by Ian Mann
March 24, 2015
A richly rewarding album full of colour, nuance and rhythmic invention that draws on many sources but which sounds bright, fresh and innovative. For Sam Gardner it's a leadership début to be proud of.
“The Dance of Venus”
(F-ire Presents F-IRE CD 81)
Samadhi Quintet is a new band led by the drummer and composer Sam Gardner, a graduate of the increasingly influential Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music. I only became aware of Gardner’s playing fairly recently when he made two appearances at the The Hive Music & Media Centre in nearby Shrewsbury at gigs promoted by the Shropshire Jazz Network. The first of these was by the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet led by saxophonist Matt Anderson, the latter was as part of a trio led by pianist Dominic J Marshall. Both performances are reviewed elsewhere on this site.
His skills were more noticeable in the more exposed setting of the trio and following the Marshall gig Gardner was kind enough to give me an advance review copy of ” The Dance of Venus” the début album by Samadhi Quintet which was officially released on 23rd March 2015. It’s an astonishingly mature and assured début that touches many musical bases with the manager of the
F-ire label, Ipek Foster, expressing the opinion that this is one of the best albums in their entire catalogue, a view with which I am more than happy to concur.
“The Dance of Venus” is an excellent advertisement for Gardner as both a performer and composer. His writing is rich and colourful and embraces a variety of rhythms drawn from the worlds of jazz, hip hop, Indian and Latin American music. The band line up includes Marshall on piano plus Sam Vicary on bass, Gardner’s partner in rhythm at both the Wildflower and Marshall gigs at The Hive.
The Polish born saxophonist Krzysztof Urbanski is a significant presence and an already highly rhythmic ensemble is is rendered even more exotic by the imaginative playing of percussionist Sam Bell.
Apart from being a play on the fact that three of the band members are named Sam the word “Samadhi” is defined as “a word from the Sanskrit language describing a high level of concentrated meditation where the logical and analytical ability of the being become silent. It is thus a space from which music flows, unimpeded by the ego’s thought and judgement”.
That music is said to be “a celebration of the Quadrivium, the four Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music and Cosmology, studied from antiquity as a means of perceiving the beautiful numerical order that characterises the universe”. There’s more of this in the liner notes including a paragraph about Pythagoras that brought back unpleasant memories of school maths lessons that took place many more years ago than I care to remember. As well as defining the overall concept Gardner’s notes also offer further explanations as to the individual compositions. However if you find this rather stilted blend of the academic and the mystic a bit wearisome it’s best just to concentrate on the music itself - which is absolutely terrific.
The album begins with “The Doctrine of Interdependence”, the title of which, cumbersome though it might appear, neatly sums up Gardner’s vision for both his band and this album. Urbanski’s soprano sax draws on the “spiritual jazz” stylings of John Coltrane as it snakes it’s way through the rhythmic forest created by Gardner, Bell and Vicary. The saxophonist is followed by the inventive piano explorations of Marshall who skilfully negotiates his way through the ferment of rhythm before finally coalescing with Urbanski. This is a busy, up tempo piece that continues to evolve over the course of almost nine minutes. It’s a terrific start and represents an excellent introduction to Samadhi Quintet as a unit.
The title track celebrates “the magical geometry that exists between the cycles of Venus and Earth, the Dance of the Planets”. Urbanski’s sinuous soprano again come to the fore on a second eight minute epic. Marshall’s piano solo exhibits the kind of vivacious inventiveness we have come to expect from him and the rhythms generated by a formidable engine room of bass, drums and percussion are both propulsive and consistently interesting. There’s a more reflective episode mid tune that features Marshall on Rhodes but in the main this is another busy, uplifting piece with a tightly focussed energy.
“Trismegistus” is more atmospheric as Urbanski’s beguiling sax melody takes flight above Marshall’s rippling piano arpeggios, Gardner’s skittering drum grooves and the shimmer of percussion. At exactly three minutes in length it’s tantalisingly short.
However that’s not an accusation that could be levelled at the towering, twelve minute “Kinesphere”, a term defined as meaning “the spherical area around the body within which all varieties of human movement occur”. The piece begins in slyly funky fashion with a sound that Peter Jones writing for London Jazz News described as being like “some blaxploitation movie soundtrack from 1973”. I can hear what he means as Urbanski’s soprano twists and insinuates above deep bass, drum and percussion grooves. It’s superseded by a few moments of reflection before a further passage of seductive soprano above hard hitting grooves. Eventually Marshall takes over with an expansive piano solo that positively sparkles. Inevitably there are further twists and turns before the piece eventually resolves itself.
The only piece on the album not composed by Gardner is “When Shadows Crash” written by the American hip hop artist and record producer Ohbliv from Richmond, Virginia. At under two minutes Samadhi’s version is little more than a snippet and features Marshall’s piano riff plus deep bass, drum and percussion grooves. Ohbliv is obviously a favourite artist of Gardner and his friends. An Ohbliv piece entitled “Koolout-ish” appears on “Cave Art”, an all instrumental set of covers of hip hop tunes recorded by the DJM Trio of Marshall, Gardner and Vicary for cassette only release.
“Deimos” is named for the smaller of Mars’ two moons and begins in lyrical fashion with a reflective solo piano passage from Marshall. The piano remains in the ascendancy as Urbanski sits out but the arrival of the rhythm section injects a greater sense of urgency with Gardner’s skittering hip hop inspired grooves underpinning Marshall’s pianistic flourishes. The leader also enjoys an extended feature, orbiting his kit with Marshall’s expert comping providing effective support.
The title of “Annica” refers to the Buddhist doctrine of “immutable impermanence” and the notion that all of existence is in a constant state of flux. At a little over two and a half minutes the piece feels like an interlude as Urbanski sketches a delicate sax melody above an undulating groove. It’s almost like an overture to the closing “Indra’s Net”, a thirteen minute composition with a title also derived from Buddhist philosophy.
Initially driven by Vicary’s implacable bass grooves and Bell’s energetic percussion the piece offers yet another strong saxophone melody. A more reflective central section features Marshall’s limpid piano alongside sympathetic bass and delicately nuanced percussion. The pianist then solos more expansively as the music gathers momentum once more, this sense of ebb and flow is common to many of Gardner’s compositions and seems to tie in neatly with his interest in Buddhist concepts.
Urbanski re-asserts himself with a powerful sax solo and there are also features for Bell and Gardner as the music continues to unfold. What is most impressive is how even these are stitched expertly into the fabric of this ever evolving music in a way that sounds perfectly natural and organic - Gardner’s carefully constructed feature is no gung ho drum solo at the end of head-solos-head blow.
Recorded to a high technical standard by engineers Tim Thomas and David Watts at Chairworks Studio in Castleford, Yorkshire “The Dance of Venus” is a richly rewarding album full of colour, nuance and rhythmic invention that draws on many sources but which sounds bright, fresh and innovative. For Sam Gardner it’s a leadership début to be proud of, but it’s also a very fine team effort with all the members of the group right on top of their game.
Samadhi Quintet have just completed a short tour in support of this album. Unfortunately I only found out about this relatively late and prior commitments prevented me from attending either of the shows relatively near to me (Cheltenham and Birmingham) which was very disappointing. There are no other live dates scheduled at the moment but hopefully Samadhi Quintet will get to play more live gigs in the UK later in the year. On the evidence of this recording their live appearances promise to be very exciting. In the meantime the band’s website http://www.samadhiquintet.com offers video coverage of the group in the studio during the recording of the album.