Last year, I made an album for Discus called Story Tellers. It’s a 6 piece ensemble that features such exciting musicians – Martin Archer, Anton Hunter, Mick Somerset Ward, Corey Mwamba and Pete Fairclough. We worked from graphic scores written by Martin, each of us given a ‘character’ and space to play completely solo.
This week, we got a great, insightful review by Duncan Heining on All About Jazz. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars! I’ve added the review below but do head over to AAJ and check it the enormous treasure trove of jazz writing.
So thanks to Duncan for the review and if you want to buy the album, check out the Discus website.
We used to call records like this ‘concept albums.’ The whole idea soon became a term of derision thanks to Rick Wakeman and others. Nevertheless, let’s stick with it for a moment. Martin Archer’s Story Tellers is constructed as a series of interlocking vignettes, linked both by certain recurring themes, narrative threads and the attribution of certain functional roles to each of these six musicians. In that sense, you have here what can usefully be seen and heard as a ‘concept album’ -and, incidentally, a remarkable musical achievement.
Thematic development has frequently been the boneyard of many an aspiring jazz composer. Story Tellers is built from a number of themes. Some are attached to an individual musician and explored both as solo and group pieces. Others—”Story Tellers,” “Like It Is,” “Shaman Song” and “Dedication Coda”—are explored a number of variations on a theme. Taken as a whole, Story Tellers, is cyclical in form with each cycle returning to one of two possible end points. In these respects, Story Tellers scores strongly in terms of thematic development.
Story Tellers comprises two CDs, 31 tracks of varying lengths and a total of 150 minutes of music. It is impossible to do it adequate justice in a review, so what follows is more a series of reflections on the music as a whole.
To begin, the influences (if that is not too strong a word) here comes from Archer’s affection for both Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and for the best of 70s prog and jazz rock. The names checked on the three “Dedication Coda” are Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell but the music here also recalls for me the Art Ensemble of Chicago. One of the great joys on Story Tellers is the way these themes morph so easily from free, abstract structures into powerful, riff-based forms. Part of that is down to the musicians and the way they listen and communicate. Here, drummer Peter Fairclough is, as his name suggests, a rock. (Matthew Chapter 16, Verse 8) His ability to work across stylistic boundaries recalls others such Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and John Marshall.
The other aspect of the music that will strike the listener very forcefully is the use of coloration. Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, arguably one of the most complete vibes player to emerge since Gary Burton, and guitarist Anton Hunter are especially important in this respect. Mwamba gives the music a lucid, liquid, almost mystical quality, a sense heightened by the use of additional percussion and by the amazing range of tones that Mick Somerset draws from his collection of flutes. The effects achieved by Hunter on his guitar are enhanced by both the drone and ostinato patterns he brings to bear but also by the spindly, raga-like melody lines he spins. There is a wonderful depth and richness to the sound Archer and his cohorts achieve that is more often found, if at all, in larger groups in jazz.
Archer himself is on tremendous form, energetic and ruthless on the band version of “Wayfarer’s Bastard,” appropriately querulous on the solo version of “The Casuist.” While I have often noted Archer’s abilities as a musical collagist (though here, he reveals also skills comparable to those of a landscape artist), the fact is that he is a fine instrumentalist and improviser across a range of woodwinds.
Perhaps, the revelation here is trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan. I have heard her on other Archer recordings but, on Story Tellers, she seems to be reaching for something highly personal in her playing. Her playing on the band version of “The Barbarian” and on “Dedication Coda—Leo’s Dream” reveals that perfect combination in a brass player—excellent tone, exceptional control and articulation coupled with the ability to attack each note when required.
The sheer range of music on Story Tellers is astonishing and stretches with ease from the more pastoral colours of “Story Tellers#2,” where the AACM comparison is at its sharpest, to the dark hues of “The Rain Maker—band version.” Such contrasts continue throughout. Listen to the polyrhythms that underpin “The Wounded Healer—band version” and compare this with the spacey psychedelia of “Like It Will Be” and the primal beats of “Shaman Song #3” (echoes of Rite of Spring?) This is music shaped built upon a grand vision of what jazz can be.