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Roz Harding - Supermood Rating: 4 out of 5 Embracing elements of jazz, rock and improv “Supermood” is an intense, uncompromising album that thrillingly explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation.

Roz Harding

“Supermood”

(Leo Records LR 761)

Roz Harding is a Devon based alto saxophonist and composer. Born in Bristol but raised in Devon she studied music at Exeter College before choosing to specialise in jazz, graduating with BA Hons from the Jazz Course at Middlesex University where she studied with saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Rob Townsend plus other leading jazz luminaries such as Stuart Hall, Eddie Parker, Nikki Iles, Pete Churchill and Chris Batchelor.

Harding is probably best known for her playing in various ensembles led by husband and wife the Westbrooks, such as Mike’s Uncommon Orchestra and Kate’s Granite Band.  She is also a regular member of that eclectic and unclassifiable outfit Billie Bottle and the Multiple, plus its various offshoots. Harding has also played as a sidewoman with an impressive list of leading musicians that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of British jazz.

Harding has also been a leader of her own groups, including the now defunct units Sketch and Wave. Her latest project is Supermood, a trio founded in 2013 featuring guitarist Mike Outram and the Birmingham based drummer Jim Bashford.  Supermood is also an audio-visual project with the trio’s live performances enhanced by 1960s style light shows.

In the meantime we have Supermood’s début album to enjoy, a ‘live in the studio’ recording documented over the course of three days in February 2016 under the guidance of studio owner, engineer and producer Josiah Manning. Multiple microphones were set up to allow the musicians to move around, thus bringing something of that visual element to the audio recording. The album is available on both vinyl and CD with the vinyl version divided into “Breathe In” and “Breathe Out” sides while Harding describes the CD as being “a non-stop narrative of life inside the Supermood”.

All the pieces are credited to Harding but the album commences with “Breath Intro”, one and a half minutes of music that sounds as if it may have been entirely improvised. It begins almost subliminally with the breathy sound of the leader’s sax but Outram’s scratchy, then grungy guitar and the rustling, then pummelling of Bashford’s drums soon muddy the waters with Harding quickly adjusting the style of her playing accordingly. It’s an uncompromising start that throws down the gauntlet for much of what is to follow.

That said Harding is more than capable of writing a catchy melodic motif or hook, as typified by the opening of the following “If You Could”. But this quickly dissipates as the trio once more steer a course into deeper, more obviously improvised waters.  Sax and guitar lines intertwine as the trio float gently for a while, but this reverie is soon interrupted by a barrage of riffage that ends almost as suddenly as it arrives. The opening hook then returns, acting as the trigger for another bout of gnarly, knotty improvising from which Harding’s sax emerges to deliver a powerful, incisive solo with Outram’s muscular, rock influenced guitar the perfect foil. The trio are capable of covering a lot of ground in the course of a single composition, varying their angle of attack with seamless changes of mood and dynamics.

“Waiting For Pea” begins as a ballad, with the gentle keening of Harding’s alto sax accompanied by Outram’s tasteful guitar FX and, eventually, Bashford’s atmospheric cymbal shimmers. Momentum builds via the solos of Harding and Outram, both of which are fluent and wildly imaginative, yet still with the music remaining broadly in the ballad format. There’s a more coherent and conventional feel to this piece, but there is still plenty to engage the listener.

“Tangled Part 1” is a studio created melange of the trio’s speaking voices (shades of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”) that acts as a precursor to the twelve minute epic that is “Tangled Part 2”. This develops from an opening riffy dialogue between Harding’s alto and Bashford’s drums, with Outram’s ringing guitar soon coming on board. Harding’s long melody lines are supported by Outram’s inventive comping, but the pair are soon going head to head, exchanging lines thrillingly in an ongoing dialogue featuring Harding’s bellicose sax blasting and Outram’s high octane guitar, all this supported by the constantly unfolding ferment of Bashford’s drums. Eventually the energy dissipates with a more impressionistic passage mid tune featuring the sound of Outram’s unaccompanied guitar. The pace picks up again with the odd meter riffing of the closing section as Harding undertakes something approaching a conventional solo, her playing hard edged and visceral. There’s something of the primal power of Led Bib or Acoustic Ladyland about this trio when they build up a head of steam. Eventually Harding and the trio reel things back in again, but even when they’re winding down there’s still an edgy quality about the music.

“Mega Bear”, is almost as lengthy, emerging from a free jazz intro featuring Harding’s slap tongue and multiphonic techniques. Outram’s scratchy guitar and the rumblings and scrapings of Bashford’s drums and percussion are added to the foghorn like wail of the leader’s sax as a melody of sorts emerges. Nevertheless the overall mood remains dark and menacing, only changing mid tune with the introduction of a softer edged alto sound allied to a brief wordless vocal and a more languid guitar sound. But the trio are soon ratcheting up the tension once more as Outram’s soaring, clangorous guitar imbues the piece with a genuinely anthemic quality. Finally we come full circle with a free improv style outro.

Outram’s turbo charged riffing introduces “You Brewed Up A Storm” which also features the guitarist deploying his FX as a kind of sound-scaping tool. Harding’s sax again wails demoniacally as Bashford attacks his kit with relish. The leader’s catchy sax hook ushers in a more conventional riff based, jazz rock passage that hits like a punch to the gut. It’s brutal and relentless but hugely invigorating, culminating in a suitably thunderous Bashford drum solo. Finally the trio coalesce once more for a high octane finish with sinister sounding voices briefly intoning the tune title.

The lovely “For The Moon” represents one of the trio’s more reflective moments, with Harding revealing a genuine gift for melody as her gently probing alto is teamed with Outram’s Frisell like guitar and Bashford’s subtle but imaginative brush work.

“Breath Outro” is thirty seconds of free improvisation that mirrors the album opener and leads to “Yesterday I Was On Time” which commences with a gentle dialogue between Harding and Outram. However it’s not long before the pair are upping the energy levels once more with some taut riffing, fiery guitar / sax interplay and kinetic, hard driving drumming. Then there’s a slide into a harsh, wilful dissonance, this interspersed with more riff based passages. The mood remains frighteningly intense almost throughout, but, having peaked in ferocity the piece ends as it began with a calming dialogue between Harding and Outram, this time accompanied by Bashford’s cymbal shimmers.

“Fifty-Two Fifty” ensures that sparks continue to fly until the end with the jagged, staccato riffing of the intro leading to a powerful Harding solo underpinned by Outram’s guitar drive and Bashford’s sturdy drumming. The energy and attack continues throughout on a piece that I suspect probably acts as a climactic closer at the trio’s live shows.

“Supermood” isn’t a particularly easy album to write about, Harding’s pieces twist and turn in a manner that ensures that several different musical territories are routinely explored during the course of a single tune.  But I did enjoy it; Harding’s music inhabits a space that I like, the hinterland between through composition and spontaneous improvisation. There’s usually a hook or a riff to hang your hat on, but plenty of room for the musicians to express themselves within the loose confines of the framework.

The interplay between Harding and the supremely inventive Outram is superb throughout. I’ve heard the guitarist before in several different contexts but he’s rarely been given as much freedom to shape the music as he does here and he seems to relish the opportunity. His playing is brilliant throughout. Indeed his partnership with Harding reminds me at times of that between alto saxophonist Tim Berne and guitarist Marc Ducret in Berne’s Big Satan and Science Friction projects.

Harding doesn’t cite Berne as an influence although she does mention Art Pepper and Jackie McLean. There’s certainly something of McLean’s acerbic dryness in her tone, this allied to an attack reminiscent of Berne and Ornette Coleman.

Bashford is another musician I have seen and heard many times before, but again rarely in such a free-wheeling context as this. He, too rises to the challenge and is excellent throughout, inventive and technically accomplished, hard driving at times but capable of sympathy and subtlety if required. Together with Outram he ensures that the absence of a bassist is never noticed.

Embracing elements of jazz, rock and improv “Supermood” is an intense, uncompromising album that will only suit so many ears. It certainly appealed to mine, and on that basis I’m happy to recommend it, but realise that it won’t be for everybody.

My thanks to Roz Harding for sending me a copy of this album for review. She wasn’t part of the Westbrook band that visited The Edge in Much Wenlock in May 2010, having joined shortly after, thus she represents an exciting new discovery for me. She’s part of a line of adventurous female saxophonists that includes Ingrid Laubrock, Dee Byrne, Cath Roberts, Trish Clowes, Rachel Musson and others.

On the evidence of the “Supermood” album I’d certainly be keen to see the trio play live, especially with that light show!

Supermood

Roz Harding

Friday, November 02, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Supermood

Embracing elements of jazz, rock and improv “Supermood” is an intense, uncompromising album that thrillingly explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation.

Roz Harding

“Supermood”

(Leo Records LR 761)

Roz Harding is a Devon based alto saxophonist and composer. Born in Bristol but raised in Devon she studied music at Exeter College before choosing to specialise in jazz, graduating with BA Hons from the Jazz Course at Middlesex University where she studied with saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Rob Townsend plus other leading jazz luminaries such as Stuart Hall, Eddie Parker, Nikki Iles, Pete Churchill and Chris Batchelor.

Harding is probably best known for her playing in various ensembles led by husband and wife the Westbrooks, such as Mike’s Uncommon Orchestra and Kate’s Granite Band.  She is also a regular member of that eclectic and unclassifiable outfit Billie Bottle and the Multiple, plus its various offshoots. Harding has also played as a sidewoman with an impressive list of leading musicians that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of British jazz.

Harding has also been a leader of her own groups, including the now defunct units Sketch and Wave. Her latest project is Supermood, a trio founded in 2013 featuring guitarist Mike Outram and the Birmingham based drummer Jim Bashford.  Supermood is also an audio-visual project with the trio’s live performances enhanced by 1960s style light shows.

In the meantime we have Supermood’s début album to enjoy, a ‘live in the studio’ recording documented over the course of three days in February 2016 under the guidance of studio owner, engineer and producer Josiah Manning. Multiple microphones were set up to allow the musicians to move around, thus bringing something of that visual element to the audio recording. The album is available on both vinyl and CD with the vinyl version divided into “Breathe In” and “Breathe Out” sides while Harding describes the CD as being “a non-stop narrative of life inside the Supermood”.

All the pieces are credited to Harding but the album commences with “Breath Intro”, one and a half minutes of music that sounds as if it may have been entirely improvised. It begins almost subliminally with the breathy sound of the leader’s sax but Outram’s scratchy, then grungy guitar and the rustling, then pummelling of Bashford’s drums soon muddy the waters with Harding quickly adjusting the style of her playing accordingly. It’s an uncompromising start that throws down the gauntlet for much of what is to follow.

That said Harding is more than capable of writing a catchy melodic motif or hook, as typified by the opening of the following “If You Could”. But this quickly dissipates as the trio once more steer a course into deeper, more obviously improvised waters.  Sax and guitar lines intertwine as the trio float gently for a while, but this reverie is soon interrupted by a barrage of riffage that ends almost as suddenly as it arrives. The opening hook then returns, acting as the trigger for another bout of gnarly, knotty improvising from which Harding’s sax emerges to deliver a powerful, incisive solo with Outram’s muscular, rock influenced guitar the perfect foil. The trio are capable of covering a lot of ground in the course of a single composition, varying their angle of attack with seamless changes of mood and dynamics.

“Waiting For Pea” begins as a ballad, with the gentle keening of Harding’s alto sax accompanied by Outram’s tasteful guitar FX and, eventually, Bashford’s atmospheric cymbal shimmers. Momentum builds via the solos of Harding and Outram, both of which are fluent and wildly imaginative, yet still with the music remaining broadly in the ballad format. There’s a more coherent and conventional feel to this piece, but there is still plenty to engage the listener.

“Tangled Part 1” is a studio created melange of the trio’s speaking voices (shades of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”) that acts as a precursor to the twelve minute epic that is “Tangled Part 2”. This develops from an opening riffy dialogue between Harding’s alto and Bashford’s drums, with Outram’s ringing guitar soon coming on board. Harding’s long melody lines are supported by Outram’s inventive comping, but the pair are soon going head to head, exchanging lines thrillingly in an ongoing dialogue featuring Harding’s bellicose sax blasting and Outram’s high octane guitar, all this supported by the constantly unfolding ferment of Bashford’s drums. Eventually the energy dissipates with a more impressionistic passage mid tune featuring the sound of Outram’s unaccompanied guitar. The pace picks up again with the odd meter riffing of the closing section as Harding undertakes something approaching a conventional solo, her playing hard edged and visceral. There’s something of the primal power of Led Bib or Acoustic Ladyland about this trio when they build up a head of steam. Eventually Harding and the trio reel things back in again, but even when they’re winding down there’s still an edgy quality about the music.

“Mega Bear”, is almost as lengthy, emerging from a free jazz intro featuring Harding’s slap tongue and multiphonic techniques. Outram’s scratchy guitar and the rumblings and scrapings of Bashford’s drums and percussion are added to the foghorn like wail of the leader’s sax as a melody of sorts emerges. Nevertheless the overall mood remains dark and menacing, only changing mid tune with the introduction of a softer edged alto sound allied to a brief wordless vocal and a more languid guitar sound. But the trio are soon ratcheting up the tension once more as Outram’s soaring, clangorous guitar imbues the piece with a genuinely anthemic quality. Finally we come full circle with a free improv style outro.

Outram’s turbo charged riffing introduces “You Brewed Up A Storm” which also features the guitarist deploying his FX as a kind of sound-scaping tool. Harding’s sax again wails demoniacally as Bashford attacks his kit with relish. The leader’s catchy sax hook ushers in a more conventional riff based, jazz rock passage that hits like a punch to the gut. It’s brutal and relentless but hugely invigorating, culminating in a suitably thunderous Bashford drum solo. Finally the trio coalesce once more for a high octane finish with sinister sounding voices briefly intoning the tune title.

The lovely “For The Moon” represents one of the trio’s more reflective moments, with Harding revealing a genuine gift for melody as her gently probing alto is teamed with Outram’s Frisell like guitar and Bashford’s subtle but imaginative brush work.

“Breath Outro” is thirty seconds of free improvisation that mirrors the album opener and leads to “Yesterday I Was On Time” which commences with a gentle dialogue between Harding and Outram. However it’s not long before the pair are upping the energy levels once more with some taut riffing, fiery guitar / sax interplay and kinetic, hard driving drumming. Then there’s a slide into a harsh, wilful dissonance, this interspersed with more riff based passages. The mood remains frighteningly intense almost throughout, but, having peaked in ferocity the piece ends as it began with a calming dialogue between Harding and Outram, this time accompanied by Bashford’s cymbal shimmers.

“Fifty-Two Fifty” ensures that sparks continue to fly until the end with the jagged, staccato riffing of the intro leading to a powerful Harding solo underpinned by Outram’s guitar drive and Bashford’s sturdy drumming. The energy and attack continues throughout on a piece that I suspect probably acts as a climactic closer at the trio’s live shows.

“Supermood” isn’t a particularly easy album to write about, Harding’s pieces twist and turn in a manner that ensures that several different musical territories are routinely explored during the course of a single tune.  But I did enjoy it; Harding’s music inhabits a space that I like, the hinterland between through composition and spontaneous improvisation. There’s usually a hook or a riff to hang your hat on, but plenty of room for the musicians to express themselves within the loose confines of the framework.

The interplay between Harding and the supremely inventive Outram is superb throughout. I’ve heard the guitarist before in several different contexts but he’s rarely been given as much freedom to shape the music as he does here and he seems to relish the opportunity. His playing is brilliant throughout. Indeed his partnership with Harding reminds me at times of that between alto saxophonist Tim Berne and guitarist Marc Ducret in Berne’s Big Satan and Science Friction projects.

Harding doesn’t cite Berne as an influence although she does mention Art Pepper and Jackie McLean. There’s certainly something of McLean’s acerbic dryness in her tone, this allied to an attack reminiscent of Berne and Ornette Coleman.

Bashford is another musician I have seen and heard many times before, but again rarely in such a free-wheeling context as this. He, too rises to the challenge and is excellent throughout, inventive and technically accomplished, hard driving at times but capable of sympathy and subtlety if required. Together with Outram he ensures that the absence of a bassist is never noticed.

Embracing elements of jazz, rock and improv “Supermood” is an intense, uncompromising album that will only suit so many ears. It certainly appealed to mine, and on that basis I’m happy to recommend it, but realise that it won’t be for everybody.

My thanks to Roz Harding for sending me a copy of this album for review. She wasn’t part of the Westbrook band that visited The Edge in Much Wenlock in May 2010, having joined shortly after, thus she represents an exciting new discovery for me. She’s part of a line of adventurous female saxophonists that includes Ingrid Laubrock, Dee Byrne, Cath Roberts, Trish Clowes, Rachel Musson and others.

On the evidence of the “Supermood” album I’d certainly be keen to see the trio play live, especially with that light show!


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