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Ed Jones / Emil Karlsen

From Where Light Falls

by Ian Mann

July 22, 2021


These improvised duets are very much a meeting of equals a both musicians bring a wealth of ideas to the table.

Ed Jones / Emil Karlsen

“From Where Light Falls”

(FMR Records FMRCD610-0321)

Ed Jones – tenor saxophone, Emil Karlsen – drums

“From Where Light Falls” is an album of improvised duets featuring the British saxophonist Ed Jones and the young Norwegian drummer Emil Karlsen.

It is very much a product of lockdown and was recorded at Leeds Conservatoire, where Jones holds a teaching post, at regular sessions during the Autumn of 2020. Jones’ album liner notes, written in March 2021, set the scene;

“The music on “from where light falls” was born out of a desire to create new music in a time of immense challenges and restrictions for everyone in the world. I first met Emil when he was an undergraduate student on the Jazz Pathway at Leeds Conservatoire. Last autumn of 2020 he joined the Master’s Post Graduate course and we discussed the possibility of setting up a play together settling on a regular Monday night meeting with social distancing and other precautionary safety measures in place After a few of these and listening back to some phone recordings it became clear that there was a strong musical connection developing. We then planned a
series of sessions to properly record and document these Monday Night meetings. These recordings are from October to December. Every Monday we would finish playing and exit onto the streets of an eerily deserted city night. This music isn’t about that specifically, but it was created from that time.”

The experienced Jones will be the name most familiar to UK jazz audiences.  He first came to prominence in the late 1980s as part of the then burgeoning ‘Acid Jazz’ scene, releasing his début album “The Homecoming” on Gilles Peterson’s Acid Jazz label in 1987.

A prolific session musician Jones has worked across a variety of musical genres and is perhaps best known for his lengthy stint with the jazz/funk/soul outfit Incognito. He has also performed with Us3, Jamie Cullum, Terry Callier, Bootsy Collins, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Carlene Anderson, Noel McCoy and Omar among others.

Jones also has an impressive jazz pedigree, leading his own groups as well as performing with such well known American artists as pianists Horace Silver and Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith, guitarist George Benson, drummer Clifford Jarvis and vocalist Dianne Reeves.

In the UK he has collaborated with pianists Jason Rebello and Jonathan Gee, vocalist Claire Martin, trumpeter Byron Wallen, vibraphonist Orphy Robinson and fellow saxophonists Don Weller and the late Dick Heckstall-Smith. He has also played with the bands District Six, led by South African drummer Brian Abrahams, and Nostalgia 77, led by guitarist Ben Lamdin and featuring bassist Riaan Vosloo.

Aside from his own groups I know Jones’ playing best from his work with pianist Tim Richards’ superb nonet Great Spirit (notably the 2006 album “Epistrophy”) and with Killer Shrimp, the band he co-led with trumpeter Damon Brown. Combining jazz rooted in the hard bop era with modern dance music and electronica Killer Shrimp represented something of an update on the ‘Acid Jazz’ template, their sound being documented on the acclaimed albums “Sincerely Whatever” (2006) and “Whatever Sincerely (Tales from the Baltic Wharf)” (2010). 

As a sole leader Jones has fronted a variety of acoustic small group line-ups recording the albums “Pipers Tales” (1995) and “Out Here” (1997) and “Seven Moments” (2002), the last named featuring Finnish trumpeter Mika Myllari. More recently he released the excellent quartet album “For Your Ears Only”, recorded in the company of pianist Ross Stanley, bassist Riaan Vosloo and drummer Tim Giles.

As a composer Jones has received a number of commissions for works featuring electro-acoustic ensembles. He has also written music to be performed by student assembles at Leeds College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. A prominent educator Jones holds teaching posts at Leeds College of Music and at the Yamaha Jazz Summer School at Falmouth University.

More recently Jones has branched out into the world of free improvisation as part the trio Bad Ash, a collaboration with bassist Mark Lewandowski and drummer Mark Sanders, a project doubtless inspired by earlier collaborations with saxophonist Evan Parker and the late drummer John Stevens. With the aid of an Arts Council grant Bad Ash toured the UK, collaborating along the way with like minded musicians such as pianist Matthew Bourne, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba and trumpeters Alex Bonney and Nick Malcolm. In many ways this duo recording with Karlsen can be viewed as an extension of the Bad Ash Project and it’s good to see a musician of Jones’ experience really pushing himself and continuing to experiment.

Meanwhile Karlsen (born 1998) is rapidly beginning to establish himself on the UK jazz and improvised music scene. He has worked with pianist Matthew Bourne, violinist Philipp Wachsmann, composer / laptop artist / violinist Phil Durrant and with the London Improvisers Orchestra. Others with whom he has played include vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Charlotte Keeffe, saxophonists Mark Hanslip and Martin Clarke, bassists John Edwards, Olie Brice, Otto Willberg and Dave Kane and cellist Shirley Smart.

His playing has been endorsed by free jazz drum masters Paul Hession and Mark Sanders and Karlsen has performed as part of a drum duo with the latter.

The titles on “From Where Light Falls” are simple reflections of the time at which they were recorded. The series of eight improvisations begins with “Oktober”, introduced by an extended passage of breathy, tentative unaccompanied saxophone from Jones. Eventually Karlsen joins Jones’ ruminations, accompanying the saxophonist’s highly melodic improvisations with great skill and empathy, demonstrating a remarkable maturity as he combines the roles of adding colour and texture and providing rhythmic impetus. The energy levels increase as the piece develops, with Jones’ playing becoming increasingly garrulous, at times acquiring something of a Middle Eastern tinge, while Karlsen becomes increasingly animated, a whirlwind of activity at the drum kit.

“November pt. 1” is even more obviously a free jazz performance with Jones ‘singing’ through his horn, accompanied by the rustle of percussion. It’s strange and eerie, the vocalised sounds not a million miles removed from throat singing, and even when Jones adopts a slightly more orthodox sax sound the music still sounds mysterious, a quality enhanced by the gently percolating sounds of Karlsen’s percussion. It’s the first recording on which I’ve heard Jones exploring the realms of extended technique. The duo’s conversation gradually becomes more interactive, Jones hoots, honks and harries, Karlsen responds with increasingly busy, and unfailingly exotic percussion.  Here the duo create a unique sound world that the listener can’t help being drawn into, a world that evokes images of the tundra of the North or the steppes of the East.  Finally the piece resolves itself quietly, with the muffled sound of a gong resonating behind Jones’ breathy sax.

The other worldly feel continues into “November pt. 2”, a quality encouraged by Karlsen’s use of exotic percussion, including bells and gongs. Jones’s sax is gently melodic, but tinged with melancholy and his fragile playing almost disappears from view at one point as he again ventures into the realm of extended technique. The subsequent dialogue between the pair is gently exploratory, but deeply interactive, and very much within the improvised music tradition.

“November pt. 3” is a further demonstration of the growing rapport between Jones and Karlsen. As the ‘melodic’ instrument it is perhaps inevitable that the tenor should often appear to take the lead but the direction of the music is very much shaped by Karlsen’s responses. His playing throughout demonstrates a remarkable degree of maturity and his choice of sounds is exemplary. After the atmospherics of Parts 2 & 3 the second half of this track offers an example of the duo’s more ‘full on’ playing.

“December pt. 1” represents a particularly good example of the chemistry between the pair, a sax / drum dialogue that is part call and response, part musical tug of war that ebbs and flows throughout its near nine minute duration, at times animated and garrulous, at others more abstract, but consistently absorbing. The duo really up the energy levels in the latter stages of the piece as they deliver their most incendiary playing of the set with Jones’ sax swooping and soaring above the rumble of Karlsen’s drums.

The lengthy (twelve minutes) “December pt 2” commences with the almost subliminal sounds of Karlsen’s percussion. When Jones enters it’s in response to him, but genuine dialogue soon occurs, wispy and tentative at first, with Karlsen’s exotic percussion sounds a vital part of the conversation. It’s a piece that passes through a series of distinct phases, with each musician helping to shape the course of the music.

“December pt. 3” commences with an extended passage of unaccompanied, and essentially melodic, tenor sax,  that draws upon Jones’ more conventional jazz leanings. Karlsen eventually responds with some delicate cymbal work. The duo then probe more deeply, while still retaining that melodic element, with Karlsen adding mallet rumbles and other drum sounds to his sonic palette. Eventually things become more abstracted with Jones’ gently searching phrases answered by the furtive rustle of drums and percussion. One can sense the visual cues that the duo must be giving each other during this slowly evolving improvised musical conversation. It’s a discussion that becomes increasingly animated as the piece moves towards its conclusion, with Jones’ increasingly impassioned playing evoking an appropriately vigorous response from Karlsen before it all fades away at the close.

“December pt. 4” then concludes the album, a genuine meeting of equals within the improvised framework that the duo have established for themselves, building from delicate opening exchanges into something more full blooded as the duo continue to develop their impressive musical rapport.

“From Where Light Falls” documents the growing musical chemistry between two musicians of different nationalities and generations.  It’s an intriguing alliance, the older Jones is a comparative newcomer to the free improv genre, while the youthful Karlsen has chosen to make it his speciality.

Despite the tutor / student relationship these improvised duets are very much a meeting of equals and both musicians bring a wealth of ideas to the table. The resultant music is often intimate and contemplative, but there are also plenty of examples of more visceral, full on playing.

Overall I was very impressed by the partnership of Jones and Karlsen, an inherently ‘musical’ drummer whose playing has elicited comparisons with such greats as Elvin Jones, John Stevens and Rashied Ali.

Nevertheless sixty minutes plus of sax and drum improvisations, impressive as they are, makes for pretty demanding listening and one suspects that this is a duo whose talents would be best appreciated in the context of a live performance, an observation that applies to much freely improvised music. One can imagine Karlsen to be a particularly visual performer with his adventurous approach to the drum kit allied to his deployment of an array of small percussion. I’ve seen Jones perform live on a number of occasions in more conventional jazz settings but it would be interesting to seem him in another context and to check out his range of extended techniques.

“From Where Light Falls” isn’t an album that I would recommend to everybody. Jones’ regular jazz and funk fan-base would probably find it hard going and it’s very much an album for improv specialists. For fans of the genre there is much to enjoy here and the emergence of Karlsen represents a significant addition to the UK free jazz scene.

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