London's Floating Circles Quartet are a group of Guildhall School of Music & Drama alumni who have been playing together since 2017. Humble Travelers is their debut album.
If one had to pin a label on FCQ, chamber music is probably the most accurate off-the-peg description, though it is inadequate and oversimplified as are all such labels. Chamber music captures the instrumentation well enoughclarinet/bass clarinet, effects-free guitar, double bass, drumsbut it does not suggest the energy of the music, which is driven by Arthur Newell's understated but spirited drumming.
In their publicity material, the band cites Shabaka Hutchings' Sons of Kemet and Oregon as their main influences, but those connections seem tenuous at best. Sure, Hutchings plays almost as much bass clarinet as he does tenor saxophone, but the ferocious twin-drummers and tuba-driven sound of Sons Of Kemet is far removed from that of FCQ. Similarly, aside from a vibe which leans towards the pastoral and occasionally touches on the folky, Oregon is a bit of stretch, too.
All the material on Humble Travelers was written by FCQ's leader, clarinetist and bass clarinetist Aidan Pearson. The tunes are strong and the arrangements are carefully crafted. Guest violinist on three tracks is Johanna Burnheart, a rising star on the London scene through her work with Maisha and Yazz Ahmed. Burnheart has her debut album coming out in October 2020 and FCQ bassist Jonny Wikham is part of her band.
If there is one area that Pearson and the band might usefully explore next time out, it is harnessing the recording studio as another instrument. The sound design of Humble Travelers is unadorned and unmediated by technology. This may, of course, be a conscious and deliberate decision by FCQ. But in 2020 the result sounds a little anachronistic in its denial of opportunities. Just saying.
Brockley ‘N’ Peas; Beyond The Mountains Of Aria; Caravan Curtains; White ‘N’ Fluffy; Wading Through The Mist; Galactic Pedalboat Rescue Trip.
Aidan Pearson: clarinet, bass clarinet; Matt Hurley: guitar; Jonny Wickham: double bass, percussion (1, 3); Arthur Newell: drums; Johanna Burnheart: violin (1, 3, 5).
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