INDEPENDANT ON SUNDAY, Phil Johnson - Nov 2005
Stay Cool - Live
Enemies of care free plinky-plonk will tear
their hair out listening to this live recording by the english string
band, whose musical map takes in Home Counties versions of cowboy songs
and Latin American laments, Balken jump-ups and a version of Duke Ellington's
'The Mooche'. Stuart Hall plays ghostly steel guitar; Sonia Slany fiddles
like a woman possessed, while Thad Kelly on bass and Paul Clarvis on percussion
keep the wwheels in motion. When its good it's a knockout, as on the delicate
title track, and a rendition of 'Golden Slumbers' (not the Beatles song)
that will make you cry. Listen carefully, and you can hear children laughing
in the background.
FOLK ROOTS - Dec 2005
Stay Cool - Live
of tunes by renegade acoustic jazz outfit, ranging from Duke Ellington
and Perez Prado, through Bulgarian, Venezuelan and Macedonian tunes, to
American waltzes and fiddle mania. Great fun though I question the wisdom
of making live recordings in front of what sounds like nearly 10 people,
no matter how enthusiastic.
JAZZWISE, Daniel Spicer
- Sept 2005
Cool - Live
Orqestra Mahatma's third album finds them continuing their joyful investigation
into the shared pathways of global folk music, beginning with a slice
of early 20th century Americana, Duke Ellington's 'The Mooche', beautifully
interpreted for Stuart Hall's Bill Frisell-like guitar. Having firmly
placed the jazz content of the set into the context of folk art, the band
sets off on a whirlwind journey, joining the dots with traditional tunes
from Spain, Bulgaria, Macedonia, France and Venezuela and in the process
illustrating how ideas and musical forms have cross-pollinated throughout
different parts of the world ever since mankind first started making music.
Yet while its astonishing to note the common traces in these different
forms, a tune like 'Gankino Horo' from Bulgaria revveals unfamiliar sonorities
and fiendish time signatures that really catch the unwary listener by
suprise. With all four band members displaying a quiet, sensitive virtuosity,
this fascinating collection is a joy. Daniel Spicer
THE SUNDAY TIMES, Clive Davis 30 May 1999
The Nightingale of a Thousand Joys
,Village Life 99037
Orquestra Mahatma represent all the strengths and vices of British jazz.
The downside comes in the shape of a dour jokiness that threatens to reduce
everything to the level of undergrad parody Loose Tubes and postmodernism
have a lot to answer for. But the trios roving eye also results
in some stirring experiments in jazz without frontiers that make a welcome
change from the corporate format of so many American albums. Balkan folk
music forms one recurrent source of inspiration on this collaboration
with Sonia Slany, a violinist who became a fixture on BBC2s Later
With Jools Holland. Her string quartet achieves an enviably loose and
spontaneous rapport with drummer Paul Clarvis, guitarist Stuart Hall and
bassist Thad Kelly. The sound bite structure, leaping from Tin Pan Alley
to Cuba, Hungary and the Middle East, suggests the soundtrack to a road
movie that makes up the script as it goes along."
THE MUSICIAN, Mel Fleischman
- December 1999.
The Nightingale of a Thousand Joys
is brilliant; an inspired mixture of improvised tunes from around the
world. What is achieved by the collaboration of Orcquestra Mahatma and
Sonia Slany's Solid Strings is similar to what the Monty Python team achieved
in comedy: the ordinary is transformed into something extraordinary and
A fine example of this is the track, White Christmas, the intro - Keystone
Cops Music- passes through Tristan and Isolde and then follows a trashy
version of the famous Irving Berlin song. This is later contrasted with
a version that echoes the glamorous sound of the Hollywood String Quartet.
In one track, we have been taken on a humorous tour of musical styles,
the distinctive feature of this disc.
Other famous numbers given the 'once over' are Bernstein's Somewhere,
Ellington's Diminuendo in Blue, and Stardust. In Stardust, the strings
again use this glamorous sound which is assaulted by the mad and bizarre
- Klanger sounds and birdsong. Music from all over the world is represented
- Arabic, South American, Klezmer, Romanian, Hungarian - and what results
is a fusion between different styles, eras and traditions to create something
This is an excellent disc, consistently inventive and amusing - guaranteed
to put a smile on your face. top
BIRMINGHAM POST, Peter Bacon
- Saturday June 19th 1999.
The Nightingale of a Thousand Joys
Drummer Paul Clarvis again, this time with fellow Orquestra players Thad
Kelly (bass) and Stuart Hall (practically anything vaguely resembling
a guitar). The Solid Strings are a slimmed down quartet from Sonia Slanys
Electra Strings, and will be familiar to Later With Jools watchers as
the string quartet to the pop stars.
Here they follow Stuart Halls lead to pack in music from as many
sources as possible from the Middle East to Bulgaria, Hungary to Hollywood,
Cuba to Nashville and back again.
Duke Ellingtons Diminuendo In Blue gets swing violins over spoof
rock guitar, Irving Berlins White Christmas gets the drunken, slightly
out of tune treatment, and then there are folk melodies in unusual guises.
Sometimes the jokes are at risk of overwhelming the music, but a welcome
antidote to po-faced jazz and the bands musical expertise is worn
lightly at all times. top
OBSERVER, Dave Gelly - 18TH
The Nightingale of 1000 Joys (Village
The three-man Orquestra add to their growing reputation for off-the-wall,
completely unclassifiable music in this collaboration with the quartet
Solid Strings. Apart from anything else, their imaginative blend of jazz
and world influences is always hugely entertaining. top
THE STAGE. Beowulf Mayfield
A Young Persons Guide
Orquestra Mahatmas debut album is called A Young Persons Guide and
even before the band put in an appearance for this South Bank outing,
the scene looked set for fun and games.
The Purcell Rooms stage was littered with guitar and violin cases,
percussion tools for all rhythmic jobs, an ironing board, a double bass,
a giant gong, a life-size cardboard skeleton, and a big, leafy, potted
fern. A smouldering incense stick completed the picture.
The three members of this modest orquestra looked like a troupe
of childrens entertainers, drummer Paul Clarvis and guitarist Stuart
Hall both sporting summery, short trousers, while double bass player Thad
Kelly, in grown-up long trousers, flashed a little calf muscle by rolling
his trouser legs up a few inches.
However, from the first notes there was nothing childish about the music,
best placed in the world category which leaped from Eastern
Europe to Duke Ellington and hot Harlem jazz, Bulgaria to Cuba, a quick
return to hat jazz and finally home to England with the traditional Golden
Slumbers. Arrangements were slick but there was plenty of space for furious
fingered improvisations from Hall, who opened the show on violin but soon
switched to guitar and later produced a bouzouki all played with
precision and panache.
Clarvis on drums and whatever percussion implements he could lay his hands
on the album cover credits him as a player of hitty things
stole the show clean away as a master of musical clowning and some
damned fine playing to boot. Seated centre stage behind his drums, he
led the proceedings with a huge smile and when a moth chanced to land
on his shirt surely a once-in-a-career incident he stopped
the music mid-bar and proudly pointed to his new friend before snapping
back into rhythm.
Kelly, in complete contrast, remained on the one double bass throughout
the night apart from an occasional bash on a gong providing
the essential straight man support for Clarvis clowning.
Overall, this was a whirlwind tour of musical delights and moments of
magical mayhem from a trio with a firm grip on the serious business of
making music and a fertile group imagination. top
CADENCE MAGAZINE, Walter
A Young Persons Guide
Those who like excellent renderings of music from absolutely all over
the place should consider checking out ORQUESTRA MAHATMA. Their music
is light-hearted, melodious, expertly played, and diverse. On a YOUNG
PERSONS GUIDE (Babel 9612), they (Stuart Hall, vln, g, bjo, etc.;
Thad Kelly, b; Paul Clarvis, perc) play everything from Bulgarian folk
tunes to Zawinuls "Mercy Mercy Mercy" AND Shankars
intensely beautiful "Lady 1". Their music is mostly acoustic
and gentle without ever veering towards the snoozifying. Hall displays
considerable talent and imagination on both violin and guitar, and Clarvis
is an inventive percussionist (I often
couldnt hear Kelly, but hes right on target when hes
audible.) Halls overdubbed work on the appropriately whiney and
idiomatic rendering of "Cozmek Elimde" is splendid. I think
their versions of traditional jazz tunes (like the Ellington/Webster "I
Got It Bad") are also charming, but theyre a little weaker,
owing mostly to the paucity of meaningful improvisation on these tunes.
In any case, everything they put forward is (with the possible exception
of "Tennessee Waltz") professionally played, polished and pleasing.
INDEPENDANT ON SUNDAY, PJ
A Young Persons Guide
Orquestra Mahatma: A Young Persons Guide (Babel, CD).
"Stars fell on Alabama", "Tennessee Waltz", a killing
version of "Mercy Mercy Mercy" and perhaps a few too many Slavic-sounding
ditties than are strictly necessary, are the jumping-off points for this
marvellous strings and percussion trio set by Stuart Hall, Thad Kelly
and Paul Clarvis. Perhaps best described as neo-skiffle, its a little
miracle of home-grown British jazz. top
JAZZ PODIUM, Reinhard Kochl - april 1997
Berlin concert review
ORQUESTRA MAHATMA is a perfect example of the complete openness of the
current London music scene. This multi-faceted band from the capital has
a very rare gift; in minutes it can bring together musical influences
from all corners of the globe and combine them in compellingly virtuosic
but refreshingly simple style. Although their name suggests the Orient,
the foggy Thames metropolis is the starting point for an exciting, emotional
In this melting pot of nations, barricades dissolve into thin air before
theyre even installed; the mini-orchestra coolly picks up its ingredients
practically off the street. European traditions and South American rhythms
blend on a "Young Persons guide", as well as Spanish music,
which in itself sounds medieval. From a Balkan village wedding, by way
of a cocktail dinner party, into the highlands of Kenya we go, until in
typical British style the bundle of miniatures, swinging all the way,
ends with an arrangement of the traditional "Golden Slumbers".
The Mahatmas can be counted among the most respected English jazz musicians.
Paul Clarvis was Leonard Bernsteins favourite drummer on his London
visits and has become first choice for all the visiting US stars. Stuart
Hall, who plays a vast collection of stringed instruments on their CD,
belongs to Django Bates "Delightful Precipice" crew, and
a myriad of bands from mainstream to acid jazz knock themselves out to
have Thad Kellys groove behind them. An unpretentious small jewel,
with a mighty difference. top
DIE TAGESZEITUNG (taz), Christoph
Wagner - 28th December 1996
A Young Persons Guide
The superficial adaptation of "ethnic" music by contemporary
jazz musicians has recently given way to a more intensive involvement
with the music. In the past, exotic melodies were often used, only to
retreat as hastily as possible to more familiar ground. Not so with the
Orquestra Mahatma from England.
The trio of Stuart Hall, Paul Clarvis and Thad Kelly penetrates through
the Balkans deep into the soundscapes of the Orient. The ensemble possesses
in Stuart Hall on the guitar and violin a soloist of outstanding musicality,
who can express himself equally in the jazz idiom as in Arabic tone-rows.
With a truckload of percussion instruments including dozens of tambourines,
hand drums, bells and cymbals, Paul Clarvis provides the dynamic fire,
letting the music thunder and whisper, while the bassist Thad Kelly plays
the coolheaded navigator in the background, ensuring that the musical
Odyssey never gets out of hand. top
THE TIMES, Chris Parker
Henry Lowthers Still Waters - ID (Village
Life MRFD 97122 VL)
Despite having been generally regarded as one of the UKs most skilful
and dependable trumpeters for over three decades jazz credits include
stints with everyone from George Russell to Mike Westbrook, and he even
played at Woodstock with Keef Hartley Henry Lowther has not made
an album as leader since 1969. This aptly named band features him alongside
two soloists, in reedsman Julian Arguelles and pianist Pete Saberton,
who match Lowther for elegance, thoughtfulness and lucidity, and the rhythm
section the peerless bassist Dave Green and the sparkily inventive
percussionist Paul Clarvis provide appropriately discreet support
throughout. Lowthers compositions range from still, clear, almost
ECM-ish themes to bright, bustling vehicles for collective exploration
occasionally touching on free improvisation, and, fleshed out with a couple
of standards and touching version of Holsts In the Bleak Midwinter,
this is a triumphant if somewhat overdue return to the recording
limelight for one of this countrys most respected musicians.
TIME OUT, John Lewis
"I.D." Village Life
Veteran trumpeter Lowther is one of Britains finest players, whether
its big band work, heavy duty fusion or ethereal soul-jazz in question.
This steely collection of powerful, modal explorations features sympathetic
sax accompaniment from Julian Arguelles and exploratory percussion from
Paul Clarvis. top
MUSICIAN MAGAZINE, Dick
Walter (June 1998)
"I.D." Village Life
This is a lovely record so much so that its going to get
elevated to the CD rack in the kitchen alongside Mulligan, Buckley/Batchelor,
some Steve Reich, a few early Ellingtons and all sorts of other people
who make enjoyable oops, what a give-away albums.
This is only the second time that Lowthers done a record as leader
the first was the long-gone Child song for Decca Deram, (although
word is that there may be a re-issue about to happen) so this is
a long overdue event. It features Henrys current band, (himself,
Julian Arguelles, Pete Saberton, Dave Green and Paul Clarvis), on nine
tracks, seven of which are Lowthers originals.
Several things become apparent very quickly: this is not just a group
of terrific players, its a band, sounding unanimous in every way;
the pieces suit everybody both individually and jointly; the compositions
are strong yet flexible. And the sound is near-perfect.
What more to say? Well, Clarviss drum sound is unique maybe
not to everyones taste, but when did they become experts?
and its rare to hear drumming that manages to be quite so authoritative
as well as inventive. Ive not seen the band in person although the
name appears in the listings enough to justify reading them carefully:
Meanwhile do yourself a favour by enjoying this sort of quality in your
own home. Sorry kitchen. top
"I.D." Village Life
While trumpeter Henry Lowther has appeared on countless recordings of
all kinds, his own work as a leader is almost non-existent on the disc,
a lack which makes this release all the more pleasurable. Most of he music
is Lowthers own, much of it cast a spacious, reflective vein, with
plangent, understated horn line floating sinuously through delicately
evoked pastoral structures. The trumpeter has found highly responsive
collaborators on Julian Arguelles, Pete Saberton, Dave Green and Paul
Clarvis, and all five are equally adept at kicking the music into more
vigorous momentum when required.
Village Life CDs are available from the musician-run label
call 0181 360 4975 for details. top
"I.D." Village Life
Several other hornmen who have been at the forefront of British jazz for
many years are also in the lists. It seems incredible that, despite his
eminence, Henry Lowthers new CD is only the second recording to
be issued under his own name. "ID" (Village Life MRFD 97122
VL) is by Henrys own group "Stillwaters", playing mostly
his own compositions, which are not only highly attractive in themselves
but provide the inspiration for Julian Arguelles on the saxes, pianist
Pete Saberton, bassist Dave Green and drummer Paul Clarvis to produce
some memorable performances. "This is not just a group of terrific
players", wrote Dick Walter in Musician magazine, "its
a band sounding unanimous in every way
and the sound is terrific".
I cant argue with that. top
HENRY LOWTHER : "ID"
(Village Life MRFD 97122 VL)
Lowthers first album as a leader since 1969, ID makes the wait worthwhile.
All but two of the compositions are by him and they translate the easy
lyricism of his horn playing into a total ensemble concept. As a soloist,
he plays with predictable aplomb. Some listeners might continually return
to the flowing grace of his Golovec solo but, in the final analysis, each
of his solos is outstanding.
Saxophonist Arguelles also shows his full hand with a serpentine solo
on Ill Be Glad, a beautifully honed outing on Emona and some rather
freer jousting on White Dwarf . He then shows a more conservative side
when he effectively switches to bass clarinet on Gog. The excellent Saberton
ensures that nothing is overcooked. He refrains from dashing into double
time and, as a result, makes the creative development of Golovec, Belas
Knap and Bleak Midwinter models of restraint. Green plays a gem of a cadenza
on Golovec but it is at the heart of the engine room that he is most distinguished.
Clarvis is a listening drummer and one becomes increasingly aware of the
way in which he eases the soloists into centre stage with either sticks
or brushes. The group is called Stillwater and this album shows that,
musically, they run deeply. top
MUSICIAN, Graham Williams
, September 1998
Meeting Electra (Village Life: 97121
In recent years many classically trained musicians have started broadening
their horizons to make music that embraces a variety of styles, genres
and traditions. One of these is the versatile violinist and composer Sonia
Slany whose album, Meeting Electra, has been released on the innovative
Village Life that she has founded with drummer and percussionist Paul
Clarvis. The main body of performers on the album are Electra Strings,
a group of between 4 and 8 female string players, founded by Slany with
viola player and composer Jocelyn Pook (whose own acclaimed album Deluge,
was released on Virgin last year). Electra have been working together
for over 10 years as the backing strings for musicians ranging from The
Cranberries and Massive Attack, to Bjork, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman,
Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Here they finally
take centre stage in a collection of short pieces written by Slany in
collaboration with Clarvis, who also plays on most of the tracks.
The album opens with a moving, improvisatory violin solo, "Air",
dedicated to the memory of Slanys father and recorded in the glorious
reverberant acoustic of a (presumably) disused quarry. Slany had intended
two other tracks - the octets "Bronze" and "Arches"
to be recorded in that very distinct environment but was forced
into the studio by logistical problems. Nevertheless, "Arches"
is one of the best tracks on the album, with Clarviss abstract drumming
layered on top of rich string harmonies. There are many influences on
this album. Several tracks (such as "Jigsaw" or "Rounds
in Trance") have a distinctly minimalist feel, with repeated motifs
and Nymanesque rhythmic patterns. "Procession for Two" takes
the listener to an oriental soundscape while "Carousel" evokes
a fairground world of endless motion.
Meeting Electra creates some beautiful moments of string sound and lends
itself to easy, drowsy listening, although the tracks can be frustratingly
brief, almost like sketches for a more involved and challenging work.
A couple of tracks can be heard on the Village Life web site (www.villagelife.co.uk)
and Electra Strings will be performing Slanys music at the Village
Life Creative Music Festival at the Royal Academy of Music (Marylebone
Rd, London NW1) on 8th October.
Village Life recordings are not generally available in shops but can be
ordered through the web site or from: Village Life, 100 Village Road,
Enfield, Middlesex EN1 2EX tel. 0181 360 4975.
Sophie Fuller Women in Music Now.
And now for a CD which is bang up-to-date and very string based. All the
compositions on Meeting Electra are by Sonia Slany, who plays lead violin
in the ensemble and all violin solos. The works are closely related to
the type of music played by the Charlie Barber Band and Patrick Nunns
Dynamix ensemble. Sonia Slanys music covers a wide range of emotions,
from haunting violin solos (one recorded in a quarry) to very rhythmic
oriented pieces with lots of vitality. My favourites are Arches and Air
for Tibor, which was written in memory of her father Tibor Slany.
Electra Strings are joined on several tracks by the percussionist Paul
Clarvis, who, if you remember, performed Harrison Birtwistles Panic
with saxophonist John Harle at the 1995 Proms. His excellent playing brings
many colourful sonorities and rhythmic textures to the music. This is
a very interesting and enterprising CD. To contact Village Life telephone
0181 360 4975. top
CLASSIC CD, Jonathan Webster
Although it takes a little bit of getting used to, when the astringent,
mittel-European sensibilities of Meeting Electra (Village Life 97121 VL
*****) hit home they soon start to seep under the skin. Two listens and
I was hooked, but I could never quite pinpoint why? Perhaps, I told myself
its the neo-Bartokian use of little repeated melodic cells, the
gypsy rhythms, or the jazzy flavourings? Whatever the reason; suffice
to say: it works!
Meeting Electra comes courtesy of the independent label, Village Life,
which is owned by Sonia Slany the composer and violinist who, leads
her ensemble the Electra Strings so ably on this recording and
Paul Clarvis, percussionist extraordinaire. Judging from the sleeve notes,
their mission is to bring "Original music we love
who enjoy listening".
They go on to say: "We are taking responsibility to get this music
directly to you, by bypassing the standard music industry". Full
marks for such audacity and even fuller marks for the musical riches to
be found herein. Small is indeed, sometimes, beautiful.
AVANT MAGAZINE, Summer 1998.
Sonias working profile is just as high, though usually her name
is not so prominently blazoned. She and her group Electra Strings have
appeared many times on Jools Hollands Later, and theyve played
or recorded with Bjork, Phillip Glass, Peter Gabriel, The Cranberries,
Massive Attack and Laurie Anderson. Recent projects have included concerts
in New York with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a short UK tour with Egberto Gismonti
under the aegis of the Contemporary Music Network. Sonia runs two other
outfits, a band called Foundry and an improvising collective, Bubbling
Under. In jazz shes worked with Tony Hymas, Huw Warren and Sam Rivers.
Her CD with Electra Strings, Meeting Electra, is a programme of violin
solos, a duo, quartets, a quintet, and several octets. The string sound
is extremely refined, and her compositions are striking for their clarity
and sense of purpose. Nothing is made more difficult that it needs to
be. When further rhythmic emphasis is required, Paul plays traps and various
stray items of percussion. The disc features two versions of Air;
the first, a brief feature for Sonias violin, is later given a much
fuller treatment by the octet. Though the emotional tenor of the piece
is ambiguous, it is lyrical and extremely attractive, "Yellow Carousel"
swings, "Groove" grooves, and "Arches" builds in intensity
towards the theme, a process heightened by Pauls dramatic bursts
of percussion. The music is sumptuous, relaxing, an altogether pleasurable
This months recommendation for curiosity hunters and/or crossover
aficionados is Meeting Electra (Village Life 97121 VL, full price; available
from 100 Village Road, Enfield EN1 2EX). This is a disc of compositions
by violinist Sonia Slany, performed with her colleagues from Electra Strings.
The booklet note intriguingly mentions that, for acoustical reasons, "some
of the pieces were written to be played in a massive quarry" (and
one there is, too). The dark-toned strength of Slanys playing is
remarkable. And to judge from the unaccompanied Air and Walkabout, or
Bronze for octet, shes a very real composer, too.
THE WIRE, Richard Cook
For All The Saints (Village Life MRFD
While the drummers trio searches a wider world for inspiration
the material comes from Arabia, Latvia, Scotland and elsewhere
the feel is English pastoral, a mood largely defined by the gentle piping
of Stan Sulzmann. Tony Hymas supplies synth and piano parts that lend
a touch of worldly exotica, but the music hasnt got a lot of juice
in it. It is melodic musing for its own sweet sake, and amiable effective.
The CD producers claim they are "bypassing the standard music industry".
Erm, how exactly? top
For All The Saints (Village Life MRFD
An unusual combination of approaches, with the jarrettish keyboards of
Tony Hymas, the graceful sound of Sulzmanns saxophone and flute,
and drummer Paul Clarviss impressionistic drumming. The music thus
bridges successfully a kind of patient, detailed contemporary classical
music and free improvisation, with
idiomatic references drawn from Latvia, Scotland and the Middle East.
The mood is overwhelmingly pensive. top
For All The Saints (Village Life MRFD
The line-up of Clarvis, Tony Hymas and reedman extraordinaire Stan Sulzmann
is fairly unusual if not precedented, and creates compelling improvisation
mostly based on ethnic material. Not merely the suitably "world"
sources of the Middle East, Bulgaria and Latvia but also Scotland provide
the jumping-off point for every varied approaches (with some simultaneous
acoustic and electric keyboards from Hymas), and theres a short
drum solo with brushes allegedly based on "Bill Bailey Wont
You Please Come Home". This ought to be on ECM but, instead, youll
have to seek out the small independent label via your specialist dealer.
For All The Saints
PC (drums), the fab Stan Sulzmann (winds) and Tony Hymas (keys) take a
relaxed but never lazy look at traditional tunes from Scotland to the
Middle East and still manage to stand apart in a crowded field. The label
is new and has also released "Meeting Electra" by Clarviss
partner Sonia Slany plus string octet and percussion. Determinedly and
beautifully individual, never teeth-grittingly so. top
JAZZ UK, Pete Martin
For All The Saints
Theres a similar degree of empathy among percussionist Paul Clarvis,
pianist Tony Hymas and saxophonist Stan Sulzmann on "For All The
Saints" (Village Life MRFD 97123 VL), a programme of improvisations
on traditional melodies. Like Henry Lowthers recent "ID",
this was recorded in All Saints Church, Petersham, and the calm ambience
clearly inspires these fertile minds. top
MUSICIAN MAGAZINE, Barry
For All The Saints
The Clarvis trio here produces a programme of improvisations built on
traditional tunes from Latvia, Bulgaria, Scotland and the Middle East.
The leader has an impressive rhythmic arsenal and he shows his versatility,
moving from the role of simple timekeeper to that of a strategic mood-setter
as befits the material. Hymas also responds appropriately and his contribution
ranges from that of orthodox keyboard functionary to the producer of texture-building
In contrast Sulzmann, one of Britains most impressive saxophonists,
does not quite match his live performances. His best work comes with his
sotto voce investigation of Blow Wind Blow and the way in which he captures
the mood of the pipes on Some Scottish Ayre. Too often he is defeated
by the mood-set of the album. Iniana, subtitled Stans Beautiful
Tune, is perhaps typical and, like so much of the music here, seems more
concerned with atmospherics. Day Out, a percussion conversation for Clarvis
and Hymas, is the one real exception, developing into a full frontal musical
argument of some power and suggesting that more of this excitement would
have been preferable. top
MUSICIAN MAGAZINE, Liam
For All The Saints
Another release from Paul Clarviss and Sonia Slanys new label,
Village Life, featuring Paul with saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and keyboardist
Tony Hymas. Using material largely drawn from traditional tunes, they
infuse those traditions with their own influences, producing a remarkably
fluent and natural sounding CD. The opening track, Ye Ye, illustrates
this refreshing ensemble approach, Pauls kaleidoscopic percussion
gradually emerging from behind Stans statement of the theme, whilst
Tony judiciously combines synth chords with the rich sonority of the piano.
There is a healthy variety of approach to structure; on Ala-Tthul, Pauls
ostinato leaves Tony and Stan free for some beautiful rhapsodic interplay,
whilst Blow Wind Blow takes a more programmatic form; the "destruction
and revolution" described in the liner notes, evoked as percussion,
threatens to overwhelm the ensemble, then returns to relative calm. This
unusual ensemble, brilliantly recorded by Andrew Halifax, illustrates
how experienced and imaginative musicians, combined with carefully chosen
material, result in a genuinely new sound, rich in influences yet keenly
Speakes Fever Pitch
(Village Life 98054VL ***)
Fever Pitch does not impart quite the right feel for the music on this
fine disc, in the sense that the ecstatic implications of the name are
not really fulfilled. That is not to say that it lacks in either feeling
or colour, but the disciplined integration of jazz with melodic and rhythmic
elements from Middle Eastern and Indian music is not so much ecstatic
as intelligent and finely controlled. Speakes alto saxophone is
augmented by Chris Bachelors trumpet, and the music is expanded
in imaginative fashion by Stuart Halls various stringed instruments,
Oren Marshalls bubbling tuba, and the percussion of Paul Clarvis,
Dave Hassell and Dawson Miller. top
THE TIMES, Mike Bradley
- 14 Jan 2000
Jazz meets contemporary classical meets world music in BUBBLING UNDER
(Village Life98116VL), an acoustic collaboration between the experimental
jazz trio For all the Saints - personnel Paul Clarvis ( drs. perc.) Stan
Sulzmann (Sax.Fl.) Tony Hymas (Pno. Keys.) - and Solid Strings - violinist
Sonia Slany accompanied by Nick Cooper (Cello), Sophie Renshaw (Viola)
and Jacqueline Norrie(violin).The result is an enjoyable mix of structured
and improvised music which draws on world traditions. The principal improvisers
are Sulzmann and Slany whose saxophone and violin intertwine inventively
in the foreground complementing one another generously and professionally.
Brave attempts to create music such as this which goes beyond categorisation,
are rare, but this record confirms that the time has come for the label
mongers to desist from
their ceaseless classification and admit that that this is simply new
music for a new era. top
BIRMINGHAM POST, Peter
Bacon - 29 Jan 2000
It seems to be the name of the band as well as the album, or two bands
really: Solid Strings is a string quartet led by Sonia Slany; For All
The Saints is an improvising trio comprising sax, piano and drums.
Sonia Slany is the expert when it comes to mixing the classical string
quartet with other types of music.
Her band Electra Strings has appeared with countless pop bands on Later
With Jools Holland, and Solid Strings specialises in crossovers with other
forms of music, from jazz to world. Their CV includes the names Ryuichi
Sakamoto, Laurie Anderson, Phillip Glass and Egberto Gismonti.
The trio comprises reedman Stan Sulzmann (seen in Birmingham earlier this
month with Kenny Wheeler), pianist Tony Hymas and drummer Paul Clarvis
(seen recently here with Myra Melford).
It's not jazz as we know it - no Body and Soul or St Thomas on the playlist
- but it's very exciting and a compelling combination of set writing and
improvisd passages. The inclusion of strings on jazzy things can be a
recipe for disaster. Recent crimes include a truly hideous Abdullah Ibrahim
album where the South African pianist's lovely tunes are robbed of all
their grace by saccharine and insensitive string charts.
But the dish is perfectly cooked here - no quartet has ever sounded so
sinuously compliant with improvisers and the emotional variation from
this line-up is seemingly limitless.
It's music that needs open ears from the listener but the rewards it offers
are well worth the effort. top
THE OBSERVER, Dave Gelly
- 9 Jan 2000
A fascinating, unclassifiable meetimg of two bands - experimental jazz
trio For All the Saints and Solid Strings, the resident string quartet
from Later with Jools Holland. Elements of ethnic and minimalist classical
music emerge from the mix, along with free improvisation, to create a
surprisingly sweet and melodic result. top
INTERVIEWS WITH PAUL CLARVIS
Vortex Jazz Club Magazine
Village Life A Label run by musicians.
With both of us having enough experience of the recording industry to
realise that musical development is not their priority any longer, we
decided to bring music out ourselves and look after it! We intend to strengthen
our releases by creating gigs and opening up new way of access to this
music, creating a more direct relationship with our audience. A strong
label identity is important here, so that people will learn to trust that
a new Village Life release is one they want to hear regardless of who
it is. The common elements creating this identity are:
* the excellent sound mixed live and direct to stereo by Andrew Halifax,
a man with particularly large ears.
* The quality of the artwork, distinctive cover paintings by Australian
artist Robyn Bischoff have been integrated into CD booklets with lots
of care by Gemma in Wonderland.
* Original contemporary music drawn from many sources and not easily defined
but soon to be the "Village Life" sound. This is about giving
musicians a space to explore and the audience a chance to become a part
of the music, (the Vortex club being a great example of this) and taking
away the sense of separation that exists in performing, recording and
producing music nowadays. By not focusing on one specific style, band
or recording, we can concentrate on the overall context of Village Life
There are three albums out now with Martin Speakes "Feverpitch"
and an album of monochord music soon to be released. Sales are by word
of mouth, at gigs, mail-order and website, and albums are not available
in shops. Contact Village Life on 0181-360 4975.
Many people have helped us at Babel, Decca, Merlin and Nato Records. Everyone
involved musicians, artists, printers, studios, have been totally
committed, and we all seem to feel good about taking a step to create
our own future. top
Down In the Village
Its not often an interviewer is offered toast by he interviewee.
But thats what happened, curiously enough when I met Paul Clarvis
for the first time. He had just returned from a run near his home on a
beautifully warm Thursday morning.
Paul, 35, lives in Enfield, a part of North London immortalised by Mike
Leighs comedy of suburban manners Life is Sweet. For a while, Paul,
who has just launched his own record company called Village Life, wanted
to call it "the sound of Enfield". His girlfriend Sonia Slany
who co-founded the label dissuaded him and instead the company is called
after the name of the street on which he lives. Maybe its just as
well. Village Life, Clarvis maintains, is a "contemporary music label"
and not a jazz label. The distinction he draws is to prevent what he and
Slany are trying to do being categorised in a reductive way.
The first release for the percussionist is For All the Saints with saxophonist
Stan Sulzmann and pianist Tony Hymas. Next in line is Slanys Meeting
Electra featuring her group the Electra Strings and then ID by trumpeter
Clarvis moves seamlessly from jazz to contemporary music situations in
his day-to-day life as a musician. The eclecticism in his music goes all
the way back to a time when, through school friend Julian Stringle, Clarvis
first encountered jazz as a teenager. It was Stringles father who
bought Dixieland cornettist Digby Fairweather and Colin Purbook to his
school in Edmonton. Playing drums for shows at the Intimate Theatre came
soon after and then it was a ride through mainstream jazz while at the
Royal College of Music in the early 80s. Clarvis became a pit drummer
in the West End and while playing in High Society he met bassist Simon
Woolf who brought him down to the 606 club in Chelsea. Clarvis has also
developed a deep interest in the percussion instruments of other countries.
With violinist Stuart Hall and bassist Thad Kelly he puts this interest
of his into concrete from in the group Orquestra Mahatma. "Its
a very British perspective on folk music," he says. Its quirky
instrumentation and gravitation towards the less-travelled paths of world
music mean that the group has an uneasy relationship with other contemporary
currents in British jazz. Not so the group with Sulzmann and Hymas. Its
mood is mildly introspective but very jazz-based, relying for its grounding
primarily on Sulzmann. Clarvis talent for adding percussive colour
shows through on "Erghen Diado" complementing Sulzmanns
tantalising flute solo and then undergoing a transformation to provide
a solid traps framework for Hymas. Its all a far cry from the time
when Clarvis was the soloist on "Panic" at the Last Night of
the Proms, which caused the BBC switchboard to jam. Disgusted from Tunbridge
Wells might have to do a rethink if the deeply satisfying For All the
Saints ever finds its way into deepest, darkest Kent.
GRAMOPHONE MAGAZINE, John
Whatever the style, Paul Clarvis plays with enormous spirit, creativity,
enthusiasm and technical skill: whether as a soloist in Birtwistles
notorious Panic, the powerhouse behind Adams Chamber Symphony, one-third
of Orquestra Mahatma or guesting on a new disc by the Orb.
Paul Clarviss drumming career crosses apparent genre boundaries
without any sense of compromise or dislocation. Whether hes fighting
through the dense forests of contemporary compositional notation, keeping
the pulse solid behind the London Sinfonietta or Moondog, improvising
exquisitely abstract musical shapes with Stan Sulzmann and Tony Hymas
or overdubbing with the Orb, Clarvis exudes musicality.
In conversation, verbal ideas tumble not as easily as drum patterns.(An
innocent mention of the words "orchestral manager" brought forth
a volley of words that went from musicians rights to the National
Health Service in seconds. And it turned out that he had seen the latest
"Unknown Public" while doing a workshop in the Maze prison in
Northern Ireland.) The man is much like the musician energetic,
PC It took me a long while to realise
that here I was, like now you have a chat, and its nice meeting
people and you might have a few beers and a meal and you think, its
time to go on stage and play music now, and you change! I thought, why
am I changing? Why not just go and play music exactly the same as Im
doing here? The music first of all has to feel good, and thats to
do with being loose and relaxed.
As I got into playing percussion I became aware of sounds. Everyone thinks
you get a drum, right, you want a high tom-tom, you get a small drum and
you just hit it and thats the sound, and then you get a low one
from a low tom-tom, but you realise that with percussion you can get a
infinite number of sounds out of one drum so you start applying that to
the whole kit.
JLW But how do you
do so many different things with equal spirit: Christiane Tobin one day,
London Sinfonietta or the Orb or Nois the next?
PC I approach it all as music. Its
getting the right feeling behind the music to bring the dots off
the page. If I tell a joke, someone might laugh, but when Tommy Cooper
told jokes, people really laughed. Music evokes emotional responses when
were listening to it happy, sad so I get involved
like that in the music.
JLW Is it an art or a craft?
PC People, when they say nice things,
they say things like: "Oh its creative what you do," but
I know the craft thats put that together. I know where Im
taking things from this music and that music and all the little bits that
are put together, so to me Im just putting together a jigsaw puzzle
of things Ive heard and theres nothing new at all. So really
its a craft. Other peoples music I think of as an art, but
mine is a craft Id love it to be an art! I like making the
music work. I do have more and more ideas in my own things that Im
doing. From having my own band [Orquestra Mahatma, with Stuart Hall and
Thad Kelly], I started to develop more of what I wanted to play and Ive
now put that into other peoples music and Ive got a strong
idea of hoe I want the music to sound. A lot of classical music can be
quite "fascistic" because youre just there struggling
to do the composers thing.
I tend to operate in that are of music where people cant suss out
if its really, really good or if its a load of rubbish. I
quite like that area.
And I also tend to operate in the area of music where you cant write
things down. Its only Western culture thats got this obsession
with writing things down. In other cultures, the music sounds like the
language, the second of which you learn first (to learn tablas you learn
to say ge-ge, te-te and then to play it).
In the West we have this notion that music has to be written down and
I think a lot of potentially excellent musicians are destroyed by the
system: it crushes them; it doesn't encourage them to be themselves. The
key to it all is getting to hear the melody, because in so many of the
folk traditions, the melody is written around the rhythm anyway. In all
the African music the rhythm is more important.
Paul Clarvis played kit drums for the London
Sinfonietta's first performance and recording of the Chamber Symphony
by John Adams.
PC I went thorough absolute hell -
I was having a terrible time with the part and we had the Friday night
off so I went to see Reservoir Dogs and I threw up! Just before we did
the show, someone said, "When the other band did the premiere in
Holland about seven people went sick, because they couldn't play it."
And then I realised all the other Sinfonietta players were just doing
the best they could. So then I was more relaxed. If someone has written
for eight tom-toms and instruments you can't reach, the music is going
to sound stiff, but what is really wanted is the effect of a drummer.
So you get the phrases together as best you can and play the shape of
the music. I always deal with musical shape rather than accuracy. And
I think that a lot of classical players get uptight before performances
because they're worried about every single note. Ninety per cent of the
music works when the phrasing is right and you can really enjoy things.
JLW Do you run into conflict with composers
who expect you to play every note?
PC If they know what they're dealing
with and I've got a proper relationship with them it seems fine. Unless
they're a meglomaniac they'll be quite happy to work with you. Sometimes
there are problems, but I've learnt to stand my ground. A couple of times,
in rehearsals [of the Chamber Symphony], John Adams said, "I think
the drums are rushing," and I said, "I'm not" and the other
players said, "You have to go with the drummer."
JLW When orchestral
music has a pulse like that, shouldn't the drummer be in the driving seat?
PC Well, conductors aren't used to dealing with that sort of time. Wherever
possible you have to keep that forward motion, that buoyancy - that's
why you're there, to actually give something a groove - in emotional music.
However, I think the drummer needs to know when to let the rope out.
JLW Can you do that for a first performance?
PC That piece got really good when
we did it on a ten-date tour, and Mark Stenz was fantastic - he just let
us get on with it really.
Panic, featuring John Harle(alto saxophone)
and Paul Clarvis(drums) was Harrison Birtwistle's commission for the Last
Night of the Proms, a "difficult" piece that was performed live
in front of a worldwide audience of 100 million.
PC About a year beforehand John Harle and Harry Birtwistle
and we chatted and I played a bit and Birtwistle came up with some of
the music and we started working on it and I thought, this isn't for me.
This will be the biggest gig I ever do and there's no time in it? What's
going on? And then we did the first rehearsal with the orchestra and I
started getting really into the music.
It was about energy. And I realised that he'd listened to what I'd played
and that was his version of writing down what I do. He would say, "Yes,
but can you hit that there?," and I'd do that but he would say, "But
it doesn't sound as loose now," and it's because he was trying to
get my sound on his music; but if he wrote something specific I'd have
to reach over there and couldn't be as free, so I had to do some work
and practise the part so I was loose on it
JLW So he wanted
you to play as if you were improvising?
PC Yes. That's what we talked about,
and we said that for a drummer the part shouldn't be too difficult to
read because you want to capture the spirit of the drums. Birtwistle doesn't
hear things rhythmically - I played him some Count Basie and he said,
"Its a bar of 13 and a bar of seven, isn't it?" and it's
very strange what he heard - but I like Panic and I really like the energy
in the writing. I actually thought that the work came off better at the
Prom than on the Decca record.
JLW You did sound relaxed on the broadcast.
PC That's what I set out to do. I
talked to my big mate Stuart [Hall] about this and he said, "After
all the moaning you were doing it didn't sound very hard at all,"
and I thought, well perhaps I managed to achieve what I set out to do.
JLW What do you
think about the sound of recordings?
PC I usually like to hear a natural
sound. When I was working recently with the Orb, although they were obviously
making music in a totally different, electronic way, somebody knew what
they were doing with the sound. When I'm listening or playing, I'm looking
for a space in the music to fill that's not already occupied. If there's
something low going on I'll perhaps play something higher. The really
great players, though, they create space, they don't take up space. It's
all to do with sound. If you play one really good sound it's like saying
a really good sentence - people can absorb that and think. They say "silence
is golden", so if you're going to break the silence it's got to be
an extremely good sound! I think good musicians can balance themselves,
generally. The engineer's job is to be open-minded, to come and listen
to the sound you make on your instrument and then do his best to capture
JLW What do you
make of music education in the UK?
PC I think people succeed in spite of their education - so many people
are musically crushed. I went to the Royal College of Music and I left
after a couple of years to work professionally. And those places really
- it would be good if you printed this - I think they run more to keep
all the bureaucrats in jobs!
JLW So you completed
your education with Dave Hassell (the legendary teacher)?
PC Yes. And then going to Canada and
working round the world hanging out with musicians and going to New York
and learning from the salsa players. People who go to music college often
don't even know who will be teaching them. The question Dave Hassell always
asks people is: "Why are you here - what do you want?"
With the LSO. For example, I feel you have 80 excellent players who have
had the stuffing knocked out of them because one conductor will want music
performing one way, one will want it another way. They can do anything
you want, but if you said to them, "How do you think it should go?"
maybe they wouldn't have such strong opinions as they used to. When we
were doing the Miles Davis/Gil Evans jazz scores with the Sinfonietta,
Chris Lawrence [bass] and I were chugging away and Markus Stenz just directed,
bringing people in. But at one point he sneezed, jerked - and a percussionist
followed him! That player wasn't listening! We did a Ravi Shankar concert
with the LSO, and the conductor, Zubin Mehta, was really good because
he said: "You've got to listen, you've got to fit in and listen,"
and he got the band moving much closer together.
JLW Are orchestral players getting better?
PC The tide is slowly turning
definitely some of the session orchestra know how to produce a sound,
perhaps because the string players are playing long notes all day and
they know how to produce that full rich sound.
JLW So working on
pop records helps produce a better sound?
PC Well, you do get to hear yourself
a lot! People who have been in studios get to know what produces a good
sound - sound is so important. And if you can get that buoyancy in the
music - the feeling that makes you want to tap your foot
JLW Markus Stenz
told me he hates fusion!
PC I know what he means. Fusion is
sometimes the worst aspects of jazz and rock - it's rock without the groove,
and jazz without the dynamics. Everything's a contradiction - that's the
Without fusions, we wouldn't get any of the music
we're getting now. A friend of mine said Ensemble Modern were fantastic
because they're working all the time - like a real band; he said the players
aren't necessarily better individually than, say, the Sinfonietta's, but
as a group they are better because they're all playing together regularly.
JLW But apart from
regular gigs - what do you think will improve performances?
PC Everyone should go to dancing lessons! I don't necessarily think you
have to be that intelligent
you know you can be too intelligent
sometimes as a musician - there's too much going on up there and it all
becomes very cerebral. For good music I think you need some from here
[points to heart] as well. top
100 Village Road, is a handy kind of address for a record company, groovy
without being pretentious and in this case a genuine one too.
A nice detached house in Enfield where ace percussionist Paul Clarvis
and his partner violinist Sonia Slany live, run their busy lives as successful
musicians, and now the proud owners of their equally successful record
company, Village Records.
I'd known Paul for some time as from one of the most talented and busiest
percussionists on the UK scene, and also one of the nicest guys you could
wish to meet, whose youthful aplomb belies his 35 years. Forever grinning
like a Cheshire cat, and never seemingly fazed
(a sorted geezer with
an obviously good karma!). Then again I suppose with well over 100 records
under your belt, instant fame through the Birtwistle proms gig (watched
amazingly by over 2 million people round the globe), and doing exactly
what you want to do, you'd be pretty happy too!
Fist thing that hits you even as you go through the front door is the
percussion, it's every where, tablas here, congas there, walk into the
lounge and it's the same! A piano in the bay, shelves full of Japanese,
Greek, African and god knows what bits and bobs, and in the centre of
the room was something that really did take my eye. A beautiful old original
cadillac green sparkle Gretsch 4 drum kit, complete with calf heads, gold
plated rims and nutboxes, plus a set of wonderful old Zildjians. A total
I'm not surprised though, I know Paul has a thing about old and genuine
stuff and manys the time where I have seen him swagger into a gig laden
up not with a poncy £5000 DW or a flashy Sonor kit, but a real Heath
Robinson outfit with odd drums and bits of pieces looking more like something
he just bought in a car boot sale!
But this is what it's about, honesty and originality, finding your own
sound and style, no some showbiz bullshit or naff copy cat consumer klone
nonsense. Consumer klone
Apparently there's a lot more where this came from, two more rooms full
and a garage at least! We're talking serious collector, serious musician.
Before I sit down he shows me one of his wonderful old Chinese studded
tom's and a new cymbal made specially for him by Steve Hubback in Eindhoven
- very raw and looks like a cross between a rare 'k' Zildjian and a hand
beaten dustbin lid!.But never the less a great dark and individual sound.
Finally, I get to sit down, and as I bend down to steal all the bicuits
I notice a stack of Cd's by the chair. Not surprisingly, there is a very
wide cross section of music, some be-bop, some world stuff, contemporary
classical etc, and I notice some of their new CD's on Villge Life, all
with nice abstract cover paintings by Robyn Bischoff. The label of course
has been started recently by Paul and partner violinst Sonia Slany - Surely
they're so busy that they don't have time to run a label as well?
"Well actually we have cut down on a lot of things to concentrate
more on the label, it was Sonias idea originally. I had a recording I'd
done with Mark Turnage in a church, and complemented Andrew Halifax on
what a great live sound it had and he mentioned wanting to do some jazz
at some time, and it sort of started from there. The sound he got on the
Mark Turnage album was exceptional, kind of three dimensional, and I could
clearly hear the depth. About a year later he called me and we did the
Henry Lowther record and a trio with Stan Sulzmann and Tony Hymas. Sonia
had some Electra stuff that she wanted to record and specifically wanted
Andrew to record it and get a classical string sound along with the drums.
All in all it just seemed a good idea, and a great opportunity.
It gives us the chance to have a label which we can give an identity,
and make a statement about the music that we believe in. I believe doing
the label has made me stronger as a musician and it has made me think
about what I really stand for musically. In fact we don't say it's a jazz
label, just a creative music label. We have four out at the moment and
quite a few more on the way. Playing in studios all day makes you appreciate
the naturalness of playing 'love' in a room with wonderful acoustics,
and we will certainly try to do as much of that as we can."
He begins talking about music with youthful enthusiasm. In fact there
are few people who sound as honestly in love with music as Paul, and was
reminded of that lovely quote he made in an article in Gramophone Explorations
"I tend to work in that area of music where people can't suss out
whether it's really really good, or a load of rubbish!" A typically
hilarious statement from a musician whose straight forwardness and lack
of self importance can occasionally hide his total commitment to the percussive
arts and music as a whole. An enormously talented and now considerably
experienced voice finally producing a wealth of work and proving his immense
potential. In fact I can think of no other drummer/percussionist in the
world today who is so equally at home playing improv one day and a film
session the next, followed by a concert with the London Sinfonietta! I
asked him to explain the quote and what he really meant, and how his music
then developed. top