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Red Kite

Theory of Colours

by Ian Mann

January 16, 2020


“Theory of Colours” is the sound of a band expanding its horizons. The overall approach remains unfailingly melodic and the compositions are highly evocative and have a strong pictorial quality.

Red Kite

“Theory of Colours”

(Jellymould Jazz JM – JJ028)

Esben Tjalve – piano, keyboards, Jasper Hoiby – bass, Hannes Riepler – guitar, Fulvio Sigurta – trumpet, Ross Hughes – bass clarinet, Tim Giles – drums

“Theory of Colours” is the long awaited second album by the international sextet Red Kite, led by the Danish pianist and composer Esben Tjalve.

The group’s well received eponymous début was released on the F-ire Presents imprint way back in 2012 and attracted the following appraisal from myself;
“Pleasingly melodic but also deeply rhythmic, easily digestible yet subtly challenging, and just full of good ideas allied to exemplary playing”.
The full review can be read here;

This new recording builds upon the promise of its predecessor with a series of ten new original compositions from Tjalve. The qualities that distinguished the first album are again apparent, but this time with the mainly acoustic sound enhanced by the subtle use of electronics.

The group describe the new album as being;
“an experiment with different colours in a musical sense, combining a composed score and improvised sections with synthesisers and various effects on acoustic instruments that can all be realised live on the bandstand”.

“Theory of Colours” introduces a new Red Kite line up. Tjalve, Hoiby and Riepler all remain from the début recording with Sigurta and Giles coming in for Rory Simmons and Jon Scott respectively. Bass clarinet specialist Hughes replaces alto and baritone saxophonist Christoffer Appel.

Despite the changes of personnel the qualities and aesthetics that made the début such a success remain apparent, and if anything this is an even more impressive and distinctive release.

The new recording commences with “In Line”, the freely structured and highly atmospheric introduction including the sounds of the leader’s piano, the spacey shimmer of Riepler’s guitar and the grainy, woody timbres of Hughes’ bass clarinet and Hoiby’s bowed double bass. Eventually an arpeggiated synthesiser pulse emerges, forming the backbone of the piece. The sounds of the other instruments are treated, deploying the ‘various effects’ mentioned above, thereby giving the music an exotic, other worldly feel. Sigurta emerges as the first soloist, his sound reminiscent of electric era Miles Davis. Driven along by the powerful rhythms generated by Hoiby and Giles the music is rich in terms of colour and texture, the instruments combining to create exotic layers of sound. Even at its most frenetic the music remains highly atmospheric and retains an air of mystery and beauty.

These qualities also apply to the following “Interstellar”. Paced by the leader’s gently undulating piano motif the music sounds as if it’s floating in deep space, thanks to the eerie whisper of Sigurta’s trumpet, combined with the sounds of bowed bass, cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles.
Again this is a richly atmospheric piece that sustains the exotic and mysterious mood established by the opener.

There’s a change of pace with “The Meeting”, which introduces an infectious funk groove and generally adopts a more playful and quirky approach.  Sigurta again features as a soloist, followed by Tjalve at the piano, who also exchanges phrases with Riepler on the guitar. The guitarist also trades ideas with Sigurta prior to a short drum cameo from Giles at the close.

Despite its title “Pantomime” marks a return to the more atmospheric and impressionistic stylings of the first two tracks. Centred around the leader’s arpeggiated piano motifs the compositional style owes something to minimalism. As the piece gradually gathers momentum Hughes’ bass clarinet and Sigurta’s trumpet combine effectively, the sounds of reed and brass twining around each other. There’s a short solo statement from Hughes followed by a double bass solo from Phronesis leader Jasper Hoiby. Tjalve features more prominently in the latter stages prior to a loosely structured coda.

“Journey’s End” has a hypnotic quality with the densely knit ensemble passages eventually leading to more formal solos from Tjalve on piano and Riepler on guitar. The latter stages of the piece are more loosely structured, with Hughes’ bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement.

Hughes also introduces the next piece, his bass clarinet laying the trail for “The Detective” to follow. This agreeably whimsical piece charms the listener with its laid back quirkiness and incorporates features for Riepler on guitar, plus Giles on drums at the close.

“Road Ahead” is gentle and impressionistic, an expression of the spaciousness inherent in the title. The quiet elegance of the ensemble playing is enhanced by the leader’s lyrical piano solo, Hoiby’s melodic double bass, and the whisper of Sigurta’s trumpet, sounding a little like his compatriot Enrico Rava. It’s a piece that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on an ECM recording.

The sound of electric keyboards introduces “Night Owls” with its gently shuffling drum grooves and Sigurta’s agile trumpeting. The Italian plays some tricky motifs before embarking on a solo that combines fluency with a suppressed intensity. Tjalve then moves to acoustic piano for a dazzling solo.

Hoiby’s powerfully plucked bass introduces “Red Fox” with its skittering drum grooves and darting melodic motifs. Riepler emerges as the first soloist with a lithe passage of rock influenced guitar. He’s followed by Sigurta with another powerful trumpet solo that again reaches back to “Bitches Brew”.

The album closes on an elegiac note with the drifting lyricism of “Ritual” which supplements Red Kite’s distinctive ensemble sound with the anthemic melodicism of the solos from Tjalve on piano and Riepler on electric guitar.

“Theory of Colours” expands the sonic range of Red Kite’s début with the astute use of electric keyboards and the subtle deployment of post production techniques. The band’s overall approach remains unfailingly melodic and Tjalve’s compositions again make effective use of colour and texture, as the album title suggests.

Again it’s the ensemble sound that is key, rather than individual soloing, although all six musicians impress individually during the course of the recording, with Sigurta in particular being given plenty of room in which to express himself.

The leader impresses as an acoustic piano soloist while his deployment of a range of electric keyboards brings an almost orchestral quality to the music. Tjalve’s compositions are highly evocative and have a strong pictorial quality; it’s easy to see why he has been commissioned to write for television, radio, theatre and, of course, cinema.

Red Kite’s approach on this second album is less rooted in conventional acoustic jazz than their début, which may deter some listeners. However fans of bands like Polar Bear, who may have come to jazz via rock, should find much to enjoy in the band’s music.

“Theory of Colours” is the sound of a band expanding its horizons. I certainly enjoyed the music and my only regret is that I didn’t get to see the group live when they played a short round of UK gigs in the autumn of 2019. Hopefully the release of this album will lead to them playing more live shows in 2020.

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