Orquestra Mahatma -

Independant on Sunday Nov 2005
Folk Roots Dec 2005
Jazzwise Nov 2005
Sunday Times may 1999
The Musician dec 1999
Birmingham Post jun 1999
Observer jul 1999
The Stage
Cadence Magazine
Independant on Sunday
Jazz Podium (berlin concert review 1997)
Die Tageszeitung 1996

Henry Lowthers Still Waters -
The Times
Time Out
Musician Magazine Jun 1998

Jazz UK
Musician Mag Barry McRae

Meeting Electra -
Musician Magazine
Classic CD
Avant Magazine 1998
Malcom Hayes

All The Saints -
The Wire
The Guardian
Steve Harwood
Jazz UK
Musician Magazine - McRae
Musician Magazine- Noble

Martin Speake -
The Times
Birmigham Post

Paul Clarvis Interviews -
Vortex Magazine
Down in the Village
Gramophone Mag - John L Walters
Panic Attack

THE 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
Eclectic selection 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
Stay 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 trio’s 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 BBC2’s 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." top

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 often hilarious.
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 truly original.
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 Slany’s Electra Strings, and will be familiar to Later With Jools watchers as the string quartet to the pop stars.
Here they follow Stuart Hall’s 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 Ellington’s Diminuendo In Blue gets swing violins over spoof rock guitar, Irving Berlin’s 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 band’s musical expertise is worn lightly at all times. top

OBSERVER, Dave Gelly - 18TH July 1999
The Nightingale of 1000 Joys (Village Life 99037)
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 Mahatma’s 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 Room’s 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 children’s 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

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 PERSON’S GUIDE (Babel 9612), they (Stuart Hall, vln, g, bjo, etc.; Thad Kelly, b; Paul Clarvis, perc) play everything from Bulgarian folk tunes to Zawinul’s "Mercy Mercy Mercy" AND Shankar’s 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
couldn’t hear Kelly, but he’s right on target when he’s audible.) Hall’s 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 they’re 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. top

A Young Persons Guide
Orquestra Mahatma: A Young Person’s 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, it’s 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 journey.
In this melting pot of nations, barricades dissolve into thin air before they’re 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 Bernstein’s 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 Kelly’s 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 UK’s 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. Lowther’s 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 Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter, this is a triumphant — if somewhat overdue — return to the recording limelight for one of this country’s most respected musicians. top

TIME OUT, John Lewis
"I.D." Village Life
Veteran trumpeter Lowther is one of Britain’s finest players, whether it’s 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 it’s 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 Lowther’s 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 Henry’s current band, (himself, Julian Arguelles, Pete Saberton, Dave Green and Paul Clarvis), on nine tracks, seven of which are Lowther’s originals.
Several things become apparent very quickly: this is not just a group of terrific players, it’s 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, Clarvis’s drum sound is unique — maybe not to everyone’s taste, but when did they become experts? — and it’s rare to hear drumming that manages to be quite so authoritative as well as inventive. I’ve 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 Lowther’s 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 CD’s 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 Lowther’s new CD is only the second recording to be issued under his own name. "ID" (Village Life MRFD 97122 VL) is by Henry’s 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, "it’s a band sounding unanimous in every way…and the sound is terrific". I can’t argue with that. top

Barry McRae.
(Village Life MRFD 97122 VL)
Lowther’s 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 I’ll 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 VL)
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 Slany’s 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 Clarvis’s 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 ( and Electra Strings will be performing Slany’s 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 Nunn’s Dynamix ensemble. Sonia Slany’s 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 Birtwistle’s 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

Meeting Electra
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 it’s 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…to…people 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. top

AVANT MAGAZINE, Summer 1998.
Meeting Electra
Sonia’s 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 Holland’s Later, and they’ve 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 she’s 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 Sonia’s 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 Paul’s dramatic bursts of percussion. The music is sumptuous, relaxing, an altogether pleasurable experience. top

Malcolm Hayes.
Meeting Electra
This month’s 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 Slany’s playing is remarkable. And to judge from the unaccompanied Air and Walkabout, or Bronze for octet, she’s a very real composer, too. top

THE WIRE, Richard Cook
For All The Saints (Village Life MRFD 97123 VL)
While the drummer’s 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 hasn’t 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 97123)
An unusual combination of approaches, with the jarrettish keyboards of Tony Hymas, the graceful sound of Sulzmann’s saxophone and flute, and drummer Paul Clarvis’s 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 97123)
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 there’s a short drum solo with brushes allegedly based on "Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home". This ought to be on ECM but, instead, you’ll have to seek out the small independent label via your specialist dealer. top

Steve Herrwood
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 Clarvis’s 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
There’s 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 Lowther’s recent "ID", this was recorded in All Saints Church, Petersham, and the calm ambience clearly inspires these fertile minds. top

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 synthesiser sounds.
In contrast Sulzmann, one of Britain’s 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 Stan’s 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

For All The Saints
Another release from Paul Clarvis’s and Sonia Slany’s 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, Paul’s kaleidoscopic percussion gradually emerging from behind Stan’s 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, Paul’s 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 focused. top

Martin Speake’s 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. Speake’s alto saxophone is augmented by Chris Bachelor’s trumpet, and the music is expanded in imaginative fashion by Stuart Hall’s various stringed instruments, Oren Marshall’s bubbling tuba, and the percussion of Paul Clarvis, Dave Hassell and Dawson Miller. top

THE TIMES, Mike Bradley - 14 Jan 2000
Bubbling Under
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
Bubbling Under
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
Bubbling Under
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

Vortex Jazz Club Magazine article
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 music.
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
It’s not often an interviewer is offered toast by he interviewee. But that’s 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 Leigh’s 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 it’s 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 Slany’s Meeting Electra featuring her group the Electra Strings and then ID by trumpeter Henry Lowther.
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 Stringle’s 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 80’s. 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. "It’s a very British perspective on folk music," he says. It’s 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 Sulzmann’s tantalising flute solo and then undergoing a transformation to provide a solid traps framework for Hymas. It’s 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. top

Whatever the style, Paul Clarvis plays with enormous spirit, creativity, enthusiasm and technical skill: whether as a soloist in Birtwistle’s notorious Panic, the powerhouse behind Adam’s Chamber Symphony, one-third of Orquestra Mahatma or guesting on a new disc by the Orb.

Paul Clarvis’s drumming career crosses apparent genre boundaries without any sense of compromise or dislocation. Whether he’s 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, friendly, thoughtful.

PC It took me a long while to realise that here I was, like now — you have a chat, and it’s nice meeting people and you might have a few beers and a meal and you think, it’s 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 I’m doing here? The music first of all has to feel good, and that’s 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 that’s 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. It’s 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 we’re 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 it’s creative what you do," but I know the craft that’s put that together. I know where I’m taking things from this music and that music and all the little bits that are put together, so to me I’m just putting together a jigsaw puzzle of things I’ve heard and there’s nothing new at all. So really it’s a craft. Other people’s music I think of as an art, but mine is a craft — I’d love it to be an art! I like making the music work. I do have more and more ideas in my own things that I’m 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 I’ve now put that into other people’s music and I’ve got a strong idea of hoe I want the music to sound. A lot of classical music can be quite "fascistic" because you’re just there struggling to do the composer’s thing.
I tend to operate in that are of music where people can’t suss out if it’s really, really good or if it’s a load of rubbish. I quite like that area.
And I also tend to operate in the area of music where you can’t write things down. It’s only Western culture that’s 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.

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, "It’s 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.

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 that.

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 interesting area … 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 dream kit!
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….No!
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