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Mark Holub Anthropods

Abundant Shores

by Ian Mann

April 16, 2024


Anthropods continue to mature and develop as a unit. The unusual instrumental configuration makes for a distinctive group sound and each member is a fully integrated part of the ensemble.


“Abundant Shores”

(Klanggalerie gg469)

Mark Holub- drums, Clemens Sainitzer – cello, Irene Kepl – violin, Susanna Gartmayer – bass clarinet, Jakob Gnigler – tenor saxophone

Anthropods is a Vienna based quintet led by the American born drummer, composer and improviser Mark Holub.

Holub is well known to British jazz audiences after coming to the UK to study at Middlesex University, where he founded Led Bib with a group of fellow students in 2003. The quintet won the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2005, which helped to finance their début album “Arboretum”, released later in 2005, and their Dalston Summer Stew mini festival at The Vortex in 2006, the event at which I first discovered the band. Led Bib have since released a further eight albums, with their 2009 offering, “Sensible Shoes”, receiving a Mercury Music Prize nomination.

The majority of Led Bib’s studio recordings have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, in addition to a number of the group’s scintillating live performances. The site has also covered Holub’s collaborations with saxophonist Colin Webster, either as a duo or as a trio with the addition of former Led Bib keyboardist Toby McLaren. Tim Owen also covered a 2010 performance at The Vortex by Mustard Pie, an all star aggregation that featured the rhythm sections of Led Bib (Holub and bassist Liran Donin) and Polar Bear (drummer Sebastian Rochford and bassist Tom Herbert) fronted by the saxophone of Jan Kopinski (Pinski Zoo). 
After living in London for many years Holub re-located to Vienna in 2012 and quickly forged links with locally based musicians, among them theremin specialist Pamelia Stickney and guitarist, sonic experimenter and studio owner Chris Janka, with whom he formed the trio Blueblut.  The group was originally assembled in 2013 for a one off festival appearance, but the rapport generated by the trio was such that they agreed to continue their experiments, documenting their music on the albums “Hurts So Gut” (2014), “Butt Butt” (2017), “Andenborstengurteltier”  (2020) and “Garden Of Robotic Unkraut” (2023). A new Blublut album, “Lutebulb” is scheduled for release on May 3rd 2024 and I intend to take a look at this in due course.

But there’s more to Holub’s Austrian musical life than just Blueblut. Since making the move to Vienna Holub has also released the excellent duo album “Taschendrache” (Slam Records, 2015), recorded with Anthropods violinist Irene Kepl. Review here;

According to his website his other projects include Falb/Holub/Satzinger a free jazz sax trio from Vienna plus an international quartet featuring Holub (drums), Colin Webster (alto sax),  Sofia Salvo (baritone sax) and Jan Roder (bass). There is also Perlin Noise, a contemporary classical/improv ensemble led by Sicilian composer and double bassist Alessandro Vicard and also featuring Irene Kepl.
The Anthropods quintet made its recording debut 2022 on an album of the same name credited to Mark Holub. It was almost inevitable that the album title would become a band name and this second album is credited to the group. The debut album was released on the British record label Discus Music but this latest recording appears on the Vienna based imprint Klanggalerie, which was first established in 1993.

My review of the first Anthropods album, from which much of the above biographical detail has been sourced, can be found here;

“Abundant Shores” features the same personnel as the debut. The quintet is very much a project of lockdown with Holub confined to Vienna and unable to travel or to play any live shows. Isolated from his collaborators in Led Bib he decided to establish a new collaborative project with other Vienna based musicians, enlisting the services of his one time duo partner Irene Kepl on violin plus Clemens Sainitzer (cello), Susanna Gartmayer (bass clarinet) and Jakob Gnigler (tenor sax). Kepl and Gartmayer both guested on the most recent Led Bib album, 2019’s “It’s Morning”, a recording that represented something of a radical departure from that band’s earlier work. My review of “It’s Morning” can be found here;

Once again the new Anthropods album has been  recorded at the studio of Blueblut’s Chris Janka, who also carries out the engineering duties.  It is entirely comprised of the eight part “Abundant Shores Suite”, composed by Holub and conceived as a single entity and intended to strike a fine balance between composition and improvisation as Holub explains;
“Anthropods for me was always more about finding out what these five people sounded like together, rather than coming in with a clear direction in mind. With Corona restrictions lifting, we were finally able to tour again, allowing me to delve further into an understanding of what this band is. This understanding led me to the composition of the suite. The idea was to create a whole through composed set, where we could move between composition and improvisation freely. The composition works as a tool to give us areas to explore as improvisers”. 

The eight movements have no individual titles, so naturally we begin with “Part 1”, an impressionistic opener that establishes the unusual sound of this distinctive ensemble with the droning of the strings and the soft buzzing of the reeds complemented by Holub’s filigree cymbal work. Gradually the momentum of the piece begins to increase with Holub addressing his kit more forcefully, but the overall mood remains subdued and pastoral as the energy dissipates once more.

There’s a chamber jazz sensibility about the playing here that continues as the music segues seamlessly into “Part 2” with the sounds of strings and the furtive rustle of drums and percussion. Kepl’s high register violin bowing sounds almost bird like at times. There’s a delicate free jazz sensibility here as the musicians converse quietly and with great sensitivity, one can almost hear them thinking. Gradually the improvisations become more vigorous with Sainitzer introducing plucked cello bass lines and Holub a skittering, polyrhytmic drum groove as the reeds begin to express themselves more forcefully, with Gnigler’s tenor sax coming to the fore. The leader’s drums continue to drive the music as the strings introduce jagged bowed lines and the music continues to gather an impressive and dramatic momentum before finally blowing itself out, the movement eventually ending as quietly as it began.

“Part 3” also begins quietly, almost sepulchrally, with the eerie sounds of cymbal shimmers and bass clarinet, slowly building in layers with the addition of strings. The pace is almost glacial, but this is music that is both strange and utterly compelling, a musical depiction of the vanished epochs that informed the choice of band name.

As the suite segues into “Part 4” the almost subliminal rumble of mallets underpins the soft drone of strings, gradually increasing in volume as the music grows in intensity, becoming more unsettling in the process.  As Holub’s drumming becomes increasingly assertive the other musicians generate some extraordinary sounds and textures, presumably via the use of extended techniques. The introduction of plucked cello signals a transition into a more riff / groove based section with the leader’s increasingly urgent drumming topped by the sounds of angry strings and reeds, alternately jagged and swirling, as the music builds like a juggernaut to a riff based climax.

The inevitable dissipation leads into the freely structured “Part Five” as the rattle of Holub’s snare evokes fidgety responses from strings and reeds and leads into a spiky drum / tenor sax dialogue, with the other instruments subsequently joining the increasingly feisty discourse. Finally a staccato riff breaks out as the piece concludes in frantic fashion with the soaring and sawing of strings and the increasingly garrulous sounds of the reeds, all trying to keep pace with the leader’s frenzied drumming.

The eventual breakdown takes us into “Part Six” as the storm finally blows itself out, eventually leaving Holub alone. Subsequently the celestial tinkling of his cymbals is augmented by the sounds of the strings, deploying both pizzicato and extended techniques.

Drums and plucked cello eventually establish a groove as the music segues into “Part 7”. The reeds make a powerful entrance, asserting themselves above an increasingly insistent odd meter riff, with Gnigler’s tenor a particularly garrulous presence. Driven by a jagged but gargantuan riff the music develops an awesome power that may remind listeners of the mighty Led Bib at their best, or maybe even King Crimson, before the music threatens to dissolve into abstraction. Nevertheless there’s still time for the giant to roar back into action with a final act of defiance as the riff is reactivated one last time before the close.

“Part 8” commences with eerie, high pitched reed and string sounds, these joined by the swish of brushes on cymbals. It’s a tentative beginning, reminiscent of the improvising on “Part 2” as the players sound each other out, listening intently. Kepl again generates some extraordinary sounds from her violin as the music begins to acquire a simmering intensity, with low register cello drones underpinning her bowing and Holub’s increasingly busy drumming. The reeds join the equation, helping to create a particularly edgy kind of chamber music as the suite concludes with a final written passage.

Although the album is demarcated into eight different “Parts” the music is presented as a continuous performance as it moves almost imperceptibly between composed and improvised sections, with Holub and the band also exhibiting a shrewd command of dynamics as the music ebbs and flows. It’s very much an ensemble effort and there is no orthodox soloing in the conventional jazz sense, even though improvisation represents a vital part of the quintet’s music making.

Less obviously groove based than the debut “Abundant Shores” sees Anthropods continuing to mature and develop as a unit. The unusual instrumental configuration makes for a distinctive group sound and each member is a fully integrated part of the ensemble.

Anthropods are due to make a short tour of the UK in April 2024 as part of a double bill with Sloth Racket, the quintet led by saxophonist, composer, improviser, organiser and bandleader Cath Roberts. The dates are as follows;

17 April SHEFFIELD Jazz At The Lescar
18 April CANTERBURY Free Range
19 April LONDON Hundred Years Gallery 
20 April NORWICH Ambition’s Graveyard

One would imagine that these shows will see the “Abundant Shores Suite” performed in its entirety without a break and that every single performance will be very different from the others, such being the open ended nature of the music. It’s unfortunate that none of the dates are anywhere near me as the prospect of seeing this music played live would represent an intriguing prospect, especially as Anthropods will be playing opposite Sloth Racket, who are very much their kindred spirits.

I appreciate that the sometimes challenging music of Anthropods won’t suit all ears but adventurous listeners are urged to check out “Abundant Shores” and to support one of these live shows if they’re anywhere near you.

“Abundant Shores” is available here;

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