A lovely couple of mid-December gigs coming up. On Friday 13th December it’s the return of my trio with Otto Willberg and Tullis Rennie, this time at Hundred Years Gallery:And then the next night, Saturday 14th December, it’s the last BRÅK of 2019 at waterintobeer! With a host of Yuletide guests….
Tonight on BCC Radio 3 at midnight, the first episode of a brand new improvised music programme called ‘Freeness’ will be broadcast. It’s presented by my good friend and formidable improviser, writer (of music and text) and organiser Corey Mwamba. This is pretty exciting!
Sloth Racket’s ‘We Decide What’s Next’ will be played on the show, along with me talking about the track. Constructing coherent sentences about my own work was harder than I expected, but I’m sure whatever I said has been edited into something that makes sense and it’s an honour to be part of the first episode.
With the axing and reducing of various programmes over the past few years, this feels like a really positive step by the BBC and I hope it’s the beginning of a new era of improvised music on the radio.
There’s an open call for submissions too: Corey and the Reduced Listening team who make the show have created an email address where artists can send in their music, so if you have some tracks you reckon would fit and you’d like played, send them over to freeness @ reducedlistening.co.uk.
I’m looking forward to tuning in and discovering some new music!
Out today is something I’m really happy to be involved with: Boundaries, an LP on the new multi.modal label. Based at SPARC (Sound Practice and Research @ City), a research centre at the Music Department of City, University of London, multi.modal is run by Tullis Rennie and Claudia Molitor. In their own words:
‘multi.modal is a new London based record label that muddies the borders between improvisation, field recording and composition. Each release on the label will triangulate these artistic spaces and reflect contemporary music practices, which tend to be collaborative and multimodal.’
I was lucky enough to be invited to work with City University Experimental Ensemble in April 2017, making a new graphic score, March Of The Egos, for them as well as playing my piece Off-World (as heard on the Favourite Animals album). We performed the two pieces at IKLECTIK, and it’s this recording that you can hear on side B of ‘Boundaries’.
The title of the release refers to side A of the LP: two interpretations of Chieko Shiomi’s Boundary Music. This 1963 text score reads: ‘Make the faintest possible sound to a boundary condition whether the sound is given birth to as a sound or not. At the performance, instruments, human bodies, electronic apparatus or anything else may be used.’
The Boundaries album is distributed by NMC Recordings and can be ordered from their website. I also have a couple of copies that I’ll be selling at gigs, so come and find me on a merch table somewhere soon!
Lastly I should mentioned the beautiful design work by Alexander Rennie. Look at the gorgeous cover!
Update: I’ve been alerted to a lovely review of this record on the Further blog, in which Mat Smith describes CUEE’s performances of my pieces as ‘a vibrant, colourful, euphorically noisy collision between noir jazz and electronics’ (Off-World) and ‘a discordant, joyously sprawling piece wherein each instrument and player seems to be vying for airtime’ (March Of The Egos). Thanks Mat!
Earlier today (Sunday 30th September) I was a guest on Ivor Kallin’s Ambrosia Rasputin Show on Resonance FM. It was a lot of fun chatting to Ivor and playing some tracks by friends and collaborators as well as some of my own, so I thought I’d post links here to the music I played. You can find the relevant albums on Bandcamp by clicking through on the embeds below. The whole show is available to listen to on Mixcloud, and also features two duo improvisations from Ivor (on viola) and me (on baritone sax) live in the studio.
We opened with a couple of my own pieces:
Then I played ‘Bone Machine’ by the Pixies! A classic track that I don’t need to link to here…
Next up was some Entropi:
And then some Article XI:
And a track from the new album by Tom Ward and Adam Fairhall, the first release on Madwort Records:
To round things off I played Dee Byrne’s composition for Saxoctopus:
Big thanks to Ivor for inviting me! It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday lunchtime.
The new Sloth Racket album A Glorious Monster had been making its way to the ears of various music writers this summer, and here follows a summary of their thoughts on our latest output.
Daniel Spicer in the Wire noted the album’s ‘gossamer guitar webs’, ‘free burn’ and ‘doomy plods’, while Nick Hasted in Jazzwise was struck by the ‘deconstructive graft’, ‘squawks and splutters’ and ‘thunderous force’, resassuring readers that the music was ‘less grindingly abrasive than Ripsaw Catfish’ – a relief to all concerned.
Meanwhile on the internet, Ian Mann of The Jazz Mann felt that the album was ‘Sloth Racket at their inimitable best’. Our first review from the Avant Scena blog featured ‘turbulent free improvisations’, and on the Can This Even Be Called Music blog (!!) we were described as ‘bringing forth a slow burn type of jazz, almost akin to doom music’. Gert Derkx on the ever-supportive Op Duvel blog had lots of positive things to say, if my my sketchy Dutch skills and auto-translate assistance are anything to go by, and we were also an Avant Music News pick of the week. Ken Waxman on Canadian blog Jazzword wrote that ‘the hard-hitting Sloth Racket quintet is refining its approach to Free Jazz without losing any of the power that characterized the band’s earlier music.’ Most recently, Paul Margree on We Need No Swords felt that ‘the border between group and individual blurs into an amorphous zone’ on this album, as well as highlighting the ‘mischievous alto pecking’, Johnny’s ‘octopoid wig out’ and ‘a cloud of mesmerising jitter’.
Big thanks to everyone who has supported the album so far! If you haven’t already, have a listen below and see what you think…
Two dates to finish off the summer, both first time collaborations. First, I’ve been invited to be part of Unpredictable Series’ Alterations Residency 2018 at Cafe Oto Project Space. Over four days from 23rd to 26th August, Alterations (Peter Cusack, David Toop, Terry Day and Steve Beresford) are presenting a series of workshops and performances. I’m very flattered to be one of the guest artists along with John Butcher, Gina Southgate, Pierre Bouvier Patron, Max Eastley and Blanca Regina; I’ll be playing a duo set with Gina Southgate on Saturday 25th at 6pm. I’ve wanted to collaborate with Gina since she put her name in the Hat Speaks hat at LUME Festival 2017 (where she was doing live painting for us), and then played a brilliant set with an amazing collection of household objects as part of an ad hoc group. This promises to be fun…
A couple of days later on Tuesday 28th, I’m back at the Project Space as part of John Macedo’s excellent night SOLO:DUO:TRIO. I’ll be playing a duo set with Daniel Thompson. I’ve shared the bill with Daniel quite a few times and we’ve both played at each other’s gig series, but this will be the first time we’ve actually played together! Really looking forward to it.
Reviews of the Favourite Animals album have been appearing since its release in December. Have a listen as you peruse what the critics had to say below…
In the March issue of the Wire magazine was a half-page triple review from Stewart Smith of the Favourite Animals and Article XI albums, plus Sloth Racket’s live album ‘See The Looks On The Faces’. Favourite Animals are described as as ‘lurching between riff and abstraction’, ‘maintain[ing] an elegant balance between emergent melody and the wilder activity at its fringes’…
Also in print was a great Jazzwise review from Thomas Rees, who writes that the ‘gritty and anarchic’ Favourite Animals album ‘confirms Roberts’ talent as a composer and Luminous as a label to watch’.
Excitingly, Dave Sumner at Bandcamp Daily (also of Bird Is The Worm) included Favourite Animals in his list of ‘The Best Jazz On Bandcamp: January 2018’. ‘On first listen,’ he writes, Favourite Animals sounds like it may be broken,’ but he then goes on to describe ‘startling moments of altered perspective’ in an enthusiastic mini-review complete with Bandcamp embed.
Steve Day published an extremely detailed writeup on Sandy Brown Jazz, describing the album as ‘a brilliantly conceived big band construct’ and ‘radical contemporary music which is absolutely on the money’. ‘Favourite Animals are making a ‘mindset’ change not just a musical one,’ he writes to close the review.
Sammy Stein on Something Else Reviews also has good things to say about the album: ‘Everyone creates, is supported and leads at different times… [and] there is also a sense of one-ness and understanding which only happens when musicians are completely intuitive of each other.’
Lee Rice-Epstein posted a lovely four star review of the album on the Free Jazz Collective blog (‘bursts out of the speakers’!).
On The Quietus, Stewart Smith included the Favourite Animals and Article XI albums in his Complete Communion Jazz Roundup: UK Special: ‘Roberts and Hunter show new possibilities for the leftfield big band by combining sophisticated ensemble writing with state of the art extended techniques from the wilder shores of free improvisation.’
One of the first reviews that came in was from Gert Derkx on Op Duvel (in Dutch). A bit of online auto-translation help for my almost non-existent Dutch suggests that he counts Favourite Animals, among a number of current bands, as proof that exciting improvised music can be made by large lineups!
Ian Mann at The Jazz Mann came to the Birmingham gig of our Favourite Animals/Article XI tour in December, and reported back with a great review of both bands on his blog. ‘The music of Favourite Animals is consistently mutating, never remaining in one place for long and taking great delight in stylistic and dynamic contrasts,’ he writes of our set, going on to describe the gig as ‘an absorbing and intriguing evening of uncompromising music making at the interface where the composed and the spontaneous conjoin to rewarding effect.’
The Newcastle gig was also reviewed: Steve H on Bebop Spoken Here describes the Favourite Animals set as ‘very cinematic’ and the gig as a ‘brilliant doubleheader’.
Compiling this post prompts me once again to thank the 90 truly amazing people who backed my crowdfunding campaign to make the Favourite Animals album last year. Without you, the music wouldn’t have made it out there and into the ears of music lovers and critics! Thank you!!
Favourite Animals live photo by Oliver Dover.
This month I’m part of Seth Bennett’s ‘What Love’ project; three gigs for a brand new group, interpreting/responding to the music of Charles Mingus. Also playing in the ensemble will be Kim Macari (trumpet), Ollie Dover (alto saxophone and bass clarinet), George Murray (trombone), Adam Fairhall (piano), Johnny Hunter (drums) and of course Seth on bass. Each member of the band will bring an arrangement of a Mingus composition (or their own Mingus-inspired new composition). It should be good fun! You can catch us in Sheffield, Cambridge and Manchester. See the flyer below for dates and venues…Update: now with rehearsal video….
It’s almost out there! Today I shipped out albums to all the crowdfunder backers, and pre-orders are up on the Bandcamp site. The release date is 4th December, so if you order a copy between now and then, it should drop onto your doormat on the day. Even though we only recorded this in August, I feel like I’ve been working on it for a really long time, so it’s good to get it over the line. The first track is streaming online now:
Next up, it’s all hands on deck as we finish the last of the logistics ready for the double bill Article XI/Favourite Animals UK tour. Here’s the flyer again – come out and see us if we’re in your town…
Favourite Animals is heading out this December on a double bill tour with Anton Hunter’s Article XI. The two ensembles share several members, so we thought it would be fun to take them out together! We have four dates around the Midlands and the North, with both bands releasing albums around the same time. The tour is supported by Arts Council England and The Fenton Arts Trust.