CD review

Issie Barratt’s Interchange – “Donna’s Secret”

Issie Barratt’s Interchange – Donna’s Secret
(Fuzzy Moon Records FUZ015. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Sixteen musicians and eight composers, who just happen to be women, on an album of highly accomplished modern jazz. Interchange is “championing women improvisers and composers,” says artistic director Issie Barratt, and the pieces are intriguingly varied, with plenty of space for improvisation.

The compositions have a personal connection, as if the writers are giving musical form to their experiences. Accordionist Karen Street writes for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s – she’s Still Here when she’s dancing. A gracious tango weaves in wordless vocal lines (Jessica Radcliffe) and rhythmic trumpet from Laura Jurd. Military drum rolls (Katie Patterson) spark a folk theme with a Scottish flavour, joyfully blending folk and jazz; drums drop out to uncover moving horn harmonies. Brigitte Beraha and bassist Charlie Pyne exchange phrases in English and French in the former’s Donna’s Secret – she loves the novels of Donna Tartt, and it’s a playful comment on how badly books can be translated. Pyne scats intricately in unison with her own bass, and it’s a pleasure to hear the two voices improvising and counterpointing together over succulent backing lines. Negomi was Kenny Wheeler’s name for Nikki Iles’ daughter Imogen, and as its countermelodies reach over each other, the spirit of his music is in her writing. Telling the story of the innocence of child refugees who later flee for their lives, Iles’ piano is grounded by Barratt’s baritone and Rosie Turton’s trombone and Helena Kay’s clarinet. Middle Eastern harmonies flow into Wheeler-esque lines, and Iles’ solo is poised and impassioned.

Issie Barratt’s Samla Korna Med Kulning brings different moods, portraying Scandinavian women calling to herds of cows in the evening. Opposites co-exist: there’s a sense of daily work in the horn riffs, overlaid with dreamy phrases, with Zoe Rahman on piano. Barratt’s bari bubbles up as the harmonies grow more insistent, pastoral calm interspersed with forceful cows; Turton’s trombone solo is both gravelly and smooth. Cellist Shirley Smart’s Palmyra remembers the recent destruction of the Syrian city with intoned regrets: “Your preservation kept a window to our past.” Her cello, along with Jurd’s trumpet, laments with Middle Eastern scales and evocative microtonal ornamentation, over a deep drone. Smart lived in Jerusalem for 10 years. The piece becomes more upbeat with a funky bari riff; punchy horns; a klezmer-influenced dance feel, and strong percussion from Jas Kayser.

Tori Freestone’s Spontaneous Symmetry enacts the way natural patterns can be broken (“as found in her mother’s atrial fibrillation.”) As the shapes oscillate, tense notes are sometimes thrown on smooth harmonies, like grit on ice. The backing lines seem to pull Jurd’s trumpet solo up to a pinnacle. Alyson Cawley’s tenor line is beautifully viscous, as the harmonies create a more township feel. Cassie Kinoshi’s Caliban has a lurching M-Base groove, limping every few bars, as Shakespeare’s character might – the theme skitters across the beat. (Kinoshi was composer for The Old Vic Theatre’s professional development programme.) The darkly dissonant electric bass and insistent backings pin down Kayser’s freer drumming, doubling in time for Chelsea Carmichael’s Coltrane-influenced tenor solo. Trombonist Carol Jarvis’ only instrument in Hope is her own multitracked voice, evoking her long and successful cancer treatment with ethereal harmonies. Euphoric, perhaps drawing on Arvo Pärt’s timeless choral work, it’s sung in Latin. It has subtle vocoder smoothing too, which creates a more modern timbre, as in Imogen Heap’s writing.

The rich variety of styles and impressive improvisation make it a very satisfying recording- it’s both complex and affecting; skilful and emotional.

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