The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Complete Communion

Getting The Grip: A Jazz Column For October
Stewart Smith , October 1st, 2014 10:02

Stewart Smith takes over the reigns of our Complete Communion jazz column and interviews London-based group The Grip (who also give us an excellent mix), reviews new LPs by IIIn, Nicole Mitchell's Sonic Projections and Rodrigo Amado, and appraises reissues from Sun Ra and the Jone Takamäki Trio

It would be remiss of me to open this latest Complete Communion without thanking Jamie Skey for his mighty efforts over the past year and wishing him all the best as he trains to become a teacher. I'll be doing my best to carry on in his footsteps by flying the flag for the most exciting jazz, improv and creative music out there. This month, I'm reviewing new releases from Nicole Mitchell, Rodrigo Amado and IIIn, alongside reissues from Sun Ra and Jone Takamäki. But first up, we have a chat with Finn Peters of London trio The Grip, who have blessed The Quietus with an with an exclusive mix featuring the band's versions of Sun Ra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk tunes, and remixes of their own material.

The Grip

The London jazz scene is on fire at the moment, and The Grip are among those wielding the bellows. Featuring members of the Sonic Navigation Project, Sons of Kemet and Hello Skinny, the trio of saxophonist and flautist Finn Peters, tubaist Oren Marshall and drummer Tom Skinner are one of the city's hottest propositions. Their debut album Celebrate, out now on Slowfoot Records, takes the group through knotty free-bop, deep blues and Middle Eastern drones in a deft mix of free playing and compositional ingenuity.

Marshall brings the same the same agile mix of low-end wobble and parping melodic flair as he does to Sons of Kemet, while Skinner proves himself to be one of the most subtly inventive and exciting drummers around, working insectoid snare and cymbal moves around tight grooves. Peters is on outstanding form, skirling through extended harmonies on alto and dancing like a butterfly on flute.

The London jazz scene seems really vibrant just now, with artists like Sons Of Kemet and Black Top exploring a distinctly British melting pot of influences – not just jazz and improv, but electronic music, Caribbean music... Is that something you're feeling?

Finn Peters: London is the place to be. Skinner, Marshall and I listen to a lot of Caribbean music, especially reggae and I am also very into Afro Cuban music. Oren has studied a lot in Africa as have Tom and I. Electronic music is the music of this age and all three of us make it.

The band is named after Arthur Blythe's album The Grip. Would it be fair to say the band is partly modelled after Blythe's?

FP: Totally. Although we don't have a cello or percussion, the approach is the same. I got Arthur's record when I was 17 from the Dutch sax player Michael Moore. It is raw, celebratory and free. Oren is friends with s[tubaist] Bob Stewart and I also worked with Steve Reid [drummer on The Grip] just before he passed away.

You all worked together on the innovative Music of The Mind project, where you used computers to map brainwaves and experimented with algorithmic composition and improvisation. Is the all acoustic sound of The Grip a deliberate departure from this high-tech approach?

FP: Absolutely - I was fed up with reading PhD papers on neuroscience and feeling totally out of my depth! I can play free on alto sax and Tom, Oren and I have played for years together. The idea was a bit more like Gary Bartz NTU Troupe. No microphones - we can set up in the jungle or play on the beach or in the street. Also the idea of procession is cool. I like not having an impossible system of wires and brain-computer interfaces!

While it's an acoustic project, you've done some remixes. Can you say more about these?

FP: I think the idea was to get younger people around the UK into free improv or jazz/ black classical (whatever you want to call it). In a way we want to recontextualise the music, working with our friends Con and Kwake and Micachu (from the Sonic Navigation project). I think this will be an interesting collaboration - whilst Tom, Oren and I all make electronic music I think we will keep our own output as The Grip acoustic.

Perhaps you could say something about the Sun Ra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk tunes you've covered.

FP: Planet Earth is where we abide and we love that [Sun Ra] tune. Oren actually suggested covering [Rahsaan Roland Kirk's] 'The Eulipians' and it was kind of a feature for him. My dad was friends with Rahsaan and my mate Helen used to go out with him when he lived in London. He is one of my favourite musicians and (in my opinion) hugely under rated.

New releases:

Nicole Mitchell's Sonic Projections – The Secret Escapades Of Velvet Anderson
(Rogue Art)

Following her Octavia Butler inspired Xenogenesis Suite, The Secret Escapades Of Velvet Anderson is Chicago flautist Nicole Mitchell's latest adventure in black science-fiction. Here, she mythologises the late saxophonist and club owner Fred Anderson as black superhero Velvet Anderson, 'a secret agent working against forces of musical demise'. Mentor to a generation of Windy City free jazzers, Anderson ran the Velvet Lounge for 28 years until his death in 2010. As one of many players to have benefited from his support, Mitchell is ideally placed to pay tribute to his heroic efforts, re-imagining his run-ins with landlords and gangsters as an avant-jazz comic book adventure. Like Eric Dolphy and Marshall Allen before her, Mitchell proves how bad-ass the flute can be. She can blow hard, creating raw gasping tones, and float off into alien spheres on wisps of Satie-like harmony. On 'Secret Assignment' she invents an alternate universe Mission Impossible theme, pitching a hip Lalo Schiffrin lope into abstract realms. There are tense action themes like 'For The Cause' and 'The Heroic Rescue', where Mitchell leaps around Craig Taborn's staccato piano jabs an Chad Taylor's no-nonsense drums, firing off astringent rasps and keening spirals. But there are also quite gorgeous ballads like 'Anderson's Plan', a feature for David Boykin's soft tenor saxophone. Soulful, swinging, fierce, The Secret Escapades is just the latest in a glorious run from French label Rogue Art; Colour Of Dreams, a vivid New York dialogue between poet Steve Dalichinsky and Miles Davis saxophonist Dave Liebman also comes highly recommended.

Rodrigo Amado – Wire Quartet
(Clean Feed)

Let's just name 2014 the Year of Rodrigo Amado already. Wire Quartet is the Portuguese saxophonist's third album as leader this year, following superb live and studio discs with New York trumpet maverick Peter Evans on No Business, and it's another gem, bristling with energy, invention and character. Amado brings the hip elegance of an early 60s Blue Note session to a European improv context, weaving graceful patterns around Gabriel Ferrandini's scuttling drums and Manuel Mota's prickly thickets of guitar. Although its title suggests a mad dash towards free jazz bedlam, 'Abandon Yourself' takes its time to explore the space between the instruments, with Amado's tenor blowing blue clouds over Mota's smeared chords and Ferrandini's shivering cymbals. Over 28 minutes, the intensity ebbs and flows, with Mota scrabbling around the fretboard and throwing out fistfuls of barbed wire, while Ferrandini and bassist Hernani Faustino plot lateral courses around the pulse. Yet through it all, Amado remains intensely focused, tilting modal runs towards freedom and working over intervalic leaps with gusto. 'Surrender' plays on the tension between Amado's speedy tenor runs and Mota's fishing wire guitar, while the twilit atmospherics of 'To The Music' break out into an avant-jazz canter.

IIIn - gjērhan


A malfunctioning cyborg is dragging itself through Dalston, leaving a trail of rust and oil in its wake. Some passing musicians come to its aid and take it home. A terrible beauty is born. Forgive this hokey mash-up of Tetsuo and W.B. Yeats, for IIIn's unholy fusion of acoustic improvisation and fried circuitry invites such talk of post-human body horror. The unpronounceable London trio have struck on a post-noise approach to free improv which privileges creepy, often prickly, explorations of space over sonic annihilation. Saxophonist Seymour Wright focuses on keening wails, death-rattle whines and spit valve percolations, while Daichi Yoshikawa's industrial electronics fizz, grind and burn, spitting corrosive substances into the air. Silence is one of their most powerful weapons, with the trio breaking things down to uneasy whispers and distant bells before Paul Abbot's drums are unleashed in a squabble of dislocated rhythms and clanging metals.


Jone Takamäki Trio – Universal Mind

(Arc Light Editions)

This reissue of a rare Finnish jazz LP from 1982 will inevitably have writers reaching for Nordic imagery, all pine forests and pale winter light. Yet Jone Takamäki's horizons stretch to the East, taking in Indian love songs and Japanese folk. Those Eastern textures and tonalities, combined with Takamäki's idiosyncratic take on the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, give Universal Mind an uncanny quality that steers it away from the tasteful ECM aesthetic or the blissful meanderings of new age music. 'Rupavati' is a beautiful opener, oddly reminiscent of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, with Takamäki's soprano saxophone tentatively breathing life into an icy landscape of shimmering bells and vibraphone. 'Lalit' is eerier still, with bowed bass snaking around slackened tabla rhythms and cold waves of analogue synth. If anything, it's closer to the weird topographies of Eno's Ambient 4: On Land than most jazz or improv. Most remarkable of all is 'Bhupala 1', its stately deliberate rhythm and lush two-chord vamp anticipating Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, while a gorgeous tenor lead is offset by twangling thumb pianos and cimbalom, their wavering pitches and telegraph wire tones transporting the piece to a realm of sublime otherness.

Sun Ra And His Arkestra – In The Orbit of Ra


Selected by current Arkestra leader Marshall Allen for Sun Ra's centenary, In The Orbit Of Ra is a stunning overview of the great band leader, composer and pianist's output. Ranging from 1950s big band jazz and space-age exotica to cosmic grooves and electronic freakouts, the compilation also boasts unreleased tracks, including the nakedly beautiful 'Trying To Put The Blame On Me', a Saturnian blues sung at the piano.

In addition to the brilliance of his composing and arranging, In The Orbit of Ra underlines Mister-E's ingenious use of the studio. A sonic scientist on a par with Joe Meek, Ra applies reverb and echo to turn horn sections into a swirling cosmic mass and mikes up the percussion to create glistening textures. The vocal chants of 'Ancient Aiethiopia' sound as if they're being transmitted through time and space, while the Martin Denny exotica of 'Island In The Sun' shimmers with heat haze reverb. Ra strafes 'Astro Black' with deadly ray-gun organ and conjures a Drexcyian proto-techno in 'Dance of the Cosmo Aliens', setting his drum machine reeling and draping stardust organ over a glutinous synth riff.

Contractual issues mean In The Orbit Of Ra can't cover everything, but those heliocentric worlds are all out there to be discovered. As it stands, this is probably the best Sun Ra compilation out there, essential listening for space cadets and seasoned cosmonauts alike.