We always like to keep our ear to the ground for new jazz releases here at The Jazz Meet. It’s certainly not always been about the more obscure or well-worn classics that more often cross our paths, and late last year our interest was piqued with the arrival of a fresh UK jazz project newly signed to the London record imprint Here and Now Recordings. After catching a sliver of the Ambient Jazz Ensemble’s brilliant first single ‘Jazz Face’ back in October, we were feverishly looking forward to the full length to drop, and late last month it did just that, a ten-track album entitled ‘Suite Shop’ flying the coop into the bright Monday morning sun.
The brainchild of producer Colin Baldry, the release sits very much in a contemporary jazz frame, while also taking great inspiration from the world of electronic music. Teaming up with a crack ensemble of UK session musicians, that number amongst their ranks the veritable double threat of Neil Cowley and Finn Peters, Baldry carves out a sound rich on atmospherics and musicality. From the start, the orchestral soundscapes bristle with emotion. The album opener ‘Eyes Wide Open’ meekly unfurls to reveal a suitably beautiful start to proceedings, Cowley’s lone piano lines giving way to ever-increasing layers of instrumentation as the mood slowly builds. Elsewhere, there’s the string laden wonder of ‘Quiet Hero’ and the slightly more raucous sound of ‘Vibrations’ (which goes some way to evoke memories of that other enduring favourite ‘La Ritournelle’ by Sebastien Tellier), both featuring a density that seems to reward repeat listening. On the aptly dubbed ‘The Journey’, robust horns and a recurring choral refrain are added into the mix, helping to supply a soaring spirituality to the already undulating rhythms, while ‘I See Stars’ and ‘Hallucinogenic’ both plough mellower territory, the blend of electronics and live instrumentation really helping to stress a more cosmic feel.
Having delved into the full release , we were obviously intrigued to find out a little more about Mr Baldry and the inspiration behind his cinematic sound, so we posed him a few questions about the album and his story so far. Here’s what he had to say…
Hi Colin, to kick things off can you tell us a little about your own background? Has music always been an important part of your life?
Definitely! I played guitar and bass as a teenager and went on to study double bass at the Guildhall School of Music in London in an attempt to become a classical bassist. However, I ended up doing sessions and tours playing bass guitar. I got the chance to arrange and produce songs for a couple of bands and the studio became a natural environment for me. I teamed up with my long-term writing partner Tom Kane, initially to write songs, and enjoyed modest success with our first project with the singer Donna Gardier. But it was writing instrumental music, mainly for TV, that became instinctive, using my (so-called) experience in a variety of musical styles.
Listening to music was just as important and influential, from about the age of 13 I devoured every album I could and developed a passion for lots of different musical genres, especially Jazz.
We understand that ad part of your day job, you recently scored music for the recent Irvine Welsh film ‘Filth’. Can you tell us a bit about how that came to fruition? Does your work as a scorer differ greatly from that of a straight up musician?
JC (label boss at Here and Now Recordings) was bigging up Ambient Jazz Ensemble to one of the film’s producers. Clint Mansell had done the soundtrack but in post production they needed more music and that’s where AJE came in. There are a lot of crossovers with my work compared to a straight musician, some days I may end up jamming and recording real instruments all day but another day may involve a sound design synced to a commercial which is more mathematical and all about the vision of a director, producer or client. I tend to work Monday to Friday in the studio and keep to as normal hours as possible, definitely not corresponding to the routine of a gigging musician.
What did you hope to achieve when you started working on ‘Suite Shop’. Were there any key influences you held to mind when you began to shape the initial sound?
I’d written a couple of tracks for a label which fused ambient electronica with a jazz feel and I loved the vibe. I suppose they set the template for ‘Suite Shop’, from which I experimented. The ‘day job’ usually includes getting a session player or two in to play certain parts, I’d always wanted to do a project which could evolve during and after the players had contributed. I instinctively applied an ambient approach to the live performances and the pieces then evolved and expanded organically. The initial sound was probably shaped by various artists on the leaf label, Murcof was an ambient inspiration and Triosk the jazz ingredient. Also, I can’t ignore the subliminal influence of the first Cinematic Orchestra album, Motion.
How did you first make contact with Neil Cowley and Finn Peters for the project?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with the cream of London session players over the last 15 years and I’d used both Neil and Finn on various projects. Neil was great doing his thing and was a perfect match for the AJE vibe. Finn has always really impressed me with his ability to adapt in a session environment, but I love the natural leftfield approach in is his own style which prevented the sax contribution from being too bland in the AJE sound.
Can you tell us what other albums (if any) you are enjoying at the moment? Would you care to share with us a recent find?
I’m going through a mid 1970’s phase at the moment, particularly enjoying Herbie Hancock and Weather Report. Not a recent find, but I’m catching up with the Jaga Jazzist releases over the last 10 years. Recent purchases include new albums from Brian Blade, Snarky Puppy, Polar Bear and Get The Blessing.
Now the album is finally, what’s next on your agenda? Do you have plans for a follow-up?
I’ve reworked most of the tracks in order that we have an option of a ‘Suite Shop’ remix album. The follow-up is already ‘sketched’ shall we say, so I have a plan to not only to rehearse and gig ‘Suite Shop’ but also to rehearse and record the second album tracks. Busy times ahead!
You can pick up your own copy of ‘Suite Shop’ now, either on CD or digital download via the Here and Now Recordings Bandcamp page. Dig in and let us know your thoughts, it’s definitely a suitable accompaniment to your summer activities.