by Ian Mann
January 11, 2021
An impressive statement from Glaser and a successful culmination of his three year project. The level of empathy between the players is exceptional throughout.
“Climbing In Circles”
(Ubuntu Music - UBU0075)
Will Glaser – drums, Matthew Herd – saxophones, Liam Noble – piano
Nottinghamshire born drummer Will Glaser is a graduate of the Jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He now holds a teaching post at the same institution.
Since completing his studies in 2014 he has established himself as a prolific sideman on the London jazz scene and has appeared on The Jazzmann web pages on numerous occasions and in a variety of musical contexts.
Among those with whom Glaser has featured have been saxophonists Sam Rapley, Ben Treacher, Phil Meadows and Martin Speake, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and pianist Sam Leak. He has recorded with violinist Faith Brackenbury, on the excellent “Knife Angel” EP and recently appeared on pianist Rick Simpson’s widely praised album “Everything All The Time; Kid A Revisited”, an impressive jazz interpretation of the Radiohead album “Kid A”. Reviews here;
Others with whom Glaser has worked include saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Sam Glaser and Alex Garnett, pianists Kit Downes, Nikki Iles, Stella Roberts and Jason Rebello, vocalists Cleo Laine and Ian Shaw, trumpeters Laura Jurd and Sam Redmond, guitarist Moss Freed, trombonist Tom Dunnett and the bands Snack Family and Empirical. It’s a diverse and impressive list that demonstrates Glaser’s qualities of skill, versatility and adaptability. To these can be added a love of the jazz tradition, as evidenced by this trio recording.
The Ubuntu album “Climbing In Circles” actually represents the third recording in a series of the same name.
“Climbing In Circles Part 1” appeared in January 2019 and featured Glaser in a duo with saxophonist Matthew Herd. Released in the digital format only the album is available via Glaser’s Bandcamp page and features five interpretations of jazz standards, interspersed by a further four freely improvised pieces.
The second volume, again in the digital format, appeared in August 2019 and featured Glaser duetting with pianist Liam Noble, one of the drummer’s former tutors. Again the programme features five standards and four improvisations. Three of the standards from the first volume are revisited, inevitably sounding very different in this fresh instrumental format.
The doubling up of some of the material on the two digital releases was intended to demonstrate the effect that a player’s musical personality can have upon the music.
For the third instalment of this three year project Glaser brings Herd and Noble together as he celebrates his signing to Ubuntu Music. For this more ‘official’ release Glaser has chosen not to revisit any of the pieces that appeared on the two digital recordings and instead presents an all new programme. The format itself remains similar with five ‘outside’ compositions interspersed by four pieces credited to Glaser / Herd / Noble, presumably spontaneous improvisations that were given titles after the event.
The pre-composed material includes compositions by Duke Ellington, Don Cherry, Johnny Mercer and Paul Motian, plus a song by Tom Waits. Glaser feels that these new tunes constitute a better representation of the trio’s musical development and current position.
He says of this latest recording;
“I guess this record sums up everything I love about music. We play standards and compositions from my heroes, and spontaneously create new music in the moment. I really feel I can be myself with Liam and Matt. We are all drawing from this large bag of great music we all love and so nothing is really off the cards. When we play the tunes it’s with this very open mindset of seeing what will happen. It always feels really open and new things surprise me every time. When we play free they come out like miniature compositions.”
The album commences with one of those Glaser / Herd / Noble spontaneous compositions. The wittily titled “Pre Lewd” opens with the sound of Glaser’s cymbals and Noble’s ‘under the lid’ pianistics, their dialogue eventually augmented by the halting sound of Herd’s sax. Collectively the trio generate an impressive array of sounds and dynamics, playing free but somehow achieving an interior logic and an overall sense of form, just as the leader says.
This is followed by a remarkable deconstruction of the Duke Ellington classic “Mood Indigo”, written by Ellington and saxophonist / clarinettist Barney Bigard. A typically inventive and imaginative passage of solo piano from Noble sets the tone for the piece, with the trio adopting a wryly idiosyncratic approach that combines an obvious love and knowledge of their chosen material with a subversive wit. With Glaser mainly playing with brushes the ever resourceful Noble enjoys the opportunity to stretch out further, followed by Herd on saxophone. It’s refreshing to hear alto saxophone being deployed in a situation that might normally be expected to feature the tenor.
It’s Herd that introduces the Don Cherry composition “Mopti” with a dizzying display of solo multi-phonics, his tone almost flute like as his fingers flutter over the saxophone’s key pads. Still playing solo he eventually picks out the theme, which is eventually adopted by Noble as piano and drums set up a rolling groove that underpins Herd’s playing of the melody. Glaser’s drumming is a colourful, polyrhythmic tour de force throughout, but still faithfully supports the soloing of the ever inventive Noble. In a bass-less setting the rapport between the pianist and the drummer is even more pronounced and Glaser and Noble display an almost telepathic understanding, as honed on their earlier duo release. Glaser enjoys a similar chemistry with Herd, which is demonstrated as the saxophonist eventually takes over from Noble. Again it’s a rapport sharpened by an earlier duo collaboration. Eventually the leader is featured with a stunning solo drum feature that sees him retaining a sense of melody throughout in a carefully constructed, but often thunderous, feature that sees him making particularly effective use of the toms. Cherry’s memorable theme is a particularly effective vehicle for the trio and their dramatic performance of this tune represents a definite album highlight.
The jointly credited “Fish Pillows” is a more atmospheric and impressionistic affair with Glaser’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers augmenting the high register piping of Herd’s sax and Noble’s subtle pianistic interjections. It’s a piece that emphasises the leader’s skills as a colourist.
Johnny Mercer’s “I’m An Old Cowhand” is given a joyous, up-tempo rendition, with Herd’s sax initially taking the lead. The tune was, of course, made famous in a jazz context by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins on his celebrated 1957 album “Way Out West”. The trio perform the tune very much in Rollins’ spirit with Noble adding a rollicking piano solo and Glaser giving a lively performance behind the kit.
It’s Glaser who introduces Paul Motian’s composition “Mumbo Jumbo” with a virtuoso solo drum performance. It’s a tune that Motian recorded with his classic trio featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. The Glaser trio deliver a powerful rendition, with Herd loosely filling the Lovano role, Noble inserting quicksilver pianistic interjections and with Glaser a veritable whirlwind behind the kit. Appropriately for a drummer written tune Glaser returns for a second feature on a piece that really acts as a showcase for his playing. It’s perhaps not surprising that Glaser names Motian as one of his own primary drum influences in an eclectic list that also includes Baby Dodds, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Milford Graves, Ed Blackwell, Joey Baron and John Bonham.
“Lonely” is a lesser known Tom Waits song, which originally appeared on its composer’s début album from 1973, “Closing Time”. It represents an interesting choice for the trio who treat the song with respect, performing it as a sparse, elegant and lyrical jazz ballad and reflecting the despair of an unusually frank and simple Waits lyric.
The album concludes with two of the trio’s spontaneous compositions, both credited to all three members.
“Song For The Snake Man” begins in eerily atmospheric fashion through Noble at the piano, again exploring ‘under the lid’, and Herd on alto sax, also deploying extended techniques. At first their dialogue is tentative and gently exploratory, before gradually becoming more forceful, and almost sinister at times. After a lengthy passage of freely structured sax and piano dialogue Glaser’s drums eventually emerge to give the piece more of a composed feel as the momentum continues to build.
Glaser himself introduces “The Magician Longs To See” with some delightful filigree cymbal work, his softly metallic chimes subsequently joined by piano and sax. It’s a beautifully controlled performance, shaped by the leader’s drums but primarily concerned with atmosphere, colour and texture.
“Climbing In Circles” represents an impressive statement from Glaser and a successful culmination of his three year project. The level of empathy between the players is exceptional throughout, as evidenced by that closing track. The musicians are well served by recording engineer Alex Bonney who supplies a pinpoint mix that emphasises that sense of balance.
Glaser’s bandmate in Snack Family, reeds player James Allsopp, supplies the album’s liner note and perhaps sums up the chemistry between the players best. He describes the trio’s music as;
“communication between close friends – sometimes playful, sometimes bickering, sometimes joyous, sometimes angry, but always rooted in trust, sensitivity and, when necessary, forgiveness. These are musicians who have taught each other by osmosis, rather than creating a complex script or rigid structure to define the roles of the participants. This is music by a band, this is magic – a conjuring of something beautiful out of the barest of suggestions”.
Allsopp also emphasises the humanity of the project, a recording that was made in May 2020 during the height of the first Covid lockdown.
Glaser himself performs brilliantly throughout and is rightly credited as leader, but in truth this is genuinely a trio of equals. In the event of some degree of normality ever returning one suspects that this band would also represent a very intriguing and exciting live prospect.
“Climbing In Circles” will be officially released on Ubuntu Music on Friday 22nd January 2021.
The two earlier duo recordings are available in digital form via http://www.willglaserdrums.com
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