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Ivo Neame

Glimpses Of Truth

by Ian Mann

December 20, 2021


Skilfully pieced together in uniquely difficult circumstances “Glimpses Of Truth” is a triumph for Ivo Neame and must rank as one of the most outstanding releases of 2021.

Ivo Neame

“Glimpses Of Truth”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4782)

Ivo Neame – piano, synthesiser & saxophones
Noel Langley – trumpets, flugelhorn
Ingrid Jensen- trumpet
Trevor Mires – trombones
Gareth Lockrane – flute
Nathaniel Facey – alto saxophone
George Crowley – tenor saxophone
Jason Yarde – baritone saxophone
Gilad Hekselman – guitar
James Maddren – drums
Jon Scott – drums
Jim Hart – vibraphone

Ivo Neame (born Kent, 1981)  is probably best known to jazz audiences as the pianist with the award winning, fantastically successful trio Phronesis, led by the Danish bassist and composer Jasper Hoiby.

The trio has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on many occasions, both on disc and in the live environment. It would appear that after more than a decade of brilliant music making that Phronesis is no more, with Hoiby, Neame and drummer Anton Eger now concentrating on solo and other projects.

Throughout Phronesis’ period of existence Neame conducted a parallel solo career, a little less high profile perhaps, but consistently interesting and rewarding. He first emerged as a member of the North London based Loop Collective and the first time that I ever saw him play was way back in 2007, during his tenure as the alto saxophonist with vibraphonist Jim Hart’s quartet Gemini.

Neame continued in this role for another couple of years and featured on two recordings during his time with Gemini, “Emergence” (2006) and “Narrada” (2009). At the same time this talented multi-instrumentalist and composer was also establishing a solo career as a pianist.

He made his début as a leader with the somewhat undistinguished trio set “Swirls And Eddies” in 2007 but soon developed rapidly. 2009’s “Caught in the Light of Day”, a quartet recording that again teamed him with Hart, represented a huge step forward and showcased Neame’s increasingly distinctive writing style.

The ambitious “Yatra” (2012) saw Neame expanding his group to an octet with the addition of four reed players. This was a brilliant recording, just bursting with compositional ideas and featuring some outstanding playing from all members of the group. 2015’s quintet set “Strata” was nearly as fine and confirmed Neame’s status as a composer and band-leader to watch.

“Moksha” (Edition Records, 2018) saw him successfully experimenting with electric keyboards for the first time in the company of a new quartet featuring saxophonist George Crowley, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer James Maddren, all of whom appear on this latest release.

Neame got the call to join Phronesis in 2009, making his début on the band’s second album “Green Delay” and remained with the trio for the rest of its existence and appearing on a further six albums.

Neame is also an in demand sideman who has worked with saxophonists Marius Neset, Julian Arguelles, Josh Arcoleo, Trish Clowes, Pete Wareham and Adam Waldmann (Kairos 4tet), vocalists Brigitte Beraha, Kaz Simmons and Elisa Caleb, guitarists Ant Law and Maciek Pysz,  bassists Mick Coady and Dave Manington (the Riff Raff group), trumpeters Andre Canniere and Rory Simmons and drummer Dave Hamblett.

Other recent projects have included the trio Escape Hatch, with bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett.

In November 2015 Phronesis celebrated their tenth anniversary with a series of performances with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Julian Arguelles.
The programme consisted of Arguelles’ big band arrangements of Phronesis tunes sourced from various stages of the group’s career.

The performances included a superb concert at the Milton Hall venue in London as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. This was an event that I was fortunate enough to attend and review as part of my Festival coverage.

Two days previously the première performance of the project in Frankfurt had been recorded with a view to releasing a live album, something that I anticipated at the time, and this was finally released in 2017 under the title “The Behemoth”.
My review of the album can be found here;

The Phronesis and FRBB project encouraged Neame to begin writing for a large ensemble, arguably also expanding upon his own successful “Yatra” project. “Having lots of people play this intimate, polyrhythmic music can be really emotionally powerful” states Neame.

Unfortunately Neame’s plans to record the big band music that he had written were scuppered by the pandemic. Undeterred he decided to continue with the project, with the musicians recording their parts remotely. “I decided just to plough on regardless and record it all” he says – and on the evidence of this recording thank goodness he did.

One plus to emerge was that this was now able to become a truly international project. The personnel includes the Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and the Israeli born, New York based guitarist Gilad Hekselman. Meanwhile Neame’s old friend vibraphonist Jim Hart is now based in France, from where he submitted his contribution.

As Neame’s sleeve note explains;
“This album was produced during a very difficult period for all musicians. I was happy to be able to continue to work on a creative project with world class musicians during a period when all performing opportunities had dried up. I also used the time off performing to learn how to mix audio and I’m very grateful to Alessio Romano (sound engineer) for his invaluable instruction with this”.

The album has been mixed by Neame and Romano and mastered by Peter Beckmann with Neame producing.

The unusual nature of the recording has also seen Neame playing saxophone once more. He performs all of the ‘tutti’ sax lines.

Seven original compositions by Neame tackle the subject of ‘truth’ and wider social issues. “We’re always struggling with the real truth of anything”, explains Neame. “People talk about how we are living in a post-truth world and this album is my interpretation of that. But a lot of the time it’s very murky, that’s why I call it ‘glimpses’. These days it’s ‘this is my truth, that’s your truth’ – it’s all very vague because the world is so chaotic”.

Neame’s complex, fiercely intelligent compositions attempt to establish some kind of clarity, while acknowledging the contradictions and complications.

Opener “Rise Of The Lizard People” was inspired by the revelation that some 12 million Americans believe that their country is run by interstellar lizards. “I wanted to write a tune that would encourage people to wake up and question their beliefs” says Neame. That’s probably pretty unlikely to happen, but it did win him a nomination for “Best Jazz Composition” at the 2021 Ivors Academy Awards.
The piece itself is a typically complex patchwork of pulsing rhythms and shifting moods, an extension of the rhythmic and compositional ideas Neame has been developing for years, but this time realised on a grand scale. The various components have been skilfully woven together by Neame and Romano to create a convincing whole. Within the densely layered fabric of the piece individual performers come into focus, although this is far removed from the head-solos-head structure of conventional big band jazz. Facey’s alto comes to the fore here, as does the leader’s piano, but it’s the overall work of the ensemble, including twin drummers Maddren and Scott that impresses the most. It’s almost impossible to believe that these pieces weren’t recorded with the musicians in the same room.

“Strega” is similarly complex, embracing a wide range of brass and reed sounds, making the music particularly rich in terms of colour and texture. Maddren and Scott, aided by Farmer and Neame add the expected rhythmic complexity. Individual solos come from Jensen on trumpet, Facey on alto and Langley on flugelhorn, but again its the quality of the writing and the overall performance that really catches the ear.

The title of “Broken Brains” references the increasingly publicised mental health issues that have become one of the consequences of the pandemic. “It’s not something to be taken lightly”, observes Neame, “we all have to check ourselves”. Neame’ s Insidious arpeggiated piano assumes the lead, accompanied by an implacable drum groove and the rich colours of reeds and muted brass. Tenor saxophonist George Crowley emerges as the featured soloist, expansive and fluent, and there are some superb ensemble passages too.

“Phasing Song” embraces the influence of contemporary classical composers Steve Reich and John Adams and incorporates a multi-tracked saxophone cannon, recorded by Neame.  Guitarist Hekselman emerges as the first featured soloist, gracefully skating above the complex rhythmic undertow. Neame eventually takes over, now on piano, navigating his way through the increasingly fragmented rhythms.

“Persevere”, an apt title given the circumstances, commences with some of the most freely structured playing on the album. Nevertheless it is possessed of a chilly beauty, with the leader’s piano and Lockrane’s flute prominent in a subtly layered opening section, underpinned by the skitter of the two drum kits. A more conventional big band sound gradually emerges, rich in terms of colour texture, before subsiding again as Neame delivers a lyrical piano solo initially in what is essentially a piano trio format, with the rest of the ensemble eventually returning to provide tasteful support.

“Perseverance Part 2” also embraces freely structured passages, with Hart’s vibes coming to the fore. Initially this is a small group performance featuring vibes, piano, bass and drums with Hart delivering a dazzling vibraphone solo above complex, ever shifting rhythmic patterns.  The extended ensemble eventually joins in to to add an agreeable sense of grandiosity to the piece, before graciously fading out to allow the ‘small group’ to conclude an extraordinary performance.

The closing “Ghostly Figure” briefly reprises Moksha’s experiments with electric keyboards as Neame plays ethereal synthesiser alongside Mires’ similarly eerie trombone, There’s a suitably spectral feel about the arrangement, which adds further layers of brass and reeds, plus bass and drums, but it’s the dialogue between synth and trombone that remains at its heart, the music almost threatening to shade off into funk at times before embracing something much more freely structured.

“You don’t need to be in the same room at the same time to achieve something spontaneous and interactive”, declares Neame. “I’m not precious about any music, it’s all up for grabs”.

Skilfully pieced together in uniquely difficult circumstances “Glimpses Of Truth” is a triumph for Ivo Neame and must rank as one of the most outstanding releases of 2021. It’s a project that has obviously been a labour of love and the album hits the target on all counts, the writing, the playing, the way in which everything has been so brilliantly woven together.

Of course, “Glimpses Of Truth” is not the only album to have been recorded remotely during the pandemic, but surely no other full length lockdown album has tackled music that is this complex and multi-faceted and presented it so skilfully, in a way that makes perfect emotional sense despite its myriad complexities.

“Glimpses Of Truth” would represent an ambitious recording even in normal circumstances. To create music of such depth, power, resonance and scope in this manner is little short of extraordinary.

Rhythmically complex and skilfully multi-layered Ivo Neame’s music is so rich and multi-faceted that it is sometimes hard to describe – there is just so much going on.
Nevertheless I hope that I’ve done this magnificent album justice.

Neame’s writing has variously been compared with that Of Kenny Wheeler, Mike Gibbs and Django Bates, which is praise indeed. He is less wilfully eclectic and quirky than Bates, so of these three perhaps Gibbs, with his fondness for guitars and percussion, is the best comparison.

“Glimpses Of Truth” may have been recorded remotely, but there’s a part of me that yearns to hear this music being performed live. If things ever get back to normal wouldn’t it be great to hear an Ivo Neame Big Band performing this material at the Cheltenham or London Jazz Festivals? How about it Serious?

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