The Grip - Celebrate
(Slowfoot Records SLOLP024. LP Review by Adrian Pallant)
The concept of the acoustic, chordless jazz ensemble is very much flourishing with the likes of Brass Mask and Trio Riot – and there's no denying that the stripped-back immediacy of such instrumentation can be pretty compelling. So, putting respected musicians Finn Peters (alto sax and flute), Oren Marshall (tuba) and Tom Skinner (drums) together in the recording studio for a single day, following a number of successful live dates, perhaps unsurprisingly results in this strong, exuberant debut release, Celebration.
Known as The Grip (both Peters and Marshall hold a connection with personnel from Arthur Blythe's classic free jazz album of the same name), the trio take advantage of their crossing, collaborative paths over the years to deliver an earthy collection of the planned and the spontaneous – in fact, multi-reedsman Finn Peters explains it as an intentional shift from his electro-acoustic project Music of the Mind which "covered the stage with wires". The mood is mobile and improvisatory, resembling the brash rhythmicity of South African township and New Orleans street music whilst also incorporating funk and hip-hop grooves – and, befittingly described as 'telepathic compositions', these nine original numbers certainly offer a heady, exhilarating ride.
Acorn immediately declares the album's character with fluent, unison alto and tuba riffs, plus a tangible empathy which allows each to solo freely and boisterously over Tom Skinner's metronomic yet open clattering (tubist and drummer know each other intuitively from their Sons of Kemet association). Deliberate yet insouciant, The 199 Blues is a true slow blues groover which showcases Peters' tirelessly gritty, fluid extemporisations; and the distinctive, vocalised embouchure of Marshall is evident throughout, most especially in cheeky, scrabbling miniature On the Tube – a priceless "vrrOOhh" here, a "bleeUUrrhh" there. The only 'standard' in Oren Marshall's book is the upright position in which he plays it, sometimes teasingly dropping in the merest sliver of a familiar quote, leaving one racking the brains for its origin!
Nails – a spacial, wistful affair with beautiful contrapuntal intertwining – finds Marshall seemingly singing his melodies through the mouthpiece an octave above the keyed register. Then, chirpily and confidently, Compost Fly gently rocks and rolls, certainly not taking itself too seriously as all three players push and pull it around at will.
Finn Peters' misterioso, echoic flute is quite affecting in Saladin (chromatics reminiscent of Debussy's Syrinx), deftly slurring the intervals between semitones, similar to its Native-American instrument counterpart, over an effective hollow drum, soft cymbal and tuba undercurrent. It's a tantalising one-track glimpse of flute, leaving a desire for more. Following, The Grip pulls no punches as the trio use its freedom to compete, amusingly, for the title of 'most outrageous', though its structured phrases bring the anarchy back in line when needed. Marvellous.
With sinister breaths, grunts and cymbal scrapes, Kailash introduces a darker landscape as Peters' alto tentatively treads its way over a single, wavering tuba drone and dull drum thud. Eerily compelling, as the sax utters bizarre screeches amongst its flowing Eastern melodies, it's easy to imagine this broadening and crescendoing out in a live setting. To close, Celebration brightly exudes an air of 'swingin' safari', Peters' zingy saxophone bubbling over to the infectious playfulness of tuba and drums.
Sure to lift the spirits, The Grip's Celebrate is available as a limited edition vinyl, or digital download, from Slowfoot Records.