Estraven (a quartet of bassist/composer Chris Hyde-Harrison, saxophonist Duncan Eagles, guitarist Alban Claret and drummer Matt Parkinson) will release their debut album on 4 March. Feature by Rob Adams.
As a BA in English Literature, it’s perhaps not surprising that bassist Chris Hyde-Harrison’s musical ideas are strongly influenced by books that he’s read.
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Estraven, the quartet that that Hyde-Harrison has formed with saxophonist Duncan Eagles, French guitarist Alban Claret and drummer Matt Parkinson, takes its name from one of the main characters in the science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness by American author Ursula K. Le Guin.
The works of other writers, including gothic horror novelist Poppy Z. Brite, have fed into Hyde-Harrison’s musical imagination while it’s his English Lit background that – he concedes – most likely persuaded him not to continue his singer-songwriter phase and to concentrate on writing melodies instead.
Some of the tracks on Ignored Advice, the quartet’s debut album released on 4 March, actually began life as songs with lyrics, but are, says Hyde-Harrison, stronger statements as instrumentals and as a basis for improvisation. In addition, the musicians in the quartet’s backgrounds in jam sessions are reflected in an in-the-moment approach to playing the bassist’s compositions.
Miles Davis’ album Someday My Prince Will Come was the chief musical guideline for forming Estraven.
“It’s one of my favourite albums and from the first time I listened to it I was struck by how each member of the frontline sounded so distinct from one another,” says Hyde-Harrison. “I knew everyone in Estraven from jam sessions. I met Duncan – it must have been – ten years ago, when he was running a session at the Hideaway in Streatham and Alban and Matt are more recent acquaintances. It’s a group of friends but it was what they each could bring individually to the band that made me want to work with them.”
Duncan Eagles, best known for his cooperative group Partikel, with bassist Max Luthert and drummer Eric Ford, brings a very contemporary, freewheeling approach that contrasts with Alban Claret’s bebop-rooted, clean and firmly disciplined lines. On choosing Matt Parkinson, Hyde-Harrison says: “As a bass player you just know whether you’re going to get on with a drummer. I instantly clicked with Matt’s style of playing, he has a broad range of influences and a good sense for knowing exactly what to bring to my compositions.”
“All the guys have their own very distinctive style,” he adds, “and it’s been fun and really rewarding to put these styles together and watching them gel.”
Hyde-Harrison, who also plays regularly with guitarists Alan Noel Weekes and Nigel Price, takes his bass playing influences from melodic players including Avishai Cohen, Jasper Høiby and Eddie Gomez. His writing style draws on Maqam, the Arabic modal system that he studied with the aid of a grant from Arts Council England. The irregular metres of Arabic music also attracted him to that tradition, although it’s an influence that’s worn lightly on Ignored Advice.
“Some of the tunes on the album are quite old and go back to when I was a teenager, which is twenty years ago now,” he says. “I’m a big editor. Nothing falls from the sky onto the page, as it were. I go over ideas time and again, so even the oldest tunes have recently undergone revision. But if they still stand up today, I think that’s a reasonable sign of their merit.”
Having workshopped some of the tunes at the jam session that Hyde-Harrison ran at the Fox and Firkin, the group managed some preparation for recording before the Covid pandemic brought live music – and even rehearsing – to a halt.
The album was recorded in one day at Lighthouse 95, which is housed in a former lightship, moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf to the Northeast of the Isle of Dogs, and its very immediate, live-in-the-studio feel gives a very good impression of what audiences at gigs can expect.
“We’ve been able to do some preview gigs,” says Hyde-Harrison. “We’ve played at the Vortex, here in London, and taken the music out of town to the Be-Bop Club in Bristol, the Hive in Shrewsbury and the Lescar in Sheffield, and it’s been great to get out playing to people again after such a long, enforced break. Now that things are opening up again, we’re looking forward to playing more gigs and taking the music on Ignored Advice to live audiences.”
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Estraven’s debut album is released on 4 March 2022 and will be available to download from the band’s Bandcamp page.
Categories: Feature/Interview (PP)