Alluvium Records AR001
Reviewed by Chris Cody, June 1st, 2015
Presented as “a collection of stories written individually and re-imagined together”, this album by Tiny Hearts is true to its promise with some fine writing and good individual and collective improvisation. The group’s music does indeed sound like the sum of individual parts or as they put it, “segments of personality drifting along a stream composing a fleeting landscape”. There are five strong personalities involved here I suspect, but they share the writing and solos around on this album for the good of the group and album. Tiny Hearts comprises Eamon Dilworth, trumpet, Dave Jackson, saxophone, Steve Barry, piano, Tom Botting, bass, and Paul Derricott, drums.
Brief Stint is a good opening piece with a striking theme and shared ensemble playing, with a free collective approach to the improvisation that reveals the musicians all listen to each other before and during their own comments. The trumpet sounds a little furry at the very opening of this theme and in other places a little brittle, but essentially only on this piece. I wondered whether it was a recording or a technique problem and at what point in the session the piece may have been recorded. The trumpet sounds fuller and rounder on the very next track and elsewhere on the album.
It is on this first track that the band reveals one of the album’s distinctive aspects: the use of effects. At the 4’05 mark as the piece nears its end there is a break, with an almost separate piece with reverb, compression and effects used to make it sound like an old radio recording for about 40 seconds before it all bursts back into regular sound and a climax ending to the track. I’m not quite sure why there is this coda/entity but it is interesting and pleasantly surprising. At first listening I was bemused by it, but along with other moments like this on the album, it does have the effect of keeping listeners on their toes, wondering what is next.
Balclutha by bassist Tom Botting has a nice rolling riff on the “and” of the off beats for bass and left hand piano, in contrast to the floating aerial melody. There is some strong and creative trumpet playing by Eamon Dilworth featured in a fine solo in this piece.
Letting Loose is a high energy piece driven by the drumming of Paul Derricott with some fine dialogue between Dilworth and saxophonist Dave Jackson overlapping and alternating phrases like a good argument. The rhythm section is a trampoline, with ideas and comments bouncing around through the exchange. More effects are used on the piano comping in the vamp behind the drum solo. Again, it is not clear why they have been added in the post-recording mix, but it does create a notable change in sound and texture.
The lovely lyrical Kanji by pianist Steve Barry is more meditative, with nice textures created with Harmon muted trumpet, and tenor sax at octave unison, vibraphone and piano lines weaving throughout. Missed Ya, by Derricott features the piano playing the melody until joined by the horns, again showing a well managed deployment of forces. There is a wonderful piano solo that starts calmly, moves though some unusual swing or dotted notes phrases played behind the beat over an even eighth notes feel, building to unfurling triplets and semiquavers. Towards the end of the piece the theme surprisingly shifts tempo down a gear into nightclub cruise mode with more interesting effects on the drums with reverb, and delay taking us into a strange hybrid reggae-trance territory while the horns play a wash of sounds behind.
Broome is a short free solo trumpet piece, almost like a very abstract “Last Post”, and used as a brief interlude, or introduction to the following piece. From Bucharest with Love has a distinct Eastern perfumed melody, with another fine trumpet solo by its composer Dilworth who contributes five of the 11 compositions on the album. A passionate soprano sax solo by Jackson lifts the energy before the arrival of a quiet mysterious dream section where time almost stops, with light shimmering chromatic cascades from horns and piano, before the theme returns gently at first, then building through repetitive motifs to the final climax. This well-arranged piece effectively takes us on a journey with satisfying contrasts and changes in direction.
Big Sea Reprise has blended hi-lo male and female voices at the octave with no words, just vowel syllables, over a repeated chord sequence, sounding a little like a 70s rock retrospective. Guest vocalist Elana Stone uses the upper range of her voice well with the added trumpet blending nicely before the final decrescendo. It’s a curious sea-swell of a piece, part lullaby, part incantation.
Milano begins well with a drums and trumpet duo intro – which, as throughout this album, again shows effective and imaginative use of the various textural possibilities and different instrumental combinations before the sax answers, while piano adds a gentle ostinato. Cosmontology briefly gives us more contemporary nightclub vibes in its introduction with repeated chords from the piano and then a strong theme played by the horns and good use of space between its two main sections. However the atmosphere and impact dissipate during the solos where the drums are a little too busy and dense. Ode finishes the album with trumpet and saxophone in harmony on the theme, a piano solo with a just a hint of Danny Boy, providing a hymn-like and calm finish to this enjoyable collection.