by Ian Mann
March 09, 2022
Eminently accessible thanks to its strong melodies it’s also an album that stands up to repeated listening, there’s always something new to pick up on. A band to look out for during 2022.
Chris Hyde-Harrison – double bass, Duncan Eagles – tenor saxophone, Alban Claret – guitar, Matt Parkinson – drums
“Ignored Advice” is the début album from this new quartet led by bassist and composer Chris Hyde-Harrison.
Having enjoyed a live performance by the group at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury as recently as January 2022 I was very much looking forward to hearing this album, which was released in early March. My review of the Shrewsbury show can be found here;
The album features the writing of Hyde-Harrison exclusively and The group takes its name from a character in the novel “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula Le Guin, the book also acting as a source of inspiration for Hyde-Harrison’s writing. An English Literature graduate Hyde-Harrison is also inspired by the works of other writers, among them gothic-horror novelist Poppy Z Brite.
Musically Hyde-Harrison draws inspiration from the music of other bassist / composers, among them Avishai Cohen, Jasper Hoiby and Eddie Gomez. The Miles Davis album “Someday My Prince Will Come” was also a huge influence on the formation of Estraven, with Hyde-Harrison seeking out players with their own distinctive musical personalities.
“Ignored Advice” is also informed by the concept of ‘Maqam’ the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music. In 2020 Hyde-Harrison was awarded an Arts Council England DYCP (Developing your Creative Practice) Grant which allowed him to study the subject.
Maqam informs Hyde-Harrison’s writing throughout “Ignored Advice”. That said the Arabic influence is never overt or even immediately obvious, but can be heard in the irregular meters and in the strong melodies. The overall band sound also incorporates elements derived from rock and from contemporary classical music and is also informed by more conventional jazz sources, particularly bebop. The result is a highly melodic and rhythmically inventive brand of contemporary jazz that is capable of appealing to a broad listenership. Readers of these web pages may have seen the term ‘Maqam’ used previously in relationship to the work of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem.
Hyde-Harrison previously went through a singer/songwriter phase before deciding to focus on all instrumental music. Some of the pieces on “Ignored Advice” began life as songs with lyrics, with Hyde-Harrison, never one to throw away a good idea, adapting the melodies for performance by Estraven.
Hyde-Harrison seems to have a particular affinity for working with guitarists, hence the presence of Alban Claret in Estraven. Other guitar players with whom he has worked regularly include Nigel Price, Alan Noel Weekes and Ant Law, the last named of these having occasionally ‘depped’ for Claret in Estraven. UK jazz fans will note that the instrumental configuration of the group with its sax / guitar front line is the same as that of the mighty Partisans, always a good thing in my book.
The Shrewsbury show featured the group playing all seven album tracks, albeit in a different running order, plus the as yet unrecorded Hyde-Harrison composition “Persona Non Grata”. Each set also included one interpretation jazz standard, these being Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” and the Vernon Duke ballad “Autumn in New York”. For their well deserved encore the quartet tackled Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia”.
The album commences with “Invocation Incantation” , which quickly establishes the group sound via a combination of attractive melodies and complex odd meter bass and drum grooves. Saxophonist Duncan Eagles, a familiar figure to British jazz audiences through his Partikel and Citizen projects, stretches out on tenor, probing intelligently and fluently. Inspired by that Miles Davis album Hyde-Harrison sets great store by the distinct musical personalities within the band, especially the front line musicians. Eagles is a powerful player with a big tenor sax sound, guitarist Alban Claret, born in France but now settled in London, is more diffident, but no less skilled, and the contrast between their individual styles is a source of fascination throughout the recording. Claret has studied with the leading American guitarist Peter Bernstein, who has been a substantial influence on Claret’s own playing. Claret co-leads a quartet with Yorkshire born trumpeter Evan Clegg. Their 2021 début recording, the bebop flavoured “The Collection”, also features Eagles and is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann web pages. Review here;
“Letters From The Frontline” opened the show at Shrewsbury and is ushered in here by a combination of bass and drums. Eagles states the melodic theme, his sound hinting at that Arabic influence, but its Claret who takes the first solo, his sound crystalline and elegant. Hyde-Harrison and Parkinson combine effectively behind him, the former’s muscular but melodic bass lines a consistent source of fascination. The leader also features as a soloist, his tone deeply resonant but intrinsically melodic, his dexterous excursions accompanied by Parkinson’s responsive drum commentary.
The title track also exhibits the maqam influence with Eagles soloing powerfully but melodically above a busy bass and drum groove. Hyde-Harrison also steps into the limelight once more, while the impressive and inventive Parkinson features above Eagles’ recurring sax motif. The drummer has also featured on these web pages as a member of the London based Howl Quartet, a young chordless ensemble whose 2021 album début “Life As We See It” is favourably reviewed elsewhere on this site. That album also reveals Parkinson to be a composer of some ability.
“A Voice Beneath” begins in the style of a ballad with a dialogue featuring just tenor sax and guitar, these instruments later joined by bass and drums as the momentum gradually begins to build. Claret subsequently stretches out coolly and elegantly, followed by the leader on melodic double bass, with Parkinson at first serving as a sympathetic foil and then as an equal partner as the dialogue becomes more animated. Eagles then takes on the melodic role as this elegant, song-like piece finds its resolution.
“Safe Hex” was actually released as a single and is a more urgent piece with a beguiling melody and a busy, stuttering groove. The complex rhythms fuel expansive solos from Claret and Eagles, who both perform with fluency and conviction.
The character of Estraven is something of an exile, and perhaps provides the inspiration behind the striking Hyde-Harrison composition “Pariah’s Return”. This is a largo piece centred around an insistent, rolling rhythm featuring Parkinson’s mallet rumbles, these underpinning long sax melody lines and shards of textured guitar dissonance. The overall effect is both dramatic and hypnotic. Room is made within the fabric of the piece for a short solo from Hyde-Harrison but the overall focus is on mood building and the sound of the ensemble as a whole.
The final track, “Last Mahou Shoujo” also closed the show at Shrewsbury. It is ushered in by the leader’s double bass in conjunction with Claret’s guitar, the duo subsequently joined by Parkinson’s softly brushed drums. Following the extended bass led intro Eagles’ tenor eventually joins the party and leads the composition into its next phase as the saxophonist stretches out with an expansive solo, the music gaining momentum and taking on a distinct anthemic quality.
Recorded over the course of a singe day at the Lightship 95 studio in London “Ignored Advice” represents an excellent début from Estraven. The ‘live in the studio’ approach suits the band well but in live performances they stretch these tunes out even further, as that appearance in Shrewsbury revealed. That said the overall focus is on the sound of the ensemble, the lead may change hands but this is not jazz in the conventional head / solos / head format.
Eminently accessible thanks to its strong melodies it’s also an album that stands up to repeated listening, there’s always something new to pick up on, particularly rhythmically, thanks to that Maqam component. The reaction to Estraven’s live shows has been overwhelmingly positive, making them a band to look out for during 2022.
“Ignored Advice” is available here;