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Writer’s block

So, a new year has begun. The droopy and rather sad looking tree has been triumphantly thrown out, the decorations torn down with relish and the familiar routine of one’s dreary life is now back in full swing. Joy to the world.


For those of you lucky enough to have never met me, I play guitar. I’ve always loved it and it brings me joy. However, the beginning of 2017 seems to have brought a problem of mine to a head: I’ve lost a fair amount of interest in playing the stupid guitar, an exceedingly frustrating and mildly terrifying feeling. Previous excitement has been replaced with indifference, the urge to craft a new song booted out by a lackadaisical attitude stifling creativity. As I reflect on it, writer’s block and feeling bereft of inspiration may be a key contributor to my troubles. What can one do? It’s been far too many months now of regrettably picking up a guitar.

My solution, one which I will relentlessly use until the good times return, is a combination of bulking up my music collection and thoroughly scouring it for hidden gems, in the hope it stirs my brain and thus translates to my fingers. Without further ado, this is what has been piquing my interest…..

I need to send The Math-Rock News a Christmas card this year, for they have delivered to me Sauna, an Argentinian group that I have instantly fallen for. Let’s be clear, I would not consider this to be a math-rock band; it is pleasantly written, smile inducing and very accessible nu-jazz, incorporating world music and Latin leanings with the twists and turns of what has become known as ‘math-rock’. Corazón de Manzana, the opening track of their debut self titled album, is on constant repeat in our household. From the opening tinkling of the ivories, gradually gaining pace with support from the bass until the drums roll in, the loveliness is all encompassing. Though not the first time to be used during the song, the guitar playing in unison at 1.14 is a deft touch and accentuates the passage wonderfully. The nod to the world of math would be the 7/8 outro from 2.24. And perhaps best of all, it rounds off at a very short 2.54 minutes, therefore leaving no excuse to give it a whirl in its entirety. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m in love.

The folk musings of Dory Previn, complete with strings, swaying melody and brilliant lyrics (hand crocheted!) on The Lady With The Braid, is something I’m very glad I stumbled upon in the depths of music passed on by friends. A story to be listened to, preferably while sinking into your favourite chair.

From soothing to crushing in one fail swoop, we have Burnt By The Sun. Deep down in everyone’s soul lies an innate appreciation for metalcore, you just know it’s true. Any other type of singing just wouldn’t fit with such abrasive music; it therefore works very well for what it is trying to achieve. Even if you look past the vocals, Soundtrack To The Worst Movie Ever has what all heavy instrumentation needs: riffs x 100 and impeccable, high energy drumming. Straight from the off, we’re chugging along (and not in the crappy gallop of Iron Maiden I hasten to add), moving to an almighty breakdown at 0.51 with accompanying harmonics. From 1.10, it becomes really juicy, with the fleeting glimpse of 1.19 to 1.24 being the ultimate riff for an all out living room circle pit. 2.09 is the icing on the cake, a menacing and stalking section which brings the exhilarating experience to a close.

To close, we have Strobes. Essentially a super group of polymath heads, it’s confusingly charming. The product of Three Trapped Tigers, Troyka and Squarepusher’s band, catch them live at The Old Blue Last in February to work out how on earth they create such an off-kilter sound of funky guitars, frenetic keyboards and limb defying drumming on stage.

After this, I hope to gain some enjoyment from my wooden stringed thing……….enjoy!


Scratch, crackle and pop

It’s dark, raining and overall thoroughly miserable outside. I, however, am stowed away in my warm flat, looking out on the gloominess with a feeling of serene comfort. What perfectly accompanies my mood?


If I ever needed a song to bring me out of a cold temperament and place me into a warm slumber, then this is it. If you have yet to experience Miles Davis in your life, then shame on you! Rouge is arguably my favourite jazz tune ever. Taken from one of the best jazz albums ever, Birth Of The Cool. The twisting, opening brass lines, the glorious production and the perfectly understated solos make this a desert island disc.

And so to the next legend, a certain Mr. Charlie Parker with Marmaduke. Though we are treated to a blaring melody to begin with, the arrangement softens as it goes on and finds its way to those cockles.

With a clearly apt title, Bill Evan’s arrangement of Here’s That Rainy Day is delicate yet forceful,  the exertion of the playing upon the keys distinctly clear. Sink back and stay there.

Finishing with a modern piece by an almighty force on the current British jazz scene, Troyka’s Crawler is dark, minimalist, and very bloody creepy. It could literally be a black, stormy night.

If you are not able to hear the rain at night, I take pity on you. But, you can just listen to these tracks instead and imagine my inner peace. Enjoy!



Album purchased this week no. 2 – Sensible Shoes

Released in 2009 and nominated for the Mercury Prize the same year, Sensible Shoes by Led Bib forms my second, sweet album bought this week.

led bib

With current UK jazz circles populated by many outstanding groups, such as Troyka, Get The Blessing, Empirical and Polar Bear, Led Bib can rightly be counted as part of this thriving scene. The compositions that make up Sensible Shoes bound off into many directions, from all out free jazz, that sounds like Acoustic Ladyland on acid, to more delicate and melodic tunes. As always with this type of music, it is an album that merits many listens to gain an understanding of the ideas and motifs that make up each song, as well as an appreciation of the ability involved.

Sweet Chilli is a personal favourite of mine from the album – kick starting with a catchy, ascending saxophone riff that twists and turns between proficient drum fills, the tune settles on a measured bass line at 1.18 before building back up with brilliantly creative drum rolls from 2.20 onwards, turning into what could almost be described as a march at 3.07 and 4.08. The silent gaps at 1.09 and 5.00 are VERY cool (the second only punctuated by the deftest rim, skin and cymbal hits and the quiet harmonic pinch of a bass).


How do they do that?

From left to right: Joshua Blackmore (drums), Chris Montague (guitar), Kit Downes (organ)

From left to right: Joshua Blackmore (drums), Chris Montague (guitar), Kit Downes (organ)

The current British jazz scene is packed full of excellent groups and musicians – Troyka are one such trio making a stir with their angular, mind-boggling free jazz sounds.

Like most music of its kind, it takes a good few listens to digest, comprehend and remember what it is that you just listened to. By the fourth listen, you are rewarded with a complete picture of some serious songwriting talent. Having all studied music and clearly being virtuosos in their field, there are no boundaries in terms of structure, time signatures, rhythms or instrumental difficulty. The songs represent this, moving in a flash from funky grooves to sparsely notated, ambient sections via a free jazz passage that comes at you from nowhere. The song Cajoch is taken from their self titled 2009 album and epitomises what Troyka are about: try counting the time signature from 0.16 until 0.32; the boppy organ groove at 1.04; the excellent drum work from 1.47 to 2.00; the seamless switch back to the main melody.

The first album is full of fantastic ideas similar to the above. Call is another highlight, with its half-time intro before shifting gears, as is Twelve, Bear and the crushingly heavy slide guitar of Clint.

Moxxy was released in the summer of last year, and sees the trio focusing on the more melodic side of their songwriting. While the first record centred around darker, free jazz pandemonium, the second album offers brighter tones and a much more refined sound. Dropsy, Islands and the groove laden Zebra are particular highlights.

The opening track from Moxxy, Rarebit, is captured here live from Kings Place last year. From a musician’s perspective, it is stunning to see the command and ease each man has with their instrument, especially drummer Joshua Blackmore. Starting properly from 0.16, the tight switch into the song’s main motif at 0.52 with a casual ‘Hey!’ is followed by a shift of tempo at 1.28 and 1.39. The music goes into an all out jam from there until reaching a catchy 7/8 riff at 3.06, which riffs heavily at 3.25.

Troyka are an exciting band, and whilst they have snippets of influences, they hold a unique place on the current scene. I, for one, am very eager to see them live. Their intricate textures might only appeal to a certain sort of crowd, but the impressiveness of their musicianship and distinctive songwriting means that there should be something for everyone.