I hate putting music in boxes and sometimes want to create my own. In which case, I’d put Subterranea from Mosaic into a box labelled Ethereal Jazz. There is something other-worldly about the tracks, probably driven by the almost vocal qualities of Ralph Wyld’s vibraphone.
It’s rare to find a vibraphonist leading the way and Wyld (who’s won prizes for his skill on the instrument and rightly so) does a good job of it. I first heard vibes when working with Bill Le Sage many years ago and then discovered some of Tubby Hayes’ dexterity on this instrument which he once lamented was so big to carry around. On Subterranea, Wyld’s sound features throughout the tracks. Not surprisingly, as the album’s producer is another vibes player, Jim Hart.
This album stands as an example of British contemporary jazz at its finest, The six-piece ensemble includes Sam Rapley on clarinet, sometimes picking up bass clarinet, which meshes beautifully with the vibes. It also features trumpet and flugelhorn player James Copus who I encountered a couple of months ago as part of a horn section for Australian singer Lily Dior.
The whole ensemble melds together and fits perfectly with the band name. This is a mosaic where the pieces fit together into a strong and beautiful whole. The addition of Cecilia Bignall’s cello and Misha Mullov-Abbado on bass gives almost a string section beneath the more melodic instruments, alongside Scott Chapman’s steady and persistent drums and percussion.
This album is clearly a debut album that builds on Wyld’s studies of others, while carving out a sound of its own. I suspect his second album – when it arrives – will take different influences to reflect.
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It’s also a rare album for me in that each track has its own merits and it’s hard to choose a favourite. I suspect I’ll be listening to it for a while before coming to a final decision. For now it has to be the title track. Subterranea sums up the album and it’s fitting that it won the 2015 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition small band category. Bass clarinet, muted trumpet, cello, bass, vibes, percussion all come together in that mosaic the album does so well. Dynamics, rhythm and melody all build and drop off to portray something of the underground that is at once solid and a little terrifying in its haunting sound.
Review: Hilary Robertson