Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

October 20, 2016


“The Triolithic” represents another strong offering from Marshall and finds him breaking new ground as he successfully blends acoustic and electronic elements.

Dominic J. Marshall & Friends

“The Triolithic”

(Challenge Records CR73429)

The music of the young pianist composer Dominic J Marshall first entered my consciousness in 2012 with the release of the outstanding album “Icaros” on the F-ire Presents label. This was followed by the similarly assured “Spirit Speech” on the Seattle based Origin Records in 2014.

Both albums revealed Marshall to be both a formidable keyboard technician and also a composer of some stature. His pieces are full of clever ideas sourced not only from the worlds of jazz and classical music but also from the more contemporary realms of hip hop and electronica. Working under the name DJM Beats he has established a parallel career and a different fan base with a series of recordings in the hip hop style.

Still only in his twenties Marshall studied classical piano for ten years under the tutelage of his father before completing the acclaimed Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music, a fertile breeding ground for young contemporary jazz musicians. He then relocated to the Netherlands to study for his Masters at the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam, graduating with Honours in 2012.Marshall now divides his time between the Netherlands and the UK and recorded both “Icaros” and “Spirit Speech” with Amsterdam based musicians.

In February 2015 I saw him perform in the company of the British musicians Sam Vicary (bass) and Sam Gardner (drums) at The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury at a gig organised by the Shrewsbury Jazz Network. Their repertoire included a number of then new compositions, many of which now appear on this latest release, credited to Dominic J Marshall & Friends. 

Both Vicary and Gardner appear on “The Triolithic”, which is a very different record to its jazz predecessors. Here Marshall brings together the two sides of his musical persona, mixing the acoustic piano jazz that distinguished both “Icarus” and “Spirit Speech” with the hip hop inspired electronica of DJM Beats. There is some precedence for this on the cassette only release “Cave Art”, featuring both Vicary and Gardner and credited to the DJM Trio, an album that saw the threesome performing instrumental covers of twelve tunes by famous hip hop artists.

“The Triolithic” was recorded at two separate sessions in the Netherlands (Power Sound Studio, Amsterdam) and the UK (Fieldgate Studio, Cardiff). Vicary and Gardner appear on the six British recorded pieces while Marshall’s ‘Dutch trio’ of Glenn Gaddum Jr. (bass) and Jamie Peet (drums) appear on the remainder. Thus on the twelve track album the rhythm duties are divided pretty much equally with alto saxophonist Lars Dietrich also guesting on one Amsterdam recorded piece. Marshall himself deploys an impressive array of instruments and other devices and is credited with; piano, Fender Rhodes, Septavox, soft-synth, percussion overlays, clavichord, Wurlitzer, bass programming and drum programming.

Marshall describes the concept behind the album title thus;
“The Triolithic was a time when humans lived in direct symbiosis with the natural world. We didn’t create barriers between ourselves and other life forms, nor did we presume to own anything. We lives the holy trio of love, poetry and rebellion (to borrow from Octavio Paz) and worshipped trees, our dreams and the sun, How do we get back there?”

The album commences with the brief “Devadatta (Intro)” which features the drumming of Jamie Peet teamed with Marshall’s synthetic keyboard washes and bass programming. 

Next up is “Leaves Dance”, a more conventional piano trio performance by Marshall’s ‘British group’ of Vicary and Gardner. This was one of the pieces performed by the trio at Shrewsbury and the style is at times reminiscent of the music to be heard on both “Icaros” and “Spirit Speech”. But make no mistake this is highly contemporary, post E.S.T. piano jazz with complex, hip hop inspired grooves and a degree of electronica. Marshall stretches out impressively on his acoustic piano solo, sometimes singing along a la Jarrett.

“White Nights” was also performed at Shrewsbury and again features the rhythm team of the ‘Two Sams’, Gardner and Vicary. The tune was inspired by Marshall’s visit to St. Petersburg and this recorded version is very different to the one played at Shrewsbury as Marshall concentrates on electric keyboard sounds. The reflective episode mid tune now features both Rhodes and synths but there also harder grooving sections which bring out the best of Vicary and Gardner.

The ‘Two Sams’ also feature on “Free Palestine”, yet another composition played at Shrewsbury. Here the sound of sampled children’s voices is punctuated by the sound of gunfire on this atmospheric and effective piece which at times has something of the feel of a requiem but adopts a more upbeat mood at others. Again Marshall and the trio skilfully merge acoustic and electric sounds, this time with the acoustic piano leading the way.

It’s the same team on the quirky “Elephant Man”, this time with the electronic sounds predominating. Again it’s all brilliantly woven together with Marshall consistently maintaining the attention of the listener with an impressive array of keyboard sounds. In addition to the two studio sessions Marshall also did a lot of post production at his home studio, DJM Headquarters, in Leiden. This piece was inspired by the David Lynch film of the same name and when reviewing the trio’s performance of the tune at Shrewsbury I commented; “Marshall’s writing managed to capture something of the awkwardness of his subject but also found room for pathos during the tune’s more reflective moments”. This recorded version exhibits something of those qualities too.

Marshall introduces his ‘Dutch Band’ for the episodic “Ptah’s Vibration”, a tune that was played at Shrewsbury by the English trio as a segue with “Free Palestine”. Inspired by Egyptian mythology and the concept of a world created by a sound this is a slow burning epic that gradually builds in intensity. Acoustic piano predominates but Marshall later introduces the sound of electric keyboards as the music unfolds and develops. Gaddum and Peet add some powerful grooves as the tune builds towards a climax.

Also played at Shrewsbury but performed here by the Dutch trio was “80 Campbell Road” which takes on a different, fusion-esque feel here with the use of multiple electric keyboards and Peet’s hip hop inspired beats and grooves.

“Windermere” opened the show at Shrewsbury and, as the title suggests, is a piece inspired by the scenic beauty of the Lake District. Acoustic piano dominates here with the Dutch trio adopting a more conventional jazz sound. Also featuring Gaddum as a soloist on electric bass it’s a charming performance, but one full of harmonic and rhythmic interest. 

The autobiographical “Family Chronicle” adds saxophonist Lars Dietrich to the Dutch trio and his alto blends in effectively to create a fresh mix of acoustic and electric sounds. Dietrich stretches out engagingly in his role as the main soloist but there are also distinctive performances from the core trio.

“Deku Tree” sees the return of the British trio on one of the album’s most atmospheric and evocative pieces which juxtaposes Marshall’s delicate acoustic piano ruminations with sampled ‘forest sounds’.

The piece segues almost immediately into “Fictions”, a piece that was combined with “80 Campbell Road” at the Shrewsbury performance. Performed here by the Dutch trio and driven by the odd meter grooves generated by Marshall’s staccato piano motifs and Peet’s martial drumming this is an essentially acoustic performance, one that is vaguely reminiscent of post E.S.T. piano trios such as GoGo Penguin.

It’s the British team again on the closing “Blue Lotus”, another primarily acoustic performance that features Marshall stretching out on piano in Jarrett-esque fashion – complete with vocal noises! It’s a joyous outpouring of ideas as Vicary and Gardner offer busily bustling support. The closing stages feature a smattering of electronic keyboards and a drum feature from the consistently impressive Gardner. I recall that the high energy version of this tune at Shrewsbury closed the first half of the concert and was a definite set highlight.

“The Triolithic” represents another strong offering from Marshall and finds him breaking new ground as he brings the differing aspects of his musical personality together utilising two different line ups and mix of acoustic and electric instruments. I’m variously reminded not only of E.S.T., Phronesis, GoGo Penguin and other contemporary European piano based trios but also of the American pianist and composer Robert Glasper, another musician who moves between two separate musical universes but who also makes attempts to merge them together. On “The Triolithic”  it’s arguable that Marshall achieves a fuller, more organic synthesis as he successfully blends acoustic and electric sounds, embracing both jazz and electronica within the course of the individual pieces.

As his liner notes suggest Marshall is an incessantly curious and creative musician and a deep philosophical thinker. These aspects of his personality find a voice in the music of “The Triolithic”, an intriguing album that should appeal to all adventurous jazz listeners. There will doubtless be some who will be sceptical about the use of elements of electronica on this recording but the quality of Marshall’s writing allied to the skill of the performances should ensure that “The Triolithic” keeps Marshall’s jazz following well onside while simultaneously attracting new, younger listeners to the fold.             

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