CD Review: Monocled Man (Rory Simmons, Chris Montague, Jon Scott) – Southern Drawl

Monocled Man – Southern Drawl
(Whirlwind WR 4649. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The unassuming nursery rhyme introduction is abruptly interrupted by the slam of a guitar, the reverberating atonal climb of the trumpet, and accompanying dramatic cymbal crashes. It recovers by sliding into a restrained reverie, building into a frustrated rant, and then drifting off again into an eerie fairytale. It is all over in less than three and a half minutes.

The juxtaposition of styles and moods of the eponymous first track of the album sets the tone for the following proceedings: a dark and reflective work from a trio of prolific musicians, tying together the threads from their side projects to create a strong record. Rory Simmons' compositions fit easily alongside the works of his contemporaries in the London jazz scene, notably those of the LOOP collective, a network of musicians pushing the boundaries of original composition which he helped establish. Southern Drawl brings moments of Four Tet and Ennio Morricone together and splices them with the avant-garde stylings of Fraud, Dog Soup and Troyka.

The explosive and concise title track is followed by the tangling repeating melodic line of Big Wheeze, underpinned by guitar and surrounded by light percussion, building and allowing Simmons space and time to improvise and develop. Scribbles sees the tempo dropped where sparse drumming and considered guitar backing create a storytelling environment for a beautiful solemn trumpet-led ballad.

The earnest moment is banished for Pud Pud, where the spooked atmosphere returns with Chris Montague's sonic explorations taking centre stage, with synth and stylophone sounds chasing Simmons' trumpet around, seemingly round a corner at the end of a corridor. It effectively evokes the nervous feeling presented by the cover artwork – of cowering naked men with large sticks battling clouds of giant stinging insects in a blood-red forested environment. The brash marching anthems at the start and end of Royalty book-end Jon Scott's engaging clicked and tapped soundscape, accompanied by anguished brass wails, and stringed Doppler effects. The anthem reappears in the penultimate track Royalty Reprise, after Van Vliet, a meandering laconic ballad - perhaps a requiem for the dysfunctional sound of the late Captain Beefheart – and Blip, a thunderous tom-heavy rumbling drum track under an unsteady stomping theme. A unified guitar and trumpet line parts into an extended angry debate between Simmons' forceful and bold improvisation and Montague's halting, spluttering, blustering guitar. Bullet Nose closes the album with an earnest, accessible tune, with syncopated guitar lines occasionally joining the melody, but often just framing it.

Montague's role in the final track - seamlessly switching between supporting and joining the trumpet lead – is worked on throughout the record. At times he provides the structure to a piece, at times he brings it abrasively crashing down around him. In large part the dark tone of the album is created by his guitar tirelessly pursuing Simmons' trumpet lines, with the tension being crafted by Scott's adept touch and subtle post-production creating low-fi backing and accompanying drones. There is real power in the mesmerising loops, they mutations and repeats, and the sharp changes in direction. At times fascinatingly challenging, unsettling and emotional, this album is an emotive piece of composition which gives these three musicians an opportunity to improvise and combine in an exciting new format.

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