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Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group: Lifecycles

Bruce Lindsay By

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Jazz musicians live in straightened financial times, or so they would have us believe. So how does Phil Meadows, a young composer and saxophonist from the UK, manage to pull together the wads of cash required to write and record a set of ambitious compositions for jazz group and orchestra in a project that involves 26 musicians? Neither bank robbery or international cyber fraud were necessary, thanks to the support of Help Musicians UK, Arts Council England and the Whittingham family which awarded Meadows the 2013 Peter Whittingham Jazz Award. The award recognised Meadows' potential as a musician and composer—a burgeoning talent shown by the Phil Meadows Group's debut album, Engines Of Creation (Boom Better Records, 2013)—and enabled the realization of the Lifecycles project.

The money has been well-spent. Lifecycles begins with the urgent, energetic "Missing Days." Full of forward motion, the tune showcases the ensemble's power and breadth of instrumental range. It's also an early opportunity for first violinist Alice Zawadski—whose own impressive debut, China Lane (Whirlwind Recordings) also appeared in 2014—to establish her presence as a singer. "Lifecycles" follows on, this time Meadows' tune emphasises the more graceful, bucolic, side of his writing and places the Engines Orchestra center stage.

These opening tracks ably demonstrate the combined talents of Meadows, the group and the orchestra. The remaining eight compositions carry on in a similar vein. The brief, free-form, "The Spark" mixes squeaks, squawks and mutterings in a good-humored melange. "Intoxicated Delirium" is a punchy mix, shifting its pace and moods across its six minute length around the hard-hitting rhythm section of Elliot Galvin on piano, Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Simon Roth on drums.

"Euphoria" focuses on Meadows' soprano saxophone, as the string section builds then relieves tension gradually—the effect is dramatic. The string section dominates on "Prelude." It sets up a mysterious, somewhat dissonant, mood out of which emerges the melancholy violin (presumably played by principal violinist Emily Davis): the tune passes muster as the soundtrack to a doomed silent-movie romance. The mood continues on "Remembrance," aided by Tori Landsley's harp and, eventually, Zawadzki's voice, almost hidden beneath the soaring instruments as she sings of love as "a menace, it rips us apart."

"Celebration" begins with the strings in full flight, The horns add to the titular sensation, then the flow is interrupted and Galvin's percussive, angular, piano is left alone. His solo is one of the album's most effective performances. The rhythm section momentarily injects some funk into proceedings before trumpeter Laura Jurd takes over lead duties: a danceable groove emerges from the threatened chaos and carries over to the opening seconds of "Strife Of Life."

Lifecycles ends with "Twice The Man." Alongside "Celebration" it's a key track—musically dramatic and tense, lyrically enigmatic, ultimately resolving to its peaceful close.

Track Listing: Missing Days; Lifecycles; The Spark; Intoxicated Delirium; Euphoria; Prelude; Remembrance; Celebration; Strife Of Life; Twice The Man.

Personnel: Phil Meadows: saxophones; Alice Zawadzki: vocals, violin; Laura Jurd: trumpet; Elliot Galvin: piano; Conor Chaplin: electric bass, double bass; Simon Roth: drums, percussion; Engines Orchestra: Matt Roberts: conductor; James Davison: trumpet; Eddie Morgan: French horn; James Buckle: bass trombone; Jennah Smart: flutes; Rob Cope: clarinet, flute; Gennie Joy: clarinet, bass clarinet; Tori Handsley: harp; Emily Davis: violin; Tom Aldren: violin; Katherine Waller: violin; Minn Majoe: violin; Kirsty Lovie: violin; Claire Sledd: violin; Connie Chatwin: violin; Matt Maguire: viola; Joe Fisher: viola; George White: viola; Zosia Jagodzinska: cello; Gregor Riddell: cello.

Title: Lifecycles | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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