Check out independent reviews of the Murmuration album.
Check out independent reviews of the Murmuration album.
Blazing Flame / Murmuration Reviews
Zdenek Slaby (His Voice) 2016, Czech Republic (translated from the Czech original)
Not so long long ago I wrote about the debut album High Mountain Top. The second album by this band goes under the title of Murmuation, primarily meaning mumbling or grumbling.... From the start, Off The Coast of Fukushima, is about disasters and special reports from the press, including Chernobyl, Greece, the tsunami etc. This preoccupation with current affairs runs through the comparison of Child And Adult through to the final Ceremony. Steve Day is supported by spontaneous improvisation of the participating musicians in different combinations. The list is: vocalist Julie Tippetts, pianist Keith Tippett, alto saxophonist Aaron Standon, Peter Evans with five string violin, Julian Dale, double bass, cello and singing bowls, Anton Henley, drums and guest fluteist Bill Bartlett; an exceedingly stellar cast, in which they are each able to work completely spontaneously (with words and composition).
Steve Day is a professional with all the trimmings, but you can also marvel at his extravagant manner of delivery. This time Julie Tippetts is more independent of Day. Within Blazing Flame she keeps a certain distance, and duets by calls and responses. Right in the opening tones she is rhythmically flexible working off the drums and bass to produce a long term explosive atmosphere. There is an underlining menace with some of the emotive vocals enhanced by the precision of the instrumentation of sax, piano,.... electric violin, double bass and drums.
Some tracks are little over a minute, others are more than eight minutes. This is gripping music with fine bass and drums reacting immediately to the vocal which seem to lead the way. The musicians though are inventive causing the occasional diversion. On the title track the piano plays counter melodies, which compliment the voice. Julie Tippetts pronounces the text with the softness and sensitivity expected from this fine singer using a musical melange of techniques. She has an immediacy, every tone is lived, which is reflected not only by the piano but through the other instrumentation. Day's subsequent vocal 'lament' is accompanied by a marching drum (Edgehill), leading to a blending of vocals before introducing a chaotic musical section. While each instrument is present and does not attempt to dominate, they all contribute to the overall impression of the confusion of battle. The violin and piano are central to bringing resolution. There is a somewhat different sound to Portrait of Dora Maar, using both voices and piano and violin. Day uses spoken word, which is often his favoured approach which is always supported by the other voice. Here we can see how Julie Tippetts imaginatively balances the powerful lyrics of Day; they both fit together as though it is one speech. She is is once again alone on In Darkness, which has the piano accentuating the mood and tone of the theme which moves from timidity to great clarity, every word direct and profound as the thread of the story is explored through the slow poignant melody. Piano and violin follow the voice with sensitive percussion bringing eventual closure.
Jay is a new refreshing approach in which the vocals come up against the sax playing within the text, they speak together.... and this idea is present on other songs.... a wicked drums and raucous sax duet introduces (Stone Circle) against a vocal duet unfolding a story from Bethlehem through to Babylon, and the Celts attracting followers to their stone circles. This dialogue of vocal ping pong brings us to the final celebration which is opened by bass and piano. Day begins dramatically while Julie Tippetts brings him in contact with the violin, and the violin floats above the piano.... and then everything is suddenly cut off without a final dot.
You can have your ups and downs and different opinions about this album; on the whole, however, this time out it is an unusual, rich, diverse and fascinating work that will not leave you in peace. And is that not one of the important aspects of all art?
Vittorio (Music Zoom) 2016, Italy (translated from the Italian original)
Steve Day is a name known in the field of improvised music as a writer, music critic, percussionist. With Blazing Flame he has put together a strong band that emphasizes his poems with free and composed music. A combination of words and music that leaves no one indifferent; both methodologies perfectly emphasize the words of the English writer and musician. The other participants in the project are Keith Tippett piano, Julie Tippetts on vocals, Aaron Standon on alto sax, Peter Evans using five-string electric violin, Julian Dale on bass & cello and Anton Henley on drums. As a special guest Bill Bartlett is playing flute on four of the twelve songs.
Day's lyrics are in the booklet so you can read the words, get busy with a dictionary. Off the Coast of Fukushima that opens the album is there to show us the banality with which news is disseminated by the media, as if it were a futility soundtrack. "There are ponies grazing on the stubble grass of Chernobyl / People watch the whales off the coast of Fukushima" are the verses that open the album. The song closes with "The political gofer is swimming in a red and blue sea of bright shite / Waving our world goodbye as they watch the tsunami ride it." The clear political message is declaimed by Day in a voice reminiscent of some moments of James Chance in the late '70s, along with Julie Tippetts who emphasises the final word of each verse. The band supports in a subtle way and the free alto sax solo of Aaron Standon is devastating.
In Jay three jazz standards are remembered, Body and Soul, Night and Day and 'Round Midnight, though not musically. The voices of Day and Tippetts are supported by a rhythmic pulse from the sax and electric violin; the atmosphere is charged with tension, giving an additional depth to the lyrics. Poetry and music come together in a single set, as if this was the work of opera singers. The words and music make for a hard impact which is out of the ordinary.
George W. Harris (Jazz Weekly) 2016
Always looking for new worlds to conquer, UK based Leo Records delivers…. recent productions to excite and invite.
(Blazing) Flame includes the voices of Steve Day and Julie Tippetts along with Keith Tippett/p, Aaron Standon/as, Peter Evans/vi, Julian Dale/b-cel, Anton Henley/dr and guest Bill Bartlett/fl. The vocals show a deep debt to Mark Murphy as both singers are highly flexible in their deliveries as on the hip grooved "Off The Coast of Fukushima" and the free "Child and Adult". Evans' 5 string violin creates some rich yet eerie moods as on "Bed of Straw", while Standon's alto sax shrieks with Tippett's piano on "Portrait of Dora Maar." The see sawing violin of "The Ripple Effect" and clucking reed on "Jay" as well as Day himself, keep(s) you on your toes. Lots of ideas bouncing off the walls, many of them sticking to surfaces.
Rigobert Dittmann (Bad Alchemy) 2016 (translated from the German original)
Steve Day reveals why they use the name Blazing Flame, "in darkness a flickering candle or maybe the light from a mobile can be a blazing flame." Murmuration (LR765) is a flying formation used by a flock of starlings. Though the word is also used as an indictment, a swarm. Morphing clouds of up to one million birds, there is no German word. Day is a poet who sings poems as he did on Play High Mountain Top (2013) with a handful of friends who interpret them using improvisation.
Julie (Driscoll) Tippetts, voice and Keith Tippett, piano, Aaron Standon, alto sax, Peter Evans on electric violin, Julian Dale on bass, cello and singing bowl, Anton Henley, drums and percussion, with Bill Bartlett on flute. They change the cast throughout, from two to eight people. Day sings brittle almost eccentric soft spoken songs about Chernobyl and Fukushima, of fracking and plutonium, Greenland, of perishing in the next Tsunami while political henchmen splash "in a red and blue sea of bright shite." He takes the image of fox hunting for worse; where straw could be a refuge (Bed of Straw). Here Tippetts sings as spiritually as Abby Lincoln. (In Child And Adult) Day doubts that aging makes for wisdom and that a child knows better. Actually Markus Lüppertz takes a converse view, that age provides freedom from the peer pressure of fettered youth. Day's Murmuration has some resemblance to A. Paul Weber's concept of 'rumour'. Tippett's ethereal voice sings to strings: "There are gatherings, we know that/ Murmurings, we know that/ it will not be over/ until the dance is done." Edge Hill reminds me of Tristem Marschtrommelchen, it is about a battle of 1642, a bloody slaughter at the start of the English Civil War. This is followed by a poem about Picasso's Portrait of Dora Maar referencing his painting of Guernica. All the time Day is dealing with alternatives: With the song (In Darkness) he asks Tippett to play day and night as a game of chess with "white (becoming) darker than black". In (Jay) Day sings, "round midnight came the owl/ in the morning came the jay". In (The Ripple Effect) he leaves a man in the sand with "a transparent spear of yellow urine" while a woman pees with "hiss on heated grit/ giving the gift of an oasis." In Picasso's Portrait of Dora Maar, the singer recalls the strong colours and strokes of the painting of Guernica. With Stone Circle he sings "as a druid of today" and references, Jesus, Stonehenge, Celts, of summer and winter solstice, as well as Rastafarians. And yet he does not think much of religion, for all its pomp there is nothing to compare to the sound of the skylark ascending into the air (Ceremony), and if he has to show his colours then he is committed, in Moondog manner to pink. I applaud Day's music for his astonishing imagination and an alchemical flame of kinetic poetry.
Ian Maund (Sandy Brown Jazz, What's New) 2016
Steve Day is a writer and a poet. His published books include Ornette Coleman: Music Always and Two Full Ears: Listening to Improvised Music. He contributed the chapter Free Jazz to Masters of Jazz Saxophone, edited by Dave Gelly, and he produces liner notes for labels such as Leo, FMP and Splasch. He reviews new albums regularly for this website and is currently writing a book about the Russian jazz group, The Ganelin Trio. Murmuration is also his fourth album and his second with his group Blazing Flame. A busy man.
For this album he has, once again, brought together a formidable group of jazz improvisers including the internationally respected Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts, the outstanding saxophonist Aaron Standon and violinist Peter Evans, and on some tracks the flute of Bill Bartlett. Julian Dale and Anton Henley provide their completely empathetic contributions to the work and I particularly like the way Julian Dale's bass has been used and balanced in the mixing.
If you search for 'Blazing Flame' and 'Murmuration' you will probably find it categorised under the 'Avant Garde' label, whatever that might mean these days. One thing is certain, it should not be labelled 'Easy Listening', the work requires your attention. The music is improvised around Steve Day's poetry. Thankfully the words are provided with the album and you will need to read and think about them to grasp their meaning. Steve delivers the words in a spoken / sung voice that you might find an acquired taste. In the past, his voice has been likened to that of Tom Waites, but as the album progresses you recognise its distinctiveness and it works well in conjunction with the gifted voice of Julie Tippetts. The title track plus Bed Of Straw at track 2 and In Darkness at track 7 are sung by Julie Tippetts.
The album opens with Off The Coast of Fukishima. Steve Day appropriately describes Keith Tippett's piano break after the first verse as being 'like a sudden thunder storm and it hangs there rumbling as if time has stood still.' Aaron Standon's saxophone interacts nicely with Keith Tippett's piano and Julian Dale's bass goes on to pair effectively with Peter Evans's violin.
Bed Of Straw is a short track that has Julie Tippetts's great voice weaving its way above the violin. As Steve Day says: 'Julie sang Bed Of Straw in one take .. It certainly doesn't have anything like a 'blues' form though the effect is the same. Julie brings her own power to the song, which is about the fragility of safety ... it is just Julie creating a moment of sorrow, the strings weep with her'. Child And Adult at track 3 has Steve and Julie above bass and drums telling of the streetwise child - 'Age is never an excuse, it is merely a milestone. Sometimes the wisdom of children dissipates as people grow older'.
Murmuration, the title track, is based on the word given to the swarming of starlings above the Somerset levels. It opens with an interaction between piano, bass and violin that I find completely effective in describing the gathering and swooping of these birds and when Julie Tippetts' voice enters it too floats and soars until the piano, bass and violin again gently close the piece. Edgehill, the first battle of the 1642 English Revolution in which it is believed 1,500 people were killed, is a reflection on the horror of that battle with marching drums under Steve's words and Bill Bartlett's flute. The track progresses to descriptive mêlée of 'free' improvisation but in which each musician seems 'in tune' with each other.
Portrait Of Dora Maar is a reflection on the portrait of the photographer painted often by Picasso. Steve and Julie's voices trade lines and Aaron Standon paints in saxophone colours. In Darkness begins quietly with Julie Tippetts's voice above the bass and with Keith Tippett's piano making statements, and Peter Evans's violin weaves its way into the closing bars. Aaron Standon's alto flies into Jay at track 8 with Steve and Julie staccatoing the lyrics with drum, piano and violin: 'A jay keeps clear of magpies, squawking and making such a fuss ....A 'J' stands for jazz, Body and Soul, Night and Day, Round Midnight came the owl, in the morning came the jay.'
The Ripple Effect begins with ripples and with violin and bass introducing Steve's poem. Stone Circle is another take on a previously recorded track and it opens with a nice alto solo above percussion and Steve and Julie's voices tell of stone circles, druids, solstice, equinox and the passage of time until they hand back the track to saxophone, violin, bass and percussion. Now Put On The Pink is a brief, unaccompanied piece for two voices, an affirmation towards the LGBT community, whilst the final track, Ceremony, has an atmospheric, satisfying closure to the album from piano and violin.
Vittorio, reviewing the album for the Italian Music Zoom says: 'Poetry and music come together in a single set ... The words and music make for a hard impact which is out of the ordinary ... The atmosphere is charged with tension, giving an additional depth to the lyrics.'
Considering how rarely the Blazing Flame musicians come together, I think that Murmuration shows a natural affinity between them. On this album the group has achieved a compatibility between words and music, between the musicians themselves, and through the mixing that makes the album well worth spending time with.
Marcus O'Dair, Jazzwise, August 2016 ***
To listen to Murmuration is at first to feel as though you've stumbled into a fringe theatrical performance, so dramatic is the vocal delivery of Steve Day in particular. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is, of course a matter of taste; what is not in question is his distinctiveness as a recording artist. If there are moments that are reminiscent of fringe theatre, there are others when he comes across as a hitherto unimagined fusion of Tom Waits or Vic Reeves doing his club singer routine. That sounds absurd but somehow, it isn't. As the album unfolds, the accompanying musicians, together with Day's co-vocalist Julie Tippetts, glide into the foreground, their entirely improvised contributions sparked by Day's prepared poems. Tippetts is a standout presence, as is her husband Keith on piano; Peter Evans on five-string electric violin is on startling form too. An album, to borrow from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, that constantly risks absurdity. It's worth it.