by Ian Mann
January 30, 2020
A genuinely impressive piece of work that convincingly explores a variety of musical styles and genres, while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of classic acoustic jazz.
According to the Sound
(Losen Records LOS 230-2)
Here’s an intriguing new album, one that represents a genuine international collaboration. Recorded in various British cities, and also in New York City, it appears on the Norwegian label Losen Records.
I’ll admit that when this recording first dropped through my letter box I wasn’t sure whether Prism-a-Ning was the title of the record or the name of the band. Only after I’d read through the liner notes did things become absolutely clear.
According to the Sound is the band name adopted by the British musicians Adam Parry-Davies (piano, Rhodes, midi keyboard) and Patrick Case (guitar, programming). The pair first came together in Birmingham in 2018 and it’s probably best to let their album liner note take up the story from there;
“Our music began in the UK in Birmingham in September 2018. With a Schoeps stereo microphone Patrick recorded improvisations, as well as some pre-written material, played by Adam on piano. Every week Patrick took this material to his studio in Bristol where ninety three compositions were worked on and orchestrated by April 2019.
It took five weeks for us to scrutinise and sift through our music until we had collected fifteen tracks to develop further. We worked and rebuilt the drafts of our demos as an author rewrites pages of an evolving novel. Horn parts were rewritten and extra piano and Rhodes parts were added. Taking shape our music went to New York. Four instrumentalists and three rappers delved into our music, recording their contributions at a studio in Brooklyn. Finally we took our music to London, where this year long project was mixed and mastered.
If you draw a straight line between Birmingham, Bristol and London on a map it forms a triangle and conveniently illustrates a musical analogy. Music from both past and present New York can be imagined as a series of waveforms passing through the triangle of the three British cities like light through a prism, creating a whole spectrum of new sounds. To carry forward this analogy, if Gershwin’s ‘Rhythm changes’ provided Thelonious Monk with a structure upon which to base his “Rhythm-a-ning”, the music of New York has provided the inspiration for us to create our first record, “Prism-a-Ning”.
Recorded between September 2018 and July 2019 the eleven track album features the core duo of Parry-Jones and Case plus the talents of;
Gary Alesbrook – trumpet & flugel (4,6,7,9)
James Morton – alto sax (4,6,7,10,11)
Sam Shotaka - tenor sax (1,2,3)
James Carter – tenor sax (4,7)
Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – tenor sax (6,8,9)
Mike Rodriguez – trumpet (5,6,7)
Jake Goldbass – drums (4,5,6,7,8,9)
Otto Hashmi – electric bass (2)
Adam King – double bass (5)
Clocking in at a generous seventy three minutes “Prism-a-Ning” is a genuinely impressive piece of work that convincingly explores a variety of musical styles and genres, while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of classic acoustic jazz. Despite the core duo’s reference to “rappers” there are no vocals on the record, instead the rap influence is expressed via the deployment of hip hop inspired beats and grooves.
Considering the rather piecemeal way in which it was recorded the album hangs together remarkably well, with its disparate elements and personnel coming together to create a remarkably cohesive whole. Snatches of familiar melody abound and are skilfully woven into the fabric of the album. Parry-Davies’ piano plays an important part throughout, but one suspects that Case’s role is primarily that of facilitator and soundscaper, a sonic architect sculpting the sound and shaping the music as a whole.
Turning now to the individual tracks and the opening “An Early Train South”, which commences with a passage of unaccompanied piano from Parry-Davies, which is subsequently augmented by discreet but atmospheric electronica and Shotaka’s evocative and attention grabbing tenor sax soloing. The piece segues seamlessly into “Bringing Fusion”, with the sounds of Hashmi’s electric bass plus electronically generated percussion bringing greater momentum and urgency to the music while helping to fuel Shotaka’s still ongoing tenor sax declamations.
Shotaka remains on board for “Controlling the Line”, which introduces itself via an electronic maelstrom featuring the heavily treated sound of Rhodes and other keyboards. As the dystopian storm abates Shotaka joins in an increasingly animated debate with Parry-Davies on both acoustic and electronic keyboards, with Case continuing to manipulate the sounds of the instruments electronically. As on the opening segue there are allusions to famous jazz melodies, and one really does the get the impression of past, present and future colliding and of the music from jazz’s ‘golden age’ being refracted through a contemporary prism.
“Goin’ Off” introduces a different feel and different musicians. Drummer Jake Goldbass lays down a powerful funk / hip hop groove, which helps to fuel the playing of Bristol based musicians Gary Alesbrook (trumpet) and James Morton (alto sax). But the jewel in the crown is American tenor saxophonist James Carter, currently signed to Blue Note Records, who solos with an impressive power and authority.
“Lillypad Railway” introduces a gentler feel to the music with an extended opening dialogue between Parry-Davis on acoustic piano and the impressive Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, the pair subsequently joined by Adam King on double bass and eventually Goldbass on drums as the music gradually gathers momentum and intensity. There’s little or no electronic enhancement here, but trumpeter Rodriguez impresses with both his fluency and his emotional power as the music develops.
The ten minute “Heading West (Prism-a-Ning)” is arguably the album’s title track and centre piece.
Here Afro-Caribbean rhythmic elements are introduced to the music with Goldbass’ powerful and flexible drumming driving the massed horns of Alesbrook, Morton, Rodriguez and Lefkowitz-Brown. The horn players work effectively together (despite probably being recorded on different continents) as well as delivering fluent and powerful solos. Parry-Davies’ keyboards function as the glue that holds it all together.
At fourteen minutes “Splitting the Beam” is the lengthiest single piece on the album. Goldbass lays down a hip hop inspired groove, mixing it with more obvious jazz rhythms as the horn players, this time Alesbrook, Morton, Rodriguez and Carter respond. The horn solos are delivered with the kind of power, fluency and intelligence we have by now come to expect, with Carter again representing something of a ‘star turn’. A word too for the drumming of Goldbass, who explores a variety of rhythms with a combination of energy and intelligence, exhibiting a superior technique and supreme adaptability.
“Feet off the Seat” maintains the energy levels with Goldbass laying down a fast paced, skittering, hip hop inspired groove. The featured horn soloist here is Lefkowitz-Brown who digs in on tenor in garrulous fashion. The momentum is punctuated by fractured, Monk like piano interjections from Parry-Davies on piano, which eventually lead to a playful dialogue between piano and drums. Eventually Lefkowitz-Brown joins the conversation once more, with the saxophonist’s sound being subjected to a degree of electronic manipulation as the track plays out.
The brief “Hackney Downs” also features Lefkowitz-Brown, alongside Goldbass, Alesbrook and the core duo. It makes fleeting allusions to the marching band tradition, with Goldbass’ busy drumming seeming to chart the evolution of the military tattoo to the hip hop groove, prompting concise solos from Lefkowitz-Brown and Alesbrook along the way. Parry-Davies, the rock upon which all this music is built, continues to play a key role on piano.
“Gardens” commences a duet between Morton’s plaintive alto sax and Parry-Davies on acoustic piano. It also features an extended passage of solo piano as the music goes back to its foundations.
The closing “Arrival” also features the duo of Parry-Davies and Morton in an absorbing extended dialogue, a kind of continuation of the conversation that began on “Gardens”. Possessed of an austere beauty it’s the album’s only true ballad, albeit a somewhat abstract one.
Parry-Davies and Case also deliver us a ‘secret track’, albeit one hidden in plain sight. “Furnace Track” represents a dialogue between the core duo, with considerable scope being given to Case’s guitar and to his soundscaping abilities. Despite the presence of Parry-Davies’ acoustic piano in the mix it’s primarily a convincing, if rather dark and unsettling, slice of electronica / musique concrete that is very different in character to the rest of the album. Nevertheless it feels only right that it should be included, it’s a vital reminder of the project’s roots in improvisation and the treatment of sound.
Lovingly and skilfully crafted over the best part of a year “Prism-a-Ning” is a surprisingly enjoyable and convincing piece of work that successfully achieves its objectives. Despite the electronic manipulations and embellishments it remains a jazz album at its core and the playing of an excellent cast of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic is exceptional throughout. All of the horn players all distinguish themselves with some fine solos while Goldbass gives a commanding performance behind the kit. Parry-Davies proves himself to be a highly accomplished pianist and provides the harmonic glue that holds the project together, while Case seems to occupy more of a producer’s role. He and Parry-Davies are credited as co-producers and the work of engineers Alex Conroy, Neil Goody and Barry Grint should be acknowledged too.
It will be interesting to see the reaction to this album from both the critical fraternity and the wider jazz public. For me it’s a fascinating amalgam of traditional jazz virtues with contemporary production techniques that works very well and I’d like to think that most adventurous jazz listeners will ‘get’ what Parry-Davies and Case have set out to do. In any event the quality of the jazz soloing should hold considerable appeal to many.
It will be interesting to see if Parry-Davies and Case can get a live version of this project out on the road. I, for one, would be very interested in seeing it.blog comments powered by Disqus