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Spin Marvel - The Reluctantly Politicised Mr. James (Spin Marvel 2) Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ace drummer Martin France's second foray into the world of electronica. Intriguing, oddly compelling and quite clearly with its roots in improvisation.

Spin Marvel

“The Reluctantly Politicised Mr. James (Spin Marvel 2)

(Edition Records EDN 1020)

The Manchester born drummer Martin France first came to prominence as one of the youngest members of the seminal 1980’s big band Loose Tubes. Since those heady days he has established himself as one of most in demand players on the UK scene and beyond. A tasteful drummer who incorporates beautifully nuanced detail into his playing he has appeared on literally dozens of recordings including those of his old Loose Tubes colleagues Django Bates and Iain Ballamy. France seems particularly at home in the intimate setting of the piano trio and two of his most fruitful collaborations in recent years have been with pianists John Taylor and Gwilym Simcock.

Although France has been a ubiquitous figure on the British scene for more than two decades this is only his second album as a leader. The eponymous first record by his group Spin Marvel was released on Babel in 2005 and grew out of a commission for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. To many the music on the record came as a total surprise, being far removed from France’s regular output.

With “Spin Marvel” France revealed his interest in electronica. There was precious little conventional kit drumming on the record as France and his colleagues conjured up eerie and totally unexpected soundscapes. France played both acoustic and electronic drums plus keyboards and together with Norwegian collaborator Terje Evensen was also involved in programming and sequencing. British musicians Tim Harries (bass, keyboards) and John Parricelli (guitar) rounded out the group. Although the sound was wholly unexpected the record was strangely compelling, with the track “Black Wing” particularly impressive.

I was less surprised than most by the first Spin Marvel record having been one of the lucky few to see the group’s live début at Cheltenham. However if the element of surprise is less pronounced this time round Spin Marvel’s new recording is more focussed than it’s predecessor and shows clear signs of development. The core quartet remain in place with Evensen now credited as percussionist and “sound audio editor”. A significant addition to the group is the great Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer one of the pioneers of the art of jazz soundscaping and electro improvisation who appears on three of the seven tracks. “Spin Marvel 2” explores similar territory to the Anglo/Norwegian group Food which now comprises of the duo of France’s old mucker Iain Ballamy on saxophones and percussionist Thomas Stronen. 

The first Spin Marvel release saw France acquire temporary membership of the acclaimed F-ire Collective. For the group’s second album France has switched to the burgeoning Cardiff based label run by pianist Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson.

The Mr. James of the title is described as a “mysterious waiter working at a London restaurant” but it’s not clear whether this is a “concept album” as such. In an interview on the Edition Records website France states that his concept is for the album to sound like an old fashioned vinyl LP and although there is a suite like quality to the music this is probably as far as the “concept” gets. The interview gives valuable insights into the making of the album but at the end of the day it’s the music that counts.

The opening title track features the ghostly whisper of Molvaer’s trumpet above the backdrop of France’s drum and cymbal work and the mysterious electronic clicks and pulses of Evensen’s samples and other electronica. France has stated that his aim with Spin Marvel is to free up the drums from the limiting tasks of keeping pulse and time and by and large he succeeds here. With Molvaer’s distinctive sound on board this could easily have come from the latest Food album.

“Basildon Gangster Ghost” is even more frankly into electronic territory with Parricelli’s harsh guitar textures set amongst a forest of layered percussion and swirling electronica. Its dark and unsettling.

“Black Dog Company” is dedicated to two recently departed musical figures, ex Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper and the drummer Ian Howarth. The music pushes even further into the ambient sphere with eerie soundwashes floating above a skittering, pulsating soundtrack of electronic percussion. Eventually a droning, insistent melody emerges and the whole piece slowly builds in intensity before resolving itself neatly. Parricelli, helped presumably by Evensen, produces guitar sounds reminiscent of the Austrian guitarist/soundscaper Christian Fennesz who has recently been appearing with the Food duo. At other times the piece almost sounds like old school “Krautrock”.

In LP terms I’d guess this marks the end of side one with guest trumpeter Molvaer emerging again to begin the second side with “Reconciled Rotation”, Here his plaintive trumpet tones contrast nicely with the brooding electronica and dense drumming churning beneath. The malevolent ghost of Miles Davis can be felt stalking in the background here.

There’s no let up in the dark mood for the visceral “Trilling Stars” with treated guitar and bass providing the threatening ambience above the percussive backdrop.

Parricelli’s playing is slightly more conventional on the intriguingly titled two part"Two Metalled Tendrils/Ten Stairs Stretching”. On the first half he plays choppy chords above the busy drumming of France and the bleeping electronics of Evensen. For the second it’s sparse but atmospheric Pink Floyd style space guitar cushioned by a layered ambient backwash.

Molvaer returns for the closing “Dust In Eyebeam” sometimes soloing powerfully above the frenetic sampled beats beneath, at others brooding atmospherically in a more minimalist situation in another piece effectively divided into two halves.

“Spin Marvel 2” is an intriguing record and certainly not a jazz release in any conventional sense. It is however oddly compelling and quite clearly has it’s origins in improvisation. Although jazz purists may dismiss this particular area of France’s output fans of bands such as Food and Supersilent, not to mention Molvaer’s own numerous followers should find plenty to enjoy here.

The Reluctantly Politicised Mr. James (Spin Marvel 2)

Spin Marvel

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Reluctantly Politicised Mr. James (Spin Marvel 2)

Ace drummer Martin France's second foray into the world of electronica. Intriguing, oddly compelling and quite clearly with its roots in improvisation.

Spin Marvel

“The Reluctantly Politicised Mr. James (Spin Marvel 2)

(Edition Records EDN 1020)

The Manchester born drummer Martin France first came to prominence as one of the youngest members of the seminal 1980’s big band Loose Tubes. Since those heady days he has established himself as one of most in demand players on the UK scene and beyond. A tasteful drummer who incorporates beautifully nuanced detail into his playing he has appeared on literally dozens of recordings including those of his old Loose Tubes colleagues Django Bates and Iain Ballamy. France seems particularly at home in the intimate setting of the piano trio and two of his most fruitful collaborations in recent years have been with pianists John Taylor and Gwilym Simcock.

Although France has been a ubiquitous figure on the British scene for more than two decades this is only his second album as a leader. The eponymous first record by his group Spin Marvel was released on Babel in 2005 and grew out of a commission for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. To many the music on the record came as a total surprise, being far removed from France’s regular output.

With “Spin Marvel” France revealed his interest in electronica. There was precious little conventional kit drumming on the record as France and his colleagues conjured up eerie and totally unexpected soundscapes. France played both acoustic and electronic drums plus keyboards and together with Norwegian collaborator Terje Evensen was also involved in programming and sequencing. British musicians Tim Harries (bass, keyboards) and John Parricelli (guitar) rounded out the group. Although the sound was wholly unexpected the record was strangely compelling, with the track “Black Wing” particularly impressive.

I was less surprised than most by the first Spin Marvel record having been one of the lucky few to see the group’s live début at Cheltenham. However if the element of surprise is less pronounced this time round Spin Marvel’s new recording is more focussed than it’s predecessor and shows clear signs of development. The core quartet remain in place with Evensen now credited as percussionist and “sound audio editor”. A significant addition to the group is the great Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer one of the pioneers of the art of jazz soundscaping and electro improvisation who appears on three of the seven tracks. “Spin Marvel 2” explores similar territory to the Anglo/Norwegian group Food which now comprises of the duo of France’s old mucker Iain Ballamy on saxophones and percussionist Thomas Stronen. 

The first Spin Marvel release saw France acquire temporary membership of the acclaimed F-ire Collective. For the group’s second album France has switched to the burgeoning Cardiff based label run by pianist Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson.

The Mr. James of the title is described as a “mysterious waiter working at a London restaurant” but it’s not clear whether this is a “concept album” as such. In an interview on the Edition Records website France states that his concept is for the album to sound like an old fashioned vinyl LP and although there is a suite like quality to the music this is probably as far as the “concept” gets. The interview gives valuable insights into the making of the album but at the end of the day it’s the music that counts.

The opening title track features the ghostly whisper of Molvaer’s trumpet above the backdrop of France’s drum and cymbal work and the mysterious electronic clicks and pulses of Evensen’s samples and other electronica. France has stated that his aim with Spin Marvel is to free up the drums from the limiting tasks of keeping pulse and time and by and large he succeeds here. With Molvaer’s distinctive sound on board this could easily have come from the latest Food album.

“Basildon Gangster Ghost” is even more frankly into electronic territory with Parricelli’s harsh guitar textures set amongst a forest of layered percussion and swirling electronica. Its dark and unsettling.

“Black Dog Company” is dedicated to two recently departed musical figures, ex Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper and the drummer Ian Howarth. The music pushes even further into the ambient sphere with eerie soundwashes floating above a skittering, pulsating soundtrack of electronic percussion. Eventually a droning, insistent melody emerges and the whole piece slowly builds in intensity before resolving itself neatly. Parricelli, helped presumably by Evensen, produces guitar sounds reminiscent of the Austrian guitarist/soundscaper Christian Fennesz who has recently been appearing with the Food duo. At other times the piece almost sounds like old school “Krautrock”.

In LP terms I’d guess this marks the end of side one with guest trumpeter Molvaer emerging again to begin the second side with “Reconciled Rotation”, Here his plaintive trumpet tones contrast nicely with the brooding electronica and dense drumming churning beneath. The malevolent ghost of Miles Davis can be felt stalking in the background here.

There’s no let up in the dark mood for the visceral “Trilling Stars” with treated guitar and bass providing the threatening ambience above the percussive backdrop.

Parricelli’s playing is slightly more conventional on the intriguingly titled two part"Two Metalled Tendrils/Ten Stairs Stretching”. On the first half he plays choppy chords above the busy drumming of France and the bleeping electronics of Evensen. For the second it’s sparse but atmospheric Pink Floyd style space guitar cushioned by a layered ambient backwash.

Molvaer returns for the closing “Dust In Eyebeam” sometimes soloing powerfully above the frenetic sampled beats beneath, at others brooding atmospherically in a more minimalist situation in another piece effectively divided into two halves.

“Spin Marvel 2” is an intriguing record and certainly not a jazz release in any conventional sense. It is however oddly compelling and quite clearly has it’s origins in improvisation. Although jazz purists may dismiss this particular area of France’s output fans of bands such as Food and Supersilent, not to mention Molvaer’s own numerous followers should find plenty to enjoy here.


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