by Ian Mann
November 24, 2020
Electro-acoustic music that draws upon a broad range of influences to create a sound that stays true to the spirit of jazz & improvisation, but which is also capable of appealing to a wider audience.
Archipelago, Livestream from Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle for EFG London Jazz Festival
Faye MacCalman – Tenor sax, Clarinet, Korg synth, FX, Vocals
John Pope - Electric bass, FX, Vocals
Christian Alderson - Drums, Percussion
This livestream performance by the Newcastle based electro-jazz trio Archipelago formed of EFG LJF’s ‘Take Five’ series.
Take Five is the long running talent development programme administered by Festival organisers Serious and is a scheme that supports emerging jazz and improvising musicians through mentorship, residencies, and collaborations.
The 2020 EFG LJF Take Five series was scheduled to broadcast ten specially commissioned videos featuring artists who had been part of the scheme over the past two years. The aim was for them to showcase some of their most recent material.
I was particularly drawn to this performance by Archipelago as just over a year ago the trio’s bassist, John Pope, contacted me by email to ask if I would consider reviewing the band’s show at the 2019 EFG LJF. Unfortunately I had to decline as the event was at lunchtime on the first day of the Festival, and at the time of the performance I was still on a train making my way to London to cover the rest of the Festival.
I was disappointed to miss the trio’s show in the foyer at the Royal Festival Hall, but twelve months on, nearing the end of a year none of us could ever have expected, I remembered John’s kind invitation and decided to finally check out the band via the medium of this livestream instead.
This specially commissioned livestream was filmed at the Star & Shadow Cinema in Newcastle, an independent cinema and arts venue. The music was recorded by John Martindale of Blank Studios, while Oat Studios provided the video coverage.
Fronted by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Faye MacCalman the members of Archipelago first became aware of each other when they worked together in The Midnight Doctors, the ‘mutant funeral jazz big band’ led by guitarist, composer and producer Phil Begg.
Originally an acoustic jazz quartet Archipelago changed direction following the departure of pianist Pete Currie, long before the group got to the recording stage.
To date Archipelago have released three digital albums, “I” (2016), “Weightless” (2017) and “Between Waves” (2018). The first two feature the core trio but “Between Waves” was born out of the concert series of the same name which saw Archipelago collaborating with emerging female identifying artists. The album features contributions from guitarist/vocalist Rosie Frater-Taylor, violinist/vocalist Faith Brackenbury, spoken word artist Lisette Auton and vocalist and sound artist Fran Bundey.
Archipelago’s music draws upon an array of influences including jazz, folk, electronica and alternative rock. Their use of the phrase “cinematic improvisation” to describe their music makes the fact that this session was recorded in an independent picture house all the more appropriate. The trio have developed a reputation for performing in unusual spaces, although they have also played major festivals such as EFG LJF and the Latitude Festival in Suffolk.
True to the Take Five remit all of the five pieces featured in this livestream were new, with none of them having previously featured on the trio’s three recordings.
MacCalman briefly announced the first number, “Chemical”, which commenced in atmospheric fashion featuring the breathy, echoed sounds of her tenor sax, alongside Alderson’s small percussion and dramatic cymbal shimmers. Ambient passages, such as the intro, alternated with more rhythmic, hard driving episodes as Alderson and a masked John Pope established a series of powerful drum and electric bass grooves, building and releasing the tension before the trio finally cut loose with MacCalman’s increasing belligerent sax wailing above Pope’s hard driving, muscular bass lines and Alderson’s dynamic, rock influenced drumming.
Archipelago’s pieces are genuinely cinematic in scope, embracing a broad range of dynamics and incorporating a surprisingly wide variety of sounds. The astute deployment of electronics, plus the occasional use of vocals, helps to expand the sonic and textural possibilities, enabling Archipelago to transcend the apparent limitations of a three piece group.
From now on tune titles were flashed up behind the band. The introduction to “Gold” saw MacCalman manipulating a Korg synth to generate a series of eerie textures, working in conjunction with a now unmasked John Pope, who was wearing an item of Star & Shadow merchandise, and whose bass guitar was augmented by an array of FX pedals and other floor mounted devices. MacCalman’s move to clarinet introduced a Middle Eastern element to the music while Pope’s hypnotic bass melodies and the increased use of distortion by both bass and clarinet created an almost trance like effect. In true Archipelago fashion this was a piece that was both shifting and kaleidoscopic, with Alderson’s deployment of rock rhythms and Pope’s increasingly clangorous bass guitar bringing a genuine sense of danger to the music as MacCalman’s clarinet continued to wail. It was refreshing to hear the instrument being used in such a contemporary context.
Introduced by Pope at the bass “Wake Up” featured MacCalman’s vocals and was a song that combined an indie-rock sensibility with the adventurousness of jazz and improvisation, the latter expressed by an uncompromising free jazz episode mid tune. Elsewhere we heard a slightly more conventional tenor sax solo, the impassioned singing of both MacCalman and Pope, plus a final section that combined virtuoso electric bass with volcanic drumming and the visceral wail of MacCalman’s synth FX.
The atmospheric and evocative “Wine Dark Sea” commenced with a carefully constructed solo drum introduction with Alderson deploying mallets and also blowing through a tube to create a subtle underlying drone. MacCalman added breathy tenor sax, and gradually the momentum began to build, the waters of the title growing increasingly tempestuous as the music progressed, powered by the rolling thunder of Alderson’s drums. Eventually the storm subsided and the piece ended as atmospherically as it began, with Alderson deploying a bow on his cymbals.
MacCalman thanked her fellow musicians, plus the film and sound crews and the Festival organisers before introducing the final tune, “Waiting”. This was the second actual song of the set and featured the vocals of both MacCalman and Pope, with MacCalman again taking the lead. This introduced an element of alt-folk to the proceedings with the clapped intro followed by the singing of the verses.
In turn this was superseded by an increasingly kaleidoscopic wall of sound, with MacCalman’s tenor spiralling skywards augmented by Pope’s increasingly distorted bass and Alderson’s powerful and relentless drumming.
Overall I was impressed by Archipelago’s adventurous approach and their blending of a wide variety of musical influences to create an electro-acoustic music that stays true to the spirit of jazz and improvisation, but which is also capable of appealing to a wider, younger audience. One can imagine Archipelago’s music going down well in a rock club setting.
Presumably the pieces performed today will find their way on to Archipelago’s next recording project, which surely be a release well worth waiting for.blog comments powered by Disqus