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Alex Ward Trios & Sextet: Projected / Entities / Removal

John Eyles By

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This release follows so hard on the heels of Glass Shelves and Floor (Copepod, 2015) by Alex Ward Quintet that it is tempting to see the two as a matched pair. Released on Ward's own Copepod label, the two have consecutive serial numbers and very similar sleeve designs and graphics. Each of the albums is titled after the Ward compositions it features. Where the previous album contained two readings—one studio-recorded, one live—of its title piece by the same quintet, the current album features three compositions each performed by a different grouping, two trios and a sextet.

The crucial link between the two albums is that the sextet piece here, "Removal," was recorded at the same concert as the live quintet version of "Glass Shelves and Floor," at The Vortex on March 5th 2014. The quintet of Ward and Tom Jackson on clarinets, Rachel Musson on tenor saxophone, Hannah Marshall on cello and Olie Brice on bass was expanded to a six-piece by the addition of drummer Steve Noble, himself a frequent collaborator with Ward, notably in the trio NEW and as a duo (see YouTube clip below for an example of the latter). Following that, Ward wrote pieces for two trios that are subsets of the sextet, and these were recorded in January and February 2015.

Projected / Entities / Removal opens with "Projected" performed by the trio of Ward on clarinet, Musson and Noble. Straight from the off, it is clear that the addition of the drummer makes this music very different to that on its predecessor. In typical fashion, Noble propels the trio along, with the reeds responding in kind, both blowing hell-for-leather during ensemble passages and when they solo. After ten thrilling minutes, a more subdued coda paves the way for a nearly seamless transition into "Entities" played by Marshall, Brice and Jackson. The combination of cello, bass and clarinet produces a mellower sound than the other trio, making this track tranquil by comparison and an oasis of calm before the closing sextet track.

"Removal" runs for almost three-quarters of an hour and is the undoubted highlight of the album, bringing it to a storming climax. Compared to the two trio pieces here, as a composition it involves far less notated material and pre-structuring, so the performance was largely a collective sextet improvisation, guided by visual and verbal directions from Ward. As before, the leader has to be complemented on his choice of personnel, as the six players fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw, with each of them having room to shine but none of them dominating or hogging the limelight.

Although some organising principle must have been at work, it is never obvious or intrusive. So, as sub-groupings play together, the process sounds natural and unforced—a neat trick to have pulled off for a sextet's live debut. As with Glass Shelves and Floor, all the players should be commended with no-one being singled out for particular praise—this is a collective triumph.

The good news is that Ward says he intends to write further pieces for other sub-groupings of the sextet in future but, meanwhile, the next planned release will be an album of compositions for the whole sextet. All six members must be relishing that prospect, as should we, the listeners. Based on this showing, the future looks very bright.

Track Listing: Projected; Entities; Removal.

Personnel: Alex Ward: clarinet (1, 3), electric guitar (3) ; Rachel Musson: tenor saxophone (1, 3) ; Steve Noble: drums (1, 3) ; Hannah Marshall: cello (2, 3) ; Olie Brice: double bass (2, 3) ; Tom Jackson : clarinet, bass clarinet (2, 3).

Title: Projected / Entities / Removal | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Copepod Records

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