by Ian Mann
January 11, 2016
A nominally 'chamber jazz' recording that comfortably bypasses any perceived restrictions and is consistently impressive in its scope in terms of style, emotion, texture and dynamics.
“The Day I Had Everything”
(Edition Records EDN1064)
Malija is one of those collective group monikers that incorporates elements of the names of its individual members. In this case the band is something of a ‘supergroup’, a trio featuring some of the most respected performers on the UK jazz scene in the shapes of Mark Lockheart (reeds), Liam Noble (piano) and Jasper Hoiby (double bass).
The three first worked together on Lockheart’s 2009 Edition Records release “In Deep”, a quintet recording that also featured trumpeter Dave Priseman and drummer Dave Smith. As well as leading his own projects and acquiring a reputation as a brilliant jazz educator Lockheart is also a member of two of the most seminal UK groups of recent times, Loose Tubes and Polar Bear. He was also a co-founder of the eclectic and consistently engaging quartet Perfect Houseplants who recently performed a sell out reunion gig at the Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival.
Born in Denmark but now based in London Hoiby is most closely identified with his leadership Phronesis, the phenomenally successful Anglo-Scandinavian trio featuring pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger. He has also performed with vibraphonist Jim Hart, vocalist Julia Biel and as a member of saxophonist Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet. More recently he has formed a new quintet, Qualia, that features Lockheart on saxophones alongside trumpeter Laura Jurd, pianist Will Barry and drummer Corrie Dick.
The chameleon like Noble is less closely identified with specific bands than his two illustrious colleagues. A highly versatile performer he has recorded in a variety of instrumental configurations including two solo piano albums “Close You Eyes” (1994) and the more recent “A Room Somewhere” which was released in 2015 to great critical acclaim. Others with whom Noble has recorded include saxophonists Julian Siegel, Ingrid Laubrock, Chris Biscoe and Zhenya Strigalev, guitarist Phil Robson and drummer Tom Rainey. Noble also has a long established trio featuring bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Dave Wickins, this line up releasing the album “Brubeck” in 2009. Noble has also appeared on disc with Pigfoot, the band led by former Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor. Yet to be documented on record is Noble’s superb Brother Face quintet featuring Batchelor, Whitford, Wickins and multi reed player Shabaka Hutchings. A highly busy musician and another acclaimed educator Noble has performed with many other jazz luminaries from both sides of the Atlantic in a variety of styles ranging from mainstream to free via the ‘punk trad’ of Pigfoot.
It’s this stylistic variety that links the musicians of Malija as Lockheart explains;
“ The Day I had Everything is about many musical things, often styles and influences that have come from our many diverse musical experiences working and developing on London’s vibrant jazz scene. The melting pot of London’s multi-faceted music scenes is reflected in the compositions, to me this is London jazz music, distinct and different from the American sound. The London scene of the 80s and 90s had a big impact. I was gigging with reggae and African bands as well as recording with some of the London indie groups of the time - all these things influenced my music making”.
Speaking about this album and its title Lockheart says;
“‘The Day I Had Everything’ is a reference to the sheer excitement one has as a child getting up in the morning and not being able to decide what to do first – everything seems so shiny and new. The coming together of Malija was like this – the three of us bringing in our compositions and developing them into something tangible, then the sheer fun of exploring the music in the recording studio”.
In the absence of a drummer Malija’s music could be summed up as a variety of ‘chamber jazz’ - but this is emphatically chamber jazz with balls. As one would expect with musicians and composers of this calibre there is plenty of harmonic, rhythmic and improvisatory gristle about this music, a grown up musical sophistication that ensures that Malija’s sound goes way beyond mere ‘prettiness’ despite there being many moments of genuine beauty here.
The band name implies that this is a highly democratic and interactive group and the eleven compositions are spread fairly evenly around the trio with Lockheart contributing five tunes and Noble and Hoiby three each. Two of the pieces feature string arrangements by Lockheart with the core trio being joined by the members of the Ligeti String Quartet – Mandhira de Saram and Patrick Dawkins on violins, Richard Jones on viola and Val Welbanks on cello.
The press release accompanying my copy of the album also offers brief insights into the inspirations behind each piece beginning with Lockheart’s “Squared”, which is described as being the first tune the trio ever played together. It’s also said to have a “sort of Bluegrass feel” although this is isn’t strikingly obvious. Hoiby’s bass and Noble’s left hand ensure that there’s plenty of interest going on rhythmically and besides some excellent ensemble playing there are also some fine individual moments, particularly from Noble on piano and Lockheart on tenor. Stylistically the piece isn’t too far removed from something that the Perfect Houseplants might have attempted.
Noble’s “Mr Wrack” is dedicated to his old technical drawing teacher, who also gets a mention in the album credits. It’s a typically quirky piece of writing from Noble with some sharp eared trio interplay in its early stages and a string arrangement that adds depth and power to the music in the second half of the piece as the Ligetis play staccato patterns behind Lockheart’s impassioned tenor solo.
Hoiby’s “Unknown” skips lightly and airily around a 5/4 time signature and features Lockheart overdubbing himself on a variety of horns including soprano sax and bass clarinet as the composer’s bass forms the backbone of the piece.
Lockheart’s “The Pianist” pays tribute to Duke Ellington and Earl Hines, two musicians admired hugely by both Noble and the composer. There are hints of both in Lockheart’s probing but melodic tenor and Noble’s jagged left hand rhythms and bluesy extemporisations but this no pastiche, simply excellent contemporary music inspired by the giants of the past.
The sound of Hoiby’s unaccompanied bass introduces Noble’s composition “Wheels”, which the composer describes as “folksy – almost coming off in places” which neatly sums up the exhilarating mood of the piece. Lockheart’s dancing soprano sax melodies again evoke comparisons with the Houseplants and the contrapuntal bass and piano rhythms are a constant source of fascination and delight. There’s a real sense of joyousness about this piece but a high level of sophistication too. An unalloyed treat all round.
Hoiby’s title piece is meant as an expression of the group’s warmth and exploratory nature and succeeds admirably on both counts. The piece boasts a haunting and lyrical melody which is ideally suited to Lockheart’s warm, breathy tenor sound but the saxophonist’s delicate probing and the sophisticated bass and piano interplay also hint at the more exploratory side of the trio.
“Almost A Tango” is exactly that, with composer Lockheart describing his piece as “a tango that never quite stays regular enough”. As a consequence the tune passes through a number of absorbing phases, always holding the attention of the listener. It’s the lengthiest track on the album and includes an extended tenor feature for Lockheart and a passage of unaccompanied bass from Hoiby as Noble’s musical knowledge and sophistication sees him holding everything together from the piano stool.
The pianist’s own “Blues” is described as a “beautifully different ambient blues” and it certainly doesn’t sound anything like the title might suggest. Instead it’s moody, brooding and atmospheric with a sparse piano and bass motif complemented by soft, breathy tenor with a hint of multiphonics as Noble adds some distinctive touches of his own with a little judicious work ‘inside the lid’.
Lockheart’s “One For Us” then lightens the mood again with its breezy, laid back, almost mainstream feel. The composer’s relaxed and fluent tenor leads the way and there’s also a flowing solo from Noble at the piano.
“Wayne’s World” is Hoiby’s tribute to the great saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter and is closest in spirit to Shorter’s contemporary style. The composer’s bass anchors the piece and allows both Lockheart and Noble to explore as the trio evokes Shorter’s ever questing spirit. Lockheart’s playing is particularly impressive here, offering proof, if any were needed, that he is one of the best saxophonists that Britain has ever produced.
The album concludes on an uplifting note with Lockheart’s “With One Voice”, a piece that sounds suitably hymnal and almost anthemic. The incorporation of the Ligetis brings an impressive additional grandeur to the piece and they combine particularly effectively with the composer’s burnished tenor tones.
Hoiby has described Malija’s music as being “simple, weird, complicated, free, tight, beautiful, ugly and heartfelt depending on your mood”. And he’s right, all these elements are present on a nominally ‘chamber jazz’ recording that comfortably bypasses any perceived restrictions and is consistently impressive in its scope in terms of style, emotion, texture and dynamics. Lockheart, Noble and Hoiby make an impressively big collective sound.
“Malija”, the album, is an impressive piece of work that succeeds on many levels. I hope to catch the trio performing this music live when they appear at the CBSO centre in Birmingham on the evening of Friday January 29th 2016.
blog comments powered by Disqus