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Sugarwork - Sugarwork Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either.

Sugarwork

“Sugarwork”

(Self released, Harriphonic 1801)

Sugarwork is a new Scottish quartet led by pianist, composer and sound artist Paul Harrison. Born in Manchester but based in Scotland for many years Harrison is a significant presence on the music scene of his adopted homeland.

The group features some of the leading musicians on the Scottish jazz scene in the shapes of Phil Bancroft on tenor sax, Graeme Stephen on guitar and Stu Brown on drums and percussion. Harrison himself is credited with keyboards, piano, production, editing and mixing.

Released in June 2018 Sugarwork’s eponymous début draws upon the jazz backgrounds of its protagonists but also includes elements of electronica and rock music. Harrison says of the project;
“As well as being a jazz pianist I’ve long been into all kinds of music, particularly electronica. Having experimented with this element in various projects I wanted to bring it further into the foreground in a new context. I wanted to see if I could create a new band that uses jazz harmony, improvisation and loud electronic instruments without straying into jazz fusion. It’s been a gradual and exploratory process but we had fun bringing it to fruition and hope that listeners will enjoy the sounds and contrasts we’ve created.”

Harrison may be expanding into new areas but his credentials as a jazz pianist are impeccable having worked with vocalist Carol Kidd, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Bobby Watson Paul Towndrow and Martin Kershaw and with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.  He is also part of Trio Magico, a group dedicated to performing the music of the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti.

Together with Stephen and drummer Chris Wallace, Harrison was part of the contemporary organ trio Breach he and has also made earlier forays into the world of electro-jazz with the band Trianglehead. Currently Harrison and Brown work together as the “avantronica” duo Herschel 36, playing freely improvised electronic music.

Before turning to the music it’s worth noting that the artwork for the Sugarwork album features the photography of the Serbia based artist David Stanley. Further collaborations are planned, including a video to accompany the track “After The Forest, The Sky”.

The majority of the music on the album is written by Harrison and it’s his composition “Habit Control” that opens the record. Here the aggressive, chunky riffing of Stephen’s guitar and Bancroft’s tenor is combined with Brown’s glitchy, hip hop inspired beats with Harrison sculpting the overall sound. It’s an effective melding of acoustic and electronic elements with conventional jazz virtues merging effectively and convincingly into the electronic sound-scape. Bancroft’s tenor solo should be orthodox enough to keep most hardcore jazz fans happy, and the fact that it’s set against a swirling vortex of electronic sounds only adds to the fascination. Stephens also weighs in with some heavy guitar sounds on a track that sounds like Partisans jamming with Aphex Twin.

Sugarwork aren’t just about sound and fury. Harrison’s next piece “That Strange Summer” is more impressionistic and ambient with breathy tenor sax combining with gently shimmering guitar and keyboards. Stephen and Bancroft both get the chance to stretch out, each probing gently and atmospherically as Harrison again shapes the overall sound and structure of the music. There’s a noirish element about the music that would make it ideal for a film soundtrack, and it’s easy to see why Sugarwork are keen to make audio-visual collaborations with Stanley.

The piece actually chosen for such a collaboration is the following “After The Forest, The Sky”, which is very much a piece of two halves, whose extreme dynamics should offer plenty of scope to the prospective film maker. After a brooding and menacing guitar driven intro the piece erupts into a towering edifice of sound with Bancroft’s tenor soaring above a busily bubbling cauldron of FX drenched guitar and industrial style beats. Part two offers a complete contrast with long, mournful saxophone melody lines accompanied by sparse piano and delicately brushed drums. There’s now a real sense of spaciousness about the music that is totally at odds with the first half of the piece, and yet, strangely, it all works brilliantly.

The brief “Bad Data” is credited to all four musicians and I assume that the piece is a spontaneous group improvisation, representing a kind of extension of Harrison and Brown’s Herschel 36 duo. Here Bancroft’s saxophone interjections represent a vital humanising amongst the brutal, rolling electronic rhythms and textures generated by his colleagues.

Stephen takes over the compositional duties for “Goodbye Hello”, a piece that stays closer to conventional jazz with Bancroft excelling with a lengthy and very powerful tenor sax solo. Dynamic contrast is, again, an important element in the writing and during the tune’s quieter, more impressionistic moments there are hints of the kind of jazz / folk crossovers that both Stephen and Bancroft have explored in other contexts.

“Short Story Long” is another excellent illustration of Harrison’s ability to blend acoustic and electronic sounds. The piece evolves slowly and unhurriedly with Bancroft’s tenor initially leading the way, before handing over to Stephen’s gently meandering guitar. Brown’s playing is subtle and understated and sees him excelling in the colourist’s role as Harrison’s adds deft splashes of electronica on one of the album’s most atmospheric pieces.

“Spiral Confection” finds the band upping the energy levels once more with the dance and electronic elements playing a more significant part. Bancroft solos forcefully above a glitchy drum groove as electronic textures swirl around him. Stephens’ powerful guitar playing also plays a significant role.

Credited to all four musicians “The Stairs” is the album’s second collective improvisation. Bancroft’s tenor wails plaintively against an unsettling backdrop of industrial style noise that sounds like some arcane instrument of torture being cranked up.

The lengthy “Astralgia” wends its way through a variety of sonic landscapes during its fourteen and a half minute duration. A loosely structured intro expands on the unsettling mood generated by “The Stairs” prior to an insistent electro-acoustic groove being established, above which guitar, tenor and the leader’s electric keyboards soar and intertwine. Stephen heads for the stratosphere with a searing, rock influenced solo, followed by Bancroft on blistering tenor. Combining spiritual style jazz with Hawkwind like space rock this is powerful stuff that takes Sugarwork into the kind of musical area currently being explored by The Comet Is Coming and the like. The track ends atmospherically in what sounds like deep space, concluding the kind of astral journey suggested by the title.

The album concludes on an elegiac note with “The End One Day”, which places the serenity of Stephens’ elegantly plucked guitar into an increasingly unsettling electronic sound-scape (there are hints of that ratcheting sound from “The Stairs” again) prior to a peaceful reconciliation. The piece is credited to Harrison and is obviously through composed, but essentially it sounds like a Herschel 36 duo performance.

Sugarwork’s début is an impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either. There is plenty of excellent soloing from Bancroft and Stephen to keep the jazz purists happy and Brown is an impressive presence throughout. Interestingly Harrison doesn’t undertake any conventional jazz solos and is hardly heard at all on acoustic piano, yet it’s his overall musical vision and excellent command of the various electronic resources at his disposal that ensures that this album is such a success.

Jazz combined with electronica is hardly a rare thing these days and some listeners might think it has become something of a cliché. But few have fused the elements as successfully as Harrison and his colleagues have done here, with neither aspect of the music becoming compromised or diluted. As an album “Sugarwork” convinces on all fronts and one suspects that the band must be an intriguing and exciting prospect in the live environment.

Crucially, Sugarwork eschew the excesses of 70s jazz-rock fusion, something that Harrison was particularly keen to avoid.

 

 

Sugarwork

Sugarwork

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Sugarwork

An impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either.

Sugarwork

“Sugarwork”

(Self released, Harriphonic 1801)

Sugarwork is a new Scottish quartet led by pianist, composer and sound artist Paul Harrison. Born in Manchester but based in Scotland for many years Harrison is a significant presence on the music scene of his adopted homeland.

The group features some of the leading musicians on the Scottish jazz scene in the shapes of Phil Bancroft on tenor sax, Graeme Stephen on guitar and Stu Brown on drums and percussion. Harrison himself is credited with keyboards, piano, production, editing and mixing.

Released in June 2018 Sugarwork’s eponymous début draws upon the jazz backgrounds of its protagonists but also includes elements of electronica and rock music. Harrison says of the project;
“As well as being a jazz pianist I’ve long been into all kinds of music, particularly electronica. Having experimented with this element in various projects I wanted to bring it further into the foreground in a new context. I wanted to see if I could create a new band that uses jazz harmony, improvisation and loud electronic instruments without straying into jazz fusion. It’s been a gradual and exploratory process but we had fun bringing it to fruition and hope that listeners will enjoy the sounds and contrasts we’ve created.”

Harrison may be expanding into new areas but his credentials as a jazz pianist are impeccable having worked with vocalist Carol Kidd, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Bobby Watson Paul Towndrow and Martin Kershaw and with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.  He is also part of Trio Magico, a group dedicated to performing the music of the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti.

Together with Stephen and drummer Chris Wallace, Harrison was part of the contemporary organ trio Breach he and has also made earlier forays into the world of electro-jazz with the band Trianglehead. Currently Harrison and Brown work together as the “avantronica” duo Herschel 36, playing freely improvised electronic music.

Before turning to the music it’s worth noting that the artwork for the Sugarwork album features the photography of the Serbia based artist David Stanley. Further collaborations are planned, including a video to accompany the track “After The Forest, The Sky”.

The majority of the music on the album is written by Harrison and it’s his composition “Habit Control” that opens the record. Here the aggressive, chunky riffing of Stephen’s guitar and Bancroft’s tenor is combined with Brown’s glitchy, hip hop inspired beats with Harrison sculpting the overall sound. It’s an effective melding of acoustic and electronic elements with conventional jazz virtues merging effectively and convincingly into the electronic sound-scape. Bancroft’s tenor solo should be orthodox enough to keep most hardcore jazz fans happy, and the fact that it’s set against a swirling vortex of electronic sounds only adds to the fascination. Stephens also weighs in with some heavy guitar sounds on a track that sounds like Partisans jamming with Aphex Twin.

Sugarwork aren’t just about sound and fury. Harrison’s next piece “That Strange Summer” is more impressionistic and ambient with breathy tenor sax combining with gently shimmering guitar and keyboards. Stephen and Bancroft both get the chance to stretch out, each probing gently and atmospherically as Harrison again shapes the overall sound and structure of the music. There’s a noirish element about the music that would make it ideal for a film soundtrack, and it’s easy to see why Sugarwork are keen to make audio-visual collaborations with Stanley.

The piece actually chosen for such a collaboration is the following “After The Forest, The Sky”, which is very much a piece of two halves, whose extreme dynamics should offer plenty of scope to the prospective film maker. After a brooding and menacing guitar driven intro the piece erupts into a towering edifice of sound with Bancroft’s tenor soaring above a busily bubbling cauldron of FX drenched guitar and industrial style beats. Part two offers a complete contrast with long, mournful saxophone melody lines accompanied by sparse piano and delicately brushed drums. There’s now a real sense of spaciousness about the music that is totally at odds with the first half of the piece, and yet, strangely, it all works brilliantly.

The brief “Bad Data” is credited to all four musicians and I assume that the piece is a spontaneous group improvisation, representing a kind of extension of Harrison and Brown’s Herschel 36 duo. Here Bancroft’s saxophone interjections represent a vital humanising amongst the brutal, rolling electronic rhythms and textures generated by his colleagues.

Stephen takes over the compositional duties for “Goodbye Hello”, a piece that stays closer to conventional jazz with Bancroft excelling with a lengthy and very powerful tenor sax solo. Dynamic contrast is, again, an important element in the writing and during the tune’s quieter, more impressionistic moments there are hints of the kind of jazz / folk crossovers that both Stephen and Bancroft have explored in other contexts.

“Short Story Long” is another excellent illustration of Harrison’s ability to blend acoustic and electronic sounds. The piece evolves slowly and unhurriedly with Bancroft’s tenor initially leading the way, before handing over to Stephen’s gently meandering guitar. Brown’s playing is subtle and understated and sees him excelling in the colourist’s role as Harrison’s adds deft splashes of electronica on one of the album’s most atmospheric pieces.

“Spiral Confection” finds the band upping the energy levels once more with the dance and electronic elements playing a more significant part. Bancroft solos forcefully above a glitchy drum groove as electronic textures swirl around him. Stephens’ powerful guitar playing also plays a significant role.

Credited to all four musicians “The Stairs” is the album’s second collective improvisation. Bancroft’s tenor wails plaintively against an unsettling backdrop of industrial style noise that sounds like some arcane instrument of torture being cranked up.

The lengthy “Astralgia” wends its way through a variety of sonic landscapes during its fourteen and a half minute duration. A loosely structured intro expands on the unsettling mood generated by “The Stairs” prior to an insistent electro-acoustic groove being established, above which guitar, tenor and the leader’s electric keyboards soar and intertwine. Stephen heads for the stratosphere with a searing, rock influenced solo, followed by Bancroft on blistering tenor. Combining spiritual style jazz with Hawkwind like space rock this is powerful stuff that takes Sugarwork into the kind of musical area currently being explored by The Comet Is Coming and the like. The track ends atmospherically in what sounds like deep space, concluding the kind of astral journey suggested by the title.

The album concludes on an elegiac note with “The End One Day”, which places the serenity of Stephens’ elegantly plucked guitar into an increasingly unsettling electronic sound-scape (there are hints of that ratcheting sound from “The Stairs” again) prior to a peaceful reconciliation. The piece is credited to Harrison and is obviously through composed, but essentially it sounds like a Herschel 36 duo performance.

Sugarwork’s début is an impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either. There is plenty of excellent soloing from Bancroft and Stephen to keep the jazz purists happy and Brown is an impressive presence throughout. Interestingly Harrison doesn’t undertake any conventional jazz solos and is hardly heard at all on acoustic piano, yet it’s his overall musical vision and excellent command of the various electronic resources at his disposal that ensures that this album is such a success.

Jazz combined with electronica is hardly a rare thing these days and some listeners might think it has become something of a cliché. But few have fused the elements as successfully as Harrison and his colleagues have done here, with neither aspect of the music becoming compromised or diluted. As an album “Sugarwork” convinces on all fronts and one suspects that the band must be an intriguing and exciting prospect in the live environment.

Crucially, Sugarwork eschew the excesses of 70s jazz-rock fusion, something that Harrison was particularly keen to avoid.

 

 


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