Saturday, June 22, 2002


Deirdre Cartwright Group, 'Precious Things', Blow the Fuse Records BTF204CD, June 2002.

I was fortunate enough to catch Cartwright's Trio at a rainy open-air gig at Embankment Gardens in London on 6 June. Deirdre kindly let me have acopy of her new album, though it was officially released on 17 June - and launched with a concert at the Jazz Cafe, Camden, on 19 June. A tour is in tow. Check the Blow the Fuse website for details.

Diversity, depth and delight: precious things indeed

‘Precious Things’, the third album from the Deirdre Cartwright Group, is an infectious, adventurous celebration of music and life. The nine tunes included here were recorded in North London during April 2001. However the emergence of the CD also tragically coincided with the death of guitarist Cartwright’s sister, Bernice, at the age of just 43. The end result is, fittingly enough, a musical triumph – a collection that is at once playful, thoughtful and exploratory.

This time the cast involves three collaborators: long-time sparring partner Alison Rayner (electric and acoustic basses), Carola Grey (drums), and Janette Mason (Hammond organ, piano, synths). Rayner and Cartwright were part of ’80s headliners The Guest Stars. They are now leading lights in the ‘Blow The Fuse’ jazz project, which has its own web presence. Mason worked with a prestigious line-up (Annie Whitehead, Julie Tippetts and many more) on the ‘Soupsongs’ tribute to Robert Wyatt in 2000. She has toured with Carol Grimes and she recorded ‘Live At The Purcell Room’ with her own band in 1995. Grey’s career in the US, Germany, Britain and South East Asia has involved playing with the likes of Mike Stern and Ravi Coltrane. Altogether this is a considerable array of talent, and they certainly deliver.

Those familiar with the laid-back style of Deirdre Cartwright’s ‘Debut’ (1994) or the slightly more assertive guitar grooves on ‘Play’ (1999) might initially find themselves a bit taken aback by ‘Precious Things’. It is more eclectic in its references, but also somehow more organic in its sound. A good trick if you can pull it off. First we have the burbling drum and bass riffs of ‘Hyperbubble’, one of two tracks written and arranged by Rayner. Then on the equally danceable ‘Cold War’ the Hammond’s roomy acoustic conjures up the ghost of a rider on the storm. This sets the scene for some marvellous guitar organ/duetting throughout the album.

The title track bends a couple of memorable melodic riffs through some metrical, harmonic and key-shifting hoops. Tricky playing, but not at all self-conscious or showy. ‘Wonderwall’ follows – a jaunty instrumental version of the famous Oasis tune. Good to see Noel Gallagher in decent company for a change. ‘X Factor’ swings willingly and allows Grey room for a few pleasantly un-egotistical drum exercises.

‘Urban Reshuffle’, the other Rayner piece, begins by creating a bass, snare and breathy organ texture upon which Cartwright and Mason double a melody before heading off in their own directions. Towards the end the guitarist hints at Bill Frisell in her use of effects. Elsewhere you might pick up shapes of Green, Montgomery, Abercrombie. But Cartwright’s inventive phrasing and bell-like clarity of tone is distinctively her own. The last three tracks feature the gentle grooving of ‘No Nylon’, harder-edged lines on ‘N. 16 (Stoke Newington, home of the fated Vortex club), and rippling slabs of guitar set against cymbals and airy organ interludes on ‘Smells Like Jazz’.

Deirdre Cartwright is a rare talent indeed; the sort of musician you would actively wish commercial success upon precisely because you know she has the integrity to resist its blandishments. On ‘Precious Things’ she demonstrates considerable instrumental and compositional prowess. But she does not do this by hogging the limelight or by cramming in solos. Rather she generates a refreshing sense of musical space with a group of fine players who really seem to enjoy bringing the best out of each other. The result is an album of depth and quality as well as much surface attraction. Wholeheartedly recommended.

(c) Simon Barrow, 17 June 2002


When composer Harrison Birtwistle was interviewed some time ago for BBC Radio 4's 'Desert Island Discs', a slightly pleading Sue Lawley asked 'Sir Harry' what he would say to the many people who find his music too difficult to bear. 'I'd say listen to something else', he responded, in typical Lancastrian fashion. He also surprised some in the audience by not opting for much contemporary music, by selecting a bubblegum hit from Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, and by trying to make his island luxury a chainsaw, as I recall. How could anyone not love the guy?


Rudolph Bubalo, Various, Cleveland Chamber Symphony / Edwin London, New World NW80446, 1997.

Adventurous, energising music
8 June, 2002

This fine collection of chamber pieces by contemporary US composer Rudolph Bubalo (b. 1927) was one of those happy chance finds that makes life especially worthwhile for the restless music lover. Bubalo began his career as a jazz pianist and arranger and ended up switching streams into what gets awkwardly called 'classical'. He is now both professor of composition and director of the electronic and computer music studios at Cleveland State University. This is a joint production of CSU and New World Records in New York.

The four pieces represented on the CD illustrate different facets of the composer's varied interests - from the integration of orchestra and synthesisers on 'Concertino' and 'Offset 1' (where the electronics are mainly used to enhance colour and texture), through to the vibrantly serialist 'Concerto for Cello and Orchestra' and woodwind multiphonics of 'Valence II'.

Bubalo explains: "In all my work I am concerned with the expressive content of sound... sound that engages and stimulates the consciousness of the listener." In these aims he certainly succeeds. These pieces are among the most energising, adventurous, timbrely full-bodied and rhythmically packed I have heard for a long time. They combine formal musical interest with a real visceral punch, revealing their originator's intellectual rigour but also his delight in musics outside the canonical high art tradition. Synaesthetically speaking, his sound palettes are full of deep reds and blues contrasting with lighter hues and some surprising splashes of colour. This is a superb collection by a relatively little-known composer. Thoroughly recommended.

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