Review: Phil Meadows Group at the Vortex

Phil Meadows Group
(Vortex. January 26th 2014. Review and photo above by Geoff Eales)

The Phil Meadows Group is a dynamic ensemble of exceptional young improvisers. Laura Jurd'a name is on everybody’s lips these days. One of the UK’s brightest young stars and co-founder of London’s Chaos Collective, she plays trumpet with a depth and maturity way beyond her years. Like Meadows, she is also a composer of distinction. Having such a force of nature as Jurd as his front-line partner must be a dream come true for him.

Pianist Elliot Galvin (the other founder member of the Chaos Collective) is another rising star who, like Jurd and Meadows, knows the value of space when constructing a solo. In the engine-room Conor Chaplin is a powerful groove player whether he is on double bass or bass guitar. Though his main function is to provide a rock-steady foundation on which Jurd, Meadows and Galvin can take flight, he plays powerful solos when relieved of his duties as anchorman. Simon Roth’s drumming is always just perfect – subtle, imaginative, in the pocket and never too loud. Chaplin and Roth make the most wonderful rhythm team.

Meadows' music draws its inspiration from a rich variety of sources : Ornette Coleman, David Binney, E.S.T., The Cinematic Orchestra, Tigran Hamasyan, British punk jazz, Electric Miles et al. All these influences were clearly in evidence on his debut recording, The Engines of Creation. The album is exciting enough but hearing the same material live proved even more rewarding.

Meadow’s compositions usually develop episodically – little ideas that undergo rhythmic, melodic and harmonic transformation throughout the tunes’ journey. It is a far cry from the head, solos over the changes, final head scenario. Often there is an abrupt change of tempo and mood, the listener suddenly shaken out of his or her comfort zone. Life is just like that. It is forever changing. Sometimes the changes are small and subtle, other times sudden and disturbing. Meadow’s music seems to reflect these different life changes.

A good example of Meadow’s modus operandi is his treatment of Fin. The tune begins with a startling Ornette-ish call-to-arms from the alto – bold, idiosyncratic and in free time. This morphs into an infectious and slightly unhinged Afro-Cuban groove as his colleagues join the fray. Without any warning we are now into jagged broken-beat hip-hop territory, multiple riffs heard simultaneously in a potent polyrhythmic brew. Soon there is yet another a change, the music disintegrating into freeform just as it had begun.

Moving On, a very early Meadows composition, is far less edgy. We are in Celtic folk mood here, the harmonies malleable, the rhythms vibrant, the melodies smooth, warm and welcoming. It is utopia after the dystopia of Fin.

The Engines of Creation is all about metamorphosis. The piano sets the mood with a simple and sad 2-bar phrase. As the band joins in the music becomes more and more intense. There is a majestic climax before we are taken in a totally different direction – a brutally passionate duet between piano and drums. In the live performance Galvin built his solo dramatically with great fistfuls of mighty chords that rumble, throb and tremble – the type of thing Keith Jarrett sometimes does in his solo concerts. On the record Galvin adopts a more manically disjunctive Cecil Taylor-like approach; it is wonderful that musicians are thinking creatively and constantly looking for a new angle on things. Without warning we are into heavy drum’n bass, trumpet and sax roaring over the ultra-funky groove. The keyboard grunts and grinds as the music hurtles forward. Then it’s all over, the number ending crisp, sharp and even. Marvellous stuff.

Phil Meadows is a man of many talents. He is a brilliant saxophonist, a highly imaginative composer with a great awareness of musical structure, and an inspirational educator. He also has a very good way with words, as evidenced by his intelligent and perceptive reviews and features in Jazz UK recently. To have such an armoury at his disposal at the age of 23 is quite remarkable.

1 comment:

  1. Great to read this, Phil. Congratulations to you, Laura, Elliot, Conor and Simon ('wish I'd BEEN there!). Excellent album, too. A