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Monday, November 6, 2023

Charlotte Keeffe's Right Here, Right Now Quartet - Alive! In The Studio (Discus Music, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Charlotte Keeffe has recently been gaining recognition that is more than justified and is becoming one of the strongest voices in improvised music. Her second release on Discus Music sees Keeffe with her regular working quartet exploring her compositions which she describes as open-ended. Recorded in a studio, the 60 minutes of music deftly captures the quartet’s energy and vibrance. Keeffe’s composition has to be admired because in all the tracks, there is ample room for each musician to shine and demonstrate why Keeffe chooses to play with such class improvisers, but also space for collective expression and this feels important to this quartet. The quartet comprises double bass player Ashley John Long, drummer Ben Handysides guitar player Moss Freed and Charlotte Keeffe on Sound Brush/Trumpet and flugelhorn. Keeffe is also the composer.

Keeffe’s Right Here Right Now quartet was featured on BBC Radio 3’s Freeness show titled ‘The Trumpet Shall Paint’. This was the quartet’s second BBC Radio 3 Freeness feature this year and they recorded their Manchester Jazz Festival set especially for the show too.

Charlotte told me she was ‘bursting to get the music out there’ for this release, and I am not surprised. It is one of those rare recordings where you sense the absolute comfort of the musicians involved. They are playing music under the leadership of someone who understands improvisation, the space musicians need, and also the way to draw the best from each one. Moss Freed in particular shines on this album, but each player contributes a strong essence and also comes together in beautiful discourse. On the final track, the quartet produces a surprising and glorious harmonic vocal section.

The album contains surprises and delights, from the delicious outbursts and tuneful blurts on ‘1200 Photographs 1 and 3’ and the melodic, tuneful (as in full of tunes, rather than a single melody) delight that is ‘A Horse Named Galaxy’ with a drum solo, consistent bass, and tuneful rhythmic phrasing in the melodic section, improvised sounds around the bass and trumpet sharing the lead, overtopped with deftly inserted guitar riffs and solo. ‘Cotton Tail’ is a gentle track with pretty melodies trickling from the guitar contrasting with the devilish improvisation around the guitar work and just check out Keeffe’s flying trumpet on this track.

Keeffe’s musicality is superb. She effortlessly switches from melodic interludes to primal screeches and waffles. She has that knack for understanding what the music needs and just when it needs it. At times, her trumpet sighs softly, whispering sweetness, and at others, it blasts and blares like a demonic imp forcefully rising from the depths of sound provided by the quartet. The mix of sounds on this album is extraordinary – although improvising musicians, at times, they fall easily into harmonic melodies, creating a palpable essence of unity.

Keeffe’s playfulness is apparent on many tracks – for example on ‘1200 Photographs 2’ where it feels like a Mexican dance is about to start at any moment, before the drums change the rhythmic overtones and Keeffe sets off on another diversion and a honk fest commences, or ‘Eastenders’ where the trumpet lays down improvised lines, and the rest of the quartet respond in musical conversation.

The light touches in ‘Wholeness’ and the slight messiness of ‘1200 photographs 3’ provide interest and ‘Sweet, Corn’ is a gorgeous track that demonstrates the togetherness of this quartet, as they run together across a range of rhythmic and timed diversions, held by the glue of a repeated 6 note riff to the final improvised breakdown – wonderfully diverse.

These versions of Keeffe’s compositions captured for clarity in the studio, form the basis of the quartet’s live set and one thing is for certain. The possibilities in this music are endless. The artwork on the cover is note-worthy too, as Gina Southgate once again captures a band in amorphous form.

When Keeffe asked for a review, she sent me her description of the music in a short narrative/poem. It read,

“Right Here, Right Now. It is as it is…

Charlotte Keeffe’s Right Here, Right Now Quartet featuring Ashley John Long, Ben Handysides, and Moss Freed, is a breeding ground for squelchy, sploshy, splashy Sound Brush playing - music-making!

Overtly over-blowing, splitting, splattering, squirming, squeaking, and squealing out ALIVE! Howling and hooting, chomping, and chaffing…

Dusty, distorted, flimsy, fragile, manic, ghostly, guttural sound strokes rip through whirlwinds and whirlpools of wholesome gooey sound dough!

A turbulent tease, staggering, swaying, abruptly plunging into intentional vagueness…

A messy emporium of raw, raucous realness.


Keeffe and her quartet nailed it.

It is available on all of the music platforms