For whatever reason, the UK Jazz scene has never been fully embraced by Americans. Aside from being embarrassingly narrow-minded of us, this exclusionary mindset has resulted in our missing out on some truly noteworthy modern jazz. Subterranea is the debut album from six piece ensemble Mosaic, led by 2015 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize winner and British vibraphonist Ralph Wyld. A unique and at times chaotic album, it is one that deserves to be heard and discussed.
The captivating interaction between instruments is one of the album’s strong suits, and jumps out at you almost immediately on the opening track. As the album progresses, it is easy to forget that these arrangements don’t seem to be especially attractive on paper, but work beautifully in practice. For example, while much of the cello playing on the record is lovely, it couldn’t exist without Wyld’s vibraphone accompaniment (which I, for one, would not have expected). In “Kairo Konko”, a morose arco section gives way to a playful horn section and back again, at no point sounding awkward or out of place. Similarly, drummer Scott Chapman and double bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado are so incredibly in tune with each other it is almost intimidating. Time signatures often change numerous times within each track without feeling rushed or forced, and at no point does the rhythm section ever lose itself.
Another major factor of this album’s success is the untraditional use of instruments throughout the album. I must admit that the vibraphone is not quite my favorite instrument in jazz. Vibraphonists seem to often fall into the trap of relying heavily on virtuosity to captivate audiences. Throw away all of your preconceived notions about the vibraphone and its role in jazz right now. While Wyld, a Royal Academy of Music Jazz graduate certainly has the chops (and does exploit them at times), his sense of restraint and space make his playing extremely unique. Equally remarkable is his ability to set very distinct, interesting moods at the drop of a dime, whether dreamlike (“Subterranea”), whimsical (“White Horses”), or idiosyncratic (“Cryptogram”).
Similarly, too often in jazz, the clarinet is relegated to something of a throwback instrument. A relic of the Trad Jazz/Dixieland era. In Sam Rapley’s hands, however, it takes on new life. Rapley’s playing on both clarinet and bass clarinet ranges dramatically, from modern jazz, to classical to world music. Upon first listen of this record, it is clear that while Rapley’s playing is rooted in Western Jazz, much can be owed to Southeast Asian and Indian folk music. This sense of worldliness is what helps this album “make sense.”
If you have not explored the modern UK scene, or even the London scene, this is a great place to start. By taking tradition, respecting it, then turning it on its head, Mosaic are dedicated to producing music that makes jazz, well, jazz.
Subterranea, the debut album from the sextet Mosaic, is out now on Edition Records.
RALPH WYLD vibraphone
JAMES COPUS trumpet & flugelhorn
SAM RAPLEY clarinet & bass clarinet
CECILIA BIGNALL cello
MISHA MULLOV-ABBADO double bass
SCOTT CHAPMAN drums & percussion
All music by Ralph Wyld
Produced by Jim Hart
Executive Producer: Dave Stapleton
Recorded by Oli Jacobs and Alex Bonney at Real World Studios on 31st March – 2nd April 2016.
Mixed by Alex Bonney at Coda Cola Studios in Hoxton in May 2016.
Mastered by Chris Lewis in June 2016.
All music Ralph Wyld
Produced by Jim Hart