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Django Bates Beloved - The Study Of Touch Rating: 4 out of 5 The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

Django Bates Beloved

“The Study Of Touch”

(ECM Records ECM 2534 Bar Code 573 2663)

2017 proved to be a highly productive year for the British born pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader Django Bates. First came the Edition Records release “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” featuring Bates’ arrangements for big band and vocal group of the music from the seminal Beatles album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on the fiftieth anniversary of its release.

Since then Bates has appeared on two excellent albums for the prestigious German label ECM, this current release, his first for the label as a leader, and “Blue Maqams” by the Tunisian born oud player Anouar Brahem. The latter also features bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette and I intend to take a look at this recording very shortly.

Meanwhile “The Study Of Touch” features Bates Beloved Trio, formed ten years ago to perform Bates’ extraordinary re-imaginings of the already complex music of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. Bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun are former students of Bates and were taught by him when the Englishman was a Professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatoire in Copenhagen – he later held a similar post in Berne, Switzerland.

The Beloved Trio’s début “Beloved Bird”, released on Bates’ Lost Marble imprint in 2010 was a well received homage to Parker with Bates and his younger colleagues putting a fresh, contemporary slant on the music of the man called ‘Bird’. The follow up, “Confirmation” (Lost Marble, 2012) placed a greater emphasis on original material and a number of the Bates pieces from that album appear again on this current ECM recording.

I’ve been following Bates’ music for nearly thirty years and have seen his status transformed from that of ‘enfant terrible’ to comparative ‘elder statesman’, yet in so many respects the man himself hasn’t changed at all. The fifty something Bates is as charmingly impish and eccentric as ever but behind the somewhat whimsical public façade there is a highly intelligent musician and educator who has had a profound influence on the sound of European jazz.

Bates first came to my attention as a member of saxophonist Tim Whitehead’s Borderlines group but it was as a member of the young, iconoclastic, but highly skilled Loose Tubes that he really made his mark during the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s. I was fortunate enough to see the band on a number of occasions during that time and have been a fan of many of its members (Bates, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart, Eddie Parker etc.) ever since and I just loved those 2014 Loose Tubes re-union gigs, especially as they included freshly commissioned new material and not just the old ‘hits’.

Since the Loose Tubes heyday I’ve kept an eye on Bates’ progress via his large ensemble Delightful Precipice, a kind of continuation of Loose Tubes, and his small group Human Chain. He also impressed rock audiences thanks to his highly productive stint with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and has also appeared as a sideman with old LT buddies Iain Ballamy and Julian Arguelles, playing E flat peck horn with the latter’s octet.

The early 21st century was a quiet time for Bates watchers as he concentrated on his academic career but he eventually re-emerged with Beloved Trio and with the StoRMChaser Big Band, the latter also featuring his Copenhagen students, among them Eldh, flautist Julie Kjaer, saxophonists Marius Neset and Martin Stender, drummer Anton Eger and tuba player Daniel Herskedal, all now major figures on the European jazz scene.

For a while Bates adopted a more song influenced direction, making use of singers such as Josefine Cronholm and Josefine Lindstrand. The music retained much of Bates’ signature quirkiness but I’ve always enjoyed his writing and playing far more in a purely instrumental context and it’s good to see him moving in this direction once more.

Similarly I was also disappointed with the recent “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” recording. I had been expecting Bates to come along and take the songs by the scruff of the neck, thoroughly de-constructing them and putting his own unique stamp on them. Instead he hardly tampers with the structures of the tunes at all, and although the results are skilfully played and mildly diverting ultimately one is left asking “What’s the point?” - and I speak here as a long term fan of both Django Bates and The Beatles. Nevertheless the album was well received by most critics – but who would seriously choose to listen to “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” rather than the Fab Four’s original – really?

That said I’m far more enamoured with “The Study Of Touch” which places the emphasis more firmly on Bates’ original writing. Nine pieces come from the pen of leader and are featured alongside “This World” by Bates’ old mucker Iain Ballamy and “Passport” by Charlie Parker, the latter included as a reminder of this trio’s roots. Several of the Bates pieces appeared on the earlier “Confirmation” album and I suppose that I should dig out my copy of that album and make comparisons. I’ll admit to not having played it in quite a while but that’s no reflection on the quality of the music, it’s merely that I’ve been listening to and reviewing other things. That‘ s the only downside of this reviewing business, I rarely get to listen to music purely for pleasure any more.

However I suspect that the versions on “The Study Of Touch” are radically different to those from five years ago. As Bates has explained this is a trio that is rooted in improvisation and whose music is always evolving. There’s also the fact that the album was recorded at the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Jan Erik Kongshaug engineering and Manfred Eicher producing. It SOUNDS like an ECM recording with Bates and his colleagues making effective use of space in a way that might be unexpected for long term Bates listeners, especially those familiar with the density and complexity of his early work.

In the days of Loose Tubes and Human Chain Bates was lauded for his imaginative and intelligent deployment of synthesisers but the Beloved Trio has acted as a welcome reminder of just what a talented acoustic pianist he is. As its title might suggest “The Study Of Touch” concentrates on the more sensitive and lyrical side of his playing with a greater focus on pure melody and he’s well supported by a sympathetic rhythm team in a trio that has established a superb, well balanced rapport during its decade together.

The new album commences with an old favourite. “Silence All the Way Down” has been in the trio’s repertoire since at least 2011 and appeared on the “Confirmation” album. It’s an unconventional opener with its sombre, descending pianistic motif embellished by Bruun’s delicate cymbal work.

“Giorgiantics” also appeared on the earlier recording and serves as a reminder of just how well balanced the trio is with Eldh’s bass prominent in the arrangement. Boppish, Parker inspired flourishes alternate with more reflective, obviously ‘European’ episodes as Bates and his colleagues vary the dynamics and enter into finely detailed group interplay.

“Little Petherick” is even older and was first recorded by the quartet Human Chain on the 1993 Bates album “Summer Fruits (And Unrest)”, a recording that also featured the nineteen piece ensemble Delightful Precipice. On this new version Bates is at his most lyrical on this beautiful musical depiction of the beauty and tranquillity of the English countryside. His playing is complemented by the melodic counterpoint of Eldh’s bass and the delicate detail of Bruun’s drumming as the trio make effective use of space in the best ECM tradition.

Sporting a typically punning Bates title “Senza Bitterness” is yet another piece that first appeared on the “Confirmation” recording. The leader’s piano is positively luminous here, again offset by Eldh’s unfailingly melodic bass and the delicate filigree of Bruun’s sensitive and sympathetic drum commentary. This is a wonderfully empathic trio and the beauty of the performance belies the rather jokey title.

“We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” was originally commissioned for the trio’s performance at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival ( I know ‘ cos I was there) and subsequently appeared on the “Confirmation” album. There’s a gently exploratory feel about the scurrying piano phrases and skittering drum patterns, and also an underlying joyousness as Bates and his colleagues negotiate their way through the complexities of the leader’s writing.

Iain Ballamy’s “This World” originally appeared on the saxophonist’s 1994 album “All Men Amen”, on which Bates played (alongside bassist Steve Watts and drummer Martin France). There’s an almost hymnal feel about this beautiful piece, originally dedicated by Ballamy to his late wife, Jess. Eldh’s sensitive, melodic bass playing is a significant feature in the arrangement while Bruun again performs with great sensitivity.

The title track was commissioned in 2013 by the Norbotten International Music Centre in Sweden but was subsequently performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms season. Bates wrote the piece with the RAH performance in mind, the music specifically tailored for such a large space. The music itself is deliberately spacious with room left for the smallest of musical gestures to make a big impression. Nevertheless there’s still room for an expansive Bates piano solo amidst the more concentrated and finely distilled trio interplay.

“Passport” is the only Charlie Parker tune to find its way into this collection and acts as a reminder of the Beloved Trio’s origins and primary influence. It’s not a piece that the trio have tackled before with Bates remarking “the title felt pertinent in the light of Brexit”. Musically it’s a typically bright, playful and intelligent interpretation of the Parker material with Eldh again featuring as a soloist.

The lengthy “Slippage Street” is more rhythmically based than much of the other material and features a sturdy bass groove around which Bates structures his characteristically audacious piano inventions accompanied by the nervous tick of Bruun’s drums and cymbals. Combining playfulness with complexity it is arguably the piece that most closely resembles his early work from the 80s and 90s.

Bates has always had a fondness for horticultural tune titles. “Peonies As Promised” originally appeared on “Confirmation” and in part typifies that “English whimsy” style of jazz that Bates and his former Loose Tubes colleagues helped to invent.

The album concludes with the brief “Happiness All The Way Up”, a piece specifically written to complement the opener and thus to neatly bookend the album. This time the motif ascends steadily upwards and features Eldh’s high register bass. Bates final gesture is a still ascending top end piano trill. It’s a charming way to finish a very good album.

Despite the previous familiarity of some of the pieces “The Study Of Touch” is an excellent album and one senses that Bates and his colleagues have approached the material from an entirely new perspective, with Eicher also bringing his influence to bear on the music. As one would expect from ECM the album is immaculately recorded and all the nuances of this finely calibrated trio are captured in the pinpoint mix. Eldh and Bruun have grown in stature during the ten years of Beloved’s existence and there’s a sense that this is now much more a trio of equals. Both musicians acquit themselves superbly on this recording.

The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

The Study Of Touch

Django Bates Beloved

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Study Of Touch

The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

Django Bates Beloved

“The Study Of Touch”

(ECM Records ECM 2534 Bar Code 573 2663)

2017 proved to be a highly productive year for the British born pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader Django Bates. First came the Edition Records release “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” featuring Bates’ arrangements for big band and vocal group of the music from the seminal Beatles album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on the fiftieth anniversary of its release.

Since then Bates has appeared on two excellent albums for the prestigious German label ECM, this current release, his first for the label as a leader, and “Blue Maqams” by the Tunisian born oud player Anouar Brahem. The latter also features bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette and I intend to take a look at this recording very shortly.

Meanwhile “The Study Of Touch” features Bates Beloved Trio, formed ten years ago to perform Bates’ extraordinary re-imaginings of the already complex music of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. Bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun are former students of Bates and were taught by him when the Englishman was a Professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatoire in Copenhagen – he later held a similar post in Berne, Switzerland.

The Beloved Trio’s début “Beloved Bird”, released on Bates’ Lost Marble imprint in 2010 was a well received homage to Parker with Bates and his younger colleagues putting a fresh, contemporary slant on the music of the man called ‘Bird’. The follow up, “Confirmation” (Lost Marble, 2012) placed a greater emphasis on original material and a number of the Bates pieces from that album appear again on this current ECM recording.

I’ve been following Bates’ music for nearly thirty years and have seen his status transformed from that of ‘enfant terrible’ to comparative ‘elder statesman’, yet in so many respects the man himself hasn’t changed at all. The fifty something Bates is as charmingly impish and eccentric as ever but behind the somewhat whimsical public façade there is a highly intelligent musician and educator who has had a profound influence on the sound of European jazz.

Bates first came to my attention as a member of saxophonist Tim Whitehead’s Borderlines group but it was as a member of the young, iconoclastic, but highly skilled Loose Tubes that he really made his mark during the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s. I was fortunate enough to see the band on a number of occasions during that time and have been a fan of many of its members (Bates, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart, Eddie Parker etc.) ever since and I just loved those 2014 Loose Tubes re-union gigs, especially as they included freshly commissioned new material and not just the old ‘hits’.

Since the Loose Tubes heyday I’ve kept an eye on Bates’ progress via his large ensemble Delightful Precipice, a kind of continuation of Loose Tubes, and his small group Human Chain. He also impressed rock audiences thanks to his highly productive stint with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and has also appeared as a sideman with old LT buddies Iain Ballamy and Julian Arguelles, playing E flat peck horn with the latter’s octet.

The early 21st century was a quiet time for Bates watchers as he concentrated on his academic career but he eventually re-emerged with Beloved Trio and with the StoRMChaser Big Band, the latter also featuring his Copenhagen students, among them Eldh, flautist Julie Kjaer, saxophonists Marius Neset and Martin Stender, drummer Anton Eger and tuba player Daniel Herskedal, all now major figures on the European jazz scene.

For a while Bates adopted a more song influenced direction, making use of singers such as Josefine Cronholm and Josefine Lindstrand. The music retained much of Bates’ signature quirkiness but I’ve always enjoyed his writing and playing far more in a purely instrumental context and it’s good to see him moving in this direction once more.

Similarly I was also disappointed with the recent “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” recording. I had been expecting Bates to come along and take the songs by the scruff of the neck, thoroughly de-constructing them and putting his own unique stamp on them. Instead he hardly tampers with the structures of the tunes at all, and although the results are skilfully played and mildly diverting ultimately one is left asking “What’s the point?” - and I speak here as a long term fan of both Django Bates and The Beatles. Nevertheless the album was well received by most critics – but who would seriously choose to listen to “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” rather than the Fab Four’s original – really?

That said I’m far more enamoured with “The Study Of Touch” which places the emphasis more firmly on Bates’ original writing. Nine pieces come from the pen of leader and are featured alongside “This World” by Bates’ old mucker Iain Ballamy and “Passport” by Charlie Parker, the latter included as a reminder of this trio’s roots. Several of the Bates pieces appeared on the earlier “Confirmation” album and I suppose that I should dig out my copy of that album and make comparisons. I’ll admit to not having played it in quite a while but that’s no reflection on the quality of the music, it’s merely that I’ve been listening to and reviewing other things. That‘ s the only downside of this reviewing business, I rarely get to listen to music purely for pleasure any more.

However I suspect that the versions on “The Study Of Touch” are radically different to those from five years ago. As Bates has explained this is a trio that is rooted in improvisation and whose music is always evolving. There’s also the fact that the album was recorded at the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Jan Erik Kongshaug engineering and Manfred Eicher producing. It SOUNDS like an ECM recording with Bates and his colleagues making effective use of space in a way that might be unexpected for long term Bates listeners, especially those familiar with the density and complexity of his early work.

In the days of Loose Tubes and Human Chain Bates was lauded for his imaginative and intelligent deployment of synthesisers but the Beloved Trio has acted as a welcome reminder of just what a talented acoustic pianist he is. As its title might suggest “The Study Of Touch” concentrates on the more sensitive and lyrical side of his playing with a greater focus on pure melody and he’s well supported by a sympathetic rhythm team in a trio that has established a superb, well balanced rapport during its decade together.

The new album commences with an old favourite. “Silence All the Way Down” has been in the trio’s repertoire since at least 2011 and appeared on the “Confirmation” album. It’s an unconventional opener with its sombre, descending pianistic motif embellished by Bruun’s delicate cymbal work.

“Giorgiantics” also appeared on the earlier recording and serves as a reminder of just how well balanced the trio is with Eldh’s bass prominent in the arrangement. Boppish, Parker inspired flourishes alternate with more reflective, obviously ‘European’ episodes as Bates and his colleagues vary the dynamics and enter into finely detailed group interplay.

“Little Petherick” is even older and was first recorded by the quartet Human Chain on the 1993 Bates album “Summer Fruits (And Unrest)”, a recording that also featured the nineteen piece ensemble Delightful Precipice. On this new version Bates is at his most lyrical on this beautiful musical depiction of the beauty and tranquillity of the English countryside. His playing is complemented by the melodic counterpoint of Eldh’s bass and the delicate detail of Bruun’s drumming as the trio make effective use of space in the best ECM tradition.

Sporting a typically punning Bates title “Senza Bitterness” is yet another piece that first appeared on the “Confirmation” recording. The leader’s piano is positively luminous here, again offset by Eldh’s unfailingly melodic bass and the delicate filigree of Bruun’s sensitive and sympathetic drum commentary. This is a wonderfully empathic trio and the beauty of the performance belies the rather jokey title.

“We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” was originally commissioned for the trio’s performance at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival ( I know ‘ cos I was there) and subsequently appeared on the “Confirmation” album. There’s a gently exploratory feel about the scurrying piano phrases and skittering drum patterns, and also an underlying joyousness as Bates and his colleagues negotiate their way through the complexities of the leader’s writing.

Iain Ballamy’s “This World” originally appeared on the saxophonist’s 1994 album “All Men Amen”, on which Bates played (alongside bassist Steve Watts and drummer Martin France). There’s an almost hymnal feel about this beautiful piece, originally dedicated by Ballamy to his late wife, Jess. Eldh’s sensitive, melodic bass playing is a significant feature in the arrangement while Bruun again performs with great sensitivity.

The title track was commissioned in 2013 by the Norbotten International Music Centre in Sweden but was subsequently performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms season. Bates wrote the piece with the RAH performance in mind, the music specifically tailored for such a large space. The music itself is deliberately spacious with room left for the smallest of musical gestures to make a big impression. Nevertheless there’s still room for an expansive Bates piano solo amidst the more concentrated and finely distilled trio interplay.

“Passport” is the only Charlie Parker tune to find its way into this collection and acts as a reminder of the Beloved Trio’s origins and primary influence. It’s not a piece that the trio have tackled before with Bates remarking “the title felt pertinent in the light of Brexit”. Musically it’s a typically bright, playful and intelligent interpretation of the Parker material with Eldh again featuring as a soloist.

The lengthy “Slippage Street” is more rhythmically based than much of the other material and features a sturdy bass groove around which Bates structures his characteristically audacious piano inventions accompanied by the nervous tick of Bruun’s drums and cymbals. Combining playfulness with complexity it is arguably the piece that most closely resembles his early work from the 80s and 90s.

Bates has always had a fondness for horticultural tune titles. “Peonies As Promised” originally appeared on “Confirmation” and in part typifies that “English whimsy” style of jazz that Bates and his former Loose Tubes colleagues helped to invent.

The album concludes with the brief “Happiness All The Way Up”, a piece specifically written to complement the opener and thus to neatly bookend the album. This time the motif ascends steadily upwards and features Eldh’s high register bass. Bates final gesture is a still ascending top end piano trill. It’s a charming way to finish a very good album.

Despite the previous familiarity of some of the pieces “The Study Of Touch” is an excellent album and one senses that Bates and his colleagues have approached the material from an entirely new perspective, with Eicher also bringing his influence to bear on the music. As one would expect from ECM the album is immaculately recorded and all the nuances of this finely calibrated trio are captured in the pinpoint mix. Eldh and Bruun have grown in stature during the ten years of Beloved’s existence and there’s a sense that this is now much more a trio of equals. Both musicians acquit themselves superbly on this recording.

The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.


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