by Ian Mann
September 16, 2008
Ambulance play out of the jazz tradition whilst simultaneously undermining it. "Accident And Insurgency" is the the sound of highly talented musicians having serious fun
Ambulance are led by the experienced bass player Arnie Somogyi and released this album in early 2008 to great critical acclaim.
It is not,as some critics have suggested, their début recording. That distinction goes to the wonderfully titled “Worthless Originals” dating back to 2005. This enjoyable work is described as an “EP” but with four lengthy numbers averaging around ten minutes apiece it’s as long as an old vinyl album.
It can be seen from his titles that Somogyi clearly loves his word play. Even the band’s name is a joke-ambulance,ambulate,walking,bass-geddit?
“Accident And Insurgency” came about as the result of a development grant from Arts Council East.
Somogyi and his colleagues Tim Lapthorn (piano), Rob Townsend and Paul Booth (saxes) plus Dave Smith (drums) took up residency at Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. Here they jammed freely, taking the best parts of their improvisations and moulding them into compositions.
At a later date they convened at studios in London to record these tunes with guest US trumpeter Eddie Henderson.
Many of the pieces on the album were inspired by the maritime environment in which the group found themselves around Snape. Several of these items are grouped together under the somewhat ponderous title “The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Orford Ness Suite” or “A.W.R.E.Orford Ness Suite” for short. Wholly improvised, these pieces act as short, atmospheric interludes punctuating lengthier, more structured compositions. The overall feel of these miniatures is that of a kind of musical impressionism.
Ambulance subtly update the classic Blue Note sound into something very contemporary.
There is plenty of room for the soloists to stretch out but the period of “wood shedding” in Snape also ensures that there is a strong sense of empathy between the players and there is excellent interplay between the instruments.
Lapthorn’s “Walking Wounded” kicks things off, a long-standing item in the Ambulance repertoire.
It is an energetic, invigorating opener with Somogyi and Smith driving the soloists, particularly Henderson, to great heights.
“Mick The Fish” is the first number from the A.W.R.E. Suite. Despite the jokey title it’s an impressionistic piece with sampled voices and surf noise courtesy of Townsend’s lap top. Somogyi’s woody, resonant bass and Lapthorn’s gently trilling Fender Rhodes are the dominant instrumental voices on this brief but atmospheric episode.
“Captain Courageous” is full of warped funk, loping grooves and sudden shifts in tempo. A sense of humour is never far away (witness Lapthorn’s use of melodica) and the whole thing is great fun. There are excellent solos from the horn players plus Lapthorn on piano and Somogyi himself.
Tim Lapthorn’s exquisite ballad “Tumbledown” features the composer’s gently rippling piano alongside the mournful ring of Henderson’s trumpet and breathily articulate tenor, Booth at a guess.
Another item from the suite, “Lobster Pot 999”,is a group improvisation in an unusual 9/8 time signature. Again it is brief and atmospheric with gently buzzing bass clarinet.
The instrument surfaces again on “Don’t Improvise” a Somogyi composition on which the bass and piano parts remain fixed throughout the tune. The improvisation comes from Townsend and Booth , operating in tandem to produce busy soprano sax and clarinet lines. Something of an oblique musical joke, but a good one for all that.
“Solace” is another beautiful tune from the pen of the talented Lapthorn. Wistful in feel it features languid piano, subtle horn interplay and beautifully nuanced rhythm work from Somogyi and Smith. Solos come from Lapthorn and Somogyi plus gorgeous soprano saxophone from one or other of the reed men.
“Serenity” is another short atmospheric piece from the suite. Smith’s shimmering cymbals evoke waves on shingle as Booth and Townsend approximate the cry of seagulls.
“Adrift”, although not designated as part of the suite follows the mood. Born of an improvisation between Booth, Somogyi and Smith the saxophonist subsequently expanded on the framework and came up with a full group arrangement. Lapthorn excels again on yet another beautiful ballad.
“Sirenity” is a brisk romp through the band’s “theme tune” with saxophones impersonating sirens and Lapthorn attacking his Fender Rhodes. In another example of typical Somogyi wordplay the piece is subtitled “Deaf On Arrival”.
The closing “Broadside” is named after Adnam’s beer of the same name. Clearly Mr Somogyi and his band are men after my own heart. Driven by a loop of Smith playing the Britten shell sculpture on Aldeburgh beach ( the sound subsequently manipulated by Townsend) the group produce a series of fine and fiery solos over a tricky 13/8 time signature. Smith also features extensively on kit drums and the whole piece is an excellent example of musicians having “serious fun”.
“Accident And Insurgency” is one of the key UK jazz albums of 2008. The band have responded to the critical plaudits by producing a string of fine live performances, including an appearance at the HSBC Brecon Jazz Festival documented elsewhere on this site.
Although Ambulance’s members have many other commitments the success enjoyed by “Accident And Insurgency” should ensure that the band continues to record and tour. Their next album will be eagerly anticipated.
Somogyi has respect for the jazz tradition whilst simultaneously subtly undermining it. Long may he continue to do so.blog comments powered by Disqus