Sep 11 2015
What’s most captivating about Matt Owens‘ debut is how he maintains an unbroken flow of expressions despite putting so many variables into play. Working with a couple trumpeters, a couple pianists, percussionists, a small army of vocalists, a wind quintet and a string quartet, Owens has chosen a lot of raw materials with which to construct The Aviators’ Ball, and he doesn’t use them sparingly or with uniformity. Different wind instruments raise up their voices at different times, the strings oftentimes have different ideas about how to instill the music with harmony, and the rhythm section, as a guiding force, doesn’t always map a path by conventional means. But through all of this, the motion of these pieces is gentle and fluid, unencumbered by the weight of so many textures and influences.
And it’s the approach to melody that allows Owens and crew to pull this off. Wind instruments rise slowly then shoot back groundward in staggered flight patterns, while piano and percussion cut through the center of their contrails, and buffeted up by a huge surge from the string quartet, and the lines of travel charted out by all of these instruments are wrapped about the melody with a thoughtful care to allow it to develop naturally within a complex environment. There is a certain simplicity to this music. It’s not always immediately apparent, but it resonates with great strength.
The cheerful “Raindrops On Our Rooftop” has the quaint charm of an old country folk song updated for a new century, and it has the catchy hooks of a movie theme song, and yet even with a foundation based in simplicity, the song achieves a fullness that transcends the sum of its generalized characteristics. The result is no different on title-track “The Aviator’s Ball,” which possesses the sweeping grace of formal dance in an empty grand hall, and in that space develops into something far more expansive than a simple procession of dance steps.
The album offers up three vocal tracks, each captivating in their own way. The first of those is “Mouse Song,” which possesses the unguarded openness of a children’s song and lets the melody do the heavy lifting. Tom Davies‘ vocal contribution works the thin, delicate line between wind instruments and his own acoustic guitar.
“Going Back to the Village” has the perfect cadence to match its catchy melody, and both go galloping along as Edward Barnwell‘s piano accompaniment breaks off from the herd and takes a series of thrilling passes around the ensemble base.
“Every Wish Is For You” signals the start of the second half of the recording, and from a tonal standpoint, it behaves as the perfect dividing line between the first half’s sunnier disposition and the more introspective second half. The harmonies are thick on this composition and they emit plenty of warmth, but the melody betrays a contemplative nature that focuses more on the grey skies than the shards of light that break through the clouds.
This is followed by an absolutely captivating rendition of the traditional folk song “Black is the Colour.” Riognach Connolly‘s delivery is simultaneously off-the-cuff casual and so powerfully in-the-moment that each word, each note rings with the truest conviction. Owens and drummer Rick Weedon and pianist John Ellis keep the tempo to the slowly rocking motion of a boat on choppy waves, and the wind instruments murmur and sometimes reveal a burgeoning intensity, but, ultimately, it’s Connolly’s haunting vocals that eclipse everything.
No less resonant is “Monsoon.” Originally performed by vocalist Zoe Kyoti and Owens as part of their pop-folk trio Magic Beans, the rendition by Owens’ full ensemble allows the song to achieve a stunning full bloom. Kyoti’s delivery is direct and unsubtle… qualities that are massively disarming in a song about love and honesty. Her voice enters the harmonic confluence of the wind instrument and result in a supremely affecting piece.
This leads into the album finale of “Violet,” with its sing-song melody and drifting ambiance… a bit of a lullaby as the credits roll on this terrific recording.
Your album personnel: Matt Owens (double bass), John Ellis (piano, organ), Neil Yates (trumpet, tin whistle), Rick Weedon (drums, percussion, vibraphone), Edward Barnwell (piano), Danny Ward (drums), Steve Chadwick (cornet, trumpet), Sophie Hastings (marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone), Amina Hussain (flute), David Benfield (oboe, cor anglais), Jon Harris (French horn), Simon Davies (bassoon), Semay Wu (cello), Alison Williams (violin), Naomi Koop (violin), Aimee Johnson (viola), Carla Sousa (flute), Lucy Rugman (clarinet), Philip Howarth (cor anglais), Jill Allen (clarinet), Lucy Keyes (bassoon), Atholl Ransome (alto flute), Billy Buckley (guitar, lap steel), Rosa Campos Fernandez (clarinet), Riognach Connolly (lead vocals), Zoe Kyoti (lead vocals, guitar), Tom Davies (lead vocals, guitar) and Kirsty Almeida, Caroline Sheehan, Orli Nyles, Cara Robinson (vocal harmonies).
Released on All Made Up Records.
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Jazz from the London scene.
Cover art by David Knopov.