by Ian Mann
July 21, 2020
If anything Duski sounds more distinctive and original this time round, generating a music that is also likely to hold considerable appeal to adventurous rock listeners.
“Make A Wish”
(Ropeadope Records RAD-528)
Aidan Thorne – electric & acoustic bass, Paul Jones – keyboards, Greg Sterland – tenor saxophone
Dan Messore – guitar, Mark O’Connor- drums
“Make A Wish” is the second album release from Duski, the Cardiff based quintet led by bassist and composer Aidan Thorne. It follows its eponymous predecessor, released on Cambrian Records in 2016, but this time appears on the American label Ropeadope. The move to this fiercely independent imprint represents a substantial statement of intent from the band.
Duski began back in 2009 as a jazz trio featuring Thorne alongside tenor saxophonist Greg Sterland and drummer Mark O’Connor. The band was subsequently expanded to a five piece with the addition of old associate Paul Jones on keyboards and synthesiser (Thorne had previously worked in Jones’ Tryfan trio) and first Tom Ollendorf and later Dan Messore on guitar.
With Thorne specialising on five string electric bass , 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 also at the Swn Festival in Cardiff.
Thorne is one of a clutch of fine bass players to emerge from South Wales, the others including Ashley John Long, Chris O’ O’Connor and rising star Huw V Williams. I’ve seen Thorne playing jazz 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. Thorne is also a member of saxophonist Joe Northwood’s Tuk Tuk trio and was a part of Khamira, Burum’s collaboration with the Indian musicians Aditya Balani (guitar), Suhail Yusuf Khan (sarangi, vocals) and Vishal Nagar (tabla, vocals). He has recorded with guitarist Toby Hay and with folk singer Julie Murphy and appeared on the soundtrack of the cult Welsh TV series Hinterland, a programme that was subsequently distributed to the rest of the UK.
The first Duski album represented Thorne’s début as a leader and composer and introduced a very different side of his talent. The album was influenced not just by jazz, but also by pop, rock and cinema, most notably by the films of director David Lynch. With co-creator Mark Frost Lynch was also responsible for the cult television series Twin Peaks, which initially sparked Thorne’s interest in the director’s work. Something of a polymath Lynch is also a musician, composer and lyricist who has released three albums under his own name as well as contributing to the soundtracks of his films.
Musically Thorne has also acknowledged the influences of trumpeter Miles Davis, guitarist Pat Metheny and saxophonist Donny McCaslin on the band’s sound. Meanwhile the Italian film maker Dario Argento is cited as another source of visual inspiration.
The band name Duski was coined by the poet Martin Daws, the Young People’s Laureate for Wales, who simply thought that 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”.
“Make A Wish” was recorded over the course of three days in September 2018 at Giant Wafer Studio in rural Wales with Deri Roberts, Thorne’s bandmate from Slowly Rolling Camera, fulfilling the engineering duties. The album was produced by Thorne and Toby Hay. Many of the pieces are first takes, with Duski already having ‘road tested’ the material on a series of earlier tours. That said the band’s familiarity with the material also provided the opportunity for improvisation and experimentation in the studio, with some pieces undergoing radical transformations.
Opener “Take It Back” is one of the pieces said to be influenced by Metheny and McCaslin. An ominous intro featuring the pounding of the leader’s electric bass and the dark texturing of keyboards, guitar and sax leads to the rocky hook that drives the song, the catchy guitar and sax melody lines boosted by driving rhythms. There’s a song like structure about the piece that is only partially subsumed by the subsequent soloing, with Jones delivering a searing keyboard excursion that makes highly productive use of his extensive range of electric pianos, synths and associated effects. In a word stunning. This is a high octane, attention grabbing opener that successfully combines Duski’s trademark noirishness with a direct, unabashed rock energy.
The McCaslin influence is perhaps best reflected in Jones’ solo, which draws inspiration from the McCaslin band’s keyboard player Jason Lindner. McCaslin’s group also functioned as David Bowie’s band on his final album “Blackstar”, a recording that has introduced the names of McCaslin and his colleagues to a far wider constituency then the usual jazz listenership.
The brief “Home” is less frenetic but no less atmospheric, gently drifting around Sterland’s warm tenor sax tones and the ambient texturing of guitar and electric piano, with Thorne and O’Connor deliberately keeping things simple.
This charming miniature that paves the way for the following “1989”, another succinct piece that this time places Messore’s guitar at the fore, his chiming arpeggios dovetailing effectively with Jones’ keyboard textures and Sterland’s longer sax melody lines. Skilfully anchored by Thorne and O’Connor Messore’s guitar then takes flight, again making judicious use of a range of effects.
“Milk Thistle” began life as a through composed piece but the bulk of this was then abandoned in the studio in favour of “a simple bass riff and a Miles Davis ‘Live Evil’ inspired jam”. Thorne locks in with O’Connor to provide the necessary propulsion as Jones, Sterland and Messore respond to the general air of abrasive funkiness. Sterland digs in on tenor as the rhythm section continue to provide the groove and Jones and Messore provide the increasingly dark and unsettling textures.
As the piece gathers intensity and a seemingly unstoppable momentum Messore’s guitar comes briefly to the fore, prior to a melodic resolution that probably represents all that remains from the original composition. There’s a hypnotic quality about the performance here that fully justifies Thorne’s decision to run with this version of the piece.
“Catalyst 2” is a brief, freely structured episode, that again sounds largely improvised. This finds Thorne on acoustic double bass for the first time as he engages in an intimate dialogue with Sterland on tenor sax. Melodies subsequently emerge that also suggest an element of composition. In any event it makes for highly engaging and thoroughly enjoyable listening.
“Arjun Nagar” is the second piece said to draw inspiration from McCaslin and Metheny. The focus on melody and the ringing guitar sound deployed my Messore are reminiscent of the latter, as is the way the piece develops episodically, with the focus on the overall ensemble sound. Electronics also play a substantial role in the arrangement.
The ballad “Settlers” combines Sterland’s warm tenor sax tone and Thorne’s melodic electric bass with the shimmering, ambient textures generated by the guitar and keyboards. O’Connor provides subtle percussive detail and commentary, his atmospheric cymbal work being a particular delight.
Introduced by softly chiming keyboard and guitar arpeggios the title track marks a return of the rock rhythms that distinguished the opening “Take It Back”. Upbeat and hooky it captures the sense of optimism implied by the title and incorporates some powerful tenor sax soloing from Sterland, followed by a rock influenced guitar excursion from Messore, who sets his sights for the stratosphere.
The album concludes with “Before The Show”, a powerfully brooding item that embraces elements of sax and guitar dissonance and acts as kind of ‘epilogue’ in the context of the album as a whole.
“Make A Wish” represents an excellent follow up to the highly promising “Duski” and is a more substantial recording in terms of both playing time and musical content.
The new album continues to see the band’s sound evolve, the Twin Peaks and Bill Frisell influences are less apparent this time round, with Duski now channelling more of an indie rock spirit on tracks such as “Take It Back” and “Make A Wish” and even the Miles Davis inspired “Milk Thistle”.
The McCaslin group, and by extension the Bowie album “Blackstar”, are obvious touchstones, but in spirit only, there’s no real attempt to mimic McCaslin’s sound. If anything Duski sounds more distinctive and original this time round, generating a music that is likely to hold considerable appeal to adventurous rock listeners and to a younger demographic than is usually associated with most so called ‘jazz’ acts.
It’s unfortunate that the album’s release has coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, with the tour intended to promote the recording, and to celebrate the band’s tenth anniversary, inevitably being cancelled. Thorne is re-booking the tour for the summer 2021, and I hope to get to hear this excellent music performed live, and to celebrate with the band, then.
“Make A Wish” and its predecessor “Duski” are available via https://www.duskimusic.com/
blog comments powered by Disqus