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Martin Archer Trio

See You Soon Or See You Sometime

by Ian Mann

June 09, 2022


Archer, Bardon and Shaw achieve an admirably broad array of sounds and styles within the saxophone trio format.

Martin Archer Trio

“See You Soon Or See You Sometime”

(Discus Music – Discus 127CD)

Martin Archer – tenor & sopranino saxophones, saxello, Michael Bardon – double bass, cello, Walt Shaw – drums

Martin Archer (born 1956)  is a multi-instrumentalist who is best known for his work as a saxophonist. He is also the proprietor of Discus Music, the Sheffield based label that champions improvised and experimental music in the UK and beyond.

Discus was established in 1984 by Archer and fellow multi-reed player Mick Beck, initially as an outlet for their own music. It has since expanded to present works across a variety of genres including jazz & improv, electronic music, extended song forms and avant rock, plus many unclassifiable points in between.

As a label Discus Music is highly prolific and during the course of its near forty year existence the imprint has released literally hundreds of titles. Discus may not enjoy the high media profile of Edition or Whirlwind, but its contribution to British jazz and experimental music is incalculable.
Readers are directed to its website and Bandcamp page to discover more about the label and its artists.

Archer’s own output is voluminous and ranges from jazz and improvisation to electronic music and beyond. It has featured his playing in a wide range of contexts and with a broad array of like minded collaborators. One of Archer’s most productive creative liaisons has been with vocalist Julie Tippetts. Their most recent release, the double set “Illusion” (Discus Music, 2022) has been greeted with considerable critical acclaim and I intend to take a look at this impressive new work shortly.

However its release was pre-dated by this album, which first appeared in March 2022. My apologies to Martin for not getting around to writing about it before now. The album sees Archer working in the classic ‘saxophone trio’ format first pioneered by Sonny Rollins and finds him in the company of bassist / cellist Michael Bardon (born 1986) and drummer Walt Shaw (born 1946). The album cover states the birth dates of all the players, suggesting that Archer is keen to emphasise that this is a genuine inter-generational project.

Archer states his intentions for the album as follows;
“I have wanted to make a trio recording – that simplest and yet most demanding configuration for any saxophone player – for many years, but had been unable to decide who the other players should be. It was only when I heard Michael’s solo work that I realised that his approach to the bass, combined with Walt’s textural playing, would make the foundation which I was looking for. I wanted a trio sound where the saxophone could inhabit the music from within – as opposed to riding upfront in the role of the soloist hero. However, I chose to play mainly tenor saxophone, (supplemented occasionally by sopranino and saxello) to maximise the contrast between jazzier horn lines versus the more abstract playing from the other instruments. Anyhow, grand concept aside, once we met we just played all day, using some simple notated and graphic scores, plus some ideas generated on the spot. We hope you enjoy the resulting sounds. As ever when I play in this style, the blues and the innovations of AACM music are never too far away”.

Bardon’s solo album “The Gift of Silence” (Discus Music), as referenced above by Archer,  is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

I know Bardon’s playing best from his appearances at the Queens Head in Monmouth where he has performed on more than one occasion as part of a freely improvising trio alongside German saxophonist Hans Peter Hiby and drummer Paul Hession. He has also visited the venue as a member of the Nat Birchall Quintet.

I have to admit to being previously unfamiliar with the work of former schoolteacher Walt Shaw. Based in Derby Shaw is a highly creative artist who divides his time between music and the visual arts, frequently combining the two. This album features the Shaw composition “Evabje”, which is based on a graphic score created by Shaw and which is reproduced as part of the album packaging. It represents a perfect example of the visual and sonic arts working in tandem. Readers who wish to learn more about Walt Shaw and his work are directed to his website

The programme for the album features a mix of composition (graphic and notated) and improvisation, with the focus very much on the latter.

The album commences with Archer’s composition “Rotten Star”, which is introduced by the ethereal chimes, shimmers and rumbles of Shaw’s cymbals and drums – he’s a musician who regards himself as a ‘percussionist’ rather than a drummer. Archer’s tenor delivers snatches of melody around which the trio conduct an erudite tripartite discussion. As Archer observes in his notes this is very much a trio of equals,  with Shaw’s “textural playing” very much at the heart of the proceedings. Bardon also makes a huge contribution through the medium of his fluent and highly mobile bass commentary. One can almost hear the protagonists thinking and also sense that they are all listening closely to each other, a quality enhanced by the clarity of Archer’s production. The album was recorded at his own Discus Music Studio in Sheffield.

“Evabje”, Shaw’s graphic composition, is even more loosely structured. It commences with free-form scribblings featuring bat like sax squeaks, the rustle of percussion and the eerie sound of bow on bass (or possibly cello). With only the vaguest of musical maps to guide them one senses that the trio are navigating their way through the graphic score largely on improvisational instinct. Extended techniques are featured prominently with Bardon featuring both with and without the bow and with Shaw delivering an astonishing variety of percussive sounds.  I suspect that this may be the track where Archer is featured on sopranino and saxello. Again it’s a deeply intense listening experience for both the players and the listener.

The title track is a fifteen and a half minute tour de force with the trio improvising robustly around Archer’s composition. The leader is most definitely back on tenor and the opening section finds him erupting over the polyrhythmic rumble of Shaw’s drums, these allied to Bardon’s muscular bass lines. Subsequent discussions are slightly less frenetic and more varied, with Shaw again generating an impressively broad variety of percussive sounds. His playing is a revelation throughout this album, I’m only sorry not to have discovered him before. An even more loosely structured section represents a (comparative) pause for reflection and features the use of extended techniques, with Bardon delivering some astonishingly low frequencies with the bow. He’s then left on his own to play pizzicato, before a star-burst of sax and percussion explodes around him as the piece resolves itself with a rousing finale.

“Walt Blues” is jointly credited to Archer and Bardon and commences with the sound of the latter flourishing the bow, Structured around the blues form it’s the most formal composition on the album and is reminiscent of the music of Ornette Coleman. Bardon’s bowed bass figure underpins the tune, supplemented by the dedicatee’s drums and percussion. Archer appears on saxello (I think), which brings something of a Middle Eastern feel to his playing. The piece features a truly virtuoso performance from Bardon, who also delivers a spectacular arco solo.

The ring of Shaw’s percussion ushers in Archer’s aptly named “Chime Scene” (great title), setting the mood for the improvised conversation that follows. The often ethereal sounds of Shaw’s percussion are now augmented by the sounds of Bardon’s grainy bowing and the hooting and fluttering of Archer’s saxes, with extended techniques again in evidence.

It’s ironic that wholly improvised music, originally intended to grant musicians maximum freedom, can sometimes become idiomatic, a fact that is not lost on Archer who awards the title “Improvisation In Traditional Form” to the concluding piece on the album. Credited to Archer / Bardon / Shaw it’s the only 100 % spontaneous track but the title is a nod to such familiar improv tropes as the quiet, exploratory intro featuring sax, double bass and the furtive rustle and rumble of drums and percussion. Subsequently the music becomes more full on, Archer’s tenor scything its way through the polyrhythmic rumble of Shaw’s drumming. There are also pauses for quieter reflection, such as the dialogue between Bardon’s plucked bass and the chimes, shimmers and rumbles of Shaw’s percussion. Shaw is then left to his own devices to create a neatly constructed solo drum / percussion feature that emphasises his skills as a colourist. Archer’s return presages a knottier section featuring the sounds of multiphonic tenor, bowed bass and the scrabble of percussion. At times this section recalls the earlier “Evabje”. Finally we have the long, slow fade, with Bardon’s bowing again prominent.

In truth the narrative arc of “Improvisation In Traditional Form” is actually less predictable than its title might suggest. This is something that is also true of the album as a whole. Yes, it’s a ‘free jazz’ recording, and therefore not to everybody’s taste, but it’s a fine example of the genre with Archer, Bardon and Shaw achieving an admirably broad array of sounds and styles within the saxophone trio format. Taken on its own terms this is a highly successful album and one that amply fulfils Archer’s stated aims for the project. I’d love to see this trio come to Monmouth to perform at The Queens Head.

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