Serious had the chance to catch up with Tommy Andrews of the Tommy Andrews Quintet, along with guitarist Moss Freed of Let Spin, who are supporting the quintet at the Green Note on the 23 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.
The Tommy Andrews Quintet have recently released their debut album, The Crux, after forming in 2011 and performing regularly in some of London's best music venues. The group line up includes saxophonist Tommy Andrews, guitarist Nick Costley-White, pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Dave Manington and drummer Dave Hamblett. Their Festival performance this week closes The Crux album release autumn tour.
1. Your album, The Crux, was released in June of this year. What can listeners expect when purchasing the record?
''The Crux' is a collection of seven through-composed original works. It's my attempt to blend the cinematic power of genres such as progressive rock and film-music with the dynamic subtleties of classical music, British Jazz and minimalism. I've also allowed the band members passages for improvisation and exploration, which is often where the listener will hear elements of the jazz idiom and experience a heightened sense of interaction.
In terms of a concept, there's nothing strict running through the album but I do feel that the tunes are all linked by a sense of honesty and finding my own voice. During composition, I found myself going back to old influences that I had been afraid to utilise before. It's easy in pressured environments like music college, or even in a city like London, to follow trends, even if it does not create a true expression of yourself. I came to realise this, and music that I had been attached to as a kid and had formed a strong musical core began to emerge. Delving into this allowed me to create the most honest music I had made up until this point.
A couple of the tracks feature quite a rock-influenced edge. 'The Crux' features distorted guitar sounds, open 5th voicings and has a section where the harmony is influenced by the Norwegian progressive metal band, Opeth. The guitar tremolo sound in 'L.H.B.' is influenced by the incredible progressive rock band Oceansize.
I grew up listening to progressive bands like Yes, Genesis, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd and I think that their use of 'odd' time signatures had a big effect on me too. The way that a lot of the vocal melodies are sung by those bands over the strict but odd time signatures is often quite free and stays melodic, and I like how they often float over the top of the complex grooves to give some contrast. In the final track, 'Steep', you'll hear the alto and guitar play a melody that only occasionally links up with the strict bass/drum groove and that's probably a result of listening to those prog bands.'
2. How do you compose tunes as a quintet?
'I tend to write all of the compositions myself, and often the only free time I get for writing is when my students forget to turn up for their lessons at school! Most of my compositions have started life at the piano, with only the last track of the album 'Steep' starting life on the clarinet, mucking about whilst waiting for a show rehearsal to start. I always compose the music with the distinct sounds of the band members in mind, and this individuality was one of the main factors in me picking this particular line-up.
I bring the tunes to rehearsals and they often go through a few changes before settling down into a more finalised version. It might be that the charts are over-written, or other band-members have suggestions, or perhaps a section of the music just doesn't work at all!
My compositions tend to have very strong links with the concepts they are based on, I find it more engrossing to try and write with back-stories, personifying characters and atmospheres. Information on all the album compositions can be found here to help the listener understand what I was thinking at the time.'
3. Your compositional style is for the work to be through-composed. What was it that made you decide to veer from the head-solo-head standard structure?
'I love playing be-bop and standards, I always will. Some of the composers and songwriters that contributed to the great American songbook have created masterpieces with storytelling, emotion and beautiful melodies all packed into concise arrangements of often no more than 32 bars! It's incredible that such high art was also the popular music of the time.
My aversion to the head-solo-head structure comes more from trying to create a unique musical personality for myself, as well as listening to lots of long-form compositions such as concept albums and symphonies. I felt that I could potentially create more momentum through using the solos to travel between different sections of a piece, rather than always going back to the beginning of the form. I like the idea that improvisation should be looking forwards towards a new destination, rather than being bound inside the same area.
Listening to concept albums would definitely have played a part in influencing my composition style, where often the music is unbroken throughout a whole album and the listener can get completely immersed in the music. The through-composed nature also could also have come from my classical upbringing, playing sonatas, concertos and symphonies, where themes are constantly morphed through different guises and motifs are used to travel between sections.'
4. You’ll be performing The Galilean Suite at the EFG London Jazz Festival – can you tell us a little more about the piece(s)?
'It's my first crack at a concept album! I was watching a programme on Jupiter's Galilean moons, and became deeply inspired by their radically distinct physical characteristics from one another, as well as the ancient mythological stories that inspired their names. The moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are named after four of Zeus' (Jupiter to the Romans) lovers, who were all tricked or seduced unknowingly into his power. It completely mirrors how the moons have been captured in Jupiter's orbit. His wife, Hera, was obviously not very happy with his sneaky actions, so the music includes descriptive passages of Zeus' deception, Hera's wrath and musical personification of the moons themselves. The suite is formed of 7 movements, is continuous and lasts around 40 minutes. It uses many of the same influences that I mentioned above but as my writing has matured, I've begun to leave even more room for spontaneity and the unknown!
I adore concept albums, and I fell in love with the immersion that I found in records such as Yes' 'Close to the Edge', Dream Theater's 'Metropolis Pt. II' and Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon'. These bands tell intricate stories, drag listeners into new worlds and soundscapes, and I even find myself losing track of time because of this. I hope that listeners can find this when listening to the suite.'
Let Spin, in their own words, 'forges the progressive post-jazz scenes of London and Manchester'. In the first two months of their 2012 formation, the quartet - consisting of bassist Ruth Goller, saxophonist Chris Williams, guitarist Moss Freed and drummer Finlay Panter - managed to squeeze in a UK tour and record their debut, self-titled album, with the odd rehearsal thrown in for good measure. Let Spin was released in February 2014 and the band have been touring the album since.
1. You’ve just released debut album, Let Spin. What can listeners expect from the record?
'It’s quite a roller coaster, going from lyrical folk-infused melodies to punky riffs with plenty of free playing along the way. It’s raw and heavy in places and very reflective in others. One thing I really love about playing with these musicians is their dynamic and emotional scope.'
2. You recorded the album incredibly quickly, having only formed the band a couple of months beforehand. How did you end up comfortable enough with the ensemble/the music/each other to be able to record so soon?
'It was one of those amazing things. The four of us got in a room and it just worked. There had been various parings of players in other line ups - I’d played with Fin a lot in Manchester and with Ruth in Moss Project for a couple of years before that. Ruth and Chris had known each other since studying at Middlesex. I hadn’t really played with Chris though and it was a revelation - we had quite an instinctive reaction to each other’s playing and sharing melodic roles came very naturally. Likewise, Ruth and Fin locked in straight away. It turns out our musical backgrounds have a lot in common, so we understood where each other was coming from. We formed the band to do a string of gigs around the UK and by the end of those we felt confident enough to get in the studio - to capture the magic straight away.'
3. How did you go about composing the music for the album in that amount of time?
'It’s all very egalitarian - the initial conceit of the band was for it to be a collective and for us all to bring compositions, which is exactly what happened. So through that first tour we tried out a bunch of tunes from each player and narrowed it down to two each for the recording. Some of the arrangements were done by the composer, others were more of a group process. You can tell who’s written what but I think it all sounds like Let Spin.'
4. As a collective, who would you say are your musical influences?
'There’s a huge range between the four of us. Plenty of contemporary jazz but also 90’s rock, Americana, Delta blues and Middle Eastern folk music. From Bill Frisell, Bad Plus and Jim Black to Beck and Queens of the Stone Age, and lots between.'
Click here to find out more about Tommy Andrews Quintet + Let Spin at the Green Note this Sunday.