by Ian Mann
November 06, 2023
This is music that is both accessible and challenging, communicating well with audiences whilst avoiding the obvious stylistic tropes. It’s complex and thought provoking, but not ‘difficult’.
Corrie Dick Sextet, ‘Sun Swells’, Music Spoken Here, The Marrs Bar, Worcester, 02/11/2023
Corrie Dick – drums, Rebecka Edlund – vocals, Joe Wright – tenor sax, James Kitchman – guitar, Huw Warren – keyboard, Caius Williams – electric bass
Corrie Dick is well known to jazz audiences as the regular drummer on trumpeter Laura Jurd’s various projects, most notably her Mercury Music Prize nominated quartet Dinosaur. His playing has also been heard in groups led by guitarist Rob Luft, pianist Elliot Galvin, bassist Jasper Hoiby, saxophonist Andrew Baker and harmonica / keyboard player Adam Glasser.
Together with tonight’s guitarist James Kitchman Dick is also a member of Glasshopper, a trio led by saxophonist and composer Jonathan Chung. The exposed setting of this electro-acoustic trio is a good place to appreciate Dick’s technical brilliance as a drummer.
But Corrie Dick is far more than just one of the best drummers of his generation. He’s also a composer and bandleader with two album releases under his own name, “Impossible Things” (2015) and “Sun Swells” (Ubuntu Music, 2022).
Dick’s credentials as a composer can also be heard on “Under The Moon”, a superb 2014 release by the band Blue Eyed Hawk, featuring Dick, Jurd, vocalist Lauren Kinsella and guitarist Alex Roth. With a title inspired by W. B. Yeats the album fuses jazz and poetry with rock and electronica to thrilling effect. All four members of the band contributed to the writing process and Dick’s three linked compositions exhibit the same kind of ambition and eclecticism that he would soon bring to his solo recordings.
Both “Impossible Things” and “Sun Swells” feature a mix of songs and instrumental compositions, with poetry again forming a part of the writing process. The debut featured a nine piece ensemble including Jurd, vocalist / violinist Alice Zawadzki and tonight’s saxophonist, Joe Wright. Although it’s not been reviewed on this site I have heard it, and it’s a very impressive album that mixes jazz, song and poetry with elements of Scottish traditional music, the Celtic influences mingling with the rhythms of North and West Africa. Dick has studied with leading traditional musicians from both Morocco and Ghana.
“Sun Swells” expands upon the promise of the debut in similar fashion but adds a more pronounced rock element. It features an extended eleven piece ensemble that includes Jurd, Wright, Luft, keyboard player Matt Robinson (who also appeared on “Impossible Things”), bassist Tom McCredie and violist Tom Moore. The album also features three vocalist / lyricists, Marianna Sangita, Dave Malkin and Alice Zawadzki.
2023 has seen Dick touring the “Sun Swells” album with a varying cast of musicians but with vocalist Rebecka Edlund the only constant. Saxophonist Joe Wright, guitarist James Kitchman and electric bass specialist Caius Williams have played the majority of the dates and Laura Jurd has also been present on numerous occasions, including the sextet’s date in Shrewsbury earlier in the year.
Others to have featured on the tour include keyboard player Elliot Galvin, saxophonist Norman Willmore and bassist Calum Gourlay Tonight’s line was completed by Huw Warren at the keyboard, a superb musician and also an acclaimed educator who at some point had taught many of the musicians in Dick’s young band.
Tonight was the final date of the “Sun Swells” tour and the majority of the material was sourced from that album, along with a couple of dips into the “Impossible Things” repertoire.
The leader’s drums introduced “Warehouse”, the opening piece on the “Sun Swells” album. The recorded version features the voice of Dave Malkin, replaced here by the impressive Rebecka Edlund, her semi spoken vocals delivering lyrics warning against the effects of climate change.
Instrumentally drums, guitar, electric bass and keyboard combined to create odd meter, staccato rhythms that verged on a kind of cerebral funk. Although driven by the sounds of what Dick has described as a “rock power trio” of drums, electric guitar and electric bass this was highly colourful music with both Kitchman and Warren adding depth and texture to the arrangements, with Warren mixing acoustic and electric keyboard sounds and Kitchman making excellent use of his range of effects. Wright’s tenor solo was underscored by the sounds of arpeggiated keyboards. He was followed by Kitchman on guitar and Warren at the keyboard, favouring an electric piano sound. Kitchman and Warren then entered into a series of thrilling exchanges as the piece drew to a close.
A passage on unaccompanied guitar introduced “Everything The Light Touches”, another song from the “Sun Swells” album. Edlund’s voice was added to the mix, again delivering words originally sung by Malkin. Many of tonight’s performances differed significantly from the recorded versions, but this is jazz, and such is the adaptability of Dick’s compositions that they sound good whatever the format of the instrumentation. Wright was the featured instrumental soloist and continued to impress on tenor sax.
Warren introduced “We Were Green” with an extended passage of unaccompanied keyboard on an acoustic piano setting. His use of dynamics was particularly impressive, ranging from celestial twinkling to deep low end rumbling. After a while Dick began to add his own drum commentary. The addition of guitar and bass also signalled the introduction of Edlund, again delivering words originally spoken by Malkin, for this was essentially poetry set to music. The lyrics included turbulent sea imagery that was also expressed via the violent free jazz style swirls of the music, out of which emerged solos from Wright and Warren. The song was merged with the African flavoured instrumental “The River”, which featured Warren deploying organ sounds and Wright delivering an exultant, celebratory tenor sax solo.
The first set concluded with “Don’t Cry”, a song from the debut album. This was introduced by a passage of solo guitar with Kitchman looping and layering his sound via an array of pedals and a floor mounted FX unit. The song evolved into a lovely, folk influenced ballad that included instrumental features for Wright on tenor and Williams on electric bass. The song was also something of a feature for the excellent Edlund, who experimented with extended vocal techniques in addition to delivering the lyrics. Her voice is an impressive and highly flexible instrument, well suited to dealing with the challenges presented by Dick’s ambitious and frequently complex writing.
I don’t know if Corrie has ever listened to Canterbury prog rockers like Soft Machine, Caravan and Hatfield And The North. All these bands liked to play pieces linked together to form a kind of segue, ‘composite compositions’ was a term coined for them. Something similar happened at the start tonight’s second set with Dick’s drums triggering a dramatic introduction that also featured bass, guitar and keys. This was followed by a contrasting quiet passage featuring the soft patter of Dick’s hand drumming allied to Warren’s electric piano. Edlund’s vocals were added to this reprise of “Don’t Cry”, before the music segued into “Soar”, another piece from the “Impossible Things” album. This included more expansive and urgent instrumental solos from Warren on piano and Wright on tenor followed by the return of Edlund’s vocals and her singing of a lyric centred around the phrase “seasons come from within”.
A return to the “Sun Swells” material for the song “She Speaks”, a feminist polemic fuelled by rock rhythms and punctuated by more loosely structured jazz episodes. Sung on record by Marianna Sangita this was a piece that gave Edlund’s voice full rein with both sung and semi-spoken vocals. A carefully constructed and frequently mesmeric drum feature from the leader provided the link into “Finger Full Of Meaning”, perhaps the rock rock orientated song on the new album with Kitchman’s power chording and Edlund’s shouty vocals augmented by a towering sax solo from Wright.
Although we’d only heard two pieces (or four at a stretch) these had been expanded to such an extent that suddenly we were at the last number. From the “Sun Swells” album “Sinking” is another song that was originally sung by Sangita. This was another piece to feature a mix of spoken and sung lyrics with Warren soloing on electric piano above an odd meter groove and with the leader’s distinctive drumming playing a prominent role in the arrangement.
A modest but highly appreciative audience gave the band an excellent reception and they returned to encore with the song “Golden Flowers”, another piece from the “Sun Swells” album. This was introduced by Kitchman on guitar, joined by Edlund’s cool and elegant vocals. When introducing the band Dick had credited Edlund as a lyricist and it’s possible that she may have written her own words for this piece. It’s not always easy to pick things up lyrically at gigs but the words seemed more bucolic than the rather melancholy retelling of the Narcissus myth as sung by Zawadzki on the recording. Elsewhere Wright delivered a lyrical tenor sax solo and the performance ended with the ethereal sounds of wordless vocals, ambient guitar and keyboard textures and the leader’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers.
With its disparate elements, including jazz, rock, folk and world music, poetry and electronica this was music that defied classification and represented something of a challenge for me to write about. Nevertheless the singing and lyrics pack an emotional punch that makes sure that Dick’s music resonates with listeners. There’s also the intelligence and diversity of the writing to appreciate, and of course the excellent musicianship. This is music that is both accessible and challenging, communicating well with audiences whilst avoiding the obvious stylistic tropes. It’s complex and thought provoking, but not ‘difficult’.
Everybody performed well and having an experienced musician of Warren’s quality within the ranks represented a considerable bonus. I was already familiar with the playing of most of the instrumentalists, with the exception of Caius Williams, who skilfully handled some tricky bass lines. A recent graduate of the Jazz Course at Trinity Laban he’s something of a rising star who has also begun to make an impression on the free jazz and improv scene.
However the real discovery was Edlund, the young Swedish born vocalist who is currently based in London after studying at Trinity Laban. She proved to be a flexible, intelligent and versatile vocalist blessed with a stunningly pure voice, but also prepared to experiment with extended vocal techniques. She handled the complexities of Dick’s writing with aplomb and invested the words with considerable emotion. Equally at home with jazz and folk she also leads the Swedish folk / jazz quartet Oknytt, sings with the voice / viola / cello trio Once A Fig and performs a mix of jazz and pop in a duo with pianist Tom Step. She’s a recent graduate and I suspect that the “Sun Swells” tour represents her highest profile engagement thus far, certainly as far as British audiences are concerned. She’s clearly a huge talent and I predict that we will be hearing a lot more from her in the coming years, as well from from Corrie Dick of course.
My thanks to Corrie and James Kitchman for speaking with me after the show and to Corrie for emailing me a copy of the set list.
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