Two Excellent Albums That Show Contemporary Trends: Aku! and Shiver

 Two recently released albums show trends in contemporary jazz that indicate yet again how barriers between jazz and other musics are breaking down.  On these albums the musical blend takes in influences from electronica, punk rock, noise and improvised music, but come up with a mix that has the variety, the risk taking and the spontaneity that characterise the best of contemporary jazz.  

AKU! Is a trio based in Glasgow featuring Harry Weir on tenor and baritone saxophones plus electronics, Liam Shortall on trombone and electronics, and Graham Costello on drums.  Their album has the title Blind Fury, and I like the description of their album on the Bandcamp site as one that ‘takes you on a raucous, foot-stomping journey through the dreich underbelly of Glasgow’s emergent jazz scene’.  The trio describe their music as ‘doom jazz’, a style that creates a dark ambient mood by drawing on doom metal.  The combination of baritone sax and trombone plus electronics works very well in creating this mood. This might seem a bit off-putting, but, in fact, there is a lot of variety in the music and both Harry Weir and Liam Shortall take excellent solos throughout, and Graham Costello takes a fine extended drum solo on the Kraken track.  Often a track will open with an aggressive statement of a theme, but then move into a gentler passage before returning to a high energy climax .  The Dub Ting track is a good example of this: the track starts with a growling trombone phrase, then it is joined by a nicely contrasting and gentler tenor sax solo, and throughout it varies between building up the intensity and taking it down.  Other tracks, e.g. the title track Blind Fury , create something of a celebratory, even joyous mood.

The album is available on Bandcamp on the Aku! page.

Shiver is a trio from Leeds and Newcastle with Chris Sharkey on guitar, synths and vocals, Andy Champion on electric bass and vocals, and Joost Hendrickx on drums.   Chris Sharkey has been active this year in issuing a number of albums in which he explores the possibilities of extended improvisation using electronics.  There are two duo albums with drummers: Lines of Flight with Mark Sanders and Watercress with Paul Hession, three trio albums: Delirium Atom Paths with pianist Pat Thomas and drummer Luke Reddin-Williams, SALTS with bass player Michael Bardon and Paul Hession, and #4, the album reviewed here. 

The music on #4 was created from three separate improvised sessions in which the trio experimented with loops, electronics and vocal textures.  From these recordings they have produced a 40 min track entitled I Need You To Focus which combines some of the original improvisations with other passages created from different takes and, interestingly, accidents; I say this as it is often said that jazz has the unique ability to take advantage of and build on mistakes.    

The resulting music goes through a series of fascinating episodes each one leading into the next and therefore has a cohesion and coherence that holds one’s attention throughout.  Each player is a formidable improviser, but here the focus is on interaction and a group dynamic.  I particularly enjoyed the vocal textures that occur at certain points as the music develops. 

The track is available on Bandcamp on Chris Sharkey’s page.

The music on both albums draws on other styles of music, but develop aspects of those styles in an improvisatory framework.  My experience of styles such as noise music, or certain kinds of metal is that they often set up a particular interesting sound or rhythm, but essentially stick to that particular sound or rhythm without developing it to any extent.  In the albums reviewed here the music shows a development and variety over eight tracks in the case of Blind Fury, and over one long track in the case of I Need You to Focus. An alternative way of looking at these albums is taking on board the notes to the #4 album which describe the aim as creating ‘music that does not recognise convention, hierarchy or genre’. In other words, we should think of them as nothing more than excellent examples of creative improvised music. In terms of the classification, you pays your money and you takes your choice!

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