by Ian Mann
January 21, 2015
"Immune To Clockwork" represents an impressive début from Brice and strikes a good balance between the written and the improvised with the quintet delivering a highly distinctive group sound.
Olie Brice Quintet
“Immune To Clockwork”
On his website http://www.oliebrice.wordpress.com Olie Brice describes himself as “a jazz and improv double bassist, based in London”. In this capacity he’s also appeared on the Jazzmann website, most notably on “Glimmers” and “Beyond These Voices”, the two album releases by the quartet led by trumpeter Nick Malcolm. I’ve also heard him on albums by Birmingham based saxophonist Mike Fletcher and by Catatumbo, a trio also featuring saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Javier Carmona.
In a live context I’ve witnessed Brice on a number of occasions, the most recent at the 2014 London Jazz Festival with saxophonist Dee Byrne’s group Entropi. However perhaps the most notable of these was with the Chicagoan improv giant Ken Vandermark as part of a trio with drummer Mark Sanders at the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham back in 2012. He’s also a fairly frequent visitor to the Queens Head in Monmouth with Nick Malcolm and others.
Brice is also involved in a number of other projects on the close knit London improv scene as a visit to his website will attest. He is a very busy musician and “Immune To Clockwork”, released in October 2014, represents his first album as a leader. The band he has assembled is an interesting one, a group with no less than three horn players but with no conventional harmony instrument. Brice is joined in the engine room by the experienced drummer Jeff Williams, a musician with whom he has had a long and productive association. Trumpeter Alex Bonney is another close musical ally who has worked with Brice in a number of contexts and he is joined in a distinctive front line by British tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip and the Polish musician Waclaw Zimpel, who plays the little heard alto clarinet. In effect Zimpel is the “wild card”, the musician most British listeners probably won’t have heard of before. It’s perhaps as a result of his presence that the album appears on the Polish Multikulti label which has released several other albums featuring the clarinettist.
“Immune To Clockwork” exhibits a similar aesthetic to the two Nick Malcolm albums upon which Brice appears in that the music treads a thin dividing line between the written and the improvised. The seven pieces are all ascribed to Brice implying that all have some degree of a compositional element. This is no shrieking improv skronk fest and the music remains accessible, if occasionally challenging, throughout. The three horns allow for the use of rich colours and textures plus some terrific creative interplay while Brice and Williams form a fluid and flexible rhythm section who are fully attuned to the sensibilities of their colleagues.
Opening piece “The Hands” takes its inspiration from a poem by Denise Levertov (1923-97). It begins with the breathy, conversational whisper of Hanslip’s tenor sax gently shadowed by bass and drums. The three horns then coalesce on a vaguely Ornette-ish theme before the focus returns to the thoughtful sax probing of Hanslip, a musician who has come to improv from a more conventional jazz background and always retains a strong sense of melody in his playing. He receives wonderfully sensitive support from Brice’s grounding bass and Williams’ subtly detailed drumming, qualities that continue even after Hanslip passes the flame to the excellent Zimpel. There’s a hint of bluesy dissonance before the whole group comes together again to reprise the theme on a piece that sets the tone for the album as a whole with just the right balance of freedom and structure.
“The Old Yedidia” is dedicated to the memory of one Angela Brice and features the melancholy sound of Bonney’s trumpet on an elegant and fluent opening solo. It’s interesting to hear Bonney playing wholly acoustically and with such sensitivity after witnessing a number of his electronic excursions on the instrument in other contexts. When Zimpel takes up the reins he initially adheres to the established mood but subtly mutates it, gradually increasing the levels of energy and intensity on a spell binding solo. Finally the melancholic, East European folk tinged theme returns on one of Brice’s most arresting compositions.
The title track is more freely structured and obviously collectively improvised than either of its immediate predecessors. The horns murmur and whisper, their lines twisting and turning about each other as bass and drums shuffle furtively around them. Eventually Brice is left on his own but his solo bass continues to hold the attention, joined eventually by Williams’ subtle percussion shadings.
“Crumbling Shyly” erupts with another Coleman-esque theme with slurred horn lines and powerful drumming, the opening fanfares eventually subsiding and leading to a solo drum feature, this in turn the gateway for a thrilling series of high octane exchanges by the horns above a roiling rhythm section. There’s actually not much that’s shy and retiring about this piece at all!
“What Might Have Been” opens with sombre and deeply resonant solo bass subsequently joined by brushed drums and quietly rueful but effortlessly fluent and fluid tenor sax. Essentially it’s a ballad, albeit one couched in improv terms. Hanslip’s beautifully controlled performance is genuinely emotive and moving.
The following “Snake Path” is more abstract with the three horns once more coiling sinuously about each other and exuding a vague air of menace as they are stalked by Williams’ mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. The occasional use of multiphonics adds to the unsettling atmosphere on a piece that sounds largely improvised.
The closing “Tell Me Again” features a more obviously written theme but is again full of spiky and sparky horn interplay on another powerful collective item with the spirit of Ornette Coleman never far away.
“Immune To Clockwork” represents an impressive début from Brice and strikes a good balance between the written and the improvised. Brice’s themes are strong enough to provide fertile soil for stimulating improvisation and although there are some excellent individual moments this is very much a team effort with the quintet delivering a highly distinctive and interactive group sound.
I was already familiar with the work of the London based musicians on this record but Zimpel’s playing was a revelation and I’d like to hear more from him.
In the meantime Brice will be launching the album at The Vortex in Dalston, London on Tuesday 3rd February 2015. The line up will feature Brice, Williams and Bonney plus George Crowley on tenor sax and Mike Fletcher on the rare C-Melody sax. Details at http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk
From Jeff Williams via email;
Enjoyed your lovely review of the Olie Brice CD. Very astute, if I may say so.
Thanks and best wishes,