Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

April 09, 2024


this is music that is constantly shape-shifting in terms of both mood and style. The range of sounds that Keeffe draws from her horns is extraordinary.

Charlotte Keeffe Right Here, Right Now Quartet

“ALIVE! in the studio”

(Discus Music DISCUS160CD)

Charlotte Keeffe – trumpet, flugelhorn, Moss Freed – guitar, Ashley John Long – double bass, Ben Handysides – drums

A belated but timely look at this Discus Music release which was initially issued in September 2023. However with trumpeter, composer, improviser and bandleader Charlotte Keeffe due to appear with her Right Here, Right Now Quartet at the forthcoming 2024 Cheltenham Jazz Festival now seems like a particularly apposite time for me to write this long overdue review.

London based Keeffe is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff and even wrote for The Jazzmann as a guest contributor during her student days. She has been part of the Serious organisation’s Take Five scheme and is currently a member of the influential Women in Jazz Media collective.

Since becoming a professional musician Keeffe has been increasingly drawn towards the experimental end of the jazz spectrum and released her debut album “Right Here, Right Now” on the Discus label in 2021. This saw her performing in a variety of musical formats including her regular quartet with guitarist Moss Freed, bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Ben Handysides. Other featured musicians included guitarist Diego Sampieri, pianist Steve Beresford, saxophonist Caroline Kraabel,  bassist John Edwards and vocalists Maggie Nicols and Phil Minton. The album also included a number of large scale collaborations with members of the London Improvisers Orchestra. 

Keeffe has collaborated with many of the leading figures on the UK’s free jazz and improvised music scene and has established a strong relationship with the Sheffield based Discus Music record label founded and run by saxophonist Martin Archer.

Keeffe’s other Discus related projects include co-leadership, with Archer, of the seven piece Anthropology Band and membership of the trio Hi Res Heart, featuring Keeffe, Archer and vibraphonist / percussionist Martin Pyne.

Keeffe’s credits as a sidewoman are too numerous to mention in full but she has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages in reviews of recordings by saxophonist Colin Webster and clarinettist / guitarist Alex Ward. In 2019 she appeared in a more mainstream context as part of the Steve Waterman Big Band at that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival.

Keeffe draws great inspiration from the visual arts and particularly the works of abstract painters. The work of Gina Southgate, an improvising artist who paints images of musical performers in real time as they play, adorns the sleeve of this new recording.

Keeffe describes her instruments as “sound brushes” and uses the name Sound Brush for her solo trumpet project. Something of the visual approach of the abstract painters also informs the music making of the group that Keeffe has dubbed the Right Here, Right Now Quartet. Her album liner notes describe the recording session for “ALIVE! in the studio” thus;
“A breeding ground for squelchy, sploshy, splashy Sound Brush playing - music-making! …Overtly over-blowing, splitting, splattering, squirming, squeaking and squealing out ALIVE! Howling and hooting, chomping and chaffing… Dusty, distorted, flimsy, fragile, manic, ghostly, guttural sound strokes rip through whirlwinds and whirlpools of wholesome gooey-sound-dough! A turbulent tease, staggering, swaying, abruptly plunging into intentional vagueness… A messy emporium of raw, raucous realness. Alive. Right Here, Right Now. It is as it is…” 

The album was recorded over the course of a single day in April 2023 at Goldsmiths Music Studios in London by the engineering team of Nicholas Powell and Ollie Greville. It was subsequently mastered and produced in Sheffield by engineer Dean Honer and producer Martin Archer.

The programme features nine open ended interpretations of Keeffe’s compositions by the members of her regular working quartet. These pieces typically form the core of the group’s live sets and each band member is balanced equally within the sound mix. 

Keeffe’s interest in the visual arts also finds expression in the title of the opening piece “1200 Photographs 1”, with two other items in this series featuring later on. An attention grabbing solo trumpet intro quickly establishes that messy Sound Brush sound world described in the liner notes as Keeffe combines conventional and extended techniques. The mood of the piece is initially hectic but playful, with the rest of the quartet responding to Keeffe’s scurrying and scuttling trumpet phrases. But this is music where the mood can change on a whim and there are more reflective and introspective moments too with Freed’s guitar and Long’s bass coming to the fore, skilfully shadowed by Handysides’ drums. When Keeffe returns her playing is more measured and brooding. An excellent and intriguing start, well captured by the engineering / production team in a pinpoint sound mix that captures all the subtleties and nuances of the playing.

The music segues almost seamlessly into “A Horse Named Galaxy”, which is introduced by the sounds of cymbal crashes and shimmers and the rumble of toms during the course of an extended solo drum intro. Handysides almost seems to play melodies on his drums, and these are picked up by Long, Freed and Keeffe with bassist Long establishing a strong groove that helps to underpin one of Keeffe’s strongest melodic themes. Throughout the album there is a good balance between composition and improvisation, this is far more than ‘just a free jazz record’. This piece also features a beguiling dialogue between Freed and Long underpinned by Handysides’ ever evolving drum grooves. The bleary sound of the leader’s trumpet then introduces a more obvious ‘free jazz’ episode as this malleable music continues to mutate and evolve. On the whole this is one of the album’s more accessible pieces and must surely be one of the highlights of the quartet’s live sets.

The free jazz section at the end of “Horse” evolves into the brooding intro to “Cottontail”, which features the melancholy ring of the leader’s trumpet and the rich, dark tones of Long’s bowed bass. A gentle passage of unaccompanied guitar then transports us to a Bill Frisell style Americana, with Freed subsequently joined by Long’s plucked bass and the delicate swish of Handysides’ brushes. Cardiff based Long is a musician that I have seen perform live on multiple occasions and I’d surmise that his musical relationship with Keeffe probably dates back to the trumpeter’s student days. Long is a phenomenal bass soloist both with and without the bow and his pizzicato solo here is a melodic delight. Again the balance between composition and improvisation is finely balanced as the leader returns to steer the music back into more obviously free jazz waters, prior to something of a reprise of the opening passage, with Long again taking up the bow.

“1200 Photographs II” is ushered in by a stunning passage of unaccompanied trumpet that explores the full range of the instrument’s sonic possibilities, including some remarkable vocalised sounds. Eventually Long and Handyside respond as the piece embraces a passage of fractious and fiery collective improvisation with Freed’s shadowy guitar adding an extra instrumental voice to the proceedings.

“EastEnders” also introduces itself with a passage of solo trumpet, more aggressive and bleary this time, with the rest of the quartet responding in kind in a vigorous series of drum led barrages. Eventually a lurching riff cum groove emerges with Handysides’ sturdy drumming providing the platform for a series of ferocious exchanges between guitar and trumpet, with Keeffe again testing her instrument to the limit and with Freed wringing some extraordinary sounds from his axe as the music develops into a series of ferocious free jazz squalls, with Handysides also a very willing participant.

Generally a gentler, more atmospheric blend of abstraction informs “Wholeness”, the opening section embracing trumpet whispers and moans plus the sounds of bowed bass, pointillist guitar and the chimes and rustling of small percussion. A delicate guitar passage leads to a militaristic drum assault, this followed by some extraordinary collective improvising led by Keeffe’s remarkable trumpet vocalisations and embracing the sounds of scratchy guitar and bowed bass.

The mood continues into “1200 Photographs III” which features more intensive group interaction, with Freed’s guitar again occupying a significant role in the proceedings. Guitar and trumpet intertwine, sometimes fractiously, as Handysides adds increasingly insistent percussive commentary to the proceedings. Fragments of melody hint at a more mainstream sensibility and Keeffe delivers an extraordinary unaccompanied trumpet coda at the end of the piece, again exploring the whole range of the instrument – and beyond.

“Sweet,Corn” is more obviously composed with Freed’s arpeggiated guitar intro seized upon by bass and drums to create a complex but buoyant groove above which the leader delivers jagged but infectious trumpet riffs and melodies. Long’s bass motif keeps re-emerging even when the music threatens to shade off into abstraction and those dazzling trumpet riffs and melodies come around again before another lurch into violently turbulent improvised waters, with the leader sounding particularly bellicose. Then that bass figure rises up once more, paving the way for the re-emergence of the theme and a rousing finish. Again this is one of the album’s most accessible items, a musical set piece that must surely thrill, frighten and delight live audiences.

The album concludes with “Brentford”, apparently written in honour of Keeffe’s father’s favourite football team. The piece is ushered in by an extended, and very beguiling,  dialogue between Long’s bass and Handysides’ drums and percussion. With the addition of guitar and trumpet the music embraces more of a celebratory feel with a strong melody that suggests the influence of Township Jazz. There’s a final lurch into uproarious free jazz territory before the melody re-emerges and is taken by the band members as a kind of wordless football chant. It’s a delightfully celebratory and playful way to round off a very enjoyable album.

With its blend of structure and freedom this is album that occupies an area of jazz that I have come to enjoy more and more with the passing of the years. With its noisy bursts of free jazz it won’t suit everybody’s ears, but for me it holds considerable appeal.

It’s not the easiest music to describe, although I hope my efforts do it justice. Keeffe’s own liner notes pretty much nail how this lively, playful, constantly mutating music sounds. No single piece stays in one place for long, this is music that is constantly shape-shifting in terms of both mood and style. The musicians sound as if they’re having great fun, constantly challenging each other but doing so in an adventurous, mutually supportive way. The range of sounds that Keeffe draws from her horns is extraordinary, a bright and vivid sonic palette, to continue the painting analogies, and one that she uses boldly throughout this series of ear catching musical canvasses. In Freed, Long and Handysides she has three accomplices who are totally attuned to her musical vision, all fearless improvisers themselves. I’ve long been familiar with the playing of both Freed and Long but that of Handysides is a real revelation. He’s a busy, inventive and vital presence throughout and a key part in the success of the music.

Charlotte Keeffe and Right Here, Right Now Quartet play at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of Cheltenham Jazz Festival at 1.30 pm on Saturday 4th May 2024.

Keeffe and Freed will also appear at the same venue at 2.30 pm on Sunday 5th May with trumpeter and bandleader Sam Eastmond playing the music of John Zorn’s “Bagatelles”.

For further details and tickets to these events please visit;


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