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Nick Malcolm - Real Isn’t Real Rating: 4-5 out of 5 With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different, guest vocalists Malcolm has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole.

Nick Malcolm

“Real Isn’t Real”

(Green Eyes Records GE002)

“Real Isn’t Real” is the third album release as a leader by the Bristol based trumpeter, composer and improviser Nick Malcolm. It follows “Glimmers”, released in 2012 on FMR Records and the excellent “Beyond These Voices” (2014), which appeared on Malcolm’s own Green Eyes label.

Malcolm’s first two albums were made in the quartet format and featured some of the UK’s leading improvising musicians in the shapes of Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Olie Brice (double bass) and Mark Whitlam (drums). Shortly after the release of “Beyond These Voices” Whitlam was replaced on a permanent basis by Ric Yarborough, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Both these album demonstrated Malcolm’s mastery of the hinterland where composed and improvised music intersect, skilfully combining adventurousness with accessibility.

“Real Isn’t Real” is centred around the core quartet of Malcolm, Hawkins, Brice and Yarborough but on the trumpeter’s most ambitious release to date the instrumentalists are joined by an illustrious roll call of guest female vocalists.

The album is a semi-conceptual affair with five “Spiral” instrumental pieces interspersed by four songs specifically written by Malcolm to “highlight the particular vocal and musical qualities of each of the featured vocalists”. The singers that Malcolm has selected for this recording are Emily Wright, Marie Lister, Josienne Clarke and Lauren Kinsella, four very different vocalists whose styles reflect Malcolm’s own eclecticism and versatility. The trumpeter’s CV includes work with numerous jazz and free improv ensembles to the Bristol Afrobeat Collective and folk singer Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band.

“Real Isn’t Real” is structured rather like a suite, with the “Spiral” instrumental pieces seguing into the songs. It’s an approach that works well, the album as a whole cohering convincingly despite the contrasting styles of the various guest vocalists and the sometimes uncompromising approach adopted by the instrumentalists.

As befits the diverse nature of the project Malcolm and the rest of the quartet have expanded their own instrumental palettes. The leader is also heard on keyboards and vocals, Hawkins adds Rhodes, Hammond and Pump Organ to his keyboard armoury while Brice is fleetingly heard on electric sitar, probably my first sighting of such a beast since Denny Dias’ solo on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”!. Yarborough contributes some significant post production while guest Will Harris adds electric bass to the song “Silent Grace”.

The album commences with the first of the “Spiral” pieces. Each of these has been given a subtitle so we start with “Spiral 1 – Assemble” which introduces a quintet sound that will be familiar to listeners of Malcolm’s previous album “Beyond These Voices”. Brice’s muscular but melodic bass lines and Yarborough’s busy but understated drum and cymbal patterns underpin Malcolm’s fluent trumpet soloing, his sound sometimes reminiscent of one of his mentors, the great American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Hawkins, one of the UK’s best and most distinctive piano improvisers maintains a low profile early on, his chording sparse and comparatively simple, but he clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch out later in the tune, his solo packed with unusual chords and arpeggios in a classically informed 21st century updating of Thelonious Monk. The soft growl of Malcolm’s trumpet then returns to the fray and the piece segues into;

“Floating Earth” which features the coolly elegant vocals of Emily Wright as she sings Malcolm’s words. Malcolm and Wright have previously worked together in the group Moonlight Saving Time”, co-led by Wright and bassist Will Harris. Wright’s pure, ethereal singing on this piece is reminiscent of her work with her own band, a group that blends jazz and folk influences with poetry and imaginative arrangements of pop and rock songs. The song’s fragile mood reflects its title and the solos here come from Brice on melodic double bass and Hawkins, at his most lyrical, on piano.

It’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied double bass that introduces “Spiral II – Encircle”, his deeply resonant sound subsequently accompanied by Hawkins’ piano chording and the bustle of Yarborough’s drums and cymbals. The piece gathers momentum, while simultaneously becoming more freely structured, as it progresses, before suddenly mutating into;

“Silent Grace”, featuring the voice of Bristol based soul and hip-hop vocalist Marie Lister. She and Malcolm have previously worked together in the afrobeat outfit No Go Stop. Lister has also toured widely with the nu soul outfit The Duval Project and with the soul artist Pete Josef. Here Lister sings powerfully and soulfully on a soul, funk and r’n’b flavoured song that represents an unexpected, but highly effective, diversion for Malcolm, one that features Harris on electric bass and Hawkins doubling on electric keyboards. It’s a piece that has invited comparisons with the music of the group Panacea, led by keyboard player and composer Robert Mitchell.

“Silent Grace” merges seamlessly into “Spiral III – Ascend” with Malcolm’s opening trumpet statement at first sounding like an instrumental break in the previous song. Hawkins’ piano steers the music into more obviously jazz territory with an expansive solo that positively sparkles, for all its avant garde flourishes. There’s an also an absorbing dialogue between Hawkins and Malcolm as Brice and Hawkins provide flexible, apposite support. There’s then a powerful reprise of “Silent Grace” featuring Lister’s impassioned vocal and Yarborough’s heavy grooves as Malcolm’s mercurial trumpet weaves and squiggles around the gaps.

“Grass Remembers” features the voice of Josienne Clarke, one of the UK’s leading young folk singers. Clarke works in a duo with guitarist Ben Walker and Malcolm guested on the pair’s 2014 album “Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour”. Clarke returns the compliment by lending her pure, sweet, folk voice to Malcolm’s atmospheric setting of the words of W.B. Yeats. Clarke’s vocals are underscored by the moody drone of Hawkins’ pump organ.

Brice’s double bass introduces “Spiral IV – Blues”, the instrumental piece that is most obviously linked to its accompanying song. Clarke provides a brief spoken reprise of “Grass Remembers” at the beginning of the piece before handing over to Brice and Yarborough. Malcolm’s melancholy trumpet then picks up the melody from “Grass Remembers”, subtly mutating the theme during his sombre meditations, the mood more “Kind of Blue” than THE Blues. The introduction of Hawkins, who also eventually solos, steers the music deeper into avant garde jazz territory, the piece moving further and further away from its folk sources as it progresses, but still intrinsically linked. Hawkins’ increasingly frenetic Cecil Taylor / Myra Melford like piano solo is abruptly truncated as we jump into;

“Real Isn’t Real”, the title track co-written by Malcolm and vocalist Lauren Kinsella. One of the most adventurous young vocalists around the Dublin born Kinsella has previously worked with Malcolm as part of a freely improvising trio also featuring cellist Hannah Marshall. As well as pursuing solo projects Kinsella has also been part of the bands Thought Fox, Blue-Eyed Hawk and Snowpoet. Given Kinsella’s credentials it’s perhaps not too surprising to find that this piece features the most audacious vocalising of the set. Kinsella combines a folk like purity of tone with a willingness to experiment in terms of time, space, meter and extended vocal techniques. She is heard here unaccompanied (presumably singing her own words) and in a series of largely wordless improvised exchanges with Malcolm and Hawkins.

These segue into the closing “Spiral V - Dissolve”, co-credited to Malcolm and Yarborough, which emerges out of Hawkins’ repeated piano motif to incorporate something of a feature for the latter, albeit with the drums well back in the mix. Yarborough has a long established interest in electronic music, working as a producer under the name 3dYwK and his input is very much evident here in the multi-tracking of Kinsella’s vocals allied to other production techniques. The wispy, ethereal nature of the music befits its title as the piece dissolves - “into silence” - but not without a defiant reprise of the earlier “Silent Grace”. The closing stages of this Spiral piece represent something of a sound collage, and Yarborough’s ‘production’ and co-composer credit is well earned.

“Real Isn’t Real” is an intriguing piece of work that seems to have divided critical opinion with some commentators citing a lack of cohesion and continuity. I don’t see it like that at all. Instead I’m impressed by the way in which Malcolm draws the disparate elements together to create what, for me, is a thoroughly convincing and compelling narrative. Composition blends seamlessly with improvisation, a process that Malcolm has already been exploring instrumentally on his previous two albums. But on this more ambitious project he has brought every aspect of his musical persona to the table, jazz, improv, folk, funk, soul, r’n’b and electronica, plus a love of poetry, literature and the human voice. With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different guest vocalists he has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole. The way in which he brings the various styles together with elements from one piece informing another remind me of the way in which novelist David Mitchell knits different story lines together in books like “Ghostwritten” and “Cloud Atlas”. To appreciate its full worth “Real Isn’t Real” is an album that is probably best considered as a stand alone work and one that is best listened to in a single sitting.

Given the nature of the project it’s unlikely that Malcolm will take the album on the road in its entirety, although the essentially instrumental “Spiral” pieces are likely to form part of subsequent live appearances.

Instead he has formed a new quartet called jade (the lower case lettering is Malcolm’s) which will be touring in the UK during February, March and April 2019. The new group will feature Malcolm and Yarborough together with Will Harris on bass and Jake McMurchie, of Get The Blessing fame, on saxophone.

It’s an intriguing proposition, catch jade if you can at;


Weds 27 Feb
8.30pm
Cardiff - The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place, CF10 3BX http://thefluteandtankard.com/

Sun 3 March
8.30pm
Bristol - Café Kino, Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU 
http://www.cafekino.coop

Tues 5 March
8.00pm
Cambridge - Listen! at St Barnabas, Mill Road, CB1 2BD https://www.listencambridge.com/

Thurs 7 March
8.30pm
Newcastle - The Globe, 11 Railway Street, NE4 7AD
http://jazznortheast.com

Fri 8 March 
8.00pm
Derby - Derby Jazz at Deda Studio Theatre Chapel St DE1 3GU
https://www.derby-jazz.co.uk/gigs.php

Sat 20 April
8.30 pm
London -The Vortex, Gillett Square N16 8AZ
http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk

For more information on “Real Isn’t Real” and jade please visit http://www.nickmalcolm.co.uk

Real Isn’t Real

Nick Malcolm

Friday, February 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Real Isn’t Real

With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different, guest vocalists Malcolm has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole.

Nick Malcolm

“Real Isn’t Real”

(Green Eyes Records GE002)

“Real Isn’t Real” is the third album release as a leader by the Bristol based trumpeter, composer and improviser Nick Malcolm. It follows “Glimmers”, released in 2012 on FMR Records and the excellent “Beyond These Voices” (2014), which appeared on Malcolm’s own Green Eyes label.

Malcolm’s first two albums were made in the quartet format and featured some of the UK’s leading improvising musicians in the shapes of Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Olie Brice (double bass) and Mark Whitlam (drums). Shortly after the release of “Beyond These Voices” Whitlam was replaced on a permanent basis by Ric Yarborough, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Both these album demonstrated Malcolm’s mastery of the hinterland where composed and improvised music intersect, skilfully combining adventurousness with accessibility.

“Real Isn’t Real” is centred around the core quartet of Malcolm, Hawkins, Brice and Yarborough but on the trumpeter’s most ambitious release to date the instrumentalists are joined by an illustrious roll call of guest female vocalists.

The album is a semi-conceptual affair with five “Spiral” instrumental pieces interspersed by four songs specifically written by Malcolm to “highlight the particular vocal and musical qualities of each of the featured vocalists”. The singers that Malcolm has selected for this recording are Emily Wright, Marie Lister, Josienne Clarke and Lauren Kinsella, four very different vocalists whose styles reflect Malcolm’s own eclecticism and versatility. The trumpeter’s CV includes work with numerous jazz and free improv ensembles to the Bristol Afrobeat Collective and folk singer Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band.

“Real Isn’t Real” is structured rather like a suite, with the “Spiral” instrumental pieces seguing into the songs. It’s an approach that works well, the album as a whole cohering convincingly despite the contrasting styles of the various guest vocalists and the sometimes uncompromising approach adopted by the instrumentalists.

As befits the diverse nature of the project Malcolm and the rest of the quartet have expanded their own instrumental palettes. The leader is also heard on keyboards and vocals, Hawkins adds Rhodes, Hammond and Pump Organ to his keyboard armoury while Brice is fleetingly heard on electric sitar, probably my first sighting of such a beast since Denny Dias’ solo on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”!. Yarborough contributes some significant post production while guest Will Harris adds electric bass to the song “Silent Grace”.

The album commences with the first of the “Spiral” pieces. Each of these has been given a subtitle so we start with “Spiral 1 – Assemble” which introduces a quintet sound that will be familiar to listeners of Malcolm’s previous album “Beyond These Voices”. Brice’s muscular but melodic bass lines and Yarborough’s busy but understated drum and cymbal patterns underpin Malcolm’s fluent trumpet soloing, his sound sometimes reminiscent of one of his mentors, the great American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Hawkins, one of the UK’s best and most distinctive piano improvisers maintains a low profile early on, his chording sparse and comparatively simple, but he clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch out later in the tune, his solo packed with unusual chords and arpeggios in a classically informed 21st century updating of Thelonious Monk. The soft growl of Malcolm’s trumpet then returns to the fray and the piece segues into;

“Floating Earth” which features the coolly elegant vocals of Emily Wright as she sings Malcolm’s words. Malcolm and Wright have previously worked together in the group Moonlight Saving Time”, co-led by Wright and bassist Will Harris. Wright’s pure, ethereal singing on this piece is reminiscent of her work with her own band, a group that blends jazz and folk influences with poetry and imaginative arrangements of pop and rock songs. The song’s fragile mood reflects its title and the solos here come from Brice on melodic double bass and Hawkins, at his most lyrical, on piano.

It’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied double bass that introduces “Spiral II – Encircle”, his deeply resonant sound subsequently accompanied by Hawkins’ piano chording and the bustle of Yarborough’s drums and cymbals. The piece gathers momentum, while simultaneously becoming more freely structured, as it progresses, before suddenly mutating into;

“Silent Grace”, featuring the voice of Bristol based soul and hip-hop vocalist Marie Lister. She and Malcolm have previously worked together in the afrobeat outfit No Go Stop. Lister has also toured widely with the nu soul outfit The Duval Project and with the soul artist Pete Josef. Here Lister sings powerfully and soulfully on a soul, funk and r’n’b flavoured song that represents an unexpected, but highly effective, diversion for Malcolm, one that features Harris on electric bass and Hawkins doubling on electric keyboards. It’s a piece that has invited comparisons with the music of the group Panacea, led by keyboard player and composer Robert Mitchell.

“Silent Grace” merges seamlessly into “Spiral III – Ascend” with Malcolm’s opening trumpet statement at first sounding like an instrumental break in the previous song. Hawkins’ piano steers the music into more obviously jazz territory with an expansive solo that positively sparkles, for all its avant garde flourishes. There’s an also an absorbing dialogue between Hawkins and Malcolm as Brice and Hawkins provide flexible, apposite support. There’s then a powerful reprise of “Silent Grace” featuring Lister’s impassioned vocal and Yarborough’s heavy grooves as Malcolm’s mercurial trumpet weaves and squiggles around the gaps.

“Grass Remembers” features the voice of Josienne Clarke, one of the UK’s leading young folk singers. Clarke works in a duo with guitarist Ben Walker and Malcolm guested on the pair’s 2014 album “Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour”. Clarke returns the compliment by lending her pure, sweet, folk voice to Malcolm’s atmospheric setting of the words of W.B. Yeats. Clarke’s vocals are underscored by the moody drone of Hawkins’ pump organ.

Brice’s double bass introduces “Spiral IV – Blues”, the instrumental piece that is most obviously linked to its accompanying song. Clarke provides a brief spoken reprise of “Grass Remembers” at the beginning of the piece before handing over to Brice and Yarborough. Malcolm’s melancholy trumpet then picks up the melody from “Grass Remembers”, subtly mutating the theme during his sombre meditations, the mood more “Kind of Blue” than THE Blues. The introduction of Hawkins, who also eventually solos, steers the music deeper into avant garde jazz territory, the piece moving further and further away from its folk sources as it progresses, but still intrinsically linked. Hawkins’ increasingly frenetic Cecil Taylor / Myra Melford like piano solo is abruptly truncated as we jump into;

“Real Isn’t Real”, the title track co-written by Malcolm and vocalist Lauren Kinsella. One of the most adventurous young vocalists around the Dublin born Kinsella has previously worked with Malcolm as part of a freely improvising trio also featuring cellist Hannah Marshall. As well as pursuing solo projects Kinsella has also been part of the bands Thought Fox, Blue-Eyed Hawk and Snowpoet. Given Kinsella’s credentials it’s perhaps not too surprising to find that this piece features the most audacious vocalising of the set. Kinsella combines a folk like purity of tone with a willingness to experiment in terms of time, space, meter and extended vocal techniques. She is heard here unaccompanied (presumably singing her own words) and in a series of largely wordless improvised exchanges with Malcolm and Hawkins.

These segue into the closing “Spiral V - Dissolve”, co-credited to Malcolm and Yarborough, which emerges out of Hawkins’ repeated piano motif to incorporate something of a feature for the latter, albeit with the drums well back in the mix. Yarborough has a long established interest in electronic music, working as a producer under the name 3dYwK and his input is very much evident here in the multi-tracking of Kinsella’s vocals allied to other production techniques. The wispy, ethereal nature of the music befits its title as the piece dissolves - “into silence” - but not without a defiant reprise of the earlier “Silent Grace”. The closing stages of this Spiral piece represent something of a sound collage, and Yarborough’s ‘production’ and co-composer credit is well earned.

“Real Isn’t Real” is an intriguing piece of work that seems to have divided critical opinion with some commentators citing a lack of cohesion and continuity. I don’t see it like that at all. Instead I’m impressed by the way in which Malcolm draws the disparate elements together to create what, for me, is a thoroughly convincing and compelling narrative. Composition blends seamlessly with improvisation, a process that Malcolm has already been exploring instrumentally on his previous two albums. But on this more ambitious project he has brought every aspect of his musical persona to the table, jazz, improv, folk, funk, soul, r’n’b and electronica, plus a love of poetry, literature and the human voice. With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different guest vocalists he has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole. The way in which he brings the various styles together with elements from one piece informing another remind me of the way in which novelist David Mitchell knits different story lines together in books like “Ghostwritten” and “Cloud Atlas”. To appreciate its full worth “Real Isn’t Real” is an album that is probably best considered as a stand alone work and one that is best listened to in a single sitting.

Given the nature of the project it’s unlikely that Malcolm will take the album on the road in its entirety, although the essentially instrumental “Spiral” pieces are likely to form part of subsequent live appearances.

Instead he has formed a new quartet called jade (the lower case lettering is Malcolm’s) which will be touring in the UK during February, March and April 2019. The new group will feature Malcolm and Yarborough together with Will Harris on bass and Jake McMurchie, of Get The Blessing fame, on saxophone.

It’s an intriguing proposition, catch jade if you can at;


Weds 27 Feb
8.30pm
Cardiff - The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place, CF10 3BX http://thefluteandtankard.com/

Sun 3 March
8.30pm
Bristol - Café Kino, Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU 
http://www.cafekino.coop

Tues 5 March
8.00pm
Cambridge - Listen! at St Barnabas, Mill Road, CB1 2BD https://www.listencambridge.com/

Thurs 7 March
8.30pm
Newcastle - The Globe, 11 Railway Street, NE4 7AD
http://jazznortheast.com

Fri 8 March 
8.00pm
Derby - Derby Jazz at Deda Studio Theatre Chapel St DE1 3GU
https://www.derby-jazz.co.uk/gigs.php

Sat 20 April
8.30 pm
London -The Vortex, Gillett Square N16 8AZ
http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk

For more information on “Real Isn’t Real” and jade please visit http://www.nickmalcolm.co.uk


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