Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019



Short Stories


by Ian Mann

October 18, 2018


Fabled have created a distinctive group sound that embraces many elements and draws inspiration from a wide range of sources, both musical and literary.


“Short Stories”

(Pictor Records PIC002)

Fabled is the name of the quintet led by the young London based saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Sam Rapley.

The group was founded in 2014 and released its début recording in 2015, a four track EP credited to Rapley and titled “Fabled”. The title subsequently became a band name and this first full length album under the Fabled moniker features exactly the same personnel with Rapley joined by Alex Munk (guitar), Matt Robinson (piano), Conor Chaplin (double bass) and Will Glaser (drums).

Manchester born Rapley is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music where he studied with saxophonists Iain Ballamy, Stan Sulzmann and James Allsopp plus drummer and composer Seb Rochford, all key figures on the UK jazz scene. I first heard Rapley perform with the Royal Academy Big Band at the 2012 London Jazz Festival and subsequently with Troykestra at both the Cheltenham and London Jazz Festivals. In 2014 he was part of the Sam Leak Big Band that played a storming set at the Spice of Life in Soho as part of that year’s LJF.

Rapley appeared on Troykestra’s live album from Cheltenham and has also featured on the band Teotima’s album “Counting The Ways”. He is currently part of a number of other ensembles including bassist and composer Misha Mullov-Abbado’s Group, vibraphonist Ralph Wyld’s Mosaic, pianist Maria Chiara Argiro’s Quintet and the Afro-jazz ensemble Waaju. He is also a member of the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a contemporary big band featuring numerous Royal Academy alumni. Others with whom Rapley has worked include guitarist Nick Costley-White andd vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield’s eleven piece band, Elftet.

Rapley’s northern roots have also led to work with Mancunian guitarists Mike Walker and Stuart McCallum and with drummer Dave Smyth’s Timecraft octet plus the Beats & Pieces Big Band.

As a composer he has worked closely with the Romanian film-maker Irina Nedelcu and wrote the score for the independent film “Duet” which was featured at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

“Short Stories” features Rapley’s compositions exclusively and can very much be seen as a continuation of the earlier EP.  In his album notes Rapley describes the new album thus;
“This album is our collection of ‘Short Stories’, told through music and taking influence from literature, life, love, death and anything else anyone writes about. The joy of storytelling is that each individual will interpret these stories uniquely and it will mean something different to each person, so please enjoy these songs in your own way and, more importantly, keep on creating new stories to tell”.

The album packaging also includes two short stories written in response to two of the pieces, but more on this later. The album was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and Rapley thanks his backers in the pages of the album booklet.

Rapley’s saxophone and clarinet heroes include Stan Getz, Benny Golson, John Surman, Eric Dolphy and Shabaka Hutchings. His other musical influences include Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sarah Vaughan, Bon Iver and Tigran Hamasyan plus the bands Mammal Hands, GoGo Penguin, Polar Bear and Lau. It’s an eclectic mix that embraces elements of jazz, classical, folk and rock, all of which feed into Fabled’s music.

That Mammal Hands / GoGo Penguin influence can be heard on album opener “Dove Stone” with its hypnotic introductory piano arpeggios. Rapley’s sax and Munk’s guitar sketch melodies over the intricate rhythmic backdrop with Rapley’s tenor probing particularly deeply. But as I commented at the time of the band’s EP Fabled’s sound isn’t about orthodox jazz soloing as such and is ultimately more concerned with colour, texture and, most of all, narrative. “Dove Stone” goes through a number of stylistic and rhythmic changes during its duration and there’s a very real sense of a story unfolding.

“25 Years Of Rain” is richly atmospheric and evocative with Robinson’s keyboards emulating the sound of rainfall on the intro. The music then diverts into lyrical chamber jazz territory with Rapley’s pure toned clarinet suggesting that Debussy/Ravel influence. Chaplin’s sublimely melodic double bass solo helps to remind us that this is a jazz piece before Munk’s rock influenced guitar takes flight, eventually joined by the leader, now back on saxophone. The composition resolves itself with a lyrical and melodic coda with piano, guitar and saxophone all playing significant roles.  Again the piece graduates through a series of stylistic, dynamic and emotional changes, the variations and the strong narrative arc all serving to remind the listener of the strong literary influence on Rapley’s writing.

One supposes that “H.G.” is named in honour of Mr. Wells and the album packaging contains a short story, “Arion Station”, that was written in response to the piece by Rapley’s film making collaborator Irina Nedelcu. Indeed there’s a distinctly cinematic feel about the ebb and flow of this composition, which features Rapley’s sax running through it like a river.

“Little Air” has more of an orthodox jazz feel with Rapley’s smoky tenor sax initially at the heart of the arrangement. Munk’s guitar subsequently blows things off course as the music gains an edgy momentum that leads into an extended piano solo from Robinson. The leader’s tenor then returns for a more celebratory restatement of the opening theme.

Played in the saxophone trio format “Old Owls” has a suitably crepescular feel about it as Rapley’s tenor prowls stealthily around the sounds of Glaser’s mallet rumbles and Chaplin’s double bass, the latter briefly emerging from the shadows as a featured soloist. Rapley then digs in more deeply and powerfully as Glaser picks up his sticks on a piece that combines atmospheric noirishness with a quietly simmering intensity.

Guest violinist Su Sturman joins the ensemble and flourishes a bow on “The Picture House”, another piece with something of an ‘after hours’ atmosphere. The presence of the violin also adds a distinctive folk influence. Rapley keeps a relatively low profile as Sturman, Munk and Robinson variously assume the lead, skilfully accompanied by a highly flexible rhythm section.
The album booklet includes a short story, “Outside”, written in response to this piece by alto saxophonist Matthew Herd, Rapley’s colleague in the Misha Mullov-Abbado Group and the Patchwork Orchestra.

“First Love, Last Rites” takes its title from a collection of short stories by the celebrated author Ian McEwan, one of Rapley’s literary heroes, alongside novelist Arundhati Roy, performance poet Kate Tempest and many others. The piece begins gently and lyrically with Rapley featuring on bass clarinet alongside Robinson’s mellifluous piano. The pace picks up mid tune, subtly propelled by Glaser’s drums as Rapley moves to tenor sax, probing deeply before eventually locking in with Munk’s surging and soaring guitar. Eventually the energy and momentum dissipates and the piece ends as quietly as it began. In literary terms it’s a classic case of beginning, middle and end, as are many of the compositions on this album.

The album concludes with the gently whimsical “For Richer, For Poorer” with its infectious song like melodies. Rapley’s warm toned sax floats above the gentle bustle of Glaser’s brushed drum grooves and the soft jangle of Munk’s guitar. Robinson’s piano briefly comes to the fore mid tune.

Rapley and Fabled have created a distinctive group sound that embraces many elements and draws inspiration from a wide range of sources, both musical and literary. It’s diverting to play ‘spot the influence’ but ultimately Fabled’s sound is very much their own, their multi-faceted compositions constantly mutating, their strong narrative and episodic qualities reflecting the works of literature that inspired them.

The Fabled sound is very ‘English’ with folk and chamber music influences combining with jazz in a less wilfully quirky approximation of the ex Loose Tubes school of British jazz (Bates, Ballamy, Arguelles, Lockheart etc.), albeit updated by way of Mammal Hands.  As a result there’s little conventional jazz swing and some listeners may find it all rather over polite, perhaps a little too refined and bloodless. Nevertheless there is much to enjoy here with Fabled building on the success of their EP to create a highly personalised and distinctive group sound. Further developments seem likely.

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