'Our second album, exploring darker territory, is described in the press as being 'subtle, sophisticated and gently erudite jazz-influenced chamber music with ingenious and rhythmic underpinnings’.
If I wanted to be facile about ‘Here’, the new one from composer/keyboardist Colin Riley’s criminally underexposed group MooV (Squeaky Kate) fronted by the extraordinary voice of Elisabeth Nygård, I’d probably end up saying things like ‘Subtle, sophisticated and gently erudite jazz-influenced chamber music with ingenious and rhythmic underpinnings’, but the usual permutative critical vocabulary doesn’t really suffice to describe this imaginative, approachable yet unpredictable set of pieces from a band which should really be filling the right kind of festival slots throughout the season. Google the splendidly silly label name for more.
‘Intimate songs with a dark edge’ is how Squeaky Kate’s accompanying publicity sheet describes the thirteen tracks on this, MooV’s second album for the label, which was set up in 2006 to record and promote the music of composer Colin Riley and associated groups.
Riley wrote all the music for the album, which draws in elements of everything from avant-pop, minimalism and jazz to electronica, and is performed by Riley himself (piano, electronics, producer), cellist Natalie Rozario, bassist Pete Wilson and percussionist Rob Millett. The songs are sung, in a tender, wistful manner, by Elisabeth Nygård, whose breathy seriousness infuses their often esoteric, somewhat mysterious lyrics with an almost Bjørk-like urgency and power at full volume, and a darker intensity in quieter moments.
Along with Nygård’s sensitive vocals, what is ultimately most striking about this album is the extraordinary variety, of texture and timbre, of the musical backing: all the above-mentioned musical bases are touched, but the final product is absolutely unclassifiable. Riley is that rarest of birds, a genuine original, and his music is sui generis, but consistently haunting and often beautiful.
MooV is the latest creation from songwriting, piano playing, electro enhancing producer Colin Riley, possibly best known for collaborating with one-time King Crimson sticksmith Bill Bruford. Indeed Bruford himself has described Riley's music as "Spectacularly beautiful and appealing" and really, who am I to argue? Thankfully my first engagement with Riley and MooV proves that there's no need to even consider doubting Bruford's words of wisdom, as Here proves to be many things. All of them good. Difficult to categories, uncompromising, beautiful, captivating, spacious, intricate, thought provoking all are words that suitably describe what is going on Here. However much like the music itself, all they do is serve up a flavour and let you work out the rest for yourself.
Jazz? Enigmatic chamber music? Avante-garde pop? None of them really fit, but then none are truly a million miles away either and while in a way they all give an indication of what you can expect from MooV, in another they leave far too much unsuggested. Riley provides the colour, backbone and direction for the thirteen tracks on this album, but he stoutly refuses to dominate them. His lilting scales, sharp yet gentle piano stabs and oft disconcerting choices of direction merely shaping the outline that the stunning, breathy, fragile yet oh so deservedly confident voice of Elisabeth Nygård eagerly, although never too eagerly, fills. Her delivery is even more side-swiping than Riley's, never taking the easy path, never satisfied merely following the expected. You couldn't call her voice challenging, it is too beautiful for that, but you certainly feel as though it is being confrontational and intentionally dissenting. The effect is spellbinding and haunting, dark yet full of release, clever but never too knowing, but most importantly it is perfect for its surroundings. Riley may well be the most obvious provider of that habitat, but that's not to underplay the key contributions made by Natalie Rozario (cello), Pete Wilson (bass) or Rob Millett (percussion), with the trio all creating deep, dark atmospheres through restrained skills that hit harder by never being over exposed. Although what really sets some of the music on Here - "Pirate Hats And Bears" being a prime example - apart from other albums operating in this area is the electronic expertise of Riley, with tasteful, unobtrusive effects often remoulding the whole emotion, attack and atmosphere of otherwise straight ahead tracks. Allowing the listener to relax and immerse, but never lose focus of what is being weaved in front of them.
Here is an album that requires concentration and focus to unravel its strong inner beauty and in an ideal world a run through from track one to the closing track thirteen is how you should experience it. For while the fragile, almost broken "Trust", the clicking, popping, cello infused "Release" and the harsh, almost primitive "Spires" all capture the imagination, they undoubtedly do so to a greater extent enhanced by their surrounding album-mates.
Either way, Here is an album to lose yourself in time and time again, finding new rewards with each visit.
The five piece ensemble MooV is one of a number of projects masterminded by composer, pianist and electronic artist Colin Riley and appears on his own Squeaky Kate record label. Riley’s output straddles the boundaries of jazz, pop and modern classical music – visit http://www.squeakykate.co.uk for an insight into his full portfolio.
“Here” represents the follow up to 2008’s successful “Fold” and features the voice and lyrics of Elisabeth Nygard, the Norwegian born, UK based vocalist who is perhaps most familiar to British listeners as a member of trumpeter Rory Simmons’ innovative ensemble Fringe Magnetic. Nygard has also been heard with Extended Corner, another large-ish ensemble led by Norwegian trumpeter Didrik Ingvaldsen and more recently in the trio Eyes Of A Blue Dog alongside Simmons and drummer/electronics artist Terje Evensen. Broadly speaking MooV operates in roughly the same musical area as the Eyes Of A Blue Dog trio, a mix of jazz, pop song and electronica with Nygard’s Bjork like vocals a key component of the music. The MooV line up also includes Nygard’s Fringe Magnetic colleague Natalie Rozario on cello plus bassist Pete Wilson and percussionist Rob Millett, the latter previously heard by me on recordings by saxophonist Tony Woods.
The album opens with “I Dream Beside You” which establishes the ensemble sound, wispy electronics, Nygard’s sensuous Bjork like vocals, sometimes multi tracked, plus the exotic percussion shadings of Millett and a smattering of rich, dark cello from Rozario. Despite the predominately British line-up the mood feels inescapably Scandinavian. It’s unfortunate that the album packaging doesn’t include a lyric sheet which would foster a greater appreciation of the words, both Riley and Nygard contribute lyrics to the project and much of the music is co-written.
An eerie vibes like shimmer introduces “A Pier”, another offering in the same ethereal vein with Riley’s piano this time more prominent in the mix alongside dashes of cello, judicious use of electronica and Nygard’s extraordinary voice.
The Squeaky Kate website describes MooV’s music as comprising of “intimate songs with a dark edge” and this approach is typified by the intensely intimate minimalism of “Trust” where the vulnerability of Nygard’s voice is almost painfully exposed alongside Riley’s sparse piano and Rozario’s spectral bowings and scrapings.
“Release” with its pizzicato strings and quietly busy percussion initially sounds more playful but there’s still a sadness at its core. Nevertheless it’s still one of the albums most accessible pieces thus far with its hypnotic piano patterns, engaging hints of folk melody and constantly fascinating percussion.
The pared down “Quiet Sounds” with its core voice, piano, cello configuration is another representation of the group at their most intimate and reflective with Nygard’s voice at her most Bjork like.
By way of contrast “Pirate Hats and Bears” sees the group at their most light hearted, this delightfully playful piece represents a welcome change to the mood of much of the rest album yet does so without disturbing anything of the group’s core aesthetic.
The brief but atmospheric “Rain in (for L.S.) and the following “Soft Rain” feature Nygard Nygard pushing her voice into Sidsel Endresen territory before the group return to a more obviously song based structure for the Bjork like “Cold Crave” with Rozario’s woozy cello complementing Riley’s ethereal but inventive keyboards and Millett’s similarly inventive drums and percussion.
Both “Spires” and “While I Stole Your Affection” are credited to Riley/Nygard/Rozario with Nygard providing the lyrics. Certainly the cello, both plucked and bowed plays a significant part in the arrangements of both songs. “Spires” is little more than a miniature, “While I Stole…” is more involved with a stronger sense of narrative.
“Spoken Or Sung” is a brief but effective duet for piano and voice and the album ends with the fragile atmospherics of “Vinter Na”, again predominately scored for piano and voice but with a haunting cello part from Rozario.
MooV’s music is almost impossible to classify as it criss crosses musical boundaries with Nygard’s supremely flexible voice at the heart of the ensemble. With its references to avant pop and folk, modern classicism (chamber music crossed with minimalism) and electronica it’s a fascinating blend of colour, nuance and texture although some listeners may find it all a little too rarefied, chilly and bloodless. “Here” is all about building a mood and sustaining it throughout the album with Nygard’s voice expressing both sensuality and vulnerability whilst simultaneously pushing at technical boundaries of the human voice. Some of the musical arrangements are gloriously understated and subtle and there’s a studied atmosphere of intimacy, fragility and restraint throughout. It’s a less robust and varied album than the Eyes Of A Blue Dog release and for most listeners, myself included, probably also less accessible. Nevertheless “Here” is a considerable success on its own terms and is a particular favourite of outgoing Jazz UK editor Roger Thomas who gave the album a glowing review in issue 108 of Jazz UK (December 2012/January 2013). Chris Parker of the London Jazz Blog rather liked it too and I’d also surmise that it’s an album that’s likely to appeal to BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction audience.
Arty but not Art Rock
Jazzy but not Jazz
progressive but certainly not Prog Rock
poppy but not pop
electronic but not electronica
a sense of chamber music but not chamber music
does that help ?…probably not
Experimental and avant garde and certainly creative and stimulating; unpredictable, even random; with enigmatic, intimate lyrics with a dark edge. The use of sequencing effects and constant changes in pitch (musical and vocal) and rhythm create the backbone of the music. At times angular and unsettling but at other times ethereal and beautifully soft. Sparse and minimalistic. I cannot think of comparisons but perhaps think of Sigur Ros’s simpler tracks unplugged with a folksy edge with Bjork’s vocals (not sure that makes sense!). There is certainly a Scandinavian ‘feel’ at times. The vocalist, Elisabeth Nygard has Scandinavian roots, being from Norway. She has a hypnotic, breathy and fragile voice in the delivery of both word and sound (e.g. wailing/sighing etc.) She appears totally immersed and connected to the music.