by Ian Mann
October 13, 2016
Influenced not only by jazz but also by pop, rock and film Duski have created a distinctive, if slightly dark group sound. Their début scores high in terms of playing, writing and production.
(Cambrian Records CAM 008)
Aidan Thorne is one of a clutch of fine bass players to emerge from South Wales, the others including Ashley John Long, Chris O’ Connor and rising star Huw V Williams. I’ve seen Thorne playing double bass in a variety of contexts including performances with trombonist Gareth Roberts, saxophonists Ben Treacher and Martha Skilton. drummer Ollie Howell and as a part of the groups Burum, Coltrane Dedication and Slowly Rolling Camera. He has also accompanied the Spanish musicians Arturo Serra (vibes) and Juan Galiardo (piano) and has recorded with Burum, Slowly Rolling Camera and guitarist Dan Messore’s Lacuna group.
This début recording by his group Duski represents Thorne’s first as a leader. The album features eight original compositions by the bassist, the tunes further developed via a process of collective improvisation.
Duski began back in 2009 as a jazz trio featuring Thorne alongside young tenor saxophonist Greg Sterland and that stalwart of the Welsh jazz scene Mark O’ Connor at the drums. The band has now been expanded to a five piece with the addition of old associate Paul Jones on keyboards and synthesiser (the pair have previously worked together in Jones’ Tryfan trio) and first Tom Ollendorf and now Dan Messore on guitar. With Thorne specialising on five string electric bass in this band , Jones manipulating tape loops and playing a variety of keyboards and synthesisers and Messore deploying an array of FX pedals Duski has morphed into an electro-acoustic ensemble that is as likely to appeal to fans of progressive and alternative rock as it is to hard core jazz followers. With this in mind and in an attempt to broaden their listener base the band have performed twice at the nationally famous Green Man Festival in Crickhowell and are scheduled to appear at the 2016 Swn Festival in Cardiff.
Two years ago, in October 2014, I reviewed a performance by Duski, then featuring Ollendorff on guitar, at the Queens Head in Monmouth and signed off by declaring “this is a contemporary group playing fresh, original music that deserves to be seen and heard”. It’s therefore particularly gratifying to find Duski’s music available on CD at last.
The album commences with the brief but atmospheric “Intro”, a shimmering loosely structured piece that sounds as if it may have been collectively improvised. Ghostly guitar and keyboard washes and menacing electric bass pulses form the backdrop for the worried whinny of Sterland’s tenor sax.
A number of the pieces that the group performed at Monmouth have found their way onto the album including the episodic “Spare Part”, a kind of ambient ballad with Messore providing the kind of loping guitar sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bill Frisell record. Sterland is the other featured soloist and contributes some wonderfully winsome and affecting tenor sax. Like Frisell Thorne has been influenced by other aspects of culture with the music and films of David Lynch a particularly significant source of inspiration. Indeed arrangements of songs and themes from Twin Peaks are regularly played by the band at gigs, although I suspect that copyright issues may have prevented these from appearing on the recording.
At the Monmouth gig Thorne habitually introduced his compositions as ‘songs’ and it’s true that many of his pieces possess a song like quality. Indeed many of his themes are essentially very simple, it’s the manner in which he and his band treat them that maintains the listener’s interest. “Simple Song” is a case in point with its buoyant bass and drum grooves and breezy sax melodies allied to a probing but insidiously funky Rhodes solo from Jones. Sterland is the other featured soloist as he stretches out in innately tuneful fashion on tenor as the consistently impressive O’Connor drums a up a storm behind him.
The brief “Interlude” is another piece that sounds as if it may have been entirely improvised. Sterland’s tenor keens in vaguely Garbarek like manner above a menacing ambient backdrop. Haunting but tantalisingly truncated it’s all over in little more than a minute.
In effect “Interlude” functions as a kind of introduction to “Lakeside”, one of the pieces the band performed at the Queens Head. Introduced by Thorne at the bass this was another tune that exhibited a song like quality, something encapsulated by Sterland’s long, soaring melodic tenor sax lines, these underscored by a vaguely unsettling backwash of guitars and keyboards (including the distinctive sounds of Jones’ MiniBrute analogue synthesiser) and a slow but increasingly insistent bass and drum groove.
The gently atmospheric ballad “Two Hours Long” was another composition that featured at Monmouth. Superficially pretty and featuring the breathy sound of Sterland’s tenor the tune is quietly undermined by the subtly unsettling ambient backdrop. Although entirely instrumental many of Thorne’s tunes possess that exquisite happy/sad dynamic that distinguishes much of the best indie rock.
Searching for an adequate description of Duski’s music I’ve regularly referred to it as “intelligent fusion”. I’d like to think that “Another Simple Song” epitomises this description as the band up the energy levels on one of the album’s more hard driving pieces. Sterland solos at length on tenor, really stretching out above excellent group support. Jones follows him on Rhodes and the influential O’Connor also shows up strongly.
“Outro” closes the album with another minute long fragment of group improvisation, all spooky sax, low end bass rumblings and white noise electronica as Duski head off into deep space.
Influenced not only by jazz but also by pop, rock and film Duski have created a distinctive, if slightly dark group sound. It’s refreshing to see a “fusion” band concentrating on creating an atmosphere and attempting to tell a story, the focus on colour, texture, narrative and emotional effect rather than mere instrumental grandstanding and sheer technique. Thorne himself takes an admirably ego-less approach to the music – no bass solos! - but there’s no doubting that he’s the driving force and that it’s his concept behind the group identity.
If the album has a flaw it’s that it’s too short. With three brief improvised episodes punctuating the recording it’s fair to say that there are only five fully fledged compositions. The Monmouth performance included several more wholly enjoyable pieces, other than the David Lynch ones, which haven’t found their way onto the album - which is a pity. In all other respects Duski’s début scores high, in terms of playing, writing and production – the album was recorded by engineer Deri Roberts.
And if anybody is wondering about the band name, Duski was christened by the poet Martin Daws, the Young People’s Laureate for Wales who simply thought the music sounded “dusky” - perhaps not so surprising considering the David Lynch / Twin Peaks influence.
It’s also a play on the Welsh word “Dysgu” meaning “to learn”, as in “Dysgu Cyfri” a tune by trombonist Gareth Roberts meaning “Learning to Count”.
Duski features some of the leading players on the South Wales and Bristol jazz scenes and are currently on tour in the UK. Catch them if you can at;
Black Mountain Jazz Club,
The Melville Centre
For further information please visit
I’m looking forward to reporting on Duski’s date at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny where they will appear as part of a double bill with Welsh harpist Ben Creighton Griffiths.
From Aidan Thorne via Facebook;
No bass solos! - especially enjoyed that part.Thanks for the review and glad you enjoyed itblog comments powered by Disqus