CD review

Aurelius – The Process

Aurelius process

Aurelius – The Process
(Marcuspenrose.com. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Is it better to travel than arrive? For piano trio Aurelius, places do certainly feature in track titles, but there’s no rush to get anywhere – just a calm and highly accomplished appreciation of where they are. Bassist, bandleader and main composer Marcus Penrose and pianist Will Butterworth met about 15 years ago working together in London; their frequent gigging has led to a musical trust which shines through.

The relaxed spaciousness of At Beenleigh evokes a Devon farm. There’s no pulse as such, but a strong heartbeat, as the harmony pulls you dreamily forward, and Penrose’s solo ruminates on the chords. Croatian-born drummer Marco Quarantotto is the trio’s newcomer; he responds with intuitive delicacy as his cymbals seem to cluster round the piano phrases. Butterworth’s Western General (named after the Edinburgh hospital where he was born) has a more urban feel. The opening chords sound part Beethoven, part Robert Glasper. The lightly funky groove has acrobatic backbeats, and cymbal sounds trickling in between the strong piano and bass lines. Butterworth phrases a little like Jarrett, emphasising some notes like strong syllables in a sentence. Sometimes he repeats a tense note insistently, waiting for the chord to come along that will resolve it. Penrose’s Dunklen Straßen  (“dark streets”) picks up the journey theme. It begins and ends with street noise, and there’s even a clip of the Berlin underground on the trio’s YouTube video. The sombre bass and piano theme seems to be feeling its way, increasing urgency not through propulsion, but textures. Quarantotto could almost be scouring the snare. Butterworth’s Satie-esque Charlie’s Tune (for Charlie Haden) has cymbal tracery around the melody. Quarantotto picks up the phrases of Penrose’s sonorous solo and embellishes them; the bass holds the time firmly for the piano solo, which sounds as if it’s exploring new places in the chords.

The rest of the compositions are Penrose’s. December 7th opens freely, with glittering cymbals. The bass roots around in the sharp-edged piano phrases; the piano gets bluesier, notes tripping over each other. They improvise freely till a Monkish blues appears, gathered out of what’s gone before. Penrose grew up in Cornwall, and Porthbeor expresses his memory of a tranquil beach. It has an evocative folky piano and bass theme, and cymbal slices like a wash of colour. The energy increases like the tide, as bass and drums start to boil under the serene piano. Ami Says (named after Butterworth’s young son, who interrupted a rehearsal) is a calm waltz with the ghost of Chaplin’s Smile in the background. Many of the album’s tracks don’t have time signatures, but this piece has several to make up for it. Drums are like electricity fizzing round the bass pulse; the ending sounds intriguingly unresolved, as if the journey and process is to be continued.

The liner notes quote Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius: “No man can hinder thee to live as thy nature doth require.” There’s a sense that this trio are being completely true to their musical selves. It’s a beautiful album, to be listened to again and again.

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