or of the inmate’s padded cell.

Without the press release, liner notes and Nick Hasted’s Jazzwise interview the back story behind “The Influencing Machine” wouldn’t have been quite so apparent to me.  And while it’s true that knowing the background enhances and heightens the listening experience it’s equally true that the music on this album would impress without any prior knowledge as to its sources of inspiration.

“The Influencing Machine” is a darker album than its predecessors, less playful and light-hearted. In this sense it reflects the times in which it was created and as such represents Galvin’s most mature musical and artistic statement to date. This time round the toys, devices and samples are used for unsettling, rather than comic, effect and once more Galvin deploys them intelligently and effectively. There’s less of a sense of novelty, these elements now seem to be more fully integrated into the fabric and texture of the music.

Although solely credited to Galvin I still prefer to think of this as a trio recording as both McCredie and Dick make huge contributions to the success of the album as a whole. “The Influencing Machine” may be a darker, more mature album than its predecessors but it’s still jam packed full of intelligent, imaginative ideas, all of them brilliantly realised.

I’ve been championing Galvin and his music since I first heard him two and a half years ago. The rest of the world now seems to be catching up, a process that this record, plus the success of Dinosaur will only encourage.

 


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