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Clown Revisited

Flashes of a Normal World


by Ian Mann

May 10, 2006


This is an excellent debut from Ramm showing his great potential as a composer.

Nick Ramm may not have as high a profile as some other members of the F-ire brigade such as Ingrid Laubrock, Seb Rochford or Pete Wareham but this album shows him to be a highly talented musician and an excellent composer. Ramm has been an important member of several bands including Timeline, Oriole and Jade Fox but this is his first solo project.

Clown Revisited is the band put together by Ramm to perform his highly distinctive compositions inspired by playing in the house band of a circus on tour in Denmark and Holland. The musicians accompanied acrobats, magicians, trapeze artists, jugglers, contortionists etc. Ramm, however, was most inspired by the clowns and decided to base an album on his circus experiences.

Although the music is thoroughly composed, Ramm left plenty of room for improvisation and several of the album’s tracks are first takes. The instrumental line up is totally unorthodox, and in all probability unique. Ramm plays piano and organ and he is accompanied by Finn Peters on flute, Ben Davis on cello, drummer and percussionist Dave Price and the remarkable Oren Marshall on tuba.

The music itself defies categorisation. Wilfully whimsical, it owes something to the eclectic style of those great British mavericks Django Bates and Huw Warren.

Like the clowns that inspired it this music never stands still, it is always quirky and quixotic, constantly changing in style and tempo. It is a tribute to the musicians that they negotiate these twists and turns seamlessly and that the music always sounds unforced and natural. Apart from the circus Ramm’s compositional palette also takes in influences ranging from chamber music to vaudeville, English folk music to Latin America, Kurt Weill to New Orleans parade bands and several other sources on the side.

The emphasis is very much on ensemble playing rather than traditional jazz soloing, but this does not detract from the individual brilliance of the musicians.

The arrangements are paced by Ramm’s precise piano and Peters’ effervescent flute. The cello and the tuba are sometimes perceived to be lugubrious instruments, but this theory is soon disproved by the fleetness of foot and speed of thought of Davis and Marshall. Both are a revelation throughout.

The music is also surprisingly rhythmic courtesy of the crisp, imaginative percussion of Dave Price and the extraordinary bass lines conjured up by Marshall. It is highly melodic too, full of good tunes and Ramm seems to be a composer just full of ideas. The production and mix are superb and enhance the writing and playing to perfection.

The album hangs together so well as an entity that it seems invidious to pick out individual tracks. However “There Are Many Ways” contains the spoken words of Jack Sims reciting his poem of the same name. I don’t normally like spoken words on albums as they tend to detract from the music and lose their impact after the first hearing. However, this piece is very effective and the backing by Ramm and the band is entirely appropriate to the mood of the piece making this one of the best poetry and jazz juxtapositions I’ve heard. I don’t think I’ll be reaching for the skip button just yet.

This is an excellent debut from Ramm showing his great potential as a composer. Despite its unorthodox line up the music is charming, witty, intelligent and melodic and certainly not difficult. It deserves to do well and we should hear a lot more of Nick Ramm in the future.

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