Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019



Blurring The Lines

by Ian Mann

April 05, 2024


Blurring The Lines sees Glasshouse successfully honing their sound & broadening their vision, their melodic & accessible approach bringing a new perspective to the concept of wholly improvised music.


“Blurring The Lines”

(Self Released)

John Franks – drums, percussion, Lee Relfe – saxophones, James Hancock -Evans – piano, keyboards

“Blurring The Lines” is the second album release from Glasshouse, an improvising trio based in Carmarthen. The band name was inspired by the Great Glasshouse at the nearby National Botanic Garden of Wales.

The idea for Glasshouse was first formulated in 2017 by drummer John Franks and saxophonist Lee Relfe with the current edition of the band coming together in late 2021 with the intention of playing “melodic instrumental pieces that are entirely improvised”

Franks and Relfe are both experienced musicians who have worked extensively over many years across a variety of musical genres, including classical, jazz, alt rock and world music.

Hancock-Evans is considerably younger and is a classically trained musician who also plays in trad jazz bands. His wide range of keyboard skills made him the ideal choice for Glasshouse.

The ensemble’s early publicity material described them as “the band you’ll never be able to put in a box”. More recently they have used the strap-line “spontaneous melodic jazz improvisations”, which represents a neat summary of their approach.

In March 2022, with Hancock-Evans still a fairly recent addition to the ranks, Glasshouse performed a well received show at The Muse in Brecon, an event covered by The Jazzmann, who described the trio’s music as;
“blurring the lines between composition and improvisation, this was ‘free jazz’ as you’ve never heard it before, with grooves you could tap your feet to and melodies you could whistle.”
The full review can be found here;

In 2023 Glasshouse released their first full length album recording “Five Panes”, which represented an excellent introduction to the trio’s distinctive brand of melodic free improvisation. My review of “Five Panes” can be found here;

I’m honoured that the members of Glasshouse have chosen a line from that Brecon review as the title of their second album, which features a series of eight spontaneous improvisations documented at Greenhill Studio during December 2023 and January 2024. The band say of the music on this new recording;
“Eight pieces recorded live in the studio. All Glasshouse music is improvised with no heads or pre-set themes: one of us starts, we listen, we follow the music. Each of these tracks is what happened, spontaneously, in the moment”.

During the summer of 2023 Glasshouse recorded as a four piece with the addition of Gary Smart on electric and acoustic bass but the fruits of these labours have never been officially released. Instead “Blurring The Lines” features the core trio of Franks, Relfe and Hancock-Evans, with the latter having added to his array of keyboards since the debut release. Franks says of the new recording;
 “We’ve started using a broader range of keyboard soundings, which has developed our style, and the new album captures the energy of our performances much more effectively than our first”

Album opener “And Jump” develops out of Hancock-Evans’ shimmering electric piano arpeggios and subsequently embraces a kind of cerebral funkiness with the addition of Franks’ drums and Relfe’s melodic saxophone. Hancock-Evans deploys an array of keyboard sounds, including electric piano and synth, and the group sound is generally fuller and more multi-faceted than before. With the combination of drums and keys providing the necessary momentum Relfe is free to soar, his sax soloing demonstrating both power and fluency. An impressive start.

“An Aura” is more reflective and atmospheric, almost ambient at times, with Hancock-Evans’ keyboard washes and the steady tick and shimmer of Franks’ cymbals complemented by Relfe’s long, gently brooding sax melody lines.

“The Stroller” combines Relfe’s seductive sax melodies with Hancock-Evans’ insidious keyboard bass lines and Franks’ sparse but effective drum accompaniment. It’s another piece that acquires an element of funkiness as it gathers momentum thanks to Hancock-Evans’ skilful deployment of his range of keyboards, he even adds the occasional classical style flourish too. Relfe solos more expansively as the piece unfolds, with Franks’ drumming also becoming more dynamic.

A rumbling acoustic piano motif introduces “Vesuvial Moves”, with Hancock-Evans subsequently joined by the thud of Franks’ drums and the wail of Relfe’s sax. Hancock-Evans remains on acoustic piano throughout in a vibrant performance that sees him enter into an animated series of exchanges with Relfe.

“Enfolded With You” also features the sound of acoustic piano, but here the mood is much more gentle and reflective with Hancock-Evans’ keyboard lyricism matched by Relfe’s elongated melody lines, his saxophone sound soft and breathy. Franks remains a shadowy presence, adding the soft, atmospheric rustle of percussion.

“Mirror Pool” offers a different kind of gentleness, the music soft, shimmering and ambiently aquatic with Franks’ cymbal splashes complementing the sounds of ethereal electric piano and softly brooding sax melodies. But the music is far from one dimensional as sinister synth sounds hint at hidden depths and at danger lurking below the calm surface.

Franks instigates “Deep Dive” from the drum kit, subtly driving the piece and eliciting responses from Hancock-Evans on electric piano and synth and Relfe on tenor sax. Franks’ polyrhythms and Hancock-Evans’ keyboard textures underpin an earthy and increasingly impassioned sax solo from Relfe on another of the album’s more forceful tracks - and another one to embrace something of a funk element.

The album concludes on a quieter note with “Synthesis”, another ambient and atmospheric piece with the translucent sounds of the keyboards complemented by Franks’ deft and delicate cymbal and percussion work and the gentle incantations of Relfe’s sax. The piece acquires more of a song-like quality as it develops, closing the album in almost anthemic fashion.

I’m still not sure how Glasshouse manage to conjure these remarkable musical performances out of thin air. Franks likes to use the analogy of improvisation being fast or instant composition, and composition being a process of slow improvisation. I’m not sure how much editing goes on post performance, other than the naming of the pieces, but in a blind test most listeners would probably think that these pieces were to some degree composed. Such is Glasshouse’s skill in “blurring the lines”.

Each piece is its self-contained sound world but there is also a readily recognisable group sound and the album coheres very successfully as a whole. As Franks has opined the trio’s sonic palette is now much broader, with the extended range of keyboards providing additional colour and texture and at times bringing a quasi-orchestral quality to the music. The more uptempo numbers also demonstrate that energy of which Franks has spoken, with the electric keyboards also adding a frisson of funkiness.

“Blurring The Lines” sees Glasshouse successfully honing their sound and broadening their vision, bringing a new perspective to the concept of wholly improvised music. This is music that is eminently accessible and avoids  the usual free jazz and improv clichés and the confrontational approach that has become typical of the genre.

As I observed at the time of the “Five Panes” release the triumph of Glasshouse is to present improvisation in a form that is readily accessible to a general jazz audience. I still that this is a group that is capable of building a considerable following – providing that they are given sufficient exposure, although the recent closure of that iconic jazz and improv venue the Queens Head in Monmouth has hardly helped in that regard. Nevertheless “Blurring The Lines” represent Glasshouse’s most convincing and successful work to date and deserves to put their distinctive style of “spontaneous melodic jazz improvisation” on the wider jazz map.

Glasshouse recordings are available via



blog comments powered by Disqus