by Ian Mann
June 27, 2016
Ian Mann on two contrasting sets by this young Manchester based quintet, the second featuring guest vocalist Freddie Eggleton.
Artephis, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/06/2016.
Artephis are a young quintet based in Manchester who first came together as students at the city’s Royal Northern College of Music. The group includes drummer Matt Brown, a native of the Abergavenny area who moved away to Manchester to study but still returns each year to man the sound desk at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival.
It was Brown who forwarded a copy of the quintet’s début EP to BMJ’s Mike Skilton and asked if the band could come to play at the club. Mike liked what he heard and invited the young five piece to play what they later described as their first “international gig”!
The format of the evening saw Artephis play one set of mainly original instrumental material before being joined in the second half by guest vocalist Freddie Eggleton, still a third year student at the RNCM, to deliver a selection of well known standards.
The group’s two composers are trumpeter Aaron Wood and guitarist James Girling with the band line up being completed by Ali Roocroft on piano, Alasdair Simpson on electric bass and, of course, Brown at the drums. The quintet’s music can loosely be placed in the ‘fusion’ bag with the band citing electric era Miles Davis as a primary influence alongside Wynton Marsalis plus more contemporary figures such as trumpeter Christian Scott and Snarky Puppy keyboardist Bill Laurance.
The young quintet commenced with Wood’s composition “Ferrol”, named after a holiday destination in Spain, his trumpet sketching melodic motifs over the springy, lightly funky grooves laid down by interlocking guitar, bass and keyboards with Brown a galvanising presence at the drums. Roocroft took the first solo, adopting a Fender Rhodes style electric piano sound on his Nord Stage 2 keyboard. He was followed by composer Wood on trumpet and then by Girling on guitar, the latter deploying a distorted, fuzzed up tone as he entered into an engaging dialogue with Brown’s drums. The piece resolved itself with a restatement of the theme with Girlong doubling Wood’s trumpet melody lines. The sound was initially a little muddy but the situation was quickly remedied.
Wood switched to flugelhorn as he demonstrated another aspect of his writing skills on the ballad “Anathema”, soloing with a low key intensity alongside Roocroft, the latter now favouring a more conventional acoustic piano sound.
Wood and Girling shared the announcing duties with the guitarist introducing the quintet’s version of Herbie Hancock’s “Eye Of The Hurricane” as “one of our favourites standards”. Good choice lads, on an arrangement that saw Girling and Wood, the latter now back on trumpet, trading lithe, bebop inspired solos. Roocroft, in the Herbie role, combined melodic right hand flourishes with strong left hand rhythmic figures during his piano solo. The arrangement was also something of a tour de force for Brown, the homecoming hero variously trading eights with guitar, piano and trumpet. Wood’s clever use of electronics to treat his trumpet sound reminded me of the Birmingham based trumpeters Aaron Diaz and Sam Wooster but was more likely influenced by Christian Scott or even Europeans such as Palle Mikkelborg and Nils Petter Molvaer.
Girling described his composition “Tabula Rasa” (translation ‘blank slate’) as being “hypnotic and cyclical”. With Woods again on flugel the piece was primarily concerned with colour and texture rather than conventional jazz soloing, again indicative of a more European influence. There was room, however, for some delightful dialogue between bass and drums with Brown delivering some exquisite cymbal work.
Also by Girling “Chagrin” offered another example of his impressive compositional maturity, developing organically from quiet beginnings and gradually acquiring a layered intensity. The composer took the first solo, initially in guitar trio mode, and was followed by Roocroft at the piano. Wood made subtle use of his FX unit as he soundscaped his own trumpet playing as the quintet developed an impressively textured wall of sound shored up by Brown’s powerful drumming.
The first set concluded with the quintet’s arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge”, this in turn inspired by Wynton Marsalis’ version of the tune – Girling and Wood had seen it played at Marsalis’ Manchester concert earlier in the year. The group handled the complexities of Henserson’s tune with aplomb, Roocroft bringing an earthy funkiness to his piano solo which contrasted well with the features from Girling and Wood, the latter again making judicious use of the various electronic effects at his disposal.
This first set was well received by a small (30-40) but appreciative audience and the band’s generous ‘pay what you like’ policy saw them selling a respectable number of EPs in the bar during the break. Released in January 2016 the eponymous CD is available via iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp.
The interval featured Mike Skilton’s talented daughter Martha, best known as a saxophonist, playing standards on the rather rickety resident upright piano, among them Errol Garner’s “Misty”. However the main function of Martha’s set was to act as background music as people replenished their glasses and chatted to the band.
From Matt Brown (who once played alongside Martha in the band Ruby Rose) I learned that like most other newly graduated musicians the members of Artephis also play with a whole range of other bands ranging from brass ensembles to Afrobeat (the band Kalakuta) and rock groups and that Girling was adjudged to have been the outstanding student on the RNCM’s Jazz Course. Meanwhile Artephis have received support from Jazz North’s ‘Introducing’ programme and have festival appearances scheduled for the forthcoming Manchester and Brecon festivals. The Lieko Quintet, featuring Girling, Simpson and Brown will be playing on the free stage at the RNCM during Manchester Jazz Festival prior to the appearance in the main house by the Impossible Gentlemen (26th July, 6.30 pm).
The second set saw Artephis adopting a very different direction as they welcomed Freddie Eggleton to the stage and commenced the set with that most familiar of standards, “Autumn Leaves”. Freddie’s vocals shared the spotlight with instrumental soloists Wood (flugelhorn) and Girling.
Wood switched to trumpet as Egglton sang “What Is This Thing Called Love”, again sharing the instrumental solos with Girling with the guitarist deploying a more orthodox jazz guitar sound than he had in the more contemporary first set. We also heard from Roocroft on acoustic piano.
Roocroft also featured strongly as Eggleton sang a surprisingly energetic arrangement of “Night and Day” with Girling positively rocking out when it came to his solo.
Truth to tell Eggleton was sometimes in danger of being overwhelmed when the whole band was playing and he was heard to best effect on the quieter numbers when one or two of the instrumentalists dropped out. “Georgia”, played by a quartet of voice, piano, bass and brushed drums was a case in point as Eggleton combined well with Roocroft and injected some real emotion and nuance into his singing. “Misty”, played earlier in the bar by Martha Skilton, also worked well in this pared down quartet format.
Eggleton was similarly effective on “My Funny Valentine” which featured a gentle voice and bass introduction and also teamed Eggleton’s singing with Wood’s harmon muted trumpet, a kind of hybrid of Miles Davis and Chet Baker.
Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” raised the energy levels again as Wood sat out and Girling returned to the fray. The evening then concluded with the full sextet singing and playing a lively version of “All Of Me” with Eggleton’s vocal augmented Wood on flugelhorn followed by Girling and Brown’s guitar and drum exchanges. We also heard from Roocroft on piano and Brown with a final drum flourish before Wood doubled Eggleton’s lines as the piece came to a close.
This second set was also well received by the crowd, some of whom probably relished the opportunity of hearing some familiar material. Eggleton did just fine but regular readers of the Jazzmann will know that I’m more inclined towards instrumental jazz, and original instrumental jazz at that. Hence with all respect to Freddie I much preferred the first set which I thought exhibited a good deal of promise both in terms of both the playing and the writing, these guys are barely twenty after all.
And again apologies to Freddie but the highlight of the second set was the instrumental interlude five tunes in when the trio of Girling, Simpson and Brown performed an excellent trio version of Pat Metheny’s enduring classic “Bright Size Life” which saw Simpson coming into his own as a soloist on his five string electric bass.
Overall I very much enjoyed this evening spent in the company of some very talented and highly promising young musicians and would have no hesitation in going to see Artephis, or any of the offshoots involving its members, again.
Their self titled EP is also highly recommended but being jazz musicians these guys have already moved on and none of the tunes that appear on the album was actually played tonight. The credits on the EP are rather vague but the programme appears to consist of three originals plus an arrangement of one of Wayne Shorter’s most influential compositions, “Footprints”. The group’s own tunes include the subtly funky “Tout d’un coup”, the ballad “Changes” and the epic, episodic “Quinoa”. All those who enjoyed the first set tonight will appreciate the EP too, hopefully this will be the forerunner of the full length album yet to come.
For further information on Artephis please visit http://www.artephis.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus