by Ian Mann
October 03, 2017
Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing.
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4711)
“Moment Frozen” is the eagerly awaited second album from Entropi, the quintet led by London based alto saxophonist and composer Dee Byrne. It represents the follow up to the group’s well received début “New Era” which was released on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2015.
The new album sees the group moving to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label but the group line up remains unchanged with Byrne joined once again by Andre Canniere on trumpet, Rebecca Nash on piano and keyboards, Olie Brice on double bass and Matt Fisher at the drums.
Byrne is something of a polymath. Originally from Gravesend in Kent she earned a degree in Linguistics and Literature at Stockholm University before achieving a Masters in Jazz Performance at Trinity College of Music in London where she was tutored by an impressive array of jazz talent including saxophonists Martin Speake, Julian Siegel and Jean Toussaint, pianists Andrea Vicari and Liam Noble and composer Issie Barratt.
Byrne is dynamic presence on the London jazz scene and she and fellow saxophonist Cath Roberts are the co-ordinators of LUME, a platform for jazz and improvised music that began in 2013 as a series of weekly gigs for creative musicians curated by the pair. In the intervening years LUME has had a variety of homes at various London venues but is now firmly established at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo where the first LUME Festival was held in 2016, a hugely successful all day event that featured performances by musicians from the jazz and experimental music scenes in London, Manchester, Leeds and even Vienna. This was followed by a similarly successful event in 2017. The success of the LUME project has also led to the formation of the Luminous Label, a recording outlet for the music of Roberts and Byrne and their numerous musical associates.
Byrne plays in a variety of groups including the electro-improvising duo Deemer, a collaboration with drummer and sound artist Merijn Rooyards. She also leads her own jazz quartet, plays in the Madwort Saxophone Quartet (led by Tom Ward) and in the eight piece saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus, which also features Roberts.
Byrne and Roberts co-lead the quartet Word of Moth, which also features bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter. Byrne is also a member of Roberts’ large ensemble Favourite Animals, an aggregation that is an offshoot of Roberts’ quintet Sloth Racket.
As a sidewoman Byrne has performed in jazz groups led by bassists Vicky Tilson and Paul Baxter and as part of soul combos the Soul Immigrants and the Xantone Blacq Band. She makes an excellent contribution to “Mojo Risin’”, the 2015 release by the Vicky Tilson Quartet on the F-ire Presents label.
Byrne’s status as a polymath was given even greater emphasis by “New Era”, a semi-conceptual affair whose eight original compositions reflected Byrne’s fascination with the cosmos and space travel and with the notions of chance and fate and the
macrocosmic concept of ‘order, unpredictability, then descent into disorder’.
The new album revisits these themes with Byrne explaining the choice of album title thus;
“If order eventually always turns to chaos on macro and micro levels, how can we translate that into something meaningful in our lives? The album title is a statement that our lives are made up of a series of snapshots. If we hold each of them up to the light, are we happy with the sum of all these frozen moments which, together, make up the sum of our existence?”
“I was always looking for the intensity of John Coltrane’s quartet and the later Miles Davis groups, taking forward something of their 1960s spiritual depth and energy into our own, progressive experience. Music is a healing force - I feel very much in tune with that concept. Entropi has grown together as a band, and expression is everything. So the album was created from live, whole takes in the studio - moments frozen”.
The above quotes are sourced from the press release that accompanied this album but further insights into the eight original Byrne compositions that constitute “Moment Frozen” can be gleaned from Byrne’s sleeve notes which outline the inspirations behind each individual track.
Of the opener “Stelliferous Era” Byrne states;
“Stelliferous Era is about the five stages of the life of the universe that we are now in, where the existence of stars makes it possible for us to be alive. This period is transitory, and serves as a reminder of the fleeting experience of life on this planet.”
The music emerges from a freely structured intro featuring the intertwined horns of Byrne and Canniere plus Fisher’s dramatic drumming. Brice’s bass eventually picks out a melodic motif which establishes the basis for the rest of the piece, which juxtaposes subtly probing solos from Canniere and Byrne with passages of powerful collective riffing. Nash’s rumbustious, highly percussive piano solo elicits a similarly vigorous response from Fisher as the pair engage in boisterous dialogue prior to a collective reprise of the main theme. It’s a dramatic piece with plenty going on that keeps both the band and their audience on their toes. The listener is left feeling a little battered, but totally exhilarated.
Byrne describes “Fish Whisperer” as being “meditative” and about “about a period of enforced reflection when I was looking after a friend’s pet fish and had some time on my hands”.
The inspiration may be more prosaic than that of the opener but the music is equally rewarding with its warm trumpet timbres contrasting superbly with the acerbic bite of Byrne’s alto. The leader’s blistering alto solo mid tune is bookended by the gentler, more reflective, opening and closing sections. The latter includes something of a feature for Brice on double bass in a three way discussion with Nash on piano and Fisher at the drums, who displays a delightfully deft touch on cymbals.
“Interloper” is described as “a dark, aggressive tune about an unwanted intruder”.
As promised this finds expression in the music with its edgy, stop-start theme leading into a passage of nervy, squally free improvisation with the instrumentalists seemingly battling each other for supremacy. Nash features on Fender Rhodes, the presence of the instrument bringing something of an electric era Miles Davis feel to the music.
Byrne describes the title track as a prologue to the later “Elst Pizarro” and as an “attempt to recreate the circular motion of the asteroid belt. The horns guide the unwieldy rhythm section around the circular form”.
It’s the horn fanfares that provide the structure of the piece as Nash, and particularly Fisher, are given license to roam in a clever inversion of the horns / rhythm section dynamic.
“It’s Time” sees the group lightening up a little. Byrne describes the piece as “ the first tune I wrote, it aims to recreate the feeling of optimism that comes with new beginnings”.
Again the composer’s intentions can be heard within the music, which again features the distinctive blend of the leader’s alto and Canniere’s trumpet - the two horn players have established a great rapport and form an excellent team. Their brief solos and later exchanges are enlivened by Fisher’s brisk, imaginative drumming and the percussionist enjoys an extended feature later on in the tune. Nash features again on Fender Rhodes but effects a warmer sound that is far removed from Interloper’s sinister abrasiveness. The piece concludes with a melodic bass solo from the excellent Brice as Fisher chatters colourfully around him, sticks on rims.
In a neat piece of symmetry it’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied bass that introduces “In The Cold Light Of Day”, a piece that Byrne describes as “depicting a moment of realisation that something has irrevocably changed. It’s quite an epic piece with a cathartic climax”.
As piano, drums and trumpet are added to the mix the piece begins to evolve slowly and organically with Canniere’s pure toned trumpet prominent in the early stages. Byrne’s takes over as the piece begins to develop, her alto soaring into the stratosphere and becoming more impassioned in the process, all the while underpinned by the sturdy rhythms generated by Brice and Fisher. Nash’s piano solo initially provides a balancing lyricism before developing into something more expansive and dynamic. The “cathartic” ending is actually less climactic than the listener might expect, more of a “resolution” with the sound of Canniere’s trumpet again prominent in the arrangement.
Fisher’s cymbals usher in “Elst Pizarro”, named for an astral body that was discovered in 1979 circulating in the asteroid belt. As Byrne explains “it perplexed astronomers because it displayed the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid. I found this intriguing; space objects, as well as humans don’t always conform.”
Bass and piano subsequently establish a theme with Nash’s keyboard figures expressing something of the “circular motion” alluded too in the title track. Subsequently the music develops more organically with Canniere delivering a delightful solo on trumpet with Nash offering eloquent commentary from the piano. Byrne’s alto probes more deeply, skirting closer to free jazz waters before the optimistic main theme eventually re-emerges.
Finally we hear “Leap Of Faith” which Byrne describes as having “a hymn like quality, attempting to convey a sense of innocent hope in the face of shifting socio-political and personal landscapes”.
Anchored by Brice’s double bass the music combines an essential lyricism with Entropi’s characteristic adventurousness and need to explore, those hymn like passages combining with more obviously improvisatory interludes.
Recorded ”live in the studio” over the course of a single day “Moment Frozen” represents an impressive follow up to the earlier “New Era”. It builds upon the success of the previous release and clear signs of artistic development can be discerned. Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing as the quintet neatly explore the interstices between composition and improvisation.
Byrne’s production, aided by the engineering team of Alex Bonney, James Towler and Peter Beckmann serves the music well, capturing every nuance of the writing and the playing with pinpoint clarity and ensuring that everybody is heard at their best.
The reviews for “Moment Frozen” have been overwhelmingly positive and again this is an album that has been well worth waiting for.
Entropi are currently on tour with the remaining dates listed below. I’m looking forward to seeing the group at the free lunchtime show at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho on Wednesday November 15th as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival.
2017 tour dates;
Oct 6th - Bebop Club, Bristol
20th October - Derby Jazz, Derby
23rd October - The Wonder Inn, Manchester
15th November - Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
22nd November - Cambridge Jazz Festival
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