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Roller Trio - New Devices Rating: 4 out of 5 “New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently.

Roller Trio

“New Devices”

(Edition Records EDN 1114)

“New Devices” is the long awaited third album from the Leeds based threesome Roller Trio.
Products of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music the group seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous début album on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2012.

The album garnered a considerable degree of critical acclaim and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act. Attracting attention beyond the usual jazz parameters the group also acquired an enviable reputation for the quality of their exciting live performances.  I was fortunate enough to witness them at a packed out, standing room only show at The Vortex as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival (also featuring Pixel and WorldService Project) and as part of a double bill with Polar Bear at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the following year. 

December 2014 saw the release of the trio’s keenly anticipated second album, “Fracture”,  which was supported by a successful crowd funding campaign and released on the trio’s own Lamplight Social imprint. Musically the album built upon its predecessor’s success but, almost inevitably, it wasn’t able to achieve quite the same kind of critical and commercial impact.

The group have since re-trenched with founder members James Mainwaring (saxes) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) joined by new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who takes over from original member Luke Wynter.  Originally from the North East Sharkey also studied at Leeds at around the same time as his colleagues and brings a wealth of experience to the trio.
Sharkey was a key member of the critically acclaimed but now sadly defunct Trio VD, had a brief spell as a member of Acoustic Ladyland (appearing on the fourth and final album “Living With A Tiger”) and was also part of bassist Andy Champion’s electric trio Shiver. He also acts as a producer, with the group WorldService Project among those calling on his services in this capacity. Sharkey has also been commissioned as a composer as part of London Jazz Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme, writing for the amateur Make It / Break It Ensemble at the 2016 Festival.

The arrival of Sharkey has given Roller Trio a shot in the arm with “New Devices” generating a healthy degree of critical approval. The re-invigorated group were also widely praised for their exciting and powerful performance at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Roller Trio come from the same lineage as UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Trio VD and have always borrowed substantially from related genres such as rock, hip hop and electronica.  As a group they have always enhanced their sound with the use of electronic technology with both Mainwaring and Wynter ‘treating’ the sounds of their instruments on “Fracture”.

The arrival of Sharkey sees the trio taking this process further with the individual members also credited with synths and programming in addition to their principal instruments. The music includes sounds sampled from the night life of Leeds. Sharkey is also credited with electric bass, which adds further weight and depth to the group’s sound.

Despite their increasing reliance upon electronics and gadgetry “New Devices” actually explores “people’s confused relationship with technology and the public participation in self- surveillance”.

Mainwaring explains further;
“We couldn’t have made this album without technology, the devices used in music making and the online communication, yet we’re concerned about the future and the impact social media will have on the next generation. Do we really have a grip on our relationship with technology?”

All the pieces are credited to ‘Roller Trio’ suggesting a mix of collaborative writing and collective improvisation. For the first two albums the group’s preferred method of working was to fashion compositions out of collective improvisations and jamming and one suspects that their MO remains similar, despite the change of personnel and the additional technology.
However the previous albums also included individual credits for some pieces, suggesting that existing ideas were brought in to the studio and subsequently developed by the group.

Opener “Decline Of Northern Civilisation” sets the tone, beginning with a fanfare of spooky, Blade Runner style synths prior to settling on a powerful sax driven riff around which the electronic elements swirl and shift. Reddin-Williams lays down a powerful, technology enhanced groove but in the best Roller Trio tradition the music never stays in one place for long, shading off into a brief passages of electronically enhanced free improvisation prior to an excoriating sax barrage from Mainwaring as the beats clatter around him.

There’s more spooky synths on the introduction to “Milligrammar” which delves even deeper into the world of electronica. Despite the presence of Sharkey in the band’s ranks it’s rare for him to adopt a conventional guitar sound. Instead his role appears to be more that of a sonic architect, constantly shaping and manipulating the band’s sound.  At a time when contemporaries Portico Quartet seem be pulling back from their explorations into the realms of electronica the new look Roller Trio seem to be diving further in. The factor that unites both bands is the deployment of the saxophone as a humanising presence.

Roller Trio’s music is ethereal and gritty by turns, often in the course of a single tune. Mainwaring delivers a towering saxophone solo on “A Whole Volga”, often with only Reddin-Williams’ volcanic drumming for company.  Nonetheless this powerhouse display is bookended by alternately ethereal and glitchy electronica.

“Mad Dryad” effectively combines acoustic and electronic sounds and confirms that Roller Trio have retained their collective ear for a catchy riff or tune. This is an energetic, joyous performance, delivered with power and conviction.

By way of contrast the dark and brooding “Enthusela” demonstrates Roller Trio’s mastery of the more sombre side of the electro-acoustic landscape. Unsettling textures combine with anthemic riffs and grooves to create a sound-scape that charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Ditto “The Third Persona” with its chilly synthscapes and ghostly guitar chording, the kind of Twin Peaks inspired sound-scape inhabited by Cardiff based bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s group Duski. The eerie piping of Mainwaring’s soprano sax is the aural equivalent of a torch beam attempting to illuminate, and find a path through,  a swirling, billowing musical fog.

“Sever So Slightly” develops from Sharkey’s introductory bass line to create an atmosphere of alienation and menace, in keeping with the theme of the album overall. Reddin-Williams shapes a monolithic groove around which saxes and electronics intertwine, the textures becoming ever more dark, powerful and unsettling.

“Nobody Wants To Run The World” explores similar territory but with greater energy and power. The sound is more up-front and confrontational, as evidenced by Mainwaring’s gutsy sax solo and Sharkey’s Fripp like guitar. Roller Trio’s music suggests several reference points, from the prog rock of King Crimson to the brooding trip hop of Portishead to the synthesised soundscapes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The closing “Dot Com Babel” even throws some old school Terry Riley style minimalism into the mix before eventually hitting upon a catchy sax melody allied to a ferocious electronically enhanced drum groove as the trio go for the jugular in the album’s closing stages.

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently. When I first heard that Sharkey had joined the group I was expecting something more guitar orientated but instead it’s Mainwaring who emerges as the most distinctive instrumentalist in the conventional sense. Instead Sharkey makes his mark more as a texturalist and colourist and overall shaper of the band’s sound, also acting as part of the engineering and production team. Amazingly there are no orthodox guitar solos as such.

This is an album that expands Roller Trio’s musical horizons but retains enough familiar reference points from previous incarnations to satisfy the band’s existing fan base.  Meanwhile it’s possible that their deeper excursions into the world of electronica may win them a whole raft of new supporters.

Nevertheless, impressive as the album is one still senses that the best place to enjoy the music of Roller Trio is in the live environment. Let’s hope that the move to Edition, now a major jazz independent, will help them to facilitate a national tour in support of this exciting new music.

 

New Devices

Roller Trio

Friday, June 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

New Devices

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently.

Roller Trio

“New Devices”

(Edition Records EDN 1114)

“New Devices” is the long awaited third album from the Leeds based threesome Roller Trio.
Products of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music the group seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous début album on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2012.

The album garnered a considerable degree of critical acclaim and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act. Attracting attention beyond the usual jazz parameters the group also acquired an enviable reputation for the quality of their exciting live performances.  I was fortunate enough to witness them at a packed out, standing room only show at The Vortex as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival (also featuring Pixel and WorldService Project) and as part of a double bill with Polar Bear at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the following year. 

December 2014 saw the release of the trio’s keenly anticipated second album, “Fracture”,  which was supported by a successful crowd funding campaign and released on the trio’s own Lamplight Social imprint. Musically the album built upon its predecessor’s success but, almost inevitably, it wasn’t able to achieve quite the same kind of critical and commercial impact.

The group have since re-trenched with founder members James Mainwaring (saxes) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) joined by new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who takes over from original member Luke Wynter.  Originally from the North East Sharkey also studied at Leeds at around the same time as his colleagues and brings a wealth of experience to the trio.
Sharkey was a key member of the critically acclaimed but now sadly defunct Trio VD, had a brief spell as a member of Acoustic Ladyland (appearing on the fourth and final album “Living With A Tiger”) and was also part of bassist Andy Champion’s electric trio Shiver. He also acts as a producer, with the group WorldService Project among those calling on his services in this capacity. Sharkey has also been commissioned as a composer as part of London Jazz Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme, writing for the amateur Make It / Break It Ensemble at the 2016 Festival.

The arrival of Sharkey has given Roller Trio a shot in the arm with “New Devices” generating a healthy degree of critical approval. The re-invigorated group were also widely praised for their exciting and powerful performance at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Roller Trio come from the same lineage as UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Trio VD and have always borrowed substantially from related genres such as rock, hip hop and electronica.  As a group they have always enhanced their sound with the use of electronic technology with both Mainwaring and Wynter ‘treating’ the sounds of their instruments on “Fracture”.

The arrival of Sharkey sees the trio taking this process further with the individual members also credited with synths and programming in addition to their principal instruments. The music includes sounds sampled from the night life of Leeds. Sharkey is also credited with electric bass, which adds further weight and depth to the group’s sound.

Despite their increasing reliance upon electronics and gadgetry “New Devices” actually explores “people’s confused relationship with technology and the public participation in self- surveillance”.

Mainwaring explains further;
“We couldn’t have made this album without technology, the devices used in music making and the online communication, yet we’re concerned about the future and the impact social media will have on the next generation. Do we really have a grip on our relationship with technology?”

All the pieces are credited to ‘Roller Trio’ suggesting a mix of collaborative writing and collective improvisation. For the first two albums the group’s preferred method of working was to fashion compositions out of collective improvisations and jamming and one suspects that their MO remains similar, despite the change of personnel and the additional technology.
However the previous albums also included individual credits for some pieces, suggesting that existing ideas were brought in to the studio and subsequently developed by the group.

Opener “Decline Of Northern Civilisation” sets the tone, beginning with a fanfare of spooky, Blade Runner style synths prior to settling on a powerful sax driven riff around which the electronic elements swirl and shift. Reddin-Williams lays down a powerful, technology enhanced groove but in the best Roller Trio tradition the music never stays in one place for long, shading off into a brief passages of electronically enhanced free improvisation prior to an excoriating sax barrage from Mainwaring as the beats clatter around him.

There’s more spooky synths on the introduction to “Milligrammar” which delves even deeper into the world of electronica. Despite the presence of Sharkey in the band’s ranks it’s rare for him to adopt a conventional guitar sound. Instead his role appears to be more that of a sonic architect, constantly shaping and manipulating the band’s sound.  At a time when contemporaries Portico Quartet seem be pulling back from their explorations into the realms of electronica the new look Roller Trio seem to be diving further in. The factor that unites both bands is the deployment of the saxophone as a humanising presence.

Roller Trio’s music is ethereal and gritty by turns, often in the course of a single tune. Mainwaring delivers a towering saxophone solo on “A Whole Volga”, often with only Reddin-Williams’ volcanic drumming for company.  Nonetheless this powerhouse display is bookended by alternately ethereal and glitchy electronica.

“Mad Dryad” effectively combines acoustic and electronic sounds and confirms that Roller Trio have retained their collective ear for a catchy riff or tune. This is an energetic, joyous performance, delivered with power and conviction.

By way of contrast the dark and brooding “Enthusela” demonstrates Roller Trio’s mastery of the more sombre side of the electro-acoustic landscape. Unsettling textures combine with anthemic riffs and grooves to create a sound-scape that charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Ditto “The Third Persona” with its chilly synthscapes and ghostly guitar chording, the kind of Twin Peaks inspired sound-scape inhabited by Cardiff based bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s group Duski. The eerie piping of Mainwaring’s soprano sax is the aural equivalent of a torch beam attempting to illuminate, and find a path through,  a swirling, billowing musical fog.

“Sever So Slightly” develops from Sharkey’s introductory bass line to create an atmosphere of alienation and menace, in keeping with the theme of the album overall. Reddin-Williams shapes a monolithic groove around which saxes and electronics intertwine, the textures becoming ever more dark, powerful and unsettling.

“Nobody Wants To Run The World” explores similar territory but with greater energy and power. The sound is more up-front and confrontational, as evidenced by Mainwaring’s gutsy sax solo and Sharkey’s Fripp like guitar. Roller Trio’s music suggests several reference points, from the prog rock of King Crimson to the brooding trip hop of Portishead to the synthesised soundscapes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The closing “Dot Com Babel” even throws some old school Terry Riley style minimalism into the mix before eventually hitting upon a catchy sax melody allied to a ferocious electronically enhanced drum groove as the trio go for the jugular in the album’s closing stages.

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently. When I first heard that Sharkey had joined the group I was expecting something more guitar orientated but instead it’s Mainwaring who emerges as the most distinctive instrumentalist in the conventional sense. Instead Sharkey makes his mark more as a texturalist and colourist and overall shaper of the band’s sound, also acting as part of the engineering and production team. Amazingly there are no orthodox guitar solos as such.

This is an album that expands Roller Trio’s musical horizons but retains enough familiar reference points from previous incarnations to satisfy the band’s existing fan base.  Meanwhile it’s possible that their deeper excursions into the world of electronica may win them a whole raft of new supporters.

Nevertheless, impressive as the album is one still senses that the best place to enjoy the music of Roller Trio is in the live environment. Let’s hope that the move to Edition, now a major jazz independent, will help them to facilitate a national tour in support of this exciting new music.

 


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