Ma is part of London's endlessly intriguing Loop Collective, a grouping of younger-generation musicians and bands that includes pianist Ivo Neame, vibes player and drummer Jim Hart, trumpeter Rory Simmons and many others.
Saxophonist Tomas Challenger leads Ma: he's joined in the core trio by Matt Calvert on synths and laptop and by Dave Smith on drums. A quick check of the three musicians' resumés gives a hint of the breadth and extent of their careers. Challenger is associated with Brass Mask and Fofoulah and, with keyboardist Kit Downes, made the exceptional Wedding Music (Loop Records, 2013): Calvert is a member of Three Trapped Tigers and produced and played guitar on Fini Bearman's Porgy And Bess (F-ire Presents, 2014): Smith is part of Outhouse (as is Challenger) and has been occupying the drum chair for up-and-coming young vocalist Robert Plant.
Live features three pieces of music recorded during 2011-2012, around the time of the band's previous album, The Last (Loop Records, 2011). Despite the title, there's no evidence of an audience's presenceno applause, no cheers, no announcementsand that's no bad thing, for atmosphere is central to these recordings and even the slightest interruption by an audience would disrupt the mood that runs across the album.
Lots of fairly modern adjectives have been used to describe Ma's musicspacey, jazz/electronica fusion, electronic soundscapes, ambient... All valid and reliablethere's certainly plenty of electronic jiggery-pokery on display herebut there's another quality to these sounds, at least to these ears. It's a primal quality, a mood that draws on music's long-standing ability to stimulate emotions and to connect at the most basic level with human experience.
This is true especially of the sextet tunes, "Forge 1.1" and "Forge 1.2," which have floating organ chords, courtesy of Ross Stanley and additional percussion from John Blease and Ben Bryant. Yes, electronics play a major role in both tracks (which actually segue seamlessly, as if they're one tune cut into two) and Challenger's tenor saxophone is at their heart, but the percussion trio are key to the distinctive organic sound.
"The Last" is a 15-minute trio piece. Without the additional percussion and organ the music's electronic foundation is more obviousSmith also seems to play more sparingly than he did on the Forge numbersbut it still retains the primal emotional quality of the sextet tracks. It's a slow, brooding, piece full of tension. Something's going on and it's unsettling, yet it draws and holds the attention for all that.
Forge Part 1.1; Forge Part 1.2; The Last.
Tom Challenger: saxophones, synthesizers; Matt Calvert: laptop, synthesizers; Dave Smith: drums; Ross Stanley: organ (1, 2); John Blease: percussion (1, 2); Ben Bryant: percussion (1, 2).
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