REVIEW: Alex Munk’s Flying Machines at the Vortex

Alex Munk (centre), with Matt Robinson (L) and Dave Hamblett (R)
Photo credit Lisa Wong

Alex Munk’s Flying Machines
(Vortex, 14th October 2016. Review by Peter Jones)

Friday night at the Vortex, and the crowd was growing restless. Suddenly the ceiling slid open and four ropes dropped through the hole. A brilliant spotlight revealed four denim-shirted abseiling figures. Above them floated a colossal airship…

Such was Alex Munk’s fantasy of his band’s arrival for the launch of their eponymous album. In truth there was no need for such Daniel Craig-style antics: Flying Machines have never been less than airworthy, but nowadays the crew is well strapped in and beginning to feel comfortable. Their guitar-driven rock-prog-jazz fusion sound now has a solid, confident identity, part of which comes from northern Europe, with that sweet, melancholy chill that we feel blowing in from Scandinavia.

Every tune except one was taken from the new album, and they began with its opening tune Tracks, followed by Peace Offering, by which time a couple of other things had become clear. Firstly, although these compositions are melodic, they are also dense; this density demands your close attention; even after several listens, you still don’t feel you’ve really heard everything there is to hear. Secondly, the tunes are great on dynamics, but not in the obvious whisper-to-a-scream sense: the band is never loud. However each song contains passages of varying intensity and tempo. And although it’s the virtuosity you tend to remember, the dominant impression is one of space.

The constant variations mean that Conor Chaplin on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums have their work cut out keeping the craft aloft through all kinds of turbulence. Bliss Out is a good example: beginning with Matt Robinson’s fast, repeated piano figure over some obscure time signature, it settles into a medium-pace guitar melody and then a lengthy solo by Munk. Towards the end it mutates into something ethereal and Bill Frisell-like, before returning to the opening theme.

In the second half, the gorgeous Lighter Than Air is followed by the only new tune of the evening – Moon Dust, another cool, spacious melody. And then the bracingly prog-like Emotional Math Metal: whenever Yes decide to re-form, this is Munk’s audition, should (God forbid) the Steve Howe chair ever fall vacant.

Munk was understandably emotional, even a little overcome, at the support from this full-to-bursting turn-out at the Vortex. It’s hard enough writing songs and organising gigs as well as being a one-man record company. To have it all finally come together like this must make it all seem worthwhile.

L-R: Matt Robinson, Alex Munk, Dave Hamblett, Conor Chaplin

There’s another chance to see Flying Machines on Thursday 20 November at the Green Note as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. These will be followed next year by a 22-date UK tour.

LINKS: : CD Review
Interview with Alex Munk

Categories: miscellaneous

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