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Moostak Trio

Moostak Trio, Livestream from The Green Note, Camden, 22/11/2020 (Part of EFG London Jazz Festival).

Photography: Photograph of Harry Christelis by Katarzyna Borek sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website.

by Ian Mann

November 27, 2020


Moostak Trio is concerned with painting in sound and with ideas of texture, colour, ambience and nuance. They have already established an excellent creative rapport and a distinctive group aesthetic.

Moostak Trio

Livestream from the Green Note, Camden

Part of EFG London Jazz Festival 2020

First streamed 22/11/2020

Harry Christelis – guitar, electronics, Andrea Di Biase – double bass, Dave Storey – drums

This performance was the final event in the four concert EFG LJF series from the Green Note, co-ordinated by London based promoters Clonmell Jazz Social in conjunction with Undular Productions (sound) and Freeze Productions (video).

Earlier performances by the Nathaniel Facey Quartet and by Total Vibration have already been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann site.

Clonmell Jazz Social (or CJS) is headed by London born guitarist and composer Harry Christelis, who elected to save his own group, Moostak Trio until last.

The group released its eponymous début album in March 2020 and was due to officially launch the recording with a six date UK tour during April, which inevitably fell victim to the first Corona Virus lockdown.

I had enjoyed the trio’s album and had hoped to see them performing their music at the Flute & Tankard in Cardiff as part of that tour. My review of the album, which contains further biographical details relating to Christelis can be viewed here;

Having been denied the opportunity of seeing the band in April it was inevitable that I would be drawn to this particular livestream. As it transpired this was the first gig that Moostak Trio had played since before the start of the pandemic. As Christelis wryly observed this was, in effect, their album launch event.

Christelis acknowledges the influence of fellow guitarists Jakob Bro and Bill Frisell upon his music, plus drummers Elvin Jones and RJ Miller. Perhaps less obvious inspirations are the rock groups The Beatles and Talk Talk. Among Christelis’ other projects is Rubber Walrus, a quartet dedicated putting a jazz slant on Beatles songs.

This livestream performance began in atmospheric fashion with Christelis utilising an array of foot pedals and other floor mounted devices to create a series of spacey, ethereal textures, making use of echo and delay to create subtly layered washes of sound. Bass and drums were gradually added with Storey very much fulfilling a colourist’s role. His drum colourations and cymbal flourishes augmented the leader’s carefully constructed guitar soundscapes, while Di Biase picked up the bow to provide vigorous, and sometimes abrasive arco bass. Eventually Christelis’ guitar finally took flight, soaring above a backdrop of Di Biase’s bowed bass and Storey’s mallet rumbles and cymbal colourations.

The diffident Christelis made few tune announcements. It’s possible that the opening piece may actually have been wholly improvised. The trio’s début album is a mix of Christelis compositions punctuated by shorter improvised episodes, but these are effectively cameos, as none exceeds two minutes in length. However one suspects that the improvisatory process could easily be expanded upon in the live (or livestream environment).
It’s equally possible that this was a variation on the piece “Solenangis / Edits” from the group’s CD, a highly atmospheric and evocative piece that finds the trio blurring the lines between composition and improvisation.

The second piece began with Di Biase’s pizzicato bass motif, quickly joined by the patter of Storey’s hands on his drums. A backdrop of grounding bass and delicately brushed drums subsequently underpinned Christelis’ melodic guitar ruminations, before the leader handed over to Di Biase for a melodic double bass solo. I suspect that this may have been “Zero Hours”, a Christelis composition from the trio’s début CD.

I was on surer ground with an arrangement of the Beatles tune “And I Love Here”, a piece that presumably forms part of the Rubber Walrus repertoire. This particular Lennon / McCartney composition seems to be becoming a bit of a favourite among jazz musicians, particularly guitarists. Chris Montague gave solo guitar performance of the piece during a recent livestream featuring his Warmer Than Blood Trio. The Moostak guys treated one of the most beautiful of all Beatles songs with due reverence, with Storey’s subtle brushwork supporting Di Biase’s melodic bass variations on the theme and Christelis’ more expansive, but still wholly appropriate, guitar explorations.

Christelis announced the tune “Haring Tree” from the trio’s album, presumably named in honour of the artist Keith Haring. With its infectious, minimalist inspired guitar motif this piece proved to be a particularly popular item among the members of the trio’s online audience. As one commentator noted the tune had even been featured on the BBC’s 6 Music radio channel.

The next piece exhibited a floating elegance, with Christelis’  guitar gliding above the backdrop of Di Biase’s deeply resonant bass undertow and Storey’s sensitively brushed drums. Di Biase also featured as a soloist, and the interplay between his bass and the leader’s guitar was also genuinely impressive. I suspect that this may have been “Stella”, also from the début CD.

Christelis has worked extensively with singer-songwriter Jamie Doe, who performs under the name The Magic Lantern. Doe has also collaborated with a number of other jazz performers, among them vocalist Emilia Martensson. Christelis chose to end this Moostak set with an arrangement of Doe’s song “Stitches”, sourced from the Magic Lantern album “Love Of Too Much Living”. Introduced by Storey at the drums this was a delightful way to close, the music direct and melodic, and somewhat Metheny-ish in this instrumental context.

This was a more low key performance than those by Facey or Total Vibration, but was just as satisfying in its own way. Moostak Trio is more concerned with painting in sound and with ideas of texture, colour, ambience and nuance. It’s a very well balanced group, with Di Biase and Storey both playing an integral role in the creative process. Storey’s sensitive, nuanced performances behind the kit with this band inevitably invite comparisons with the playing of such greats as Jon Christensen and Paul Motian.

I’ll admit that I’d occasionally appreciate a little bit more grit in the oyster and a greater degree of dynamic variation. Nevertheless, as I observed when reviewing the recording,  Moostak Trio have already established an excellent creative rapport and a distinctive group aesthetic and I’m pleased that I have finally enjoyed the opportunity of seeing them ‘live’. That said I’d encourage Harry to engage a little more with audiences when they do eventually get back out on the road for real.

Finally congratulations to Clonmell Jazz Social and their associates for an excellent series of EFG LJF livestream events from the Green Note.

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