by Ian Mann
September 15, 2019
An impressive début from Nash that highlights both her playing and composing skills. Her command of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards is impressive throughout.
Rebecca Nash / Atlas
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4748)
Rebecca Nash – piano, keyboards, Nick Malcolm – trumpet, Thomas Seminar Ford – guitar, electronics, Chris Mapp – bass, electronics, Matt Fisher – drums
Sara Colman – vocals
Nick Walters - electronics
“Peaceful King” is the début recording as a leader from keyboard player and composer Rebecca Nash.
Nash is a performer with close links to the music scenes of several British cities, among them Bristol, London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester. The line up of her band, Atlas, reflects this and includes musicians from different parts of the UK.
Nash and drummer Matt Fisher go back a long way and first worked together on the London scene. Both are integral components of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s quintet “Entropi”, appearing on both of that band’s album releases.
Trumpeter Nick Malcolm, a bandleader in his own right, is a leading figure on the Bristol jazz scene. Meanwhile guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford, bassist Chris Mapp and guest vocalist Sara Colman are all most closely associated with Birmingham.
Nick Walters, who adds electronics to the album’s title track and is also an acclaimed trumpeter and composer, cut his musical teeth in Manchester with the Beats & Pieces Big Band and his own nine piece Paradox Ensemble, with which Nash plays keyboards.
With its members hailing from different parts of the country Atlas gets to feel like a particularly appropriate band name.
Besides her work with Entropi, Paradox Ensemble and Sara Colman’s band Nash is also an acclaimed jazz educator who has undertaken teaching roles with the National Youth Jazz Collective, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham Jazzlines and Cheltenham Festivals. She has also performed with the Festival big band at Brecon Jazz Festival.
The music to be heard on “Peaceful King” embraces a variety of styles and genres. “I grew up in Bristol listening to Portishead, Massive Attack etc.” explains Nash and these early influences are reflected in the music of Atlas with its blend of jazz, rock, soul and electronica.
“With its improvisational elements categorising Atlas’s music as ‘jazz’ is natural, but I view it with a wider sensibility. That’s really important to me, as is writing for the listener, serving a greater purpose than just satisfying my own musical endeavours. Much of the music is written for special people in my life, and as a response to personal events. The sound arrived with the band, and I greatly value how it continues to evolve without me consciously controlling that. Playing with these guys, who I’ve met while living indifferent cities, well it feels like a kind of musical biography!”.
Of her individual band mates Nash observes;
“Nick Malcolm, Matt and I go way back. Nick and I both think about music in similar terms, he’s contributed greatly to this recording, often making artistic sense of the seemingly nonsensical! We just have that connection, and I’m totally obsessed with his improvising. Tom and Chris often perform together and are really creative with electronics, so they generate walls of sound which tune into the more cosmic vibes and abstract harmonies that I love. Matt provides the band’s rhythmic energy and interest.”
Nash’s keyboards usher in the title track, which opens the album. Mixing acoustic and electric keyboard sounds her arpeggios eventually combine with Fisher’s drums to create a groove that is subsequently embellished by snatches of keyboard and trumpet melody. As the music develops it takes on a quasi orchestral quality that has evoked comparisons with the Pat Metheny Group. Nash takes the first solo on gently exploratory electric piano, weaving melodic patterns above a layered backdrop underpinned by Fisher’s sturdy drumming. Mapp features next on liquidly melodic electric bass before Malcolm’s trumpet gets the opportunity to soar once more. Guest Nick Walters’ electronic embellishments sprinkle the whole piece with a beguiling sonic fairydust.
The buoyant grooves of “Tumbleweed” have also invited the Metheny comparisons, but I also detect something of Joe Zawinul and Weather Report in Nash’s approach. Fisher’s drums introduce the piece and provide the necessary propulsion for Seminar Ford’s guitar to take flight. Nash adds glitchy Bitches Brew/Weather Report style keyboards and again solos on electric piano. This gives way to Malcolm’s trumpet ruminations, at first introspective, but subsequently more strident and forthright. This track is another example of Nash’s ability to write episodic compositions that are rich in terms of both colour and texture and which also possess a strong narrative and cinematic quality.
There’s something of a change of approach on “Hot Wired”, a song featuring the music of Nash and the voice and lyrics of Colman. The words are written from the point of view of a “sassy, feisty female” while the music features skittering brushed drum grooves and a combination of acoustic and electric keyboard sounds from the leader. Nash solos on electric piano, which gives the music something of a more conventional jazz feel, although a subtle electronic veneer also permeates the track.
“Grace” also features the voice and lyrics of Colman, the line “look out for the grace that’s woven in the stories of our mystery” helping to give the song its title. The arrangement features wispy electronics, pointillist guitar and the now familiar mix of acoustic and electric keyboards. The main instrumental solo comes from Malcolm on trumpet, again building from woozy, tentative beginnings to embrace a more rounded, confident, full on sound.
A third song, “Dreamer”, finds Nash deploying cyclic patterns and interlocking chord structures in a manner inspired by the late, great John Taylor. In this context Colman’s singing and lyrics inevitably become reminiscent of Norma Winstone, imbued as they are with an aura of fragile beauty. Nash’s acoustic piano solo is both expansive and lyrical, and is underpinned by swirling, organ like sounds.
The instrumental “Lokma” acts as a showcase for the talents of Seminar Ford, a product of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire. Seminar Ford has previously worked with drummer Jonathan Silk, pianist Sam Watts and alto saxophonist Chris Young, among others. He and Mapp currently work together in the trio Stillefelt, alongside trumpeter Percy Pursglove. Here Seminar Ford’s chiming guitar shares the solos with Nash’s expansive and highly impressive excursion on acoustic piano, her fiery playing fuelled by a rumbling, highly propulsive bass groove from Mapp and some dynamic drumming from Fisher.
“Little Light” commences with the atmospheric whispering of Malcolm’s trumpet in conversation with the leader’s thoughtful piano. The gentle lyricism of their dialogue is evocative of twilight on a calm summer’s evening. The predominately mellow mood continues as the rest of the band join the proceedings with Seminar Ford’s coolly elegant guitar temporarily assuming the lead prior to further eloquent trumpet musings from Malcolm. Nash then takes over on acoustic piano, soloing with an expansive lyricism as the music gathers momentum, and becomes increasingly rhapsodic.
Equally atmospheric, but in a very different way, is the closing “Inishbofin”. Named for an island off the west coast of “Ireland” Nash’s composition is a musical depiction of the boat journey out there, on rough and turbulent seas. The violence of the ocean is depicted in the music with its fuzzed up digital pulses, forceful drumming, wilfully dissonant piano chording and strident, incisive trumpeting. Powerful it may be, but Nash never loses her sense of melody, there even hints of traditional Irish folk song contained within this heady mix. Particularly striking are the increasingly impassioned exchanges between Malcolm’s trumpet and Seminar Ford’s guitar, a thrilling duel in which both combatants emerge as winners. These fireworks are followed by a more thoughtful electric piano solo from Nash that effectively brings the album full circle.
“Peaceful King” represents an impressive début from Nash and one that highlights both her playing and composing skills. Her command of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards is impressive throughout, as is the way that she skilfully weaves them into her compositions. Her carefully selected team of musicians buy fully into her vision and the result is a well integrated and finely balanced ensemble. Hopefully the recording will help to bring musicians such as Seminar Ford and Mapp, two of Birmingham’s finest, to greater national attention.
The three songs featuring the voice and lyrics of Colman help to punctuate the album and give it a strong sense of narrative and structure. They are very different to the other tracks yet still fit into the overall ethos of the album and help to demonstrate the breadth of Nash’s vision. I’m more inclined towards the instrumental tracks, but that’s purely a personal preference.
Finally a word, too, for Ning-Ning Li’s distinctive artwork, inspired by listening to Nash’s music, which helps to give the album a strong visual image.
The critical reaction to “Peaceful King” has been highly positive and readers are strongly advised to check out Rebecca Nash and Atlas at one of the following live dates;
30 October 2019 - The Canteen, Bristol
31 October 2019 - The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
20 November 2019 - Sebright Arms, London (album launch)
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