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The Adding Machine

by Ian Mann

March 03, 2011


Twelves' music is free-wheeling, unfolding logically and organically, and regularly blurs the lines between jazz and rock, composition and improvisation.


“The Adding Machine”

(Babel Records BDV 1088)

Twelves is the brainchild of bassist and composer Riaan Vosloo and “The Adding Machine” represents the group’s second album release following a move to Oliver Weindling’s pioneering Babel label. Under the name Twelves Trio, Vosloo, tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip and drummer Tim Giles released the acclaimed “Here Comes The Woodman With His Twisted Soul” back in 2008.

At the suggestion of Giles the group decided to name their new record after a play by the American playwright Elmer Rice. The play tells the the tale of Mr. Zero, an accountant who plots revenge after being replaced by an adding machine. Giles’ choice of title may also be a veiled reference to the fact that Twelves have now become a quartet with the addition of guitarist Rob Updegraff. The recruitment of the group’s newest member again came from a suggestion by Giles. The drummer and guitarist are long term associates and Updegraff brings new sonic possibilities to the band plus a subtle rock influence. But for all this Twelves’ music is still emphatically jazz, with group interaction and musical dialogue remaining high on the quartet’s musical agenda.

Twelves’ music is free-wheeling, unfolding logically and organically, and regularly blurs the lines between jazz and rock, composition and improvisation. Vosloo and Giles are a wonderfully adaptable and versatile rhythm section, never resorting to cliché and their playing, particularly that of Giles, is consistently absorbing and interesting. The flexibility of the rhythm pairing allows Hanslip and Updegraff to explore unhurriedly and at will. Despite an obvious rock influence Updegraff’s playing is also distinguished by a willingness to avoid the obvious and Hanslip is rapidly emerging as a distinctive soloist with an increasingly personal tone and with much to say on his chosen instrument.

The nature of the credits on the album packaging makes it difficult to assign the eight pieces on the record to the relevant composers, although Vosloo and Hanslip are acknowledged to be the group’s principal writers. However at least one piece, “Spiders”, can be attributed to Hanslip, by virtue of it having previously appeared on the début album by the saxophonist’s previous band, Outhouse.

“The Adding Machine” begins with the two part piece “Many Splendoured Thing” which opens with the busy chatter and clatter of Giles’ drums, these subsequently forming the backdrop for Updegraff’s lengthy rock influenced guitar solo. Updegraff, who has also worked with saxophonist Finn Peters, has forged a personal style that borrows from both rock and jazz but ultimately sounds like neither. At times there’s an ambient nature to his playing that’s reminiscent of Bill Frisell or John Abercrombie but without any obvious imitation of either. Hanslip’s subsequent tenor excursion in the second half of the piece is more measured and conversational, blending well with the now more subdued chiming of Updegraff’s guitar. Giles exhibits a delicate and thoughtful cymbal touch as Vosloo anchors everything together. A fluid approach to rhythm and meter is a distinguishing mark of the whole album. 

Hanslip’s “Spiders” has a strong theme which the group punctuate with episodes of freer, more impressionistic improvising. The saxophonist is the dominant figure here, improvising fitfully above Updegraff’s guitar chording and sonic washes and the quiet bustle of Giles’ drums.

“Kerfuffle” opens with a Coleman (Steve or Ornette-take your pick) like theme statement which the group use as the jumping off point for some extensive improvising with lengthy solos from Hanslip and Updegraff above the floating pulse created by bass and drums. For all the freedom Hanslip’s playing is intrinsically melodic with Updegraff later adding his distinctive rock influenced guitar tone.

Vosloo’s arrangement of the folk tune “Shallow Brown” is simply lovely, opening with the deep sonorities of the composer’s double bass and Giles’ subtly delicate drum accompaniment. It’s a slow burner of a tune that takes Hanslip’s brooding, Coltrane style tenor and seamlessly places it into a contemporary context. Selwyn Harris’ “Jazzwise” review described the piece as being “a Twelves Tribute to Coltrane’s ‘Naima’”. I’d say that Harris has encapsulated the spirit of the track pretty much perfectly with Updegraff’s spacy, floating guitar solo adding that all important contemporary twist. The Coltrane influence may be obvious but here Twelves claim his legacy for themselves and do so brilliantly.

Hanslip’s “Party Girls” is another tune that has featured in the Outhouse repertoire. There’s a playful quality to the music that fits the title with Hanslip’s tenor the principal solo voice. There’s also an extended solo feature for the consistently excellent Giles.

“Eyeballing”‘s opening theme statement features closely interlocking guitar and tenor lines. The group then make a detour into deep space with some ethereal, highly impressionistic improvising before the theme eventually re-emerges.

The opening of the closing “Mr Zero”- the title an open reference to Rice’s play- features Twelves at their most lyrical with Hanslip’s warm tenor sound contrasting well with the crystalline qualities of Updegraff’s guitar. It’s essentially a two part composition with the group gathering momentum in the closing stages.

“The Adding Machine” is a fascinating album, one that draws the listener further in with each subsequent listen. The level of group interaction is consistently high and is frequently engrossing with Updegraff and Hanslip the perfect foils for each other. Vosloo and Giles play with impressive intelligence and are flexible and supple throughout. This is not the easiest album to get into with a lack of memorable melodic themes perhaps something of an obstacle for the first time or casual listener. The spirit of Coltrane and Colemans Steve and Ornette hangs over these recordings but Twelves bring plenty of themselves to the music with Updegraff’s guitar a thoroughly contemporary and convincing addition to the old Twelves Trio.

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