The Jazz Mann | Jim Blomfield Trio - Strange Beauty (Every Way OK) | Review | The Jazz Mann

Accessibility Menu

REVIEW

Jim Blomfield Trio - Strange Beauty (Every Way OK) Rating: 4 out of 5 Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole.

Jim Blomfield Trio

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

(Pig Records PIG009)

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” is the second album from the trio led by Bristol based pianist and composer Jim Blomfield and featuring bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, both leading figures on the jazz scene in Bristol and the South West.

It follows their well received début “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”, which also appeared on the Pig Records imprint, founded by Bristol saxophonist and composer Kevin Figes.

Besides leading his own groups Blomfield is also a prolific sideman on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West. He has appeared on recordings by Figes, saxophonist Pete Canter, trumpeter Andy Hague and bassist Greg Cordez and has also worked with violinist/vocalist Azhaar Saffar, trumpeter Ben Thomas and Balanca, the Latin flavoured band led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones. Blomfield has also been part of the Bristol based Resonations Big Band.

 An earlier album “Peaks and Troughs”  featured pieces for Blomfield’s Latin flavoured septet Septimbre alongside a set of compositions for a quartet that featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s best known jazz export.

“Strange Beauty” builds upon the success of its predecessor while widening the trio’s musical scope to reflect Blomfield’s interests in jazz, classical, rock and electronic music. It was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Somerset with Wijetunge and Blomfield producing and the recorded sound represents a considerable improvement on the début.

The new album features eight new Blomfield compositions plus his arrangement of classical composer Robert Schumann’s piece, “Intermezzo”. There are also three shorter pieces that have been described as “sound world vignettes”.

The music incorporates sound design, overdubbing and sampling as part of the compositional and improvisatory processes. Besides grand piano Blomfield is also credited with electric piano, Prophet 6 synthesiser and sound design, Wijetunge with double bass, synth bass, electronics and effects and Whitlam with drums, glockenspiel and drum programming. With its blend of acoustic and electronic sounds the music on “Strange Beauty” invites comparisons with the work of such forward looking contemporary piano trios as e.s.t., the Neil Cowley Trio, The Bad Plus and GoGo Penguin. Fans of any of these bands is likely to find much to enjoy here.

As a composer Blomfield is strongly influenced by his personal circumstances. He is the father of two autistic sons and his liner notes for “Strange Beauty” offer a perceptive insight into his creative process - and the reason behind the album title. Blomfield writes;
“For this, our second album, it fetl like a natural progression to use elements arising from my interest in electronica, synthesisers, sound design and field recordings alongside the standard instrumentation of the piano trio format.
What became apparent over time on the creation of the music, both in the act of composition and in the sound worlds created in the production process, was a strong autobiographical element – namely my journey with my two autistic sons Sam and Joseph (20 and 18 at the time of writing).
Autism burst into my life like a kaleidoscopic torrent of chaotic, fascinating, unfathomable, messy, isolating, disturbing ‘Strange Beauty’. Inevitably all these complex and emotional layers have informed much of the music on this album.
Perhaps, in retrospect, there was an unacknowledged desire to give my non-verbal sons a voice in my music and, in the world of autism, which often feels isolating for both the person with the condition and the parent alike, to feel a shared connection through making my sons part of the creative process.”

The press release accompanying my review copy of the CD offers further insights into the individual pieces of music that make up the album.

The album commences with the title track, which incorporates a loop of field recording from 2005 of the young Sam on a squeaky swing - “the loop connects me back to that time and place with a vivid resonance, with all the surrounding memories it evokes” explains Blomfield. The piece opens out to embrace more conventional instrumentation “using open sounding harmony, shifting melodic fragments in the piano and bass and cascading piano and glockenspiel arpeggios”. Blomfield describes the piece as “evoking a kind of spacious, melancholic beauty”, which is pretty much spot on as the shifting moods and timbres of the piece variously express yearning and nostalgia, but do so in a manner that is ultimately uplifting. With Wijetunge and Whitlam also playing key roles there’s something of e.s.t’s expressive openness about this piece.

Blomfield describes the following “Lung Rebellion” as “a kind of odd meter rock and Latin beats mash up with shifting time signatures”. The opening riff was written on the fly as Blomfield was warming up a piano prior to a gig. “I find most of my best ideas emerge spontaneously” states the pianist, “I then later explore further possibilities around the initial idea and shape them into an overall composition I’m happy with. Some pieces come together quickly – others, like this piece, go through a series of re-writes and developments during rehearsals and through playing live”.
“Lung Rebellion” is urgent and energetic and possesses something of an urban feel courtesy of Whitlam’s hip hop influenced drum grooves. The trio play with great energy and purpose with Blomfield’s percussive piano and Whitlam’s vigorous drumming really driving the music forward.
There’s something of the spirit of Cowley and The Bad Plus about this powerful piece.

“Intermezzo” is Blomfield’s arrangement of Schumann’s piano piece, which forms part of a larger work, the suite “Faschingsschwank aus Wien”. Blomfield explains that he notated the piece for jazz harmony many years ago but always found it challenging to solo over, only becoming confident enough to record it fairly recently. “The original is fast and fiery” Blomfield explains “whereas in this context I slowed the tempo right down, feeling that the beautiful tune and rich harmonies worked really well in a jazz ballad context.” He’s right, this is a beautiful interpretation featuring the leader’s lyrical touch at the piano, sometimes playing unaccompanied. Wijetunge and Whitlam, the latter deploying brushes with great sensitivity, provide well judged and sympathetic support.

“Scene and Herd” is the first of the three “sound world vignettes”, this one effectively combining the sound of Blomfield’s Prophet 6 synth with a field recording of a herd of Cretan goats, all with bells around their necks, that Blomfield documented on his phone. I’d have given the Whitlam the credit for the ‘cow bell’ percussive sounds if I hadn’t read the press release!

The introduction of these electronic components leads neatly into “Bits and Pieces” which its composer describes as “a jazz electronica piece that uses a hypnotic offbeat keyboard bass figure with an interlocking drum groove”. It’s a restless, fast moving, energetic piece with darting melodic phrases and jagged staccato rhythms and features the sounds of synthesiser, bowed acoustic bass and programmed drums. Blomfield has coined the phrase ‘jazztronica’ to describe it, while I was reminded of the post e.s.t. solo work of both Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrom.

Both Berglund and Ostrom have acknowledged the influence of progressive rock on their solo projects and Wijetunge has described his leader’s music as ‘cinematic prog jazz’. “Mellow Drama” represents a good encapsulation of this as it mutates through a range of moods and musical styles from tentative solo piano to grandiose prog rock flourishes, to hard driving Cowley-esque passages.
The piece also features a field recording of Sam playing in water as the piece attempts to express “a general concept of conveying my experiences as a carer and parent - and the idea of trying to remain calm and centred in the crazy off-kilter strange disorientating world I had found myself immersed in”. There’s a relatively conventional piano solo mid tune, prior to a final section which sees “the piano looping a sequence of sonorous repetitive calm whilst the bass and drums play jagged thrash metal like phrases in independent time to the background figure, which decreases in tempo on each occurrence. Chaos and calm finally meet together on the last note”.
“Mellow Drama” is an impressive, dramatic, multi faceted piece of work with the field recording of Sam skilfully stitched into the overall fabric of the music.

“Full Circle” is based around a Latin inflected ‘montuno’ piano figure and began life as a larger more ‘epic’ arrangement. It’s a tune that the trio have played live on numerous occasions, gradually simplifying the arrangement. The recorded version possesses an uplifting, unpretentious charm and acts as the vehicle for an expansive piano solo from Blomfield and a melodic bass feature from the excellent Wijetunge. The arrangement makes judicious use of electric keyboards but its relative simplicity represents an effective contrast with the musical and emotional complexities of the previous “Mellow Drama”.

The title of “Boarded Up (Stranger Beauty” is an oblique nod to the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada, a primary influence on this aspect of Blomfield’s music making. The album’s second ‘sound world vignette’ is the result of Blomfield improvising in the studio on the Prophet 6 as Wijetunge, utilising an effects pedal, and Whitlam respond. Post production Wijetunge and Blomfield edited the track down to create this tantalisingly short vignette, a piece similar in feel to the earlier ‘jazztronica’ of “Bits and Pieces”.

“Every Way OK” is a ballad that Blomfield describes as “being written quite quickly, fairly straightforward in character,  with the odd unexpected turn of phrase or harmonic shift. Our approach was to the tune rhythmically was to play it more from a rock inflected angle than purely as a jazz ballad” Once again the trio’s methods work to perfection as they treat Blomfield’s beautiful and arresting theme to a performance that combines the elegance of jazz with the anthemic power of rock.

“Free Fall” is another effective amalgam of Blomfield’s various influences. Based around a cycle of arpeggiated chord patterns that Blomfield originally wrote on the Prophet 6 these are first played by a combination of synth and acoustic piano against a backdrop of synth bass and a programmed drum loop, the latter helping to give the music something of a hip hop feel, against which Blomfield’s flowing melodies are juxtaposed. A more intense central section sees Whitlam laying down a more forceful and dynamic drum groove above which Blomfield stages something of a piano/synth battle. The track was pieced together from multiple takes and moulded into its finished form via various post production techniques, the studio itself becoming part of the compositional process.

“Stillness in the Sadness” is the last of the ‘sound world vignettes’  and arose from a series of improvised solo piano pieces that Blomfield recorded at the studio during the downtime between the trio sessions. Here a melancholic piano theme is manipulated via post production techniques, including reversed audio, to create something haunting, eerie, and, in keeping with the album title, strangely beautiful. Blomfield says of the finished piece;
“Sometimes in our lives we are haunted by resonances of sadness or loss – but if we can sit with that, with acceptance rather than resistance, we can experience, if only for a moment, a sense of tranquillity…”
Again he’s right, there’s something of the ambient, zen like calm of Eno’s “Another Green World” about this particular ‘vignette’.

The album concludes with “Buddha in the Barcode”, a piece constructed around Blomfield’s arpeggiated piano motifs. The composer speaks of it as “a personal favourite” and of it “conveying both simplicity and complexity simultaneously”. With Wijetunge (who enjoys a brief solo cameo) and Whitlam providing characteristically excellent support the piece moves seamlessly up and down the gears as hard driving, fiercely rhythmic passages contrast with gentler, more contemplative moments.

Having seen him perform live on numerous occasions in a variety of jazz contexts (albeit never as a leader) I have always regarded Blomfield to be an excellent piano soloist, always fluent, imaginative and inventive and rarely playing the obvious licks. Naturally he brings these qualities to this recording but “Strange Beauty” also offers so much more, with Blomfield consolidating his reputation as a composer of considerable ability and stature.

Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole. While it is helpful to know the background behind its inspirations the music stands up superbly in its own right with every piece succeeding in its objectives.

Although the music is virtually all Blomfield’s this is a highly democratic and well integrated trio with Wijetunge, as both bassist and co-producer, and Whitlam playing a huge part in the creative process as the threesome take full advantage of the studio facilities available to them. The electronic aspects of the recording are thoroughly convincing, whether in the three ‘sound world vignettes’ or as part of the fabric of the lengthier through composed pieces.

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” represents a major statement from Jim Blomfield and deserves to bring him to the attention of the national jazz audience.

Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

Jim Blomfield Trio

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole.

Jim Blomfield Trio

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

(Pig Records PIG009)

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” is the second album from the trio led by Bristol based pianist and composer Jim Blomfield and featuring bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, both leading figures on the jazz scene in Bristol and the South West.

It follows their well received début “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”, which also appeared on the Pig Records imprint, founded by Bristol saxophonist and composer Kevin Figes.

Besides leading his own groups Blomfield is also a prolific sideman on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West. He has appeared on recordings by Figes, saxophonist Pete Canter, trumpeter Andy Hague and bassist Greg Cordez and has also worked with violinist/vocalist Azhaar Saffar, trumpeter Ben Thomas and Balanca, the Latin flavoured band led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones. Blomfield has also been part of the Bristol based Resonations Big Band.

 An earlier album “Peaks and Troughs”  featured pieces for Blomfield’s Latin flavoured septet Septimbre alongside a set of compositions for a quartet that featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s best known jazz export.

“Strange Beauty” builds upon the success of its predecessor while widening the trio’s musical scope to reflect Blomfield’s interests in jazz, classical, rock and electronic music. It was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Somerset with Wijetunge and Blomfield producing and the recorded sound represents a considerable improvement on the début.

The new album features eight new Blomfield compositions plus his arrangement of classical composer Robert Schumann’s piece, “Intermezzo”. There are also three shorter pieces that have been described as “sound world vignettes”.

The music incorporates sound design, overdubbing and sampling as part of the compositional and improvisatory processes. Besides grand piano Blomfield is also credited with electric piano, Prophet 6 synthesiser and sound design, Wijetunge with double bass, synth bass, electronics and effects and Whitlam with drums, glockenspiel and drum programming. With its blend of acoustic and electronic sounds the music on “Strange Beauty” invites comparisons with the work of such forward looking contemporary piano trios as e.s.t., the Neil Cowley Trio, The Bad Plus and GoGo Penguin. Fans of any of these bands is likely to find much to enjoy here.

As a composer Blomfield is strongly influenced by his personal circumstances. He is the father of two autistic sons and his liner notes for “Strange Beauty” offer a perceptive insight into his creative process - and the reason behind the album title. Blomfield writes;
“For this, our second album, it fetl like a natural progression to use elements arising from my interest in electronica, synthesisers, sound design and field recordings alongside the standard instrumentation of the piano trio format.
What became apparent over time on the creation of the music, both in the act of composition and in the sound worlds created in the production process, was a strong autobiographical element – namely my journey with my two autistic sons Sam and Joseph (20 and 18 at the time of writing).
Autism burst into my life like a kaleidoscopic torrent of chaotic, fascinating, unfathomable, messy, isolating, disturbing ‘Strange Beauty’. Inevitably all these complex and emotional layers have informed much of the music on this album.
Perhaps, in retrospect, there was an unacknowledged desire to give my non-verbal sons a voice in my music and, in the world of autism, which often feels isolating for both the person with the condition and the parent alike, to feel a shared connection through making my sons part of the creative process.”

The press release accompanying my review copy of the CD offers further insights into the individual pieces of music that make up the album.

The album commences with the title track, which incorporates a loop of field recording from 2005 of the young Sam on a squeaky swing - “the loop connects me back to that time and place with a vivid resonance, with all the surrounding memories it evokes” explains Blomfield. The piece opens out to embrace more conventional instrumentation “using open sounding harmony, shifting melodic fragments in the piano and bass and cascading piano and glockenspiel arpeggios”. Blomfield describes the piece as “evoking a kind of spacious, melancholic beauty”, which is pretty much spot on as the shifting moods and timbres of the piece variously express yearning and nostalgia, but do so in a manner that is ultimately uplifting. With Wijetunge and Whitlam also playing key roles there’s something of e.s.t’s expressive openness about this piece.

Blomfield describes the following “Lung Rebellion” as “a kind of odd meter rock and Latin beats mash up with shifting time signatures”. The opening riff was written on the fly as Blomfield was warming up a piano prior to a gig. “I find most of my best ideas emerge spontaneously” states the pianist, “I then later explore further possibilities around the initial idea and shape them into an overall composition I’m happy with. Some pieces come together quickly – others, like this piece, go through a series of re-writes and developments during rehearsals and through playing live”.
“Lung Rebellion” is urgent and energetic and possesses something of an urban feel courtesy of Whitlam’s hip hop influenced drum grooves. The trio play with great energy and purpose with Blomfield’s percussive piano and Whitlam’s vigorous drumming really driving the music forward.
There’s something of the spirit of Cowley and The Bad Plus about this powerful piece.

“Intermezzo” is Blomfield’s arrangement of Schumann’s piano piece, which forms part of a larger work, the suite “Faschingsschwank aus Wien”. Blomfield explains that he notated the piece for jazz harmony many years ago but always found it challenging to solo over, only becoming confident enough to record it fairly recently. “The original is fast and fiery” Blomfield explains “whereas in this context I slowed the tempo right down, feeling that the beautiful tune and rich harmonies worked really well in a jazz ballad context.” He’s right, this is a beautiful interpretation featuring the leader’s lyrical touch at the piano, sometimes playing unaccompanied. Wijetunge and Whitlam, the latter deploying brushes with great sensitivity, provide well judged and sympathetic support.

“Scene and Herd” is the first of the three “sound world vignettes”, this one effectively combining the sound of Blomfield’s Prophet 6 synth with a field recording of a herd of Cretan goats, all with bells around their necks, that Blomfield documented on his phone. I’d have given the Whitlam the credit for the ‘cow bell’ percussive sounds if I hadn’t read the press release!

The introduction of these electronic components leads neatly into “Bits and Pieces” which its composer describes as “a jazz electronica piece that uses a hypnotic offbeat keyboard bass figure with an interlocking drum groove”. It’s a restless, fast moving, energetic piece with darting melodic phrases and jagged staccato rhythms and features the sounds of synthesiser, bowed acoustic bass and programmed drums. Blomfield has coined the phrase ‘jazztronica’ to describe it, while I was reminded of the post e.s.t. solo work of both Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrom.

Both Berglund and Ostrom have acknowledged the influence of progressive rock on their solo projects and Wijetunge has described his leader’s music as ‘cinematic prog jazz’. “Mellow Drama” represents a good encapsulation of this as it mutates through a range of moods and musical styles from tentative solo piano to grandiose prog rock flourishes, to hard driving Cowley-esque passages.
The piece also features a field recording of Sam playing in water as the piece attempts to express “a general concept of conveying my experiences as a carer and parent - and the idea of trying to remain calm and centred in the crazy off-kilter strange disorientating world I had found myself immersed in”. There’s a relatively conventional piano solo mid tune, prior to a final section which sees “the piano looping a sequence of sonorous repetitive calm whilst the bass and drums play jagged thrash metal like phrases in independent time to the background figure, which decreases in tempo on each occurrence. Chaos and calm finally meet together on the last note”.
“Mellow Drama” is an impressive, dramatic, multi faceted piece of work with the field recording of Sam skilfully stitched into the overall fabric of the music.

“Full Circle” is based around a Latin inflected ‘montuno’ piano figure and began life as a larger more ‘epic’ arrangement. It’s a tune that the trio have played live on numerous occasions, gradually simplifying the arrangement. The recorded version possesses an uplifting, unpretentious charm and acts as the vehicle for an expansive piano solo from Blomfield and a melodic bass feature from the excellent Wijetunge. The arrangement makes judicious use of electric keyboards but its relative simplicity represents an effective contrast with the musical and emotional complexities of the previous “Mellow Drama”.

The title of “Boarded Up (Stranger Beauty” is an oblique nod to the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada, a primary influence on this aspect of Blomfield’s music making. The album’s second ‘sound world vignette’ is the result of Blomfield improvising in the studio on the Prophet 6 as Wijetunge, utilising an effects pedal, and Whitlam respond. Post production Wijetunge and Blomfield edited the track down to create this tantalisingly short vignette, a piece similar in feel to the earlier ‘jazztronica’ of “Bits and Pieces”.

“Every Way OK” is a ballad that Blomfield describes as “being written quite quickly, fairly straightforward in character,  with the odd unexpected turn of phrase or harmonic shift. Our approach was to the tune rhythmically was to play it more from a rock inflected angle than purely as a jazz ballad” Once again the trio’s methods work to perfection as they treat Blomfield’s beautiful and arresting theme to a performance that combines the elegance of jazz with the anthemic power of rock.

“Free Fall” is another effective amalgam of Blomfield’s various influences. Based around a cycle of arpeggiated chord patterns that Blomfield originally wrote on the Prophet 6 these are first played by a combination of synth and acoustic piano against a backdrop of synth bass and a programmed drum loop, the latter helping to give the music something of a hip hop feel, against which Blomfield’s flowing melodies are juxtaposed. A more intense central section sees Whitlam laying down a more forceful and dynamic drum groove above which Blomfield stages something of a piano/synth battle. The track was pieced together from multiple takes and moulded into its finished form via various post production techniques, the studio itself becoming part of the compositional process.

“Stillness in the Sadness” is the last of the ‘sound world vignettes’  and arose from a series of improvised solo piano pieces that Blomfield recorded at the studio during the downtime between the trio sessions. Here a melancholic piano theme is manipulated via post production techniques, including reversed audio, to create something haunting, eerie, and, in keeping with the album title, strangely beautiful. Blomfield says of the finished piece;
“Sometimes in our lives we are haunted by resonances of sadness or loss – but if we can sit with that, with acceptance rather than resistance, we can experience, if only for a moment, a sense of tranquillity…”
Again he’s right, there’s something of the ambient, zen like calm of Eno’s “Another Green World” about this particular ‘vignette’.

The album concludes with “Buddha in the Barcode”, a piece constructed around Blomfield’s arpeggiated piano motifs. The composer speaks of it as “a personal favourite” and of it “conveying both simplicity and complexity simultaneously”. With Wijetunge (who enjoys a brief solo cameo) and Whitlam providing characteristically excellent support the piece moves seamlessly up and down the gears as hard driving, fiercely rhythmic passages contrast with gentler, more contemplative moments.

Having seen him perform live on numerous occasions in a variety of jazz contexts (albeit never as a leader) I have always regarded Blomfield to be an excellent piano soloist, always fluent, imaginative and inventive and rarely playing the obvious licks. Naturally he brings these qualities to this recording but “Strange Beauty” also offers so much more, with Blomfield consolidating his reputation as a composer of considerable ability and stature.

Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole. While it is helpful to know the background behind its inspirations the music stands up superbly in its own right with every piece succeeding in its objectives.

Although the music is virtually all Blomfield’s this is a highly democratic and well integrated trio with Wijetunge, as both bassist and co-producer, and Whitlam playing a huge part in the creative process as the threesome take full advantage of the studio facilities available to them. The electronic aspects of the recording are thoroughly convincing, whether in the three ‘sound world vignettes’ or as part of the fabric of the lengthier through composed pieces.

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” represents a major statement from Jim Blomfield and deserves to bring him to the attention of the national jazz audience.


blog comments powered by Disqus

JAZZ MANN FEATURES

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 05/05/2019.

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 05/05/2019.

Ian Mann on performances by Vula Viel, Yazz Ahmed, David Sanborn, Hanna Paulsberg, Madeleine Peyroux and two exceptional 'Trios With A Twist', one from Cuba, the other from France.


Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2019.

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 04/05/2019.

Ian Mann on performances by Paris / Birmingham Jazz Exchange, Alfa Mist, John Surman's Brass Project, Dan Weiss & Starebaby, Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya, Vels Trio, Joshua Redman and Michael Formanek.


JAZZ MANN RECOMMENDS