by Ian Mann
May 19, 2022
Another enjoyable and impressive chapter in the “Climbing In Circles” series that introduces a new aspect to the music, with improvisation and technology being utilised as valid tools for composition.
“Climbing In Circles Pt. 4”
(Limited Noise LTDNO14)
Will Glaser – drums, percussion, Matthew Herd – saxophones, piano, Alex Bonney – electronics, processing
“Climbing In Circles Pt. 4” is the latest instalment of drummer Will Glaser’s ongoing series exploring different approaches to improvised music.
Parts one and two were digital only releases, the first recorded in January 2019 and featuring the duo of Glaser and saxophonist Matthew Herd. This saw the pair tackling five interpretations of jazz standards, interspersed by a further four freely improvised pieces.
Part two saw Glaser duetting with pianist Liam Noble, one of the drummer’s former tutors. Again the programme featured five standards and four improvisations and included three of the standards that had been performed on the first album. Inevitably they ended up sounding very different in this alternative instrumental format.
The two digital releases remain available from Glaser’s Bandcamp page, which can be accessed via his website http://www.willglaserdrums.com
The third volume, simply titled “Climbing In Circles” saw Glaser bringing Herd and Noble together in a trio format. It was the first album in the series to be granted a CD release with Glaser signing to the Ubuntu record label. This excellent recording, again featuring a mix of standards and improvisations, was released in January 2021 and is reviewed here;
Aside from the “Climbing In Circles” series Glaser has featured on the Jazzmann web pages in a number of other contexts. The Nottinghamshire born musician 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 Glaser has established himself as a prolific sideman on the London jazz scene. Among those with whom he has been featured on The Jazzmann are 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 James Allsopp, Soweto Kinch, Sam Glaser, Josephine Davies, Stan Sulzmann, Tom Challenger and Alex Garnett, pianists Kit Downes, Nikki Iles, Stella Roberts and Jason Rebello, vocalists Cleo Laine and Ian Shaw, trumpeters Laura Jurd, Henry Lowther, Freddie Gavita and Sam Eastmond, guitarist Moss Freed, trombonists Tom Dunnett and Sarah Gail Brand, bassists Olie Brice and Ruth Goller, flautist Eddie Parker, fellow drummer Dave De Rose and the bands Snack Family, World Sanguine Report, Dinosaur 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 his explorations of a number of standards on the previous “Climbing In Circles” albums.
“Climbing In Circles Part 4” finds Glaser moving to a new record label, vocalist Andrew Plummer’s Limited Noise imprint. It also introduces a new trio as the drummer teams himself with the faithful Herd and with the trumpeter, electronics artist and producer Alex Bonney, who had previously engineered “Part 3”.
This latest album signals a change of approach from Glaser. With Bonney credited with “electronics and processing” (no trumpet) it’s the first album in the series to make use of the recording studio itself as an instrument and a vehicle for composition and improvisation. All eleven pieces are originals, jointly credited to Glaser / Hers / Bonney.
The album was recorded over the course of five days in August 2021 at Giant Wafer Studios in the Welsh countryside. It features a series of improvisations that have subsequently been developed into pieces resembling more formal compositions, with the music embracing a variety of styles and genres.
Glaser explains the approach behind the record thus;
“During the Covid pandemic I began to investigate recording and electronics, exploring synthesisers and processing the drums. These sound worlds and new ways of working began to influence my thoughts on improvisation and the aesthetic of the music I could make in this way. I wanted to create more expressive and immersive sound worlds with – and for- the improvising. This led to me becoming fascinated with the compositional possibilities of improvisation within a studio context. In order to keep improvisation at the heart of the record we went into the studio with no prepared material and extended the use of improvisation out into the whole of the recording process. I wanted the producer and engineer to be as much a part of the compositional process as Matt and I. Alex Bonney, an amazing trumpeter, electronic musician and engineer was perfect for this. Alex’s range of skills and knowledge allowed him to become another member of the group, playing the studio and recording equipment as another instrument in the improvisations. Over five days these improvisations became the album, through a range of recording, editing, overdubbing, processing and post-production techniques. It’s sort of a strange improvised music meets studio album meets acoustic/electronic free-jazz -folk music kind of thing”.
The trio’s influences range from electric era Miles Davis through trip-hop, Gavin Bryars, Moondog and John Lurie.
The album commences in unexpected fashion with “Beginnings”, essentially a solo piano piece played by Herd that reflects the bucolic beauty of the Welsh countryside in which the album was made. It’s lyrical and pastoral, although Bonney’s almost subliminal electronics ruffle the surface of the water, hinting at the darker pleasures to come. Glaser’s lack of ego is admirable and refreshing, there are no percussive sounds at all on the opening track of this drummer’s album.
Bonney’s electronics form the portal as the music segues into the next track, “Stained & Fractured Glass”, an altogether darker, more dramatic and unsettling affair that teams the plaintive cry of Herd’s sax with the murky textures of Bonney’s electronics and the rumble of Glaser’s drums and percussion.
“Spiral Dance” is an engaging improvised dialogue between the leader’s drums and Herd’s soprano sax. It emphasises Glaser’s skills as a colourist and melodicist, his playing sometimes reminiscent of the great Joey Baron, one of his acknowledged influences.
Glaser extends his percussive palette still further on the lively quirky “Bad Dream Machines”. This is another sparkling musical conversation with Herd’s saxophone, with subtle electronic embellishment provided by Bonney.
The debate segues into the more atmospheric “Subterranea”, a highly descriptive title. Herd’s long sax melody lines are subtly manipulated by Bonney, taking on an eerie echoing quality that is cushioned by the gentle rustle of percussion and glitchy electronica. The music does indeed convey a sense of being lost deep underground, although an alternative title suggesting the frozen wastes of outer space would have been equally appropriate. As the piece progresses it becomes more dramatic, Herd’s sax cutting through the drum and electronic generated darkness like a spear on one of the album’s stand out tracks.
The brief “Middle Things”, which combines Glaser’s drums with an organ like electronic drone, effectively divides the album into two separate ‘acts’. I particularly like the sampled sound of an owl hooting towards the close of this absorbing interlude.
“Of The Woods” ushers in the second ‘act’ with the sound of unaccompanied drums, with Herd’s sax eventually fashioning a response as Glaser and Herd resume their dialogue.
The conversation eventually segues into the playful, New Orleans flavoured “Dead Fly Disco”, which is great fun, as the title probably suggests. Herd’s saxes are multi-tracked, helping to give the feel of a larger ensemble.
“Ballad In The Jazz Style” does pretty much what it says on the tin. An improvisation in the style of a jazz ballad it commences with a soft but sumptuous solo sax cadenza from Herd. When Glaser enters the proceedings he plays brushed drums with the utmost delicacy in this intimate acoustic duo performance.
“Psithurism” revisits the quirky terrain of the earlier “Bad Dream Machines”, albeit in a more obviously ‘free jazz’ way. Glaser augments his sound with a variety of percussive devices, fluttering around the hooting of Herd’s saxes. Bonney’s influence is felt more keenly in the second half of the piece, which is spacey and atmospheric, the distant echo of the sax augmented by the sound of mallet rumbles and the soft clangs and chimes of small percussion.
Eventually segues into “Endings”, which sees Herd returning to the piano as he reprises the melodic motif of “Beginnings”. Although he is also heard doubling up on saxophone this is still primarily a piano led piece with the focus very much on melody and lyricism. Glaser himself maintains a low profile, his drumming low key and functional, while Bonney sprinkles a little aural fairy dust onto the music. As a companion piece to the opening track “Endings” bookends the album nicely.
“Pt. 4” is another enjoyable and impressive chapter in the “Climbing In Circles” series and introduces a new aspect to the music courtesy of Bonney’s contributions and an overall approach that utilises improvisation and technology as valid tools for composition.
Personally I’d just give “Part 3” the edge, mainly because of the brilliance of Noble’s contribution, but it’s a close run thing.
One suspects that Glaser has not yet exhausted the possibilities for the “Climbing In Circles” project and the next instalment will be awaited with interest.
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