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Paradox Ensemble



by Ian Mann

August 25, 2013

/ EP

Kind of "Kind Of Blue" for the 21st Century, with trumpeter and leader Nick Walters also revelling in his role as composer, arranger and soundscaper.

Paradox Ensemble


(Efpi Records FP012)

The extravagantly bearded trumpeter Nick Walters is one of the chief soloists in Manchester’s acclaimed Beats & Pieces Big Band with the pieces “Yafw” and “Three” from B&PBB’s 2012 début album “Big Ideas” both graced with substantial Walters contributions. The trumpeter is also part of the Riot Jazz Brass Band which is currently touring the European festival circuit.

However there are other sides to Walters’ talents. He is also an electronics and remix artist who has worked in conjunction with other Manchester based outfits such as Skamel and Caulbearers as well as treating the music of B&PBB.

Paradox Ensemble unites his trumpeting and electronic skills with his composing talents as part of a nine piece ensemble boasting an interesting and unusual (possibly unique) instrumental configuration comprised of musicians based in both Manchester and London. The full line-up is;
Nick Walters - trumpet, electronics, composer
Tom Harrison - alto sax
Ed Cawthorne - tenor sax, bass clarinet, vibraphone
Tim Cox - trombone
Ben Kelly - sousaphone
Aidan Shepherd - accordion
Rebecca Nash - piano, keyboards
Paul Michael - bass
Yussef Dayes - drums

“Entanglement” is described as an EP but feels like full length album comprising as it does of four relatively lengthy compositions that would fit neatly over two sides of a vinyl LP.It also boasts a unified, almost conceptual atmosphere. Walters’ pieces explore the legacy of Miles Davis and Gil Evans from a contemporary perspective. One also senses that the album is part of a musical lineage that embraces other post Miles trumpet explorers and innovators such as Palle Mikkelborg, Nils Petter Molvaer, Arve Henriksen and Manchester’s own Matthew Halsall.
Walters also cites the influence of contemporary acts such as Aphex Twin, Jaga Jazzist and Tortoise, all intrepid explorers of the amorphous territory where jazz, rock and electronica intersect. The unusual instrumental line up combined with Walter’ imaginative use of electronics conspires to create a rich sonic palette full of interesting colours and textures with Shepherd’s accordion a particularly distinctive voice.  The group’s début live performance at the 2013 Manchester Jazz Festival drew favourable reviews both from Adrian Stevenson of the Ring Modulator blog and from Tony Dudley Evans writing for Peter Bacon’s The Jazz Breakfast blog. Both reviewers mention Walters’ inventive use of electronics and also emphasise the Ensemble’s way with a groove. The shadow of contemporary electronic and dance music is never far away but it’s very much filtered through a jazz perspective.

Opener “Hitch Slap” begins with a trombone vamp, later reinforced by sousaphone, above which Walters sprinkles some electronic fairy dust as the sound gradually builds in layers with the addition of keyboards, accordion and horns. The mix of acoustic and electronic sounds works well as Walters subtly updates the modal ideas of Miles Davis throwing in all kinds of additional elements and later developments along the way. Kind of “Kind Of Blue” for the 21st Century.
Shepherd’s accordion adds a folk flavour to an already rich brew and he proves be a remarkably fluent and imaginative soloist on the instrument. Walters adds dub reggae effects to Cox’s trombone solo and we also hear from tenorist Ed Cawthorne. But really it’s the overall ensemble sound that counts with Walters revelling in his role as composer, arranger and soundscaper.

“LJM” explores similarly trippy, dubby territory with subtle but insistent grooves emerging from a swirling fog of electronica and brooding bass clarinet. This time Walters allows himself some solo space on trumpet above intertwined layers of keyboard and accordion and the interlocking rhythms of Michael, Dayes and Kelly. Tom Harrison’s alto also features prominently fuelled by some splendidly propulsive grooves. As the piece gathers momentum there are some thrillingly invigorating ensemble passages powered by yet more punchy grooves. There’s plenty here to endorse Adrian and Tony’s remarks about the energy of the Ensemble’s live performances. I’m sure they’d be just as effective in a club as they obviously were at a jazz festival.

The title track begins with an intriguing blend of contrapuntal jazz horns and broken hip hop beats with Shepherd providing an additional folktronica element. Rapidly repeated ostinato phrases are bolstered by walloping sousaphone driven grooves with Nash’s electric piano solo providing a more conventionally jazzy interlude. Excellent stuff.

Michael’s elastic bass groove is a constant throughout “Photo 51”, underpinning the ebb and flow of the tune through inventive sax and accordion solos and freeing up drummer Dayes who produces some commendably colourful and adventurous work.  The piece concludes with some thrillingly raucous ensemble passages full of squalling horns and driving rhythms before concluding with an abrupt thump from Dayes’ drums.

Still inescapably jazz despite all its various other styles and influences “Entanglement” is a supremely confident début from this exciting new ensemble. Walters brings something of the flair and energy of B&PBB to his new project and his blending of conventional jazz virtues with contemporary rhythms and electronica is assured and convincing -  and, perhaps more importantly, is also ineffably cool. Expect to hear a lot more from Walters and his colleagues, it’s quite conceivable that Paradox Ensemble will generate the same kind of buzz created by label mates and close musical relatives B&PBB becoming festival favourites in the process. Watch this space.

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