by Ian Mann
January 19, 2021
Music that is mysterious, compelling, charming and strangely accessible.
Martin Stender – saxophone, flute, harmonium
Henrik Olsson – guitars
Jeppe Skovbakke – bass, synthesiser
Sean Carpio – drums, bongos, acoustic guitar
Night Repair is an international quartet featuring musicians from Denmark, Sweden and Ireland.
It was formed in 2017 by the Danish saxophonist and composer Martin Stender, a musician best known for his membership of the Danish quintet Girls In Airports, a highly successful group on the international jazz scene with six albums to its credit, two of these having been released on the British label, Edition.
I’ve been something of a fan of Girls In Airports since first discovering their music at a lunchtime performance at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho during the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. An account of that show can be found as part of my Festival coverage and I later reviewed their two album releases for Edition, “Fables” (2015) and the concert set “Live” (2017).
Given my admiration for GIA’s work I was both delighted and intrigued when this recording from Stender’s ‘side project’, Night Repair, was forwarded to me for review. “Slow Stone” actually represents the group’s second full length release, following the literally titled “1st Album” (2018).
I was never totally convinced by ‘Girls In Airports’ as a group name, but Night Repair does represent a slight improvement, even if the new band does take its moniker from a brand of skin lotion.
Night Repair have performed extensively in Denmark and Germany and in 2019 undertook a three week tour of Danish schools. Performing to potentially unresponsive teenagers represented something of a challenge for the band, but it was one that they were able to negotiate successfully.
Much of the material that graces “Slow Stone” was written on these tours and the band subsequently went into the studio in late 2019, recording together in one room and with editing and overdubbing kept to a minimum.
In this ‘live in the studio’ setting Stender supplemented his saxophones with flute and an Indian harmonium, while Olsson augmented his guitars with a range of FX, including the use of a brush and other devices on the strings. Skovbakke moved between acoustic double bass and synth bass, while Carpio, representing the ‘Emerald Isle’, even doubled on acoustic guitar at one point.
Night Repair’s working methods are similar to those deployed by Girls In Airports in that most of the original compositional ideas are Stender’s, melodic and rhythmic sketches that are subsequently developed by the group as a whole.
Stender says of this process;
“The players’ unique style has to shine through in the music, and at the same time the music should really take the listener to some interesting places in their imagination. I’m much more interested in that, than in the idea of a composer with a great master-plan. Most of the good ideas are discovered by the group.”
In general “Slow Stone” is less introspective than its predecessor, with Stender describing it as “more light hearted and colourful” than the “more dark and melancholic début”. Like GIA the quartet’s music draws on a variety of influences, ranging from jazz to indie rock and more. The addition of guitars and bass gives Night Repair’s music a different feel to GIA’s twin reeds / keyboards / drum / percussion line up, although there is very much a shared spirit between the two bands, with Stender’s ideas shaping the music of each.
This latest Night Repair album opens with “A Faint Blue Line”, which commences with the drones and swirls of the harmonium, giving the music an almost folkish feel. It’s undeniably atmospheric, with the distinctive sound of the harmonium joined by Carpio’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles and the cleanly delineated lines of Olsson’s electric guitar. Occasionally the harmonium takes on an almost organ like sense of solemnity as Skovbakke’s double bass gently picks it own way through the piece. An evocative and effective start.
“Two Step Sweat” introduces itself with the sound of jauntily strummed acoustic guitar (presumably Carpio), subsequently joined by electric guitar, bass and tenor sax. Even without drums the music possesses an impressive rhythmic drive, with the interlocking patterns woven by the three string players underpinning Stender’s exploratory sax solo.
Carpio returns to the kit to usher in “White Sails”, his neatly constructed ‘colourist’s’ intro subsequently augmented by guitar and bass, plus Stender on flute, the airiness of his playing reflecting the song title. But it’s not all plain sailing, with Olsson scraping a range of devices across his strings to deliver a harsh and abrasive antidote to the apparent sweetness of the flute. It’s a simple but extremely effective contrast.
A peel of guitar notes introduces “The Pearl Button”, with Olsson subsequently joined by double bass, breathy tenor sax and brushed drums. The chiming guitar motif shapes the course of the piece, alongside Skovbakke’s melodic bass ruminations and Carpio’s filigree cymbal work. The piece unfolds slowly and organically, with Carpio later setting up a gently rolling drum pattern that underpins Stender’s melodic tenor sax incantations.
The harmonium returns on “Self”, its drones complementing Olsson’s heavily distorted guitar and Carpio’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Again the harmonium brings a sense of majesty to the music, eventually fading way to give rise to a second section featuring the persuasive needling of Olsson’s guitar, Stender’s elongated saxophone melody lines and a gently rumbling, mallet driven drum groove. Eventually the music subsides, leaving only the lonely tolling of Carpio’s cymbals.
The title track is introduced by shimmering guitar atmospherics, melodic double bass and the gentle rustle of brushed drums. Stender’s sax pipes wispy melodies as the piece gently unfolds, serene but faintly unsettling. The next section sees an injection of pace and energy, with the saxophone in particular becoming more assertive, and with Stender effecting an almost Garbarek like plaintiveness at times. The conclusion of the piece features brief reprises of both these contrasting sections.
An extended salvo of drums introduces the closing “Ovatio”, with Carpio eventually joined by Skovbakke’s synth bass to create a propulsive groove that is ridden by Olsson’s heavily distorted guitar and the incisive wail of Stender’s sax. This is the closest that Night Repair get to all out rock; fans of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator might appreciate the power and intensity the quartet generate here. Stender’s final sax cadenza over the rolling thunder of Carpio’s drums adds snatches of folk like melody, creating an almost shamanic effect, before the music eventually subsides and the album fades out with a slowly declining passage of electronically generated ‘white noise’.
Overall I was rather impressed with “Slow Stone”, as I was with Night Repair’s début album, which I gave a quick spin on Soundcloud. Stender’s music is neither easy to describe or define and it doesn’t fit neatly into any particular category. Improvisation is clearly an important component in his music making, but there’s an indie and prog rock sensibility too, plus trace elements of both folk and contemporary classical music.
Stender isn’t afraid to keep things simple -“I want to overwhelm listeners with elements as simple as possible”, he states on the Night Repair website. Indeed, some of his compositions develop in interesting and beguiling ways out of the most basic of ideas. In this regard his writing reminds me of that of Seb Rochford for Polar Bear. Stender’s pieces develop and change shape almost imperceptibly and it’s tempting to think of him as a ‘painter in sound’, his techniques ranging from the broadest of aural brush strokes to fine, pointillist sonic details. It results in music that is mysterious, compelling, charming and strangely accessible.
But the success of Night Repair is not just about Stender. The other group members also play an integral role in the overall creative process and as instrumentalists Olsson, Skovbakke and Carpio all deliver superb performances. It is particularly gratifying to hear the Irish drummer making his mark on the international jazz stage.
The different instrumental format ensures that Night Repair sounds substantially to Girls In Airports, but nevertheless the presence of Stender ensures that both groups share an important and distinctive element of musical DNA. Fans of Girls In Airports will almost certainly enjoy the music of Night Repair too.
On this evidence the musical career of the innovative and prolific Martin Stender looks to have a lot more mileage in it.blog comments powered by Disqus