by Ian Mann
June 22, 2022
“Intercontinental” builds on the core strengths of the BMQ and finds them successfully exploring new musical areas. It will be interesting to see where their musical journey takes them next.
Brian Molley Quartet with Krishna Kishor
(BGMM Records BGMM004)
Brian Molley – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute, Tom Gibbs – piano, Brodie Jarvie – bass, Stuart Brown – drums, with special guest Krishna Kishor – percussion
The Scottish reeds player and composer Brian Molley first came to my attention as a member of the saxophone quartet Brass Jaw and appeared on their début album “Burn” back in 2006. He subsequently left the group, to be replaced by trumpeter Ryan Quigley.
Since those days Molley has been a busy figure on the Scottish music scene appearing with a wide variety of jazz, classical and pop ensembles including the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.
One of Molley’s longest running engagements has been as a member of drummer Stu Brown’s Twisted Toons project, the critically acclaimed interpretation of the music of composer and musical inventor Raymond Scott, the man best known for the soundtracks of Bugs Bunny and other Loony Tunes cartoons. Brown released the album “Twisted Toons” in 2009 and the success of the project has ensured that he has toured it extensively (I caught his sextet, featuring Molley at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2012) including several prestigious jazz festival appearances, among them Cheltenham, Manchester, Gateshead and London. Brown has since broadened his remit to explore the music of other composers of music for cartoons, such as Carl Stalling and Scott Bradley.
When Molley formed his own quartet in 2012 Brown was the natural choice for the drum chair, with the first edition of the group also featuring Tom Gibbs on piano and Mario Caribe on bass. Gibbs is the pianist in Brown’s Raymond Scott project and can also be heard on the “Twisted Toons” album. Gibbs’ own quartet album, the excellent “Fear Of Flying”, was released in 2012 on Whirlwind Recordings.
This line up recorded the albums “Clock” (2013) and “Colour and Movement” (2017), both of which have been favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. These recordings reveal Molley to be a fluent saxophone soloist as well as an imaginative composer with firm roots in the jazz tradition.
The BMQ’s third album, “Modern Traditions”, was released in 2021 and saw Brodie Jarvie, a musician from a slightly younger generation of Scottish jazz musicians, replacing Caribe at the bass. This recording is also favourably reviewed elsewhere on this site.
The Molley quartet has toured regularly with their schedule taking them to the USA for two successful club dates in New York City (Silvana in Harlem and WhyNotJazzRoom in Greenwich Village) plus an appearance as part of the “Made in the UK” strand at Rochester Jazz Festival in 2015.
Closer to home the group have featured at Edinburgh Jazz Festival on three occasions as part of the Festival’s “Made in Scotland” programme. They have also appeared at the Glasgow and Manchester Jazz Festivals and recorded a 2017 live session for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up show.
The quartet has also worked intensively in India, playing a short series of tour dates in 2017 as well as collaborating with the Asin Langa Ensemble, a collection of Rajasthani folk musicians. The Asin Langa Ensemble was then invited to the UK to tour with the Molley Quartet in 2018 and their collaborative track “Journeys In Hand”, composed by Molley, appeared on Songlines Magazine’s covermount CD in June 2018.
The quartet have since continued their collaborations with Indian musicians, touring India with Chennai based percussionist Krishna Kishor, including a headline appearance at Madras Jazz Festival as part of the British Council’s UK/India season. BMQ have since returned to India to perform again with Kishor on two more tours.
Plans to record with Kishor were initially scuppered by the pandemic but modern technology allowed the project to proceed and the aptly titled “Intercontinental” was recorded remotely in Glasgow and Chennai during 2020, doubtless providing the musicians and the recording team with a welcome creative outlet during lockdown.
Hailing from the state of Tamil Nadu in South India Kishor is regarded as a world class percussionist with a thorough knowledge of the traditions, practices and instruments of his home state. He has appeared on over a hundred Bollywood soundtracks and composed his own score for the 2021 Indian Tamil language film “Annabelle Sethupathi”.
With the exception of a solo percussion interlude credited to Kishor and a Scottish folk tune credited as (Trad.) “Intercontinental” features Molley’s compositions exclusively. His track notes, which form part of the album press release, offer insights into the inspirations and influences behind the individual tracks.
The album commences with “The Crocodile and the Plover Bird”, of which Molley says;
“Those brave little guys, the Plover Birds, are the ones who look after the crocodiles’ teeth and the various segments of this piece set out to represent the unique relationship between these two creatures. The aim here was to create a really dynamic piece of music where we try to develop a lot of interaction between everyone in the group. This is a feature BMQ have developed a lot over many years of playing together”.
Jarvie’s bass introduces the piece, soon joined by drums and percussion, then by piano, and finally the warm sound of the leader’s tenor sax. The playing is initially melodic and lyrical, becoming more forceful and dynamic as the piece progresses via an expansive, and highly fluent solo from the leader. Gibbs subsequently takes over at the piano, delivering another carefully crafted solo that gradually increases in intensity. He then hands back to Molley for a reprise of the main theme, with suitably jazz informed variations.
The title of the brief “Lotus and Thistle” is derived from the national emblems of India and Scotland. Molley says of this track;
“This piece set out to combine some of the elements of the folk music of our homelands in a saxophone-percussion duo. Krishna plays a variety of percussion instruments here in classic Carnatic style and the melody that I play reflects some of the stylistic elements of Scottish music”.
As the rest of the band sit out snatches of Scottish folk melody combine with the rhythmic patter of Kishor’s tabla and other percussion in a series of invigorating exchanges as the participants trade ideas, sounding as if in the same room, but in purely physical terms literally thousands of miles away.
Molley features on both flute and soprano sax on “Ayemenem”, a particularly intriguing composition of which Molley remarks;
“The title here comes from the village where Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things is set in Kerala, South-west India. The syllables of the village name match the rhythmic pattern at the start of the melody. We aimed for a high energy piece here where the bustle of BMQ is matched by Krishna’s energetic and driving Konakol singing and the bagal bacchha, a single-stringed instrument with a hollow leather or pumpkin base”.
The leader doubles on flute and soprano, sometimes overdubbing his own lines on this lively, charming and intensely rhythmic piece piece. Gibbs adds a sparkling and highly percussive piano solo, while the rhythms laid down by Kishor, Brown and Jarvie are a constant source of fascination. Molley sounds positively joyous on a dancing soprano solo, while Kishor’s konakol and percussion feature is full of energy and simply irresistible.
Literary inspirations also lie behind “Thursday’s with GK” as Molley explains;
“This somewhat moody and mysterious piece takes its title from a favourite book of mine, The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. Krishna sets the scene with a percussion introduction leading into a snaking melody, which constantly attempts to weave back in on itself. The idea here is a line that doesn’t ever really settle, landing in unexpected places as it travels along”.
The piece is introduced by the sound of solo tabla, later joined by Jarvie’s bass motif, Gibbs at the piano and Brown at the kit. The overall mood is languid and sensuous with Molley playing in the tenor’s upper registers. Gibbs piano solo is subtly inventive and there is also a feature for Jarvie on melodic double bass. Overall this evocative piece successfully achieves its stated aim of sounding “moody and mysterious”.
“Vasudeva’s Invitation” draws on several sources, most notably John Coltrane, as Molley explains;
“The famous river-man, from both Nick Drake and Herman Hesse is the Vasudeva of the title and this piece was written as a kind of homage to John Coltrane’s world-music inspired, epic compositions of the early 1960’s. It began life as a fragment of a folk melody from the Tamil Nadu region of India, Krishna’s home state, before developing into this piece with the percussion emphasising the South Indian influence on the udu, a clay pot drum”.
Jarvie ushers in proceedings at the bass and the modal construction of the tune is indeed highly reminiscent of Coltrane, as is Molley’s sound on the tenor. Coltrane himself was fascinated with Indian music, making Kishor’s contribution to this piece all the more relevant. Molley’s solo is followed by that of Gibbs, the pianist stepping into the McCoy Tyner role.
Kishor’s “Percussion Interlude” is tantalisingly brief, a ‘palate cleanser’ that in truth is little more than a morsel.
Of the traditional “Ae Fond Kiss” Molley comments;
“We included a duo version of this Robert Burns classic as part of our programme while on tour in India in 2018. At that time, the news was constantly dominated with what seemed like particularly gloomy issues - little did we know what was to come - and my thinking was to present something positive and representative of Scottish goodwill and congeniality to our international audiences”.
Featuring Molley’s tenor and Gibbs’ piano only this is a supremely lyrical duo performance, introduced by Gibbs at the piano and with Molley adopting a soft, breathy tone on the tenor. It’s a folk tune re-cast in the manner of a jazz ballad. There’s a further passage of unaccompanied piano from Gibbs before Molley picks up the gorgeous melody once more.
Having explored the traditional music of both Scotland and India within the jazz idiom of the United States the album spreads its reach even further on the closing “Ramal Dabke”, arguably going full circle in jazz terms with a return to Africa. I’ll let Molley explain;
“The title here loosely translates as ‘Dances in the Sand’ and this piece has a middle eastern influence throughout. We start with a traditional slow ‘alap’ (the melodic style of improvisation that introduces a raga) before bursting into an energetic dance piece with a frantic unison melody shared between saxophone and piano. The spirited music here is in the style of the traditional dance music performed across the middle east. High energy solos all round are drawn to a close with a driving percussion feature from Krishna played on the djembe, a goblet drum from West Africa”.
Tenor and piano introduce the piece, accompanied by the rustle and shimmer of Kishor’s percussion. The music then takes flight, drawing on Indian, Middle Eastern and African music, with the leader’s tenor adding an authentic jazz component. Molley takes the first solo, accompanied by a frantic rhythmic backdrop that embraces many elements. Gibbs follows at the piano, with a typically imaginative and energising solo. Kishor then takes over on percussion, the sound of the djembe featuring strongly. The piece concludes with a dazzling unison section featuring the lively and tricky theme. It’s a terrific way to round off an excellent album.
“Intercontinental” builds on the core strengths of the Molley Quartet – excellent musicianship, a well established rapport, strong melodic themes, imaginative soloing, a deep understanding of the jazz tradition - and adds a welcome additional ‘world music’ element courtesy of Kishor’s percussion. Kishor brings a breath of fresh air to the group and the joy of their collaboration can be heard in the music, even though it was recorded remotely. Credit is due to producer Molley and to the engineering team of Gus Stirrat (Glasgow), Melvin Davis (Chennai) and Euan Burton (mixing and mastering) for stitching it all together so seamlessly. The intelligence and quality of Molley’s writing is, of course, a hugely significant factor in the album’s success.
“Intercontinental” finds the BMQ successfully exploring new musical areas. It will be interesting to see where their musical journey takes them next.
Kishor is due to travel to Scotland for the first time in summer 2022 to perform alongside BMQ at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Made in Scotland programme.
In the meantime the BMQ can be seen at The Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock on 30th June 2022. For tickets please visit;