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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Paul Jolly & Mike Adcock – Risky Furniture (33xtreme, 2018) *****

By Sammy Stein

Mike Adcock (Accordions Go Crazy, Lol Coxhill, Cadillac Kings, Imaginary Dance Trio, Natchez and more) and Paul Jolly (People Band, Sweet Slag, House of Five, Straight,No Chaser) have collaborated on several projects before including a theatre group ‘The Fabulous Random Band’, and bands like 'The Lemon Pop Band’ and some blues projects mixing Cajun and blues. Both are interested in improvised music and have performed as a duo at many festivals. They felt it was time to record again and the opportunity for this recording came about as a result of the London Jazz Platform Festival which I curated in June 2017. There they performed their unique form of piano and sax combinations of improvised music and later got together to make a recording – this is the result.

‘What Not’ opens the CD with soprano sax, joined by thrumming strings and percussive beats from the piano before Mike Adcock switches to the keyboard, both instruments now talking with discursive, intricate little riffs, foibles and meticulatas. The intrinsic rhythm changes and variations in tempo are picked up by each player as the track moves along, Paul Jolly one minute playing an extended trill, the next a series of pretty scale movements up and down the keys of the sax. The two diverge, come together and meld at times, forming an almost seamless and pervasive sense of continuum. The middle section involves the piano dictating pretty patterns with sax following and this is then turned on its head with sax leading the piano, which happily follows suit. This light, delicate track changes, delves deeper and then changes again to create a lovely introduction. By the 6th minute both players are lost in their own intricacies but still engaged enough with each other to make this cohesive and when the piano descends the keys in a series of chords, the sax is still off and away all of itself but picks up the chords and suddenly the two are in the same key. Brilliant.

‘An evening of Viennese Cupboardry’ begins with dolorous tones of the bass clarinet playing a repeated theme which is countered by the piano, filling in the notes of the scale and echoing the theme which is very clever because it creates a wholeness. There is a waltzy feel to the first section and it is gentle enough to make the listener relax and slowly sink into somnolence. Yet wait! There goes the piano, getting faster with bass clarinet in tow and gradually, the tempo alters and the pace is faster still with that pervading gentleness with which the piece opened. The bass clarinet is gorgeous on this track and the second part, complete with trills and stut notes is completely beautiful. The waltz time mode which runs through the entire track is gloriously enjoyed by the piano when it solos and there is a developing tune right through as well. The regularity of this piece contrasts well with the opener. ‘Our Occasional Footstool’ has piano and sopranino sax creating a dialogue where the piano offers regularly spaced trills and riffs over which and between which the sax develops answers of varying lengths. A shorter track but very sweet and the intricacies from both are beautiful. It is a pleasure to hear a sopranino sax played with such dexterity and joy. The slightly off-tuned upper piano notes at the end are a cheeky ending.

‘The Accidental Splinter’ opens with piano chords before the tenor sax enters – Paul playing in the harmonic range, creating high, pressing, almost vocal sounds whilst the piano flows underneath. Then there is a change with the tenor switching down to normal register but with a tightened reed to create some exquisite upper notes before descending and creating entertaining dips and delves over a single staccato note from the piano then occasional chords, which increase and fill the gaps along with the developing melodic lines. Then, suddenly it stops. ‘Bureau of Change’ sees the soprano sax come in forte and solo before the piano dips in with chords. The soprano sings along with melodic lines, each short and spaced but linked by a common key (mostly). The strong sax voice includes some flattened notes and frilly bits, along with some jaw clenching squeals which add to the quirky character of the piece. Then some melodic playing over some lovely disharmonic chords in minor and major keys before the all too soon finish. The intervals of the piano accompaniment are clever because whilst on one level they are in the same key as the bass clarinet but played in 7ths they jar and create the wonderful disharmony of intent. Beautiful, especially the second half.

Then we come to ‘By The Fainting Couch’ where bass clarinet enters with a trill, the piano bashes out the chords and what follows is probably the highlight piece on the CD. The two musicians use their instruments in dialogue, competition and harmony (almost) in a beautiful escapade of improvisational bliss. The clarinet switches from upper notes to deep, rich, lower notes, followed and supported by the piano chords which echo the depth and power of the clarinet. With two players both experienced in many genres as well as being improvisers, it is not too long before a themed section develops, introduced by the piano, over which the bass clarinet thunders, rolls and drives its own themes. The abyssal deep notes of the clarinet carry weight and fortitude here, contrasting at times and emphasising at others the creative and astute piano lines. There is a breathy section which, together with the piano and occasional reedy squeak, create a spacey atmosphere to finish the track – adding just one last texture to the mix.

‘L’Ecritoire’ has the piano introducing the sopranino sax – again played beautifully and singing its heart out in the higher notes, with a hint of tremolo which creates an emotive feel. The piano line is worth following because it is in itself a creative and beautiful melodic progression in many places whilst at the same time the connection between the ears of the player and the sopranino line is clear. Cerebrally clever, this track is short but very sweet. An escritoire is a writing desk and this track gives a hint at just a few of the secrets held within.

‘The Great Bed of Ware’ is announced by the bass clarinet, now in long, slow note mode and the piano follows suit but without sustain pedal implemented so the notes fade before those of the clarinet at first. Then the pedal is used and now the piano notes are extended, creating a counter to the notes from the clarinet. Clever. The atmosphere is deep, thoughtful and slow, for the first few minutes in any case, the piano line using clear classical references under the improvised clarinet line. The actual ‘Great Bed of Ware’ is a very large four poster bed, ornately covered in marquetry built by a carpenter called Jonas Fosbrooke in the late 16th century. It could accommodate 4 couples and its posts are covered in the carved names of those who used it. This piece is aptly named because it has more than one pairing of the two musicians, in different modes and atmospheres. First is quiet, calm, before a call and response, still with those classical references in the piano lines, then a bass clarinet melody over chords and next it is just piano with a gorgeous melodic section over a single note in the left hand. For a brief time the bass clarinet is on its own, before piano joins, this time with deep runs, repeated in an urgent, intense rhythm which the clarinet picks up and follows, developing its own line. The piano bass line constantly returning to the same basso note (lower G) makes it almost menacing whilst the clarinet contrasts with a tuneful air, following the pattern of the piano. Then a single note accompaniment, then higher chords adding a playful element over the profound bass clarinet and then the two instruments play off each other, each repeating their theme with the same rhythmic patterns maintained before the bass clarinet introduces a change in rhythm whilst piano keeps the same. The end section is an ascension and descending clarinet line under which the piano develops different rhythms and a melodic theme then emerges before the finish.       
Paul Jolly has run jazz clubs and played and produced music for several decades and his experience and understanding of different genres come through with this CD. Mike is a born musician and improviser and adds his considerable experience and talent. Together they make engaging and interesting listening and the pairing is enhanced by their similarities and also their different styles of delivery. What strikes as you listen to this CD is the communication and engagement of the two musicians with each other – an intuition born only out of experience of playing together. Where there are gaps, they know when to fill them and when to leave well alone. There is an intrinsic understanding of when to allow a melody to develop and when to rein it in and there is a melodic playing from both players which is so inborn it emerges time and time again, making this both attractive to improvisers and those with more classic or straight jazz preferences. A terrific and entertaining CD – Well worth more than a listen. 


Mike Adcock - Piano

Paul Jolly – Soprano saxophone tracks 1,5 Sopranino saxophone tracks 3,7, Bass clarinet tracks 2,6,8 and tenor saxophone track 4

  1. What Not
  2. 2. An Evening Of Viennese Cupboardry
  3. Our Occasional Footstool
  4. The Accidental Splinter  
  5. Bureau Of Change  
  6. By The Fainting Couch
  7. L’ecritoire
  8. The Great Bed Of Ware   (bass clarinet)

Release Date: 6th April 2018
Label: 33xtreme
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