Album review: Roller Trio: Roller Trio


Twice I have come out of Roller Trio gigs and each time felt weightless, my brain fizzing with the tunes and the energy transmitted from the band to us. The Leeds-based trio who studied jazz at Leeds College of Music because they thought it was “the easiest option” (presumably discovering that it was not?) are winners of many awards and plaudits. Most recently, their saxophonist James Mainwaring received a Musician’s Benevolent Fund award in their Emerging Excellence Award series.

Emerging? That sounds like a butterfly struggling out of a chrysalis. No, James Mainwaring is the real thing, there is nothing delicate about this fledgling. Seeing him on stage, I immediately thought of Michael Brecker and more recently, of Marius Neset, that nagging feeling that there was more than one saxophone on stage when I could see there was only one. The electronics are subtle, just a little bit of distortion like static. Roller Trio combine extraordinary technical skills with a great sense of fun, they like being entertaining (a bit like World Service Project who impart a similar sense of enjoying themselves and all the more so for us being there too). Roller Trio are proof that insanely memorable tunes are not the result of dumbing down.

But thinking about the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly is perhaps an appropriate analogy – there is a sense that a struggle is going on. The sax tries to break free from the clutches of the guitar and the drums. Sometimes it shrieks, brays and roars. It is granted its freedom in the pastoral ROR’. This is my favourite track. It starts with an Eastern feel, the guitar like a sitar, the sax bubbles like a stream, the guitar picks out a Tales of the Riverbank melody (see this video for the reference), the drums tick and purr gently, then the stage is set for the most sublime melody on sax. If you only heard this track you might wonder why they are called visceral, gutsy, loud. They are all those things of course. But that is the metamorphosis – from gritty and urban to this beautiful tranquil track with just a hint of something to trouble the surface like the buzzing of a wasp on a summer’s day.

Roller Trio have recorded their second album (digitally stored in a folder endearingly named Doris by their engineer) and are touring with Go Go Penguin in October 2013. See them if you can, they are truly wonderful.

Roller Trio:

James Mainwaring, tenor sax and electronics

Luke Wynter, guitar

Luke Reddin-Williams, drums

Mary James

Brecon Jazz Festival roundup: 10 -11 August 2013

On Twitter a few days before Brecon Jazz Festival, Mercury Prize nominees Roller Trio promised they would be playing all our favourites at their gig at the Guildhall on Saturday night. So they started with Deep Heat, Roller Toaster and The Nail That Stands Up and then played us a few new tracks that had no name but had been saved by their recording engineer as Doris and I hope their new album has a track called Doris, there is something direct and no-nonsense about this band. My notes refer to Dalek music. This is music that Daleks would like if given half the chance. It is exciting, edgy, overwhelming, physical and above all, tuneful. They are fabulous, like a workout with no effort.

No old favourites for Phronesis earlier that afternoon. An excited full house at the Theatre (the queue to get in snaked for several hundred yards) were mesmerised by a set of new compositions, at least five of which had never been heard before outside of rehearsal. The set list included the sinister Urban Control, the haunting Lost Nomads, Life to Everything, the affectionate Herne Hill, Fraternal, Behind Bars, Fly on the Floor, two others with no name and an encore of Suede Trees. If we were guinea pigs for new sounds, we passed the test, the buzz afterwards was ecstatic. There were unmistakable signs of the wisdom and confidence gained from world touring, a vast auditorium-filling sound produced with seemingly minimal obvious effort, so relaxed is their partnership. Did I detect more arco than previously from Jasper? It felt very lyrical at times. There was an almost pastoral feel to one of the compositions. Now we all have to wait, patiently, til November when these gems will be recorded at the Cockpit and released on Edition Records.

The contrast between well estabished and new continued on Sunday – trumpet player Laura Jurd gave us a very complex and confident set at the Cathedral. The Cathedral’s acoustics provided the ideal place for her clear sound and for John Surman who followed. The John Surman Trio – a supergroup comprising Chris Lawrence on bass and John Marshall on drums – treated us to a largely improvised set of compositions inspired by the Cathedral and sunshine. The jewelled light from the stained glass and the cavernous space prompted huge, dark and sometimes scarey sounds, like vast flocks of birds speeding across a dark sky. The compactness of John Marshall’s technique (ex Soft Machine and Nucleus) produced lots of noise with minimal movement, an interesting comparison with powerful drummer Luke Reddin-Williams of Roller Trio whose theatrical gestures were as eye catching as they were effective.

My festival ended with another supergroup, the Anglo-American The Impossible Gentlemen, whose confidence and good humour provided the perfect prelude to leaving Brecon. We heard tracks from their upcoming album Internationally Recognised Aliens. I preferred their quieter compositions, notably the beautiful Ever After by Steve Swallow and Gwilym Simcock’s bluesy Barber Blues. which I had heard before, with Lighthouse in the same venue last year. If anyone can play a piano and make it look as if he is skimming across hot coals it is Gwilym. He is quite breathtaking and very engaging. And that was the magic of Brecon.

Mary James

CD review and album launch: Ife Tolentino: Você Passou Aqui, 2 Aug 2013


Brazilian guitarist and singer Ife Tolentino waited eight months to launch his album Você Passou Aqui (You Were Here) in the UK because he wanted to launch it at The Vortex, and The Vortex is always busy so he had to wait. Such loving attention to detail distinguishes this album of standards and compositions from more familiar Brazilian music. You think you know what Bossa Nova sounds like, but this album has something else. It has a fragility which hints at its inspiration – Iceland, land of ice and fire, but also of tiny alpine flowers, midnight sun, silent landscapes, which contrasts so powerfully with the fecundity of the Brazilian landscape of lush forest, beaches and exotic blooms and flamboyant carnivals.

The album was recorded in Iceland with the Icelandic musicians listed below. It consists of standards like S’wonderful (which sounds as if it had been written by Jobim, not Gershwin), compositions by Jobim himself and own compositions. Especially beautiful is Me Chama (Call me) which has a haunting refrain which prompts me to reflect on the fragility of life in Iceland, where short days, tiny population and possible volcanic extinction make for a very thoughtful approach to life where you savour life’s beauties, especially if they are fleeting. The lyrics are poetic, sparce and beautiful. All the musicians are caught in the spell, tiny cameos such as the sax on Como num Conto, sparkle like stars.

At The Vortex, Ife was joined by Liam Noble on piano and Julian Siegel on saxophone. Ife’s vocals are unhurried, intimate like conversation, he makes it sound very easy and natural. The languor was reflected in Liam Noble’s sparce piano accompaniment, his fingers barely spanning a few keys yet sometimes delicately skittering or bubbling like lava. In Teco Teco Julian Siegel had no difficulty shadowing Ife’s tongue-twisting lyrics and speed, like dancing on coals. I do not speak Portuguese so to me most of the compositions sounded sunny but reading the sleeve notes I see this is misplaced. Many are sad, lonely and wistful. But George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun reminded us that album launches are joyful times. It was a special evening and it’s a lovely, gentle, thoughtful album by a very accomplished singer guitarist.