by Ian Mann
June 21, 2013
"Busk" is a brilliantly realised record that deserves to increase ACV's national profile.
(Babel Records BDV 13117)
ACV, the quintet led by Newcastle based bassist and composer Andy Champion made a favourable impact with the release of its 2010 début recording “Fail In Wood”. The acclaim accorded to the album saw the group breaking free of its North East heartland and embarking on a national tour which included a date at London’s renowned Vortex Jazz Club. Here ACV came to the attention of Vortex stalwart Oliver Weindling who signed the group to his own Babel label for the release of their second album, “Busk”.
“Fail In Wood” embraced both jazz and progressive rock and affected a dark, almost Gothic ambience. “Busk” builds on the success of the first record, with Champion still unashamedly wearing his prog heart on his sleeve. The band’s sound has been cleaned up and the album sports a pin point production by fellow Geordie Chris Sharkey, a musician now more closely linked with the city of Leeds as the guitarist of trioVD (he also enjoyed a short stint with Acoustic Ladyland).
“Busk” features the same line up as its predecessor with Champion leading from the double bass in the company of Graeme Wilson (tenor and baritone saxes), Paul Edis (keyboards), Mark Williams (guitar) and former Back Door man Adrian Tilbrook (drums). With the exception of one piece by Wilson all of the compositions are by Champion and his writing exhibits an even greater ambition and scope than on the début. “Busk” is definitely the sound of a more mature ensemble, ACV is a group that is undeniably moving forward.
The album opens with Champion’s “Nutmeg State” with Williams’ arpeggiated guitar setting the scene and Wilson’s tenor stating the theme. In common with many of the items on the first album the piece embraces a variety of textures and dynamics with Sharkey’s crystal clear production capturing every nuance. Solos here come from Williams’ pointillist, vaguely metallic guitar and Wilson’s full toned tenor. Edis offers subtle and unobtrusive keyboard colourings and the rhythms draw from the rock world but not in an overtly obvious way. As so often on the first album it’s the full ensemble sound that makes the band so distinctive. A good start.
The press release accompanying the album makes reference to “Canterbury-style Prog Rock” and something of this can be heard in the dirty keyboard sounds and odd meter time signatures of the often frantic “Degree Absolute”. It’s all very different to the Blue Note inspired sounds to be heard on Edis’ sextet album “There Will Be Time” (Jazzaction Records, 2012).
Wilson’s “She Said It Ugly” fits neatly into the ACV aesthetic mixing jazz harmonies with hard driving rock and funk rhythms. The first section includes features for Tilbrook’s drums and the composer’s earthy tenor. Edis’ acoustic piano provides a balancing lyricism as the middle part of the track slides off into something more impressionistic, almost ethereal at times. The tune concludes with a reprise of the first section. The colourful writing with its dynamic shifts is fast becoming something of an ACV trademark.
The press release also references “weightless free improv” and “sensitive balladry”. There are elements of both in “Second Season” with Wilson’s now tender tenor underscored by Edis’ spacey keyboards and Williams’ spidery guitar. Once again Edis mixes acoustic and electric sounds and Tilbrook’s unobtrusive, delicately detailed drumming is a quiet delight. At one point the ensemble drops out leaving Wilson’s tenor musing quietly, wandering alone in deep space.
“Giant Mice” erupts with the sound of Mike Ratledge/Dave Stewart style keyboards and explodes into a chunky odd meter groove complete with distorted keyboards and rasping baritone sax. Wilson solos belligerently on the big horn above Tilbrook’s crunching rhythms. Like his Canterbury predecessors Newcastle’s Paul Edis proves that electronic keyboards can be deployed excitingly and intelligently. Too often synths are used to take lazy short cuts but Edis takes his listeners on a thrilling journey packed full of incident. The piece as a whole is brainy but visceral and is certain to be an audience favourite at the group’s live shows.
“Never Ever” is another example of Champion’s way with a ballad. Away from ACV he regularly accompanies his partner, the singer Zoe Gilby, in a rather more mainstream context. This piece features the rich, dark sound of the composer’s bowed bass plus Wilson’s warm toned tenor. Edis concentrates largely on acoustic piano and is again in lyrical mood. There are also episodes when the music soars as Wilson adopts a more strident tone on the tenor and Williams’ guitar briefly reaches for the stratosphere.
“What’s For Breakfast” is a slice of playful, proggy skronk embracing crunching dissonances, warped keyboard sounds and low down and dirty baritone sax. Again it’s piece likely to appeal to the kind of audience who enjoy Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib,Portico Quartet etc. In my review of “Fail In Wood” I spoke of the possibility of ACV attracting the same kind of demographic as these bands, an argument that is re-enforced both by the excellence of “Busk” and their move to a higher profile label with national distribution. There’s also the name, presumably a modish reinvention of the Andy Champion Five (or quintet).
However ACV’s music is not all hammer and tongs as the two ballads on this well programmed album attest. The record actually closes on a softer note with “Dust Red”, the only piece to highlight Champion as a featured soloist. His round toned dexterity is demonstrated on the first solo here before he eventually hands over to Wilson. In the main Champion is content to remain at the centre of the ensemble but the listener should never lose sight of the fact that it’s Champion’s vision and writing and arranging skills that are at the heart of ACV’s music.
There are some excellent individual performances on “Busk” but in the main the whole remains greater than the sum of its parts. This is a superb team effort, producer Sharkey included, which shows ACV making great progress. “Busk” is a brilliantly realised record that deserves to increase ACV’s national profile. Well done to all concerned.blog comments powered by Disqus