Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019



Estraven, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 15/01/2022.

Photography: Photograph of Chris Hyde-Harrison by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network

by Ian Mann

January 17, 2022


This was music that succeeded in being both adventurous and accessible, blending complex rhythmic ideas with an innate sense of melody to create a cohesive and convincing whole.

Estraven, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 15/01/2022

Chris Hyde-Harrison – double bass, Duncan Eagles – tenor saxophone, Alban Claret – guitar,
Matt Parkinson – drums

Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s first event of 2022 featured the music of Estraven, a new quartet led by bassist and composer Chris Hyde-Harrison. 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.

The band will self-release their début album “Ignored Advice” on March 4th 2022 but are currently playing a short series of UK live dates prior to its appearance.

The album features the compositions of Hyde-Harrison, a musician who names fellow bassist / composers Avishai Cohen, Jasper Hoiby and Eddie Gomez as significant influences.

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, who visited The Hive last month (December 2021)  with his own Organ Quartet, and Alan Noel Weekes.

In 2020 Hyde-Harrison was awarded an Arts Council England DYCP (Developing your Creative Practice) Grant which allowed him to study the subject of Maqam, the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music. Readers of these web pages may have heard the term ‘Maqam’ previously in relationship to the work of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem.

Maqam informs Hyde-Harrison’s writing throughout “Ignored Advice”, although the Arabic influence is never overt or even immediately obvious. It 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 capable of appealing to a broad listenership.

Tonight’s performance featured the full album line up (guitarist Ant Law has sometimes ‘depped’ for Claret) and the programme featured all seven Hyde-Harrison compositions from the album, one newer, as yet unrecorded, tune, plus a smattering of standards.

The leader’s bass in conjunction with Parkinson’s drums introduced “Letters From The Frontline”, with Claret’s guitar subsequently stating the melodic theme and taking the first solo. The French born, London based guitarist has studied with the leading American guitarist Peter Bernstein, who has been a substantial influence on Claret’s playing. Claret co-leads a quartet with Yorkshire born trumpeter Evan Clegg. Their 2021 début recording, the bebop flavoured “The Collection” also features Duncan Eagles and is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann web pages.
Indeed it was Eagles who stepped up to deliver the next solo, a typically fluent offering featuring his customary blend of power and inventiveness. Eagles is a popular figure with Shrewsbury jazz audiences, having previously visited The Hive as the leader of his own Partikel and Citizen projects and as a member of a quartet led by guitarist and composer Leo Appleyard.
The solos of Claret and Eagles had been fuelled by Parkinson’s sturdy drumming and the propulsive but melodic bass lines of the leader. Hyde-Harrison was also to feature as a soloist, his sound deeply resonant but still intrinsically melodic, his dexterous excursions accompanied by Parkinson’s responsive drum commentary.

“A Voice Beneath” was ushered in by a gentle guitar / tenor sax dialogue, the music then gathering momentum with the addition of bass and drums and with Claret again taking the first solo. Once more Eagles followed on tenor as the energy levels continued to rise. Things subsequently cooled down again with a brief dialogue between Hyde-Harrison and Claret, the pair subsequently joined by Parkinson at the drums as Hyde-Harrison assumed the lead, soloing above the sounds of Claret’s gentle but insistent comping and the chatter of Parkinson’s sticks on rims. The drummer subsequently took over to enjoy his own feature, the final ‘set piece’ of an intriguing composition that was consistently shifting the contours, a sign of that Maqam influence, and which teased the audience with a series of false endings.

The set list described the first non Hyde-Harrison original of the evening as “Standard - Mid-Up Tempo”. The tune called by the leader proved to be Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”, kick-started by Eagles’ opening theme statement and subsequent authoritative solo. This was a piece well suited to Claret’s bebop sensibilities and his solo contained a beguiling mix of sophisticated chording and single note melodic lines. The guitarist’s playing has also evoked comparisons with that of the late jazz guitar greats Barney Kessel and Jimmy Raney. Hyde-Harrison was the next to feature at the bass before Parkinson rounded things off at the kit. The impressive young 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. The album also reveals Parkinson to be a composer of some ability.

The character of Estraven is something of an exile, and perhaps provides the inspiration behind the striking Hyde-Harrison composition “Pariah’s Return”. Introduced by the sound of Eagles’ tenor sax above the rumble of Parkinson’s mallets and the soft click of the hi-hat this was a largo piece centred around an insistent, rolling rhythm, long sax melody lines and occasional shards of guitar dissonance. The overall effect was both dramatic and hypnotic, with room being made within the stretched fabric of the piece for solos from Claret, Eagles and Hyde-Harrison, the bassist’s dexterous plucking augmented by his occasional use of the body of his instrument as a form of auxiliary percussion.

The first set concluded with “Safe Hex”, an album track that has also been issued as a single. Ushered in by bass and drums the melodic theme was stated by Eagles, who also took the first solo, followed by Claret on guitar, Hyde-Harrison on bass and finally Parkinson at the drums. This bald listing of the soloists may imply that the music was delivered in a typical head-solos-head format but this would be to do Hyde-Harrison’s writing a disservice. His compositions are more complex than that, and although the lead may change hands on numerous occasion during a piece the overall focus is on the ensemble as a whole. Driven by the leader’s propulsive but highly mobile bass lines this particular piece incorporated rock and hip hop elements along with the jazz and maqam components.

Set two commenced with “Ignored Advice”, the title track from the forthcoming album. This was introduced by Parkinson at the drums, soon joined by Eagles on tenor, the duo delivering a beguiling sax melody teamed with an infectious underlying drum groove. The addition of bass and guitar allowed Eagles to stretch out with an expansive tenor sax solo, eventually followed by Claret on guitar, Hyde-Harrison double bass and finally Parkinson at the drums. This was another excellent example of jazz soloing within a contemporary compositional framework.

This set’s standard proved to be the ballad “Autumn In New York”, written in 1934 by Vernon Duke. With Parkinson sensitively deploying brushes throughout this was something of a showcase for Eagles who twice took the opportunity to demonstrate his interpretive skills in this context. Further solos came from Claret on guitar and the leader with his most melodic solo of the night. Eagles rounded things off with a stunning unaccompanied tenor sax cadenza.

A new, as yet unrecorded piece followed. “Persona Non Grata” does not appear on the forthcoming album but exhibited similar stylistic traits to the earlier “Pariah’s Return” with Parkinson again making effective use of mallets as he introduced the piece alongside the leader’s deeply resonant bass. Subsequent solos were to come from Eagles on tenor and Claret on guitar.

“Invocation Incantation” was introduced by a combination of tenor sax and double bass with Hyde-Harrison’s firm but mobile bass lines forming the backbone of the piece. Subsequent solos were to come from Claret on guitar and Eagles on tenor, the latter at his most Coltrane-like. It was also fitting that Hyde-Harrison should be the final featured soloist on double bass.

Finally we heard the episodic “Last Mahou Shujo”, which is also the final track on the album. This began with a duet between Hyde-Harrison and Claret, with the latter’s guitar on an acoustic setting.
Even following the introduction of sax and drums Hyde-Harrison’s bass melody continued to lead, embellished by Parkinson’s deft brushed cymbal work. Later solos came from Claret on guitar and Eagles on tenor, the latter generating an impressive power as the momentum and intensity continued to build.

As I have mentioned before the Shrewsbury audience is a particularly adventurous one for a ‘provincial’ jazz club and is always open and receptive to new music and to new musicians. The knowledgeable crowd at The Hive gave this new young band an excellent reception and they returned to play a deserved encore.

This proved to be the ‘modern day standard’ “Bolivia”, written by the late, great pianist and composer Cedar Walton. This was ushered in by the leader’s bass and his propulsive lines, augmented by Parkinson’s crisp drumming, helped to fuel excellent final solos from Eagles and Claret on this breezy, upbeat tune, a piece guaranteed to send any audience home in a positive frame of mind. And in a bass led band it was only right that there were also final features for both Hyde-Harrison and Parkinson.

I had been looking forward to this event for some time, it’s always good to hear a new band playing fresh, original music and Estraven didn’t disappoint. Hyde-Harrison’s compositions may contain a diverse range of elements and influences but they merge together convincingly to create a cohesive whole that blends complex rhythmic ideas with an inherent sense of melody. It’s this innate tunefulness that makes the group’s music so appealing and everybody at Shrewsbury seemed to ‘get’ the group, this was music that succeeded in being both adventurous and accessible.

By his own admission Hyde-Harrison is not the quickest of composers and this may have explained the addition of the standards. At Shrewsbury they’re certainly not necessary to soften up the audience but it may be that Estraven had played all their available original material. In any event I enjoyed both the original writing and the band’s interpretation of the standards. Ultimately it proved to be a good mix and provided an effective element of contrast and musical diversity.

I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the album when it becomes available. My thanks to Chris, Duncan and Matt for speaking with me afterwards and good luck for the album release.

In the meantime Estraven will be appearing at;

Be-Bop Club, Bristol – Thursday 27th January 2022
The Vortex, London – Wednesday 2nd February 2022

Catch them if you can.

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