by Ian Mann
December 29, 2020
A highly impressive statement of intent. This is a fiercely interactive trio and the playing and writing combines a real sense of fun and joyousness with a New York informed confidence and attitude.
Greg Felton – piano, Cormac O’Brien – double bass, Matthew Jacobson – drums
Origin Story is a Dublin based trio playing exclusively original music, with all three members contributing compositions to the group repertoire.
The trio previously traded under the name F-JoB, a composite moniker derived from its members’ surnames, but has since adopted the less risqué title Origin Story for the release of this début album, which was first issued in October 2020.
Of the trio’s members the name that was previously known to me is that of drummer Matthew Jacobson, leader of the still ongoing quartet ReDiviDeR, a group that also includes the talents of Colm O’Hara on trombone, Nick Roth on alto sax and Derek Whyte on bass.
ReDiviDeR were regular collaborators with the Match & Fuse movement and their second album “meets I Dig Monk, Tuned” featured guest appearances from a number of UK based musicians, notably Kit Downes on keyboards, Alex Bonney on trumpet and electronics, Ben Davis on cello and Alex Roth on guitar. My review of this album can be read here;
Jacobson has also been involved with a number of other Irish and international ensembles including Insufficient Funs, Roamer, Ensemble Eriu, UMBRA, Berri, Naked Allies, Aerie, SlapBang, Fireplace Dragon, BigSpoon, Clang Sayne The Workshop, MUGA and Ms Mercy. He has also worked extensively with Irish singer-songwriter Anna-Mieke Bishop and collaborated with the Italian pianist Francesco Turrisi. Jacobson has also led his own trio, featuring bassist Simon Jermyn and American trumpeter Ralph Alessi. Full details of Jacobson’s multifarious musical activities can be found on his website http://www.matthewjacobsonmusic.com
Pianist Greg Felton leads his own groups and has also worked with two of Ireland’s most famous jazz musicians, bassist Ronan Guilfoyle and the late, great Louis Stewart (guitar). Felton was commissioned to compose and perform a body of work for the RTE Living Music Festival in 2007, for which he collaborated with the group White Rocket. He has also performed with several of the leading figures on the contemporary Irish jazz scene, including guitarist Tommy Halferty, saxophonist Matthew Berrill, bassist Dan Bodwell and drummers Kevin Brady and Sean Carpio.
Cormac O’Brien holds the bass chair with the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra in addition to leading his own groups. As a sideman he has also worked with Louis Stewart and also with visiting international jazz musicians such as saxophonists Bobby Watson and Ernie Watts, vocalist Cleveland Watkiss and keyboard player Kit Downes. O’ Brien and Jacobson also play together in a collaborative trio featuring Australian born saxophonist Daniel Rorke. O’Brien also works regularly with the well known Irish folk / jazz vocalist Mary Coughlan.
The paths of Jacobson, Felton and O’Brien have crossed frequently on the Irish jazz scene over the best part of twenty years. Origin Story brings them together as a regular collaborative trio with the group citing influences as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Craig Taborn and Deerhoof. The result is a brand of contemporary jazz that references the tradition, but draws more readily on modern influences and developments, with the trio’s shared Irish background also acting as a reference point.
The album commences in attention grabbing fashion with Felton’s title track, introduced by the rumble of Jacobson’s drums and also featuring the composer’s percussive but nimble pianism and O’Brien’s muscular but supple bass. The “Good Friday” album has enjoyed a good critical reception, with a number of other possible influences being cited. Among these is The Bad Plus, and there’s something of their style here, with Jacobson featuring strongly and delivering a particularly dynamic performance behind the kit. It’s a highly energetic trio performance, but Origin Story’s approach is ultimately less bombastic than their American counterparts, and they genuinely sound as if they’re having fun.
Jacobson’s own “Macon St” begins with Felton’s solo piano motif, sounding a little like a bird call, to which the other members of the trio respond. The dialogue between Felton’s piano and Jacobson’s colourful, highly charged drumming is particularly engrossing as the piece progresses through a series of dynamic and stylistic changes, including a loosely structured ‘free jazz’ episode. I suspect that the “Macon Street” in question may be the one in Brooklyn, New York. Jacobson spent some time in that area when studying on a Fulbright Scholarship at the School for Improvisational Music in Brooklyn, and both the composition and the trio’s performance capture something of New York’s energy and excitement.
Felton takes up the compositional reins again for “Regarding Time”, a more impressionistic piece that again toys with structure and improvisation. Here Jacobson is heard in more of a colourist’s role, while O’Brien comes to the fore with the first bass solo of the set, big toned and authoritative, but still essentially melodic.
The bassist’s own “Squirk” is a jaggedly funky strut that recalls Thelonious Monk and sees the trio delivering another dynamic trio performance. Felton’s piano solo also embraces elements of Cecil Taylor’s avant garde pianism, while O’Brien himself brings something of a Charles Mingus like earthiness to the performance. Jacobson is featured towards the close as the music becomes more abstract and fragmented.
I assume that Jacobson’s “Bergen St” references another Brooklyn thoroughfare, the journey this time centred around Felton’s circling piano motif, O’Brien’s countering bass line and the composer’s ongoing drum commentary. O’Brien’s bass takes over the lead mid tune, probing deeply and resonantly before Felton eventually takes over once more and Jacobson also begins to assert himself. As with all the other pieces on the album this is a highly interactive performance, brimming with energy and intent.
Also by Jacobson “Undone” presents a gentler, but no less focussed, side of the group. With the composer deploying brushes the piece exhibits a chilly, almost abstract lyricism with Felton’s sparse, often glacial piano complemented by O’Brien’s brooding bass ruminations.
Felton’s “Rum” increases the energy levels once more, the piece developing out of O’Brien’s agile but muscular bass motif and the colourful chatter of Jacobson’s drum accompaniment. Felton’s piano brings a suitably Afro-Caribbean flavour to the music on a piece that acts as a joyous, high octane cross between calypso and the avant garde.
The recording closes with a brief romp through Felton’s composition “Mild Turkish Delight”, the only piece to clearly reference bebop with its darting piano motifs and briskly energetic drumming, as Jacobson deploys a combination of brushes and sticks.
“Good Friday” was recorded at The Meadow Studio in Co. Wicklow and the trio are well served by the engineering team of Rian Trench and Ivan Jackman, who deliver a dynamic and incisive mix, but who also capture every nuance of these highly charged, energetic and uncompromising performances. This is a fiercely interactive trio and the playing and writing combines a real sense of fun and joyousness with a New York informed confidence and attitude. This is the sound of a band having ‘serious fun’.
Despite the trio’s shared Irish heritage and the fact that all have probably worked with folk artists at some point there isn’t even a whiff of any kind of Celtic whimsy on this album. And despite Jacobson’s Match & Fuse connections it doesn’t sound particularly ‘European’ either, with the all pervading influence of E.S.T. largely absent. In a blindfold test I’d probably have thought the trio were American.
Pianists Andrew Hill, Jaki Byard and Jason Moran have all been cited as influences by fellow commentators while Jacobson has also mentioned bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Tim Berne and fellow drummer Jim Black. I don’t know if Jacobson studied with Black during his time in Brooklyn, but there’s definitely something of Black’s style about Origin Story, that same mix of fun and seriousness, of adventurous writing and highly skilled playing allied to a fearless, irreverent, almost punk like attitude.
“Good Friday” has been named as The Irish Times Jazz Album of the Year 2020, and although I haven’t heard much of the competition I’d find it hard to disagree with that. Congratulations, guys.
Meanwhile Origin Story will be featured in a livestream performance tonight, 29th December 2020 at 9.00 pm from The Black Gate Cultural Centre in Galway.
Free to stream here: https://youtu.be/kagkfbTv5l0
“Good Friday” represents a highly impressive statement of intent and is available via the trio’s Bandcamp page.
blog comments powered by Disqus