by Ian Mann
September 18, 2017
The trio’s improvisations evolve naturally and organically, they’re all clearly very much at home in each other’s company.
(FMR Records FMRCD447-0517)
CRUX Trio is a new collaboration between the improvising musicians Mark Hanslip (tenor sax), Ed Gauden (drums) and Colin Somervell (bass).
Hanslip and Gauden are regular musical partners and recently released the duo album “and how the who can think the what…”, which also appears on FMR Records. My review of that recording can be read here;
Prior to this the pair had worked together with Shropshire based guitarist Barry Edwards as part of the trio UNschooLED, releasing the album “Hymns For Robots” on George Haslam’s SLAM label in 2016.
Gauden hails from Bridgnorth, Shropshire and gained something of a following in the Midlands area thanks to his work with the rock duo The Jake Flowers Scandal and with the band Sunshine Underground. He then studied jazz drumming at Birmingham Conservatoire where he came into the orbit of Hanslip, Edwards and other jazz improvisers.
One of the founding members of the London based Loop Collective Hanslip first came to my attention as a member of drummer Dave Smith’s Outhouse group. He has also worked with pianist Alcyona Mick and guitarist Jonathan Bratoeff and is a long standing member of bassist Riaan Vosloo’s group Twelves and its larger offshoot Examples Of Twelves.
Hanslip can play relatively straightforward contemporary jazz but in recent years he has been drawn increasingly towards the world of freely improvised music and in 2011 released the album “Dosados” (Babel Records), a collection of improvisations recorded with Madrid born, London based drummer Javier Carmona.
In 2013 he teamed up with fellow saxophonist Paul Dunmall and twin guitarists Philip Gibbs and Ed Ricard to release the quartet album “Weeping Idols” (FMR Records).
He has also been a member of bassist Olie Brice’s quintet and appeared on that group’s 2015 release “Immune To Clockwork” (Multikulti Records).
Currently Hanslip is involved in a wide range of collaborative projects involving musicians from the London, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham jazz and improv scenes, prominent among them the Mancunian pair of Adam Fairhall (piano) and Johnny Hunter (drums). A fuller list of Hanslip’s multifarious musical activities can be found at his website http://www.markhanslip.blogspot.co.uk
I’ll admit to being less familiar with Somervell’s playing and career but online research reveals that he is a member of Trio Tekke, a London based ‘world jazz’ outfit who fuse the sounds of Greek rebetiko with jazz, reggae and Latin music. The trio features Somervell’s double bass alongside the playing of the Cypriot musicians Antonis Antoniou (tzouras, vocals), Lefteris Moumtzis (guitar, vocals). Formed in 2005 the trio has released the albums “Ta Reggetika” (2009) and “Samas” (2011). More recently the trio have been working with drummer Dave de Rose with whom they recorded the album “Zivo” which was released in June 2017 and which is credited to Trio Tekke and Dave de Rose.
Somervell has also been part of the Utoma Quartet led by drummer Tony Bianco and featuring the twin saxes of Hanslip (tenor) and Mike Fletcher (alto) who released their own FMR album in 2014.
Prior to this he had been a member of Trio Nang Naak with guitarist Barry Edwards and drummer Jim Bashford who recorded for FMR back in 2008.
Somervell has also led his own jazz trio featuring his brother Philip on piano and Nathaniel Butler at the drums. Others with whom he has collaborated include Moumtisz in his J.Kriste incarnation and the Kent based band Flying Ibex, with whom he plays electric bass. Somervell has also performed with Hanslip’s H Trio.
There’s an element of shared musical history between the members of the CRUX Trio with the group’s name reflecting, among other things, the intersection of musical paths. The album was recorded at a rural location, the Oak Farm Pop Up Studio, in Ditton Priors, a Shropshire village close to Gauden’s Bridgnorth base.The album is wholly improvised and follows in the lineage of “Dosados”, “Hymn For Robots” and “and how the who can think the what…”, .
Atmospheric opener “Shake” features Hanslip’s tenor sax multiphonics, Somervell’s grainy arco bass and the consistently absorbing details of Gauden’s colourful and inventive drums and percussion.
“Earth” finds Hanslip adopting an almost Middle Eastern sound on tenor as Somervell changes to pizzicato bass. I’ve commented before that Hanslip is one of the most melodic free improv sax players around and that’s a quality that is apparent here on a piece that sounds almost written in its early stages before striking out into more obviously improvised territory, including an episode of unaccompanied pizzicato double bass.
“Feet” begins with an absorbing dialogue between Gauden’s drums and Somervell’s bowed bass, the conversation later joined by Hanslip’s sax multiphonics. The trio’s shared history ensures that this a particularly well balanced unit and their musical discussions are emphatically a conversation of equals that allows the listener to become fully involved in the details and nuances of the musical debate. The engineering team of Olly Irwin and Otto Wilberg are to be congratulated on a pinpoint mix that enhances these qualities, particularly with regard to the subtleties of Gauden’s drumming.
“Neck Deep” find the trio commencing with a series of spiky three way exchanges as bass and busy drums shadow Hanslip’s still melodic tenor sax musings. The piece then shades off into a more abstract and impressionistic second section as Hanslip embraces multiphonic techniques and Somervell picks up the bow.
The early stages of “Weather” feature the gentle meanderings of Hanslip’s tenor accompanied by the patter of Gauden’s brushes. Plucked bass is added to the equation as the music gradually becomes more assertive, yet without ever descending into the kind of bluster so often associated with free improv. Hanslip’s innate melodic sense is omnipresent and always keeps the music within the realms of accessibility.
At the beginning the title of “Birds” seems particularly apposite with its high register sax trills answered by Somervell’s corresponding arco bass. It’s a piece inspired by the location of the recording and it’s easy for this rurally based listener to envisage the trio’s bucolic surroundings and the sound of the bird calls that first triggered the piece. With the introduction of pizzicato bass the music becomes less literal and there’s even a drum feature of a sort towards the close.
Unaccompanied pizzicato bass introduces “Quiet”, later joined by Gauden’s sparing drum commentary and the gentle piping of Hanslip’s sax. The conversation that unfolds is understated but still rigorous. For CRUX Trio “Quiet” transcends mere peacefulness or prettiness.
The closing “Patter” features the high register, almost flute like sounds of Hanslip’s tenor, the high pitched sounds of Somervell’s bass, probably being plucked below the bridge, and – yes – the richly detailed patter of Gauden’s drums, which finds him deploying a wide range of small percussive devices.
I’m indebted to Ed Gauden for forwarding me a copy of this album for review purposes. “BELieVE” is a free improv recording and thus won’t be to everybody’s taste but I found that once I immersed myself in the trio’s soundworld that there were plenty of interesting things going on with a surprisingly varied range of sounds, colours and textures to absorb my attention. As the album liner notes imply the album represents a series of very private and personal musical conversations – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a delight to listen in. Once I was “in the zone” with the musicians I found myself fascinated by what they had to say, with Gauden’s range of colourful and inventive drum sounds a particular source of fascination. The trio’s improvisations evolve naturally and organically, they’re all clearly very much at home in each other’s company.
Of course, like most freely improvised music it would be best to physically be there at the time in which the music is being created. With this in mind interested listeners will get the opportunity to check the trio out in person when they perform at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire on Saturday, November 11th 2017. Please visit https://www.hermonchapel.com/what-s-on-box-office/ for full details.
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