Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A highly personal record that embraces several different musical genres in an interesting and distinctive way.
(F-ire Presents F-IRECD 59)
“The Rock Between”, Metamorphic’s 2011 début for the F-ire presents label was greeted with a compelling amount of critical acclaim. “Coalescence”, their second release for F-ire has evoked a similar response, a reflection of the fact that the new record builds convincingly on its predecessors strengths.
The music on “Coalescence” is a similar mix of original material by pianist and leader Laura Cole plus inspired interpretations of outside material that takes in sources as diverse as Kenny Wheeler and Radiohead plus an ingenious drawing together of the music of Jimi Hendrix and Ornette Coleman. As on the first album Cole’s own material is highly personal, a further chronicling of her earlier battles with RSI and depression, the choice of album title referencing the idea of consolidation and moving forward. Besides the obvious inspirations of those she whose material she has chosen to cover Cole also cites such diverse figures as Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, Moondog, Stravinsky and DJ Shadow as influences on her highly distinctive compositional approach.
Although Cole is located in Leeds her band is comprised of London based musicians, old friends from Middlesex University’s jazz course from which she graduated with first class honours. The group has been together for five years now and it’s the same line up that appears on the first album. Chris Williams (alto sax) and John Martin (tenor/soprano) are the horns, Paul Sandy (double bass) and Tom Greenhalgh (drums/percussion) are Cole’s partners in rhythm with Kerry Andrew (vocals and loops) giving voice to Cole’s words. There are also highly effective guest contributions from Chris Montague (guitar) and Seth Bennett (double bass) plus a string quartet on one piece and the Bennett Cole Orchestra on the closing “Light Up Yourself”. The Orchestra is a Leeds based large ensemble co-led by Cole and Seth Bennett that features a mix of jazz and classical instrumentation.
Opener “Puma” begins with the sound of Andrew’s looped and layered voice intoning the phrase “safe again”, subsequently shadowed by the soft timbres of the horns. It’s soothing and gentle with an almost folk like simplicity but the mood is suddenly broken by Andrew’s abrupt semi spoken vocal as she metamorphoses into the “puma” of the title, but in this case she’s the hunted rather than the hunter. The tumbling urgency of the music is a perfect illustration of her plight. Apparently an account of a dream experienced by Cole this is a kind of musical theatre, highly effective in its depiction of fear and disorientation. It’s a long way removed from conventional jazz and some listeners may find it unsettling or even “pretentious”. Like I said this is a highly personal record.
“Puma” segues into the insistent “What Is Real”, a Cole composition with lyrics questioning the nature of reality in an increasingly virtual world. Andrew’s repeated phrases contribute to the unsettling, claustrophobic atmosphere as the music churns about her. Once again it’s dramatic, disturbing stuff but once again this is music that is the product of a highly fertile musical imagination. A quieter fade featuring Sandy’s double bass suggests some kind of resolution.
“The Rock Between” included a number of “hybrid” pieces where Cole spliced the music of two different composers together linking them with compositional ideas of her own. Here it’s the turn of Jimi Hendrix and Ornette Coleman to join Cole in the convincing ménage a trois that she calls “Little Woman, Lonely Wing” (also the title of Cole’s blog page), an intriguing juxtaposition of moods and melodies.
Cole describes the lengthy “Flotsam and Jetsam” as “a gathering of debris from a psychological wreckage, making it whole and shipshape again”. The piece develops from a freely structured intro to embrace the repeated motifs and structures of which Cole is fond, seeming to draw inspiration from Steve Reich and other minimalist composers. Andrew’s voice is sometimes used as part of the ensemble while at others she sings words that sometimes seem to be inspired by a sea shanty even if the music never sounds remotely like one! Guest bassist Seth Bennett is a significant presence throughout the track alongside Martin and Williams. There are further squalls of almost free jazz along the way and a palpable sense of things of things finally being brought together and resolved.
“The Juicemaker” represents something of a lightening of the prevailing musical mood and there’s an inspired solo by guest guitarist Chris Montague, moonlighting from his own band Troyka. Led Bib’s Chris Williams makes his presence felt too and there’s also a fine solo from John Martin on hard edged soprano.
Cole has a strong affinity for the music of veteran trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler and on “The Rock Between” she merged him with Herbie Hancock whilst simultaneously bringing something of herself to the party. Here she offers us her arrangement of Wheeler’s “Gentle Piece”, the lyrics movingly sung by the pure voice of Andrew and with Martin impressing with an expansive tenor sax solo.
The title of “Gneiss” is a knowing geological reference to the band’s name. Andrew’s voice is used wordlessly on another subtly layered piece that draws on the influence of minimalism. Metamorphic’s music isn’t really about jazz solos as such, Cole has been described as writing in “blocks” and its certainly the ensemble sound and the creation of moods and textures that is the main focus of this band.
“I Bet You Want Blood” is Cole’s setting of a song by the London based indie band Revere. The mixed gender (a further parallel with Metamorphic) indie septet layer the song with guitars,brass and strings. Cole brings a more jazz approach to the piece but the ghost of the minimalists pervades both the rock and jazz treatments of the song with Martin soloing powerfully here above the hypnotic vocal patterns and insistent rhythms.
Next up is Cole’s arrangement of a tune by a rather more famous band and one much covered by jazz artists, the mighty Radiohead. Here she deploys the string quartet of Thea Spiers and Yvonna Magda (violins), Nick Williams (viola) and Adam Spiers (cello) plus the double bass of guest Seth Bennett. It’s a haunting arrangement featuring droning strings and Andrew’s assured vocal. There’s also some nifty pizzicato work from the string players. “The Rock Between” featured an arrangement of Bjork’s “Hyperballad”, Cole is clearly more than happy to draw from the best of contemporary popular music.
The closing piece, the rousing and redemptive “Light Up Yourself” features the combined talents of the Bennett- Cole Orchestra which includes a few familiar names from the burgeoning jazz scene in the North of England. They make an impressive collective noise and it is to be hoped that the BCO gets the opportunity to make a full length album at some point. Perhaps they could become Yorkshire’s answer to Manchester’s Beats & Pieces.
The full Bennett-Cole Orchestra line up was;
Ollie Dover-soprano sax, Richard Scott – baritone sax, Helen Baines- clarinet, Richard Ormrod- alto sax/bass clarinet, Chris Burge- trombone, Tom I’Anson- trombone, Yvonna Magda- violin, Heather Cordwell- violin, Nick Williams- viola, Sarah Henderson- cello, Seth Bennett- double bass, John Arenesen- drums, Katie Patterson- percussion.
“Coalescence” represents a very worthy follow up to “The Rock Between”. Once again it’s a highly personal record that embraces several different musical genres in an interesting and distinctive way. Cole is developing a unique conceptual and compositional style that makes Metamorphic one of the most interesting groups around on the UK scene. The blend of voice and instruments is particularly effective with Andrew now even more fully integrated into the band’s sound. Cole herself is content once more to remain part of the ensemble, there are virtually no piano solos bar a brief flurry at the end of the Radiohead piece, but it’s her vision and writing and arranging skills that form the core of an increasingly unique group sound.
The group have a number of live performances coming up including a UK tour as part of a double bill with the Norwegian vocal trio Royst. The music to be heard on “Coalescence” suggests that they should be well worth seeing live.
Metamorphic / Royst Trio Tour Dates and details
June 12, The Hothouse (Lancaster Jazz), 17 Devonshire Rd, Morecambe, Lancashire, LA3 1QT; tel. 01524 831997; 8pm; £7/5; http://www.lancasterjazz.com/metamorphic-royst.htmlTickets £7/5
June 16, Darlington Jazz Club, The Forum Music Centre, Borough Rd, Darlington, DL1 1SG; tel. 01325 363135; 6pm; £5/3; http://www.theforumonline.co.uk/gigs.html
June 17, Millenium Hall, 520 Ecclesall Rd, Sheffield, S11 8PY; tel. 0114 276 7093; 8.30pm; £10; For Full Price tickets go here: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/223494; for Concessions go here: http://wegottickets.com/event/223495
June 19, Voicebox, Kensington Mews, Forman St, Derby, DE1 1JQ; tel. 01332 295297; 8pm; £10; http://voiceboxuk.com/newvb/events/diaries/comingsoon.php
June 20, Seven Arts (Fusebox), 31a Harrogate Rd, Leeds, LS7 3PD; tel. 0113 2626777; 8.30pm; £8/6; http://www.sevenleeds.co.uk/clients/sevenarts/MODULES/DIARY/DIARYMOD_item.asp?type=All&itemid=351
June 24, *ALBUM LAUNCH*; The Vortex, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ; 020 7254 4097; 8.30pm; £10; http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/gigs.php?gd=20130624#.UZYJPrU3u8A
June 27, Lost Voices, View Two Gallery, 23 Mathew St, Liverpool, L2 6RE; tel. 0151 236 9444; 8.30pm; £7/5; http://www.lostvoices.co.uk
Metamorphic & Røyst Trio gratefully acknowledge financial support from PRS for Music Foundation for the tour.
FURTHER METAMORPHIC GIGS:
3 Jul 2013
Ort Cafe, Birmingham
25 Sep 2013
The Lescar, Sheffield
More info at http://www.metamorphic.org.uk
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
A welcome addition to a relatively small written and visual canon.
Ian Mann on the final day of the festival with performaces by Huw Warren / Gabriele Mirabassi, Debs Hancock, Ollie Howell, John Taylor, Township Comets, and Christine Tobin.