by Ian Mann
January 13, 2021
As adventurous, distinctive and offbeat as ever. Their ongoing collective mastery of the shadowy hinterland between acoustic and electronic music bodes well for their next full length project.
“Bernabe Jurado EP”
Rory Simmons – trumpet, keyboards, electronics, programming
Chris Montague – guitar
Jon Scott – drums
The band Monocled Man, the electro-acoustic outfit led by trumpeter, programmer and producer Rory Simmons has always represented an intriguing proposition.
Formed in 2011 by Simmons, in conjunction with Montague and Scott, Monocled Man has previously recorded two full length albums for Whirlwind. “Southern Drawl” (2014) represented an assured and powerful début. An all instrumental affair the album drew on jazz, rock and electronic music to create a series of distinctive and often rousing soundscapes.
“We Drift Meridian” (2016) was a conceptual work that added the singing of guest vocalists Emilia Martensson and Ed Begley to the instrumental and electronic sounds of the core trio. The album concept was inspired by the German author Judith Shcalansky and her tome “Pocket Book of Remote Islands”, a non fiction work written in the style of a novel and featuring tales of far flung islands and their current or former inhabitants. A number of these stories sparked Simmons’ imagination and the idea for an album began to emerge. Both Monocled Man albums are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann web pages.
In 2017 I was also fortunate enough to cover a performance of the “Meridian” material at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Simmons, Montague and drummer Pete Ibbotson, a late replacement for the unavailable Scott, were joined by both Martensson and Begley and the performance was complemented by the screening of a film collated by Simmons that showed archive footage collected from the various islands that had inspired the music.
Monocled Man’s latest work is the four track EP “Bernabe Jurado”, which was recorded in 2019 but released at around the time of the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2020. Consequently it’s a work that has largely ‘slipped under the radar’ as far as both the critical fraternity and the wider listening public are concerned.
Like “Meridian” the EP is also a conceptual affair, a fact that emphasises the breadth of Simmons’ cultural interests. It is inspired by the true story of the author William Burroughs’ murder of his wife, Joan Vollmer in a drunken game of William Tell. Burroughs was subsequently defended by the lawyer Bernabe Jurado, who gives his name to this recording. Other sources of inspiration are the macabre short stories of Katherine Dunne and musician Steve Earle’s ‘Southern Gothic’ novel “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”.
“Bernabe Jurado” comes in a variety of formats, a digital EP, a 12” vinyl EP featuring all four tracks, and a 7” single featuring the third and fourth tracks of the EP.
It came as quite a surprise when a 7” single arrived in the post. The Jazzmann has reviewed vinyl LPs before, but this 45 rpm single is definitely a first.
Side A, “Sero Max for Joan Vollmer” is the more immediate of the two tracks and features fractured, multiple cut up rhythm parts, interspersed by Montague’s anchoring guitar motifs, these components underpinning Simmons’ bright, ebullient trumpeting. The piece concludes with the trumpet eventually dropping out and leaving the field open for Montague to round things off with a powerful, soaring, near metal, guitar shred.
Side B features “The Raw, Mineral Blue”, the title taken from a Burroughs monologue. The music itself is inspired by Daniel Lopatin’s score for the movie “Uncut Gems”. “I love his use of glacial synths, noisy samples and menacing analogue drum machines”, remarks Simmons.
Monocled Man’s performance features a glitchy, electronically manipulated drum groove, topped by Simmons’ plaintive, feathery trumpet, the whole wrapped in a wispy, ambient electronic soundwash, presumably partly generated t by Montague’s guitar effects. Both the ‘cut up’ rhythm track and Simmons own trumpet playing become more assertive as the piece progresses, the vocalised element of the leader’s playing adding a humanising component to the predominately electronic soundscape.
These two pieces represent a tantalising appetiser for the EP as a whole. The press release accompanying the single describes the other two tracks thus;
“For ‘Bernabe Jurado’ Simmons created layers of ambient textures, influenced by contemporary producers like Brian Eno and Thom Yorke, over which his trumpet playing moves between Arve Henriksen/Nils Petter Molvaer inspired introspection, the twisting improv of Dave Douglas and the glassy rawness of Tomasz Stanko”
“Memory Ugly Spirit’ has a compelling, urgent groove built out of wide stereo beats wrapping around Chris Montague’s strung-out trip pseudo country improv and Simmons’ declamatory trumpet melody.”
The press release also offers further insights into the creative processes behind the “Bernabe Jurado” EP;
“The creative process blended writing, improvisation and editing, filtered through the individual instrumental voices of the band”.
“Chris has this uncompromising skewed country blues thing coupled with a free improv sound: and his approach to the written material is grungy and trashy which I really like, and Jon works so well with the programming and samples and links things rhythmically and sonically.”
Also from the press release:
“Four tracks of delay drenched trumpet, jagged guitar lines and chewed up drum patterns unfolded in the studio around melodies penned by Simmons, only to be chopped and reassembled by him into new, ever-evolving forms”.
I suspect that the recording engineer, the estimable Alex Bonney, also played a substantial part in the finished product as he worked in conjunction with producer Simmons.
“Bernabe Jurado” finds Simmons and Monocled Man as adventurous, distinctive and offbeat as ever. Their ongoing collective mastery of the shadowy hinterland between acoustic and electronic music, and between composition and improvisation, bodes well for their next full length project.
In the meantime a new EP release from Eyes Of A Blue Dog, the Anglo-Norwegian electro-acoustic trio featuring Simmons, vocalist Elisabeth Nygard and drummer / sound artist Terje Evensen is due to be released in February 2021. Something else to look forward to.
The “Bernabe Jurado” EP is available via the Whirlwind Recordings Bandcamp pages here;