Martin Archer

Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites
Discus 43 CD

Blending and contrasting vamping horns, violent percussion and spiccato strings, this CD mark a welcome return to Jazz by Sheffield-based reedist Martin Archer. Now mostly involved with electronic-oriented sound design and what he calls “creative Rock”, his dormant talents on sopranino, alto and baritone saxophones and bass clarinet are given full reign here, as part of a 12-piece acoustic band.

Besides a brief introduction the session is divided into the 25 minute “Of The Above”, composed by Archer and percussionist Peter Fairclough and the eight-part title track penned by the saxophonist. Although Archer links the performance here to pioneering Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) sessions he does himself a disservice. Few if any AACM compositions are as concerned with the spatial pulsations arising from four percussionists – five if you count Corey Mwamba’s vibraphone – featured on both major tracks. More crucially the tunes’ frequent turn-arounds and transitions are based on chordal dissonance rather than other motifs. In other words reed and/or percussion narratives are usually re-directed by the angled piano pulsations of Laura Cole or jittery counter-melodies arising from Graham Clark’s violin.

Considering the 2012-2013 recording date and the sometimes harmonized saxophone lines, it’s likely that some studio wizardry took place during the session. This appears especially to be the case on “Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites” at those junctures where trumpeter Kim Macari’s and trombonist Lee Hallam’s arching grace notes arise in contrast to the massed reed work. Among the sequences that appear during the composition’s 42 minutes are those which are unadulterated exploding cacophony and others that express such light swinging rhythms that they’re the equal, of anything played by a well-rehearsed modern biggish band.

As the narrative unfolds, Archer takes on different identities on different horns. His snorting baritone works up to altissimo crackling; he peeps flute-like tones from the sopranino; and his alto playing slides from toughness to split tones. While the rattling percussion, piano glissandi and cross-pulsed fiddling combine for the finale, the piece’s true climax comes a few minutes before that. Smack dab in the middle as piano keys pound, low-pitched bass clarinets slurp and the percussionists’ tones ricochet from stentorian shudders to sloping nerve beats contrapuntal brass lines move the focused tension upwards and out of the polytonal interface. The conclusion somehow harmonized the horns and strings into a near-Celtic refrain.

Sprawling with vibe-clatter, plunger brass and reed squeaks, “Of The Above” is the more legato of the pieces, balancing on a string continuum, extended with some expressive pianism. By the finale, Clark’s jittery output suggests Billy Bang’s; with Archer’s speedy alto sax line wedded to Trane emulation. Meanwhile the percussionists emphasize every note with precision, As the theme moves back and forth the freedom and feeling of Jazz is confirmed.

Archer has done valuable and pioneering work with his experiments and sound collages. But as is demonstrated on this CD, he’s still a Jazzman at heart. As he aptly demonstrates here, there’s no reason for him to abandon any one musical form for another.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Engine Room Introduction 2. Of The Above 3.-10. Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites

Personnel: Kim Macari (trumpet); Lee Hallam (trombone); James Archer (bass clarinet); Martin Archer (sopranino, alto and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, bass recorder and bass harmonica); Graham Clark (violin); Laura Cole (piano); Corey Mwamba (vibraphone); Seth Bennett (bass) and Peter Fairclough, Walt Shaw and Johnny Hunter (percussion)