CD review

Article XI – “Live in Newcastle”

Article XI – Live in Newcastle
(Discus 89CD/DL. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Guitarist Anton Hunter’s eleven-strong ensemble is captured in a performance which shows impressive interweaving of compositions and group improvisation, wonderful varieties of texture and a shrewd eye on when to hold back and when to open the throttle.

Article XI Live in NewcastleHunter created Article XI in 2014 when he was commissioned by Manchester Jazz Festival to create new music for a large ensemble, with their eponymous debut album released in 2018. The name is taken from Article XI of the European Convention of Human Rights, the right to freedom of assembly and association with others, including forming and joining trade unions. This new release lets us eavesdrop on a live show from December 2017 at Newcastle’s Bridge Hotel, when the band was sharing the bill (and not a small number of musicians) with Cath Roberts’ Favourite Animals group.

The opening two tracks are new compositions. Municrination opens the show with bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter easing into a loping figure which brings in horns in a building melodic section. The music flows impressively; there are clearly written ideas being deployed as well as a good deal of freedom for the players. It’s a great credit to Anton Hunter that the join is never totally clear; sometimes it’s mostly written and then a moment later the extent of the improvising grows and floods around the band, like a pendulum moving back and forth. There’s an impressive trumpet solo from Nick Walters with the band gelling to provide some punchy backing, before the mood loosens again with ensemble blowing from brass and reeds; trombonist Kieran McLeod, seemingly on everyone’s list at the moment, is well to the fore.

Always A Fox is a nod to Leicester City football club’s Premier League triumph of 2016 and in particular to those whose allegiance grew (perhaps from nothing) as the season progressed. This piece takes a modular approach with seven sections which change order every time the work is performed, keeping it particularly fresh for the musicians. The compositional process had group members including trombonist Tullis Rennie and saxophonist Sam Andreae improvising responses to Anton Hunter’s melodic ideas, which were then used in constructing the overall work. Whatever, it makes for an engaging 11 minutes, with similar ebbing and flowing of improvisation and scored material where massive ensemble sections give way to gentler improvised passages. Simon Prince’s flute is a key voice here.

The other two tracks are from the debut album, although this being an improvising band they are not exact replicas. Not The Kind Of Jazz You Like, named after a Stewart Lee joke, features some particularly impressive baritone sax multiphonics from Cath Roberts and another belting trombone passage from Kieran McLeod. I Dreamed I Spat Out A Bee, a vivid title if ever there was one, builds into a fast and furious climax, and it’s only at this stage we realise the degree of restraint that the group has been using for so much of the preceding music. It’s all too easy to slide into full-of-sound-and-fury, signifying-nothing mode with large-group improvising, and Anton Hunter does a great job at marshalling his resources and deploying them with precision.

This is another impressive output from this group of young musicians who seem to be exploring all kinds of collaborations and methods. The music bears repeated listening very well, with the continuous flexing of musical muscle giving plenty of interest and variety. The sound recording is top quality (not always the case in upstairs pub room settings) and it’s well worth getting the physical CD for the excellent cover art by Angela Guyton. Another very interesting output from the never-knowingly-under-committed Discus Music.

LINK: Preview the music and buy the CD

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