by Ian Mann
October 05, 2017
It’s the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the playing that makes this album one of the best of its kind.
(FreeTone Records FTR003)
Konik are an improvising trio from Bristol featuring Mark Langford on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Dominic Lash on double bass and Roger Telford at the drums.
Their début album appears on the Bristol based FreeTone label which was established in 2014 with the aim of bolstering the improvised music scene in the city by way of promoting live performances and releasing recordings. The label has close links with the Fringe Jazz organisation founded by Jon Taylor, which holds regular jazz events at the Fringe Bar in the Clifton Village area of Bristol.
FringeFreeMusic represents the improvising offshoot of Fringe Jazz and promotes events around the city. Langford, together with bassist Paul Anstey, guitarist Phil Gibbs and drummer Bob Helson are the founders of FringeFreeMusic and the FreeTone label. Effectively the organisation’s ‘house band’ this quartet appears on the label’s inaugural release “Fringe Music” which was issued in November 2014.
Langford, Anstey and Gibbs also appear on the second FreeTone release “Exchange”, which appeared in December 2016. The album features a quintet line up with the additional double bass of Hugh Kirkbride plus the drums of Roger Skerman.
Konik played their first concert together in May 2016 and quickly established a genuine musical rapport. In January 2017 they found their way into the Eastover Studio in Bristol and recorded the six pieces to be heard on “Angel Pavement” during the course of a single day. Recorded by Langford and mixed by Jon Seagroatt the album presents an excellent portrait of Konik’s music and is the third release on the still fledgeling FreeTone label.
I have to admit that prior to hearing this release I was hitherto unfamiliar with the playing of both Langford and Telford. However the presence of bassist Dominic Lash, a musician I’ve seen and heard performing on a number of occasions suggested that this would be an album well worth listening to.
Lash is a musician with an international reputation who has led his own groups – his quartet album “Opabinia” was released to considerable acclaim in 2014 and is reviewed here;
Lash has also recorded with the international group Convergence Quartet featuring fellow Brit Alexander Hawkins (piano), the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. He has also been part of ensembles led by Hawkins and of the Predicate group led by guitarist (and sometime clarinettist) Alex Ward.
Lash has also worked extensively with improvising saxophonist Tony Bevan including a trio with drummer Chris Corsano and the international improvising supergroup Tony-Joe Bucklash featuring Bevan and Lash together with American guitarist Joe Morris and Australian drummer/percussionist Tony Buck, the last named best known as a member of cult trio The Necks. Lash and Bevan have also performed in a quartet setting alongside drummer Phil Marks and electronics artist Paul Obermayer.
Lash is an extremely musician and the above, referenced from previous Jazzmann writings by Tim Owen and myself, barely scratches the surface regarding Lash’s multifarious musical activities as a visit to his interesting and highly informative website http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk will reveal.
Meanwhile Langford also has his own website giving details of the numerous Bristol based musical projects with which he is involved. http://www.marklangford.co.uk
Turning now to Konik who describe their music as “a free flowing exchange of ideas, harmonies, sounds, polybeats, genres and on the spot composition”. It’s a quote that fits the trio’s music well as the album introduces itself with the six minute “Sea Orchid” which features Langford’s bass clarinet explorations above a busy backdrop of bass and drums. Telford’s drumming is a maelstrom of activity and he produces a wide variety of sounds, but for all this he never intrudes too much and also knows when to sit out. Lash links up with him extremely effectively, anchoring the trio but still enjoying a degree of freedom. The way in which the bassist explores the hinterland between structure and freedom has always appealed to me, particularly with his own quartet and with the Convergence group, although Konik is freer than either of those aggregations. His judicious use of extended techniques has also been a source of fascination and there’s something of that here. Meanwhile Langford swoops, soars and digs in as he makes the bass clarinet sound thoroughly convincing as a vehicle for freely improvised music. It’s a virtuosic and very impressive performance.
Langford switches to tenor for “Walking the Plank” which also includes passages during which Lash impresses with the bow. There’s plenty of kinetic energy from Telford who pushes the music along without ever resorting to any obvious rhythms, it’s a genuinely impressive example of ‘no time’ playing that is sometimes reminiscent of the great Mark Sanders. For all this Konik’s music remains accessible to the listener, as a saxophonist Langford reminds me of Mark Hanslip, another improviser who always maintains an underlying sense of melody no matter how rigorously he probes, and here Langford dives deep.
I like the punning title of “Piece in Our Time” which features tenor sax harmolodics from Langford, some evocative cymbal work from Telford and a propulsive pizzicato groove from Lash that underpins a feisty dialogue between sax and drums. Langford worries away on tenor as Telford chatters busily around him, the drummer eventually sitting out as the “Piece” resolves itself with an evocative passage of grainy arco bass drones and piping, over-blown tenor.
The title track is named after J.B. Priestley’s 1930 novel “Angel Pavement” and sees Langford switching once more to bass clarinet and pushing the instrument to its limits on one of the album’s most uncompromising tracks. Telford’s drums usher things in and he’s typically busy on the first section of the piece before playing more sparsely as Langford and Lash enter into deep dialogue, with the bassist eventually picking up the bow to complement the increasingly dark timbres of Langford’s bass clarinet. There’s some extraordinary circular breathing from Langford as the piece becomes increasingly fractious with the hyper-active Telford again generating a dizzying array of percussive sounds as Langford’s bass clarinet flutters above the rhythmic ferment.
“Farmyard” presumably takes its title from the almost animalistic noises produced periodically by Langford’s tenor. But there’s subtlety here too in the three-way discussion between saxophone, drums and bass, the latter both bowed and plucked.
Langford returns to bass clarinet for the closing “Balance on the Scales”. Once more he takes the instrument to unfamiliar places in this final conversation between equals. His over-blown sounds again plunge deep, particularly in a dark and brooding dialogue with Lash’ crepescular bowed bass. Telford leans back and offers only the most succinct and pertinent of drum commentaries, the percussionist sometimes saying nothing at all.
Whenever I review a free improv record I normally warn that it won’t be to everybody’s taste. That applies here, too – but speaking for myself I have to say that this is one of most enjoyable improv albums that I’ve heard for a long time. The array of sounds conjured up by just three instrumentalists is consistently impressive and it’s this variety that helps to keep the listener fully attuned. The briskness and bustle of Telford’s extraordinary drumming is consistently arresting and pushes each piece forward while Langford’s innate melodic sense ensures that the music never descends into cacophony. As a long term admirer of Lash’s playing it’s also good to hear him in such good form, both with and without the bow.
The trio admit to “a few simple edits” post recording and each of the six pieces does seem to have a kind of organic, natural, internal logic about it. But it’s the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the playing that makes this album one of the best of its kind. The “true musical rapport” of which the press release speaks is vibrantly apparent throughout this recording.
Hopefully the release of this album will increase Konik’s profile beyond the Bristol area. I’d like to see them come and perform at the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, a venue Lash has visited on a number of occasions with Alex Ward, Tony Bevan and others and which stages semi-regular improv gigs.
Meanwhile “Angel Pavement” can be purchased via http://www.freetonerecords.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus