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REVIEW OF THE BAND AND THEIR ALBUM “Under The Moon”
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Blue-Eyed Hawk An amazing 4.5 out of 5!
Literate, intelligent music that embraces many influences but coheres to create a brilliantly realised whole.
“Under The Moon”
(Edition Records EDN 1054)
Edition Records, founded by musician Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson has established an enviable reputation as one of the UK’s leading jazz labels, its catalogue including landmark releases by Phronesis and Marius Neset. Such has been the success of Edition that a classical strand has been added in the manner of ECM’s “New Series”.
Another development has been the move towards more song based releases, notably by Stapleton’s own band Slowly Rolling Camera who successfully blend jazz, soul and electronica in a manner that sometimes recalls the music of Portishead and Massive Attack.
Now comes this extraordinary début album from the London based ensemble Blue Eyed Hawk, a prodigiously talented young quartet featuring vocalist Lauren Kinsella, trumpeter Laura Jurd, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick. They take both their band name and album title from a poem by W.B. Yeats and poetry and literature form a significant component in their remarkable music making. However forget any preconceptions you may have about jazz and poetry collaborations, this album is strikingly different.
Jurd is perhaps the best known member of the core quartet. Her own 2012 album “Landing Ground” was a stunningly mature solo début that fused jazz with elements of contemporary classical music, including some of the best writing for strings that I’ve ever heard on a jazz recording. Meanwhile Irish born vocalist Kinsella fronts her own band Thought-Fox and is a vocal experimenter in the spirit of Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nichols. Guitarist Roth works with vocalist/violinist/songwriter Alice Zawadzki. Dick is a key member of Jurd’s quartet and appears on the exceptional “Landing Ground”. All four form part of the increasingly influential Chaos Collective of young musicians.
Besides their jazz, classical and literary leanings these four young musicians are also influenced by folk music and by contemporary rock and pop and in Blue-Eyed Hawk they achieve a successful synthesis of all these inspirations while creating something of their own that sounds gloriously original. They are helped in their quest by the slightly older figures of Tom Herbert and Leafcutter John, both members of Polar Bear, who make substantial contributions to the finished product. Herbert provides additional bass and keyboards and is credited with co-producing the album with the band. Electronics are an essential part of the group sound and the work of an engineering team that includes Alex Killpatrick, Hugh Sheehan, Andrew Lawson and Peter Beckmann also deserves mention.
From the outset it’s clear that Blue Eyed-Hawk is a tightly knit ensemble with all four members involved in the writing process. Jurd, Roth and Dick all double on various keyboard instruments and add vocal support to lead singer Kinsella.
The album opens with Kinsella’s “Oyster Trails”, a song with evocative lyrical imagery and a strong environmental message that features the assured singing of its composer and the electronic embellishments of Leafcutter John. Jurd takes a brief solo mid tune but Blue-Eyed Hawk’s music is less concerned with instrumental virtuosity than it is with creating an atmosphere – the skills of the musicians can be taken as a given. Here Leafcutter’s work is given a context by the subtle guitar shadings of Roth and the solid but imaginative drumming of Dick, a young master of contemporary grooves.
“Somewhere” is Kinsella’s astonishing adaptation of the classic “Over The Rainbow”, the song delivered as you’ve never heard it before – even John Martyn didn’t go this far out. Kinsella turns the tune into a high powered thrash, her rendition of E.Y. Harburg’s lyrics combining the freedom and flexibility of the best jazz singing with the menace of punk. Driven by hight octane guitars and powerful drumming and with Jurd’s amplified trumpet squalls squiggling in and out it’s a remarkable transformation and a possible left field hit. The emergence of Harold Arlen’s original melody toward the end leads to a quieter coda that sounds almost ironic.
The sound of sampled (blue)birdsong segues into Roth’s beautiful “Aurora 5AM”, a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric contemporary ballad that brings a fresh sweetness to Kinsella’s voice and a warmth to Jurd’s all acoustic trumpeting. It’s lovely and charming and represents a delightful dynamic contrast to “Somewhere” while acting as a reminder as to just how versatile this group is.
Kinsella’s “Spiderton”combines pop sensibility and jazz harmonies to deliver an engagingly eccentric arachnid related lyric that again stems from its composer’s love of nature. Musically the piece is enlivened by Tom Herbert’s propulsive electric bass groove and Jurd’s double tracked (I think) trumpet.
A woozy solo trumpet fanfare introduces “O Do Not Love Too Long”, the band’s setting of the lyrics of W.B. Yeats. It’s very different to Christine Tobin’s interpretations of the poet’s words on her “Sailing To Byzantium” album and features some of Blue-Eyed Hawk’s most atmospheric playing as Kinsella’s improvised vocal lines combine with the feathery whisper of Jurd’s trumpet.
“Reflections On The Spiral” continues the literary theme with Roth’s setting of the French poet Armand Silvestre. Again the piece is rich in atmospherics with Kinsella singing in French before it erupts into an overpowering second section with Jurd’s soaring trumpet buoyed by Roth’s wall to wall guitar texturing and chording and Dick’s powerful drumming.
Jurd’s “Living In The Fast Lane” is a pop/punk thrash that one reviewer, Music OMH’s Daniel Paton, has suggested sounds like something off Acoustic Ladyland’s “Skinny Grin” album. I’d go along with that, the presence of Herbert on synthesiser and in the producer’s chair adding credence to Paton’s point. It’s a bit throwaway but is great fun – but goodness knows what the audience that recently witnessed Jurd playing jazz standards with the veteran saxophonist Art Themen at Titley Jazz Festival would make of this!
Next we come to a trio of pieces written by the group’s Scottish born drummer Corrie Dick. The swirling, droning “Intro (For Fathers)” features keyboards and guitars emulating bagpipes plus Dick’s own dynamic drumming. It’s an impressive invocation of Celtic mist and grandeur and leads into the song “For Tom And Everything”, dedicated not to Mr Herbert but to Dick’s grandfather. This is a modern folk tale and a remarkably mature and moving piece of songwriting, sung by Kinsella with a profound sense of involvement.
The wistful “Try To Turn Back” evokes wide open spaces (I’m with Daniel Paton again on this one) with its reflective lyric, guitar/electronica soundwashes (Leafcutter is involved again here), melodic trumpet playing and brushed drum grooves. Again Dick brings something of a folk feel to the music, this time via the melody itself.
The album concludes with “Valediction”, Roth’s adaptation of the words of poet Seamus Heaney.
Initially Kinsella delivers the lyric accompanied only by Dick at the piano. The purity of her voice is then matched by the bell like clarity of Jurd’s trumpet. Roth’s needling guitar figure and the layering of the group’s vocals subtly shifts the music in another direction but the air of chilly, fragile beauty remains throughout on this affecting depiction of lost love, loneliness and isolation.
“Under The Moon” is an exceptional début album that has the potential to appeal to a wider audience than the usual jazz demographic. This is literate, intelligent music that embraces many influences but coheres to create a brilliantly realised whole.
Ironically it sometimes reminds me of the music of the trio Eyes Of A Blue Dog -Elisabeth Nygard (vocals), Rory Simmons (trumpet, guitar, electronics) and Terje Evensen (drums, electronics)- whose 2012 album “Rise” (Babel Records) embraced a similar blend of jazz, avant pop and electronica. I hope people don’t get the two bands mixed up!
Blue-Eyed Hawk are currently on tour. Remaining dates as follows;
17 Sep The Lescar SHEFFIELD
5 Oct Splinter @ The Bridge NEWCASTLE
28 Oct The Spotted Dog BIRMINGHAM
31 Oct Fusebox @ The Fox and Newt LEEDS
23 Nov Clore Ballroom (London Jazz Festival) LONDON
4 Dec The Yardbird BIRMINGHAM