by Ian Mann
March 29, 2020
An excellent calling card for a well balanced trio who have already established an excellent rapport and a distinct creative identity.
(Clonmell Jazz Social)
Harry Christelis – guitar, electronics, compositions, Andrea Di Biase – double bass, Dave Storey – drums
Moostak Trio is a new group led by the young London based guitarist and composer Harry Christelis. The trio’s eponymous début album teams him with drummer Dave Storey and Italian born bassist Andrea Di Biase, two of the leading figures on the capital’s jazz scene.
Born in London Christelis studied Jazz at Middlesex University where his tutors included guitarist Chris Montague, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Hall, pianist Nikki Iles and trumpeter Chris Bachelor. He has since worked with an impressive array of musicians across a range of musical genres.
Now an educator himself Chritelis also heads Clonmell Jazz Social (CJS), an organisation that stages jazz and improvised music events across London, including the Summer Jazz Weekender free festival in Greenwich, and much of the jazz programme at the Green Note venue in Camden.
Away from his primary creative source of Moostak Trio Christelis’ current projects include Rubber Walrus, a quartet dedicated to putting a jazz slant on Beatles songs, and a duo with fellow guitarist Pedro Valasco. He also works extensively with singer / songwriter Jamie Doe, who performs under the name The Magic Lantern.
Moostak Trio began by playing jazz standards, increasingly putting their own stamp on their chosen material. As the group began to build something of a following on the London jazz circuit Christelis began to introduce his own compositions into the trio’s repertoire, pieces that also drew on his love for other strands of music, notably folk and electronica.
Chritelis deliberately chose to keep his compositions simple and uncluttered, allowing plenty of scope for interpretation and improvisation. The trio’s début album features six Christelis compositions alongside five short group improvisations. These act as colourful segues between the more formal written compositions and help to give the album a kaleidoscopic quality.
The album was recorded at The Fish Factory studio by engineer Ben Lamdin in April 2019 with the trio all setting up together in one room and laying all the music down straight to tape. This was a conscious effort to reproduce the group’s live sound, but represented a considerable challenge to the musicians involved. It’s a challenge that they responded to magnificently on the evidence of the finished recording.
The album commences with the composition “Blues For Jo”, a piece with its roots in the jazz and blues traditions, but with a highly contemporary sound. An impressionistic opening featuring the sounds of Storey’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers alongside ethereal guitar and more earthy pizzicato double bass transforms into an elegant trio performance with the interplay between the leader’s guitar and Di Biase’s virtuoso double bass forming a particularly impressive part of the proceedings. As the piece progresses there’s a more conventional solo from Christelis, who probes gently and subtly on guitar in a style similar to that of one of his guitar heroes, the Dane Jakob Bro, currently signed to ECM Records. With his deft cymbal work Storey plays something of a colourist’s role, reminiscent of the playing of another of Christelis’ acknowledged influences, the late, great Paul Motian, with whom Bro once played.
“Orbits” represents the first of the five brief improvised episodes. Each of these represents a spontaneous collective interpretation of a single word phrase. Here double bass and mallet rumbles underpin the spacey, ambient textures of Christelis’ guitar.
Although Moostak Trio features Christelis’ compositions exclusively its very much a trio of equals with Di Biase and Storey both playing a substantial role in the overall creative process. Indeed the pair introduce “Stella”, a second tune rooted in the jazz and blues traditions. When Christelis eventually joins his colleagues the resultant sound is a little like “Bright Size Life” era Pat Metheny.
Again the leader’s guitar probes in gently exploratory fashion and the performance as a whole gives an impression of spaciousness. Christelis’ guitar musings are followed by a melodic double bass solo from the excellent Di Biase. Storey offers intelligent, delicate, nuanced brushed support throughout.
The next improvised piece, “Ocean”, clocks in at a little under two minutes. It begins in almost subliminal fashion and its ambient textures give the impression of great depth and mystery.
“Solenangis / Edits” picks up where “Oceans” left off and includes the eerie sounds of Di Biase’s bowed bass. One of two pieces exploring elements of free and modal playing it is richly atmospheric and includes the judicious use of electronics, with Christelis’ long, textured guitar lines underpinned by the gently rolling thunder of Storey’s drums. One still feels as if one is still in the ocean depths, immersed in the abyss.
The brief “Frenzy”, all forty two seconds of it, isn’t quite the wild thrash its title might suggest, with something of the mysterious atmosphere established by the previous two tracks still surviving intact.
“Haring Tree” is a sprightly piece based around a darting, repeated guitar motif that borrows from the world of minimalism. Storey’s drums dance lightly and colourfully around the leader’s guitar patterns and Di Biase’s underpinning bass groove. Christelis then strikes out into more orthodox territory with a more or less conventional guitar solo. There’s also something of a feature for the ever inventive Storey as the piece draws towards a close.
The next improvised piece is “Jelly”, clocking in at a little over a minute. It’s suitably quirky with deep, earthy bowed bass contrasting well with the leader’s high pitched, spacey ‘Klanger’ like guitar FX. Storey offers succinct drum commentary / punctuation.
Di Biase’s bass forms the backbone of the composition “The Garden”, subtly shoring up Chritelis’ softly chiming guitar ruminations. Storey again gives a performance packed with delicate nuance and finely judged detail.
At a little over seven minutes “Zero Hours” is the lengthiest piece on the record and the most obvious exploration of the modal style. Christelis stretches out in unhurried, fashion his solo unfolding organically, subtly supported by Di Biase’s implacable bass motif and Storey’s subtly detailed drum accompaniment.
The album concludes with the final improvised snippet, “Rhyme”, one last tantalising spontaneous fragment.
This recording represents an excellent début from Moostak Trio. Christelis and his trio have established a distinctive group identity that may draw inspiration from Bro, Metheny and Bill Frisell but which ultimately sounds substantially different to all of these. It’s a record that doesn’t shout for the listener’s attention, instead choosing to focus on colour and texture rather than power or technique, although the quality of the playing is excellent throughout. Christelis and his colleagues choose not to highlight their virtuosity but instead deploy their skills to create atmospheres and to tell stories – and they do it all rather well.
At around thirty eight and a half minutes this is a short album by modern CD standards but it’s an excellent calling card for a well balanced trio who have already established an excellent rapport and a distinct creative identity.
I feel really sorry for the guys as they had intended to launch this album with a six date UK tour during April 2020, which sadly will not be able to take place due to the Covid-19 outbreak. I’m also disappointed for myself as I’d hoped to check them out live at the Cardiff date, originally scheduled for April 7th.
Nevertheless Moostak Trio’s début album is available for purchase in CD or digital formats here;
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