by Ian Mann
March 25, 2022
A series of immersive, and often very beautiful performances, rich in terms of colour, texture and ambience and often possessed of an atmospheric, cinematic quality.
Harry Christelis & Pedro Velasco
(Ubuntu Music UBU0095CD)
Harry Christelis – guitar, Pedro Velasco – guitar
“Scribbling” features the Anglo-Portuguese guitar duo of London born Harry Christelis and Lisbon born, London based Pedro Velasco.
The duo have been performing together for five years, although, as is the nature of jazz, both are also involved with other projects.
Christelis (born 1988) has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of Moostak Trio, a group that also features bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Dave Storey. The trio’s eponymous début album was released in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, which obviously curtailed their live appearances. They did however perform a livestream concert to an online audience from an empty Green Note in Camden as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. Both the Moostak Trio album and the Green Note livestream are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.
Christelis also leads the Rubber Walrus Trio, featuring drummer Yusuf Ahmed and pianist Joseph Costi, a project dedicated to putting a jazz slant on Beatles songs.
Christelis studied jazz at Middlesex University where his tutors included guitarist Chris Montague, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Hall, pianist Nikki Iles and trumpeter Chris Bachelor. He has since worked with an impressive array of musicians across a range of musical genres, among them singer-songwriter Jamie Doe, who performs under the name The Magic Lantern.
Now an educator himself Christelis also heads Clonmell Jazz Social (CJS), an organisation that stages jazz and improvised music events across London, including the Summer Jazz Weekender free festival in Greenwich, and much of the jazz programme at the Green Note.
Velasco (born 1979) initially studied piano before turning to the guitar at the age of twelve as he became increasingly fascinated by Brazilian music. After studying with Portuguese guitarist Mario Delgado he became increasingly absorbed in jazz and improvised music and moved to London in 2003 to study jazz at Middlesex University, where he met Christelis and shared many of the same tutors.
Following graduation in 2007 he began to work regularly on the jazz and improvised music scene in the UK and Europe. He leads the ensembles Pedro Velasco Trio, Akimbo and Machimbombo and is a member of the freely improvising group Splatter.
He also performs as part of an improvising trio featuring bassist Huw V Williams and drummer Andrew Lisle.
Velasco has worked with violist Margrit Hasler in the duo Rasa and during lockdown was part of the This Is Our Music project, a series of livestream performances by musicians based in the Chesham area, among them pianist Kit Downes, bassist Ruth Goller, guitarist Chris Montague, violinist Thea Spiers and vocalist Nell Greco.
The versatile Velasco has also played acoustic and electric bass with the London based quintet Caravela, a group specialising in the music of Portugal, Cape Verde and Brazil.
“Scribbling” is actually Velasco’s second album release in the guitar duo format following 2020’s “Tertulia”, recorded with Giorgio Serci. This recording saw the pair exploring the Fado repertoire, with three tracks featuring the voice of countertenor João Paulo Ferreira.
The duo album with Christelis examines very different musical territory. The pair make extensive use of a range of ‘pedalboard hardware’ to create an album concerned with colour, texture, atmosphere and ambience over the course of eleven pieces that draw upon both composition and improvisation. Five pieces are credited to Velasco, three to Christelis and a further three jointly, presumably spontaneous improvisations. The album was recorded “as it happened” with no additional overdubs or editing in post-production.
The duo’s influences include fellow guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Jakob Bro, plus Brian Eno, Vangelis, Connan Mockasin and the bands Talk Talk and The Beatles.
The pair describe the music to be heard on “Scribbling” thus;
“In a world that rushes to excite and distract we want to make music that focusses on taking time to develop and create space in phrase, feel and sonority. As such, we place just as much emphasis on the notes that are not played as the one that are! The music on this album has come together through years of individual self-discovery and the subsequent exploration of the endless possibilities that emerge from playing as a duo. Our shared musical values, influences and also our differing life experiences have brought about this harmonious musical relationship based on interaction, listening, space and freedom. We feel so happy for how we’ve been able to capture this on our début album and we hope that others will make their own discoveries when listening.”
The album commences with the eerie, ambient drones of Velasco’s composition “Paul’s Closet”, these augmented by the more conventional sounds of conventionally plucked guitar. The piece represents a brief, but atmospheric, introduction to the duo’s sound world, a charming miniature with a distinct filmic quality.
Also by Velasco “Time” is a more conventional guitar duo performance, another piece that epitomises, albeit in a different way, the duo’s promise of creating music that ‘takes its time’. There’s a relaxed and intimate quality about the duo’s playing as they again create a fragile atmosphere, with the subtle use of FX, approximating the sound of church bells (and presumably giving the piece its title), being introduced during the closing stages of the piece.
Velasco retains the compositional reins for “Charlie’s Dreamtime”, which introduces a Frisell like twang to the duo’s sound and adds a ghostly Americana like element to their music.
The title track is jointly credited, and presumably fully improvised. It’s a thirty nine second fragment, with brief whorls of sound rising and falling and fleetingly hinting at the influence of minimalists such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
Christelis takes over compositional duties on “Gin”, another relatively straight ahead guitar duo performance that again tips its hat towards Frisell, but less overtly than on the earlier “Charlie’s Dreamtime”.
“Wool” is the second of the jointly credited improvised pieces, a minutes worth of murky atmospherics, glitchy rustlings and quasi percussive sounds.
Velasco’s “Nos Entrantos do Silencio” combines conventional guitar sounds with shimmering atmospherics on one of the album’s most evocative pieces. I was briefly reminded of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”, other listeners may find their own reference points.
Christelis “Wild Coast” is less turbulent than its title might suggest, but is no less beautiful for that as the two guitars intertwine delightfully to conjure up images of gently rippling waves.
“Flash” is the last of the jointly credited improvised episodes, clocking in at just under a minute and featuring a lapping, ambient sound featuring the liberal use of the duo’s ‘pedalboard hardware’.
Velasco’s “Valsa Destes Tempos” combines a gorgeous melody with a delicate, gently ringing ambience. There’s a spaciousness about the performance that places that phrase “we place just as much emphasis on the notes that are not played as the one that are” are into context.
The album concludes with the chilly, spacey atmospherics of Christelis’ “LD13”, an FX laden voyage into the cosmos.
As an album “Scribbling” succeeds in its intentions as the duo create a distinctive guitar / electronics generated soundworld with the emphasis on ambience, colour, texture and beauty. Each piece works as a stand alone item within the wider context of the album as a whole.
As per their manifesto the duo adopt an unhurried, ‘less is more’ approach to their music making and the result is a series of immersive, and often very beautiful performances, rich in terms of colour, texture and ambience and often possessed of an atmospheric, cinematic quality. One can imagine some of the more formal compositions being featured on programmes such as BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” or “Night Tracks”.
In many respects “Scribbling” is a continuation of the work of Moostak Trio, another unit that focusses on the qualities of atmosphere, beauty and narrative. Like “Scribbling” the début Moostak album also alternates fully formed compositions with shorter improvised episodes.
“Scribbling” is not an album that shouts for your attention, but it is one that repays attentive listening.
The duo are about to embark on a UK tour in support of the “Scribbling” album with dates as follows;
30th March 2022 – Jazz at The Lescar, Sheffield
1st April 2022 – Heart Centre, Leeds
5th April 2022 – Fougou Jazz, Torquay
14th April 2022 – Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London
12th May 2022 – Soundcellar, Poole
Further details available from Pedro Velasco’s website http://www.pedrovelasco.com
“Scribbling” is available in CD, Vinyl and digital formats from;
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