MoonMot – Going Down The Well
(UNIT Records UTR 4932. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
Finding the names of alto saxophonist Dee Byrne and baritonist Cath Roberts on the same bill, one always anticipates an inventive, strongly improvisational performance; and sure enough, debut release Going Down The Well from Anglo-Swiss sextet MoonMot is a stormer! Together with Simon Petermann (trombone) and Oli Kuster (Fender Rhodes), plus ever-resourceful Seth Bennett (double bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums), their original music comprises a stimulating blend of lush, horn-clustered jazz, punkish exuberance and cosmic electronics. The album cover’s accomplished graphics provide the vibrant, rhythmic prelude.
Byrne and Roberts took their UK quartet Word of Moth to the Jazzwerkstatt Bern festival in 2017, there meeting Petermann and Kuster who now augment that line-up to great effect. Looking for a nom connectif for this new sextet, they fashioned ‘MoonMot’ – pretty nifty, considering Dee possesses a fascination for outer space, and ‘mot’ is defined as either ‘a pithy remark’ or ‘a note on a horn’. Eight original numbers, compositionally attributed to each individual musician, were recorded live on two consecutive dates at the BeJazz Club in Bern; and although the listening experience is of a mixed/mastered studio cut, a wonderful spontaneity is retained.
Also fundamental to the sextet’s attraction is their deft interlacing of the scored and the free. That’s heard clearly in Byrne’s mischievously-grooved, bass-buoyant title track which pops with gruff bari, cosmic synth waves, clustered horns and colourful percussion (to my mind, Hunter is amongst the UK’s most fascinating drummers across the breadth of today’s jazz landscape). It’s all imaginatively considered, 35 Years’ gorgeous sax-and-trombone harmonies balanced against the lustrous timbres that a Rhodes offers; and here, composer Petermann’s swooning trombone improv, in tandem with Kuster, is a joy. Cath Roberts’ The Roundabout places searching arco bass against wry electronics until the entire band implodes (though rhythmic structure somehow holds it in place).
One of the album’s jewels is Seth Bennett’s smouldering Threnody of the English Polity, his arpeggioed bass motif laying the foundation for a superbly squawked conflab between alto and bari as Petermann’s muted ‘wahs’ contribute their twopenn’orth. Arrangements are crisply executed, Kuster’s Avignon featuring a memorable, escalating riff amongst its boppy, electric-piano-accented splendour – almost a touch of swingin’ Sixties. Hunter’s 12-minute contribution, Sonata d’Alouatta, is characteristically exploratory in its opening bass-and-percussion section before finding a Soft Machine-style swell; and its episodic detail, throughout, is a story in itself. Sublime The Impossible Made Possible, from Dee Byrne, is the closest the band comes to soul ballad; but there’s a sting in the tail as her alto overheats in a thrashing maelstrom propelled by Stratocaster-like keyboard stabs and incendiary drums. Finally, Kuster’s contemplative, trombone-led Brimbore cools down this enthralling adventure.
MoonMot’s release tour commences 17 February, with the first half in the UK.
Going Down The Well is released on 14 February.