stillefelt – stillefelt(Stoney Lane Records – slr1883. CD Review by Graham Spry)
The initial impression given by the album cover and the music of this self-titled album from stillefelt is undoubtedly one of deliberate understatement. The band’s name and all the song titles are printed in lower case. The music is a weaving, mostly tranquil, ambient interplay of acoustic and electronic instruments. Each track runs into the next and begins with much the same melody and rhythm of the preceding track before unfolding into something distinct. This is the improvised sound of our time, as also explored by Inwardness, Food and Arve Henriksen, where the music retains an overall coherence and where the whole is very much the sum of the parts.
The band stillefelt consists of three of the Midlands’ very best young musicians. Bandleader Chris Mapp plays bass and electronics and his mostly unobtrusive playing maintains a backdrop to the other instruments. Mapp previously led the ensemble Gonimoblast whose music similarly combines electronics and acoustic instruments but whose loud and assertive sound is markedly different to that of stillefelt.
It was with Gonimoblast that Mapp performed and recorded with Arve Henriksen, whose influence is manifest in the overall feel and approach of stillefelt’s sound, but Percy Pursglove who plays trumpet and flugelhorn on this album is a very different musician to Henriksen. Pursglove has performed with some of the leading musicians of our time and the quality and range of his playing shines through. The third member of the trio is Thomas Seminar Ford whose meditative and introspective guitar sound is reminiscent of Bill Frisell, Alex Jonsson and Jakob Bro.
The album stillefelt is the recording of a live performance by the three musicians at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2018. It is a unique snapshot of their music as are each and every one of their performances. It is a real shame that the current restrictions on live concerts mean that it isn’t possible to actually listen to their music as it is meant to be heard. The trio were due to appear at this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival which would have been a welcome opportunity to see three of the Midlands’ best young musicians perform on a larger national stage.
The trio’s name is taken from the Norwegian for ‘quiet field’, which is also the title of one of the album’s songs. There is a structure to the album, starting with Ford’s introspective and sparse guitar on opening, and closing in a similar vein on the playfully titled never…ending. Mapp uses electronic instruments to support Pursglove’s and Ford’s discursive and contemplative sounds, most often with a beatless wash of sound but on occasions, such as on quiet field and towards a rusty future, by providing a gently propulsive bass rhythm. Each track is based on what Mapp describes as ‘short cell-like ideas’, but the performance allows a lot of space for the three musicians to display their improvisational skills.
There is a temptation to view stillefelt, both as a band and an album, simply as a British response to Norwegian jazz music, especially given the Norwegian name and the influence of Arve Henriksen. It is undoubtedly true that jazz musicians from throughout the Scandinavian world have explored the sonic possibilities of spacious, relatively sparse, ambient musical landscapes, but stillefelt are not mere imitators. Theirs is a distinct and individual sound. Undeniably, this music can be played as a pleasant background sound but it is best listened to when more fully engaged. It is also a great showcase for some of the best musicianship that the thriving Midlands young jazz scene currently offers.
The label, Stoney Lane Records, based in Birmingham, continues to release recordings by mostly young musicians of some of the best contemporary British jazz from outside London. The album can also be downloaded from the label’s website where it includes bonus tracks from a live concert by Mapp’s previous band Gonimoblast.
LINK: stillefelt at Stoney Lane Records