Check out independent reviews of The Set List Shuffle and Murmuration albums.  

 

 

 

Blazing Flame Quintet / The Set List Shuffle Reviews

 

 

 David Cristol, (The Jazz Magazine) 2017, France  

 

 

I am repeatedly listening to the latest Blazing Flame CD - it is mindblowing. Previous albums by Steve Day were really good too, but the band have topped themselves with this one.  The blending of the music, vocals, poetry really works.  It is a joy to listen to from beginning to end.  Suits my mood too!  Like David Lynch and David Byrne hurled into the twlight zone.  In an ideal world, such a project/record should be number one.  I hope to catch them live someday...... Glad such records are being made.  It is very pleasing and healthy on the mind and heart.

 

 

Zdenek Slaby (His Voice) 2017, Czech Republic (translated from the Czech original)

 

 

This time Blazing Flame is concentrated into a quintet.  Steve Day recorded his latest album in Bristol at the Factory in January 2017, live without overdubs.  Compared to other Blazing Flame albums on Leo Records, Play High Mountain Top (20130 and Murmuration (2016), this current band has evolved into a working unit, with the absence of their famous friends.

 

Looking back at the extended line-up from the 2013 release, only the intense vocalist Steve Day and Anton Henley, the jazz-savvy rock drummer and the singular Peter Evans, with his unique electric violin (formerly with the Bird Architects, currently playing the classical repertoire with the Dorian String Quartet) remain.  They are joined by the welcome presence of the skilful bass player, Julian Dale (a past winner of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival's Young Composers Competition and ex-accompanist to pianists Tim Richards and Raimund Ferndez).  The other fine-tuning presence is tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Mark Langford (a founder of Bristol Music Co-Op and past collaborator with Paul Dunmall, Dominic Lash and Andy Sheppard).  They contribute to an improvising set that any vocalist could rely on.  

 

This time the voice is barely contained within its own vehemency.  Day's voice is exposed, his guests are missing; Julie Tippetts and Keith Tippett corrected Day's vocalizations and in so doing circulated them with the fluidity of their realization.  The songs on this year's album (the liner notes attempt to explain the concept of the themes) are enlightening because these songs belong to no one else.  In the notes he questions whether he is singing at all.  He puts forward the idea that when he 'performs' in response to this imperfect world he is transferring words once confined on paper. He can be praised for his complete individuality or rejected because we haven't got the nerve to take any more.  There are four other fine musicians who make it possible, as well as impossible, to make this album as close to imperfectly perfect.  It may or not be the opposite.   

 

The Set List Shuffle CD starts with the seven minute, swinging Coal Black Buddha, random in its trance projection.  It's a performance that spreads out, offering a series of short solos.  The double bass plays a major role and the sax is liquid vaporisation.  The improvisation works well, and the narcotics of the voice is encircled by divergent moods and sophistication.  I Talk To Genius is so typical Day, full of an underlying anger placated by frivolity, despite the excitement of yelling furiously; the music is chirping around, the voice grows musical tendrils and squirms into discomfort.

 

The introduction to Over The Brow Of The Green Hill brings the violin back together with the bass, the feel is sensational.  This is a challenge for Day, to recite his powerful words above the themes and the band's eloquence; he does so with a harsh intensity.  He controls proceedings not allowing his compatriots to expand, yet always providing them with excitement, giving them things to consider.

 

In Specimen Orchid, it's again built around the bass maintaining stability.  Once again the violin attempts to tear through the fatality.  Day does not change; there is humour there but despair remains.  I cannot begin to explain the words, but the vocalist conducts himself with a certain distinction.  An overall impression of disgust at jet-set opulence, amidst a compulsive clutter of intense music.

 

The King Of The Rain begins with a strong percussion introduction; it is the only particle of daylight because this is just another opportunity for Day to complain - about everything, whether it is the sun or the rain.  Throughout the song his diction and tone of voice maintains the same phrasing.  It is to be acknowledged that the so called 'accompanying' musicians apply the utmost precision.  They are constantly attempting to make the atmosphere more ambitious, bridging a feeling of cursed comfort.  Similarly, and perhaps even more strikingly these musicians understand the vocabulary of the Hollow Kiss, biting, kicking, and rocking against the vocal.  It is as if they are bearing witness to the absurd vagaries of behaviour, ruin and resistance.

 

This idea is continued with their tribute to Nina Simone, she too was renowned for implacability.  There is an evocative saxophone solo and a brilliant violin, both share the expressiveness of the vocal.  Pretty Shore boasts a contemporary feel against Day's critique.  I welcome the voice being 'treated', supported by bass clarinet and punched by drums.

 

Finally there is Loach Song, underpinned once more by insistent drumming.  Harsh agitated excitement underscored by instrumental disciple, the voice a reproof of grieving, craving prosecution, grasping sorrowfulness and an endless fall, fragmented by musical augmentation.  

 

So Day will stay in my memory long after reviewing this album.  At the same time, these songs have their highs and lows, and some of them are indeed brilliant.  I can only repeat how it sounds, there wouldn't be a Blazing Flame without him.  I also admit I am fascinated by his concept.  Maybe he takes on some of the stress of this crazy world.  Like a flame that can burn a guard.

 


Anno (Music Zoom) 2017, Italy (translated from the Italian original)

 

 

 

With this album for Leo Records the continuing adventures of Blazing Flame are guided by singer, poet, percussionist, music critic Steve Day. Completing the quintet are Mark Langford, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Peter Evans on five-string electric violin, Julian Dale on double bass & cello and Anton Henley, drums. Compared to the previous disc this is collective improvised music taking a new leap forward into another dimension. 

 

 

Day's provocative words to Coal Black Buddha are immediately in tune with the saxophonist and violinist.  They in turn are supported by very dynamic rhythms creating original atmospheres outside of what even their most admiring listeners might expect.  Things are initially quieter on I Talk To Genius until at the end of the verses comes a surprise: "Wake up! Plato! Scream and bleed! Help me! Teach me! let me breathe!" shouted out loud, making way for a breathtakingly stunning conversation between bass clarinet and violin.  

 

 

On Over The Brow Of The Green Hill, as well as an astonishing solo by Peter Evans, of particular note are Day's lyrics:  "The flying lovers are drawn to acrylic skies," and "Let no thief steal your lover or the one green hill you knew."  On Specimen Orchid you also listen to Julian Dale's cello respond to the words which assume political connotations: "The rumour is they always voted Labour / Some say socialism saved her / Tends her flowers as if they are the prettiest of people / Who need the right conditions to thrive / We know plants cannot be equal." It's a project that absolutely works, undertaken by real musicians and a poet reciting, singing inspired verses.

 

Genre: Jazz avant-garde


 

Rigobert Dittmann (Bad Alchemy) 2017, Germany (translated from the German original 

 

 

This is what Steve Day sings, 'The Set List Shuffle' (Leo LR 788); live from The Factory in Bristol.  I'd like to quote from his verse.  He hangs out with the 'Coal Black Buddha' in the Church of Charlie Haden; the fire next time, which gives Blazing Flame Quintet its name, is ignited by his brittle yet urgent voice.

 

 

Black lives matter and that's a fact, go tell it on a mountain, James Baldwin's back.  Is this where the genius offers solutions while the Lord pours rain down from heaven? Wake up! Plato! Scream and bleed! Help me Teach me! Let me breathe! ('I Talk To Genius').  Marc and Bella Chagall hovering under a blue moon, fleeing over green hills, escaping from the pograms, the Bolsheviks and the wolves. The Promised Land is a place called home.  But who needs the promise of heaven, the snake-free Garden of Eden already belongs to the rich. They prefer to relax in Zurich bars or the orchid garden, thanks to Labour and Goldman Sachs.  While the rest of us are governed by the 'King Of The Rain' who does not need a salary to drown you.  On the other hand we exchange betrayals and curses that hurt more than a fist punch ('Hollow Kiss').  There are also hands where retribution thunders and flashes: 'Nina Simone' she moan, she moaned throughout the night.  There is no god and the stars too far mean the moon is the only light.  We are present with dodgy figures, ballerinas and pretty boys at the crack contaminated edge of the entertainment industry:  From where I sit you never can tell, if he's high on royals or high on hell.  Finally 'Loach Song' leads to Ken Loach country, a place of blood and love and Daniel Blake.

 

 

The bloody loveliness of the Blazing Flames is once again as electrifying as the electrified violinist Peter Evans; Julian Dale (the double bass gets some space, draws a line through race and hate), Mark Langford (Oh, I believe in the saxophone) and Anton Henley on drums & percussion. Oh, I believe in the Blazing Flames.  

 

 

 

George W. Harris (Jazz Weekly) 2017, USAl 

 

 

The Blazing Flame Quintet comes across as a 21st Centuary Beatnick group, with Steve Day reciting free form poetry for 9 songs with moody support from Peter Evans /electric violin, Mark Langford/tenor sax-bassclarinet, Julian Dale/bass-cello and Anton Henley/drums-percussion.  Otuse grooves and beats support Day's Mark Murphy-style voice as he gives free thinking on "Pretty Shore" and subliminal messages on "Nina Simone".  The team gets cataclysmic during "Specimen Orchid" with moody reeds on "Hollow Kiss".   Hints of the Beat Generation return during "I Talk To Genius" and "Coal Black Buddha" which has the musicians creating (an) elliptical framework for subconscious rhymes and reasons.  Modern Gil Scott-Heron? 

 

 

 

Blazing Flame / Murmuration  Reviews

 

 

Zdenek Slaby (His Voice) 2016, Czech Republic (translated from the Czech original)

 

Not so long long ago I wrote about the debut album High Mountain Top. The second album by this band goes under the title of Murmuation, primarily meaning mumbling or grumbling.... From the start, Off The Coast of Fukushima, is about disasters and special reports from the press, including Chernobyl, Greece, the tsunami etc. This preoccupation with current affairs runs through the comparison of Child And Adult through to the final Ceremony. Steve Day is supported by spontaneous improvisation of the participating musicians in different combinations. The list is: vocalist Julie Tippetts, pianist Keith Tippett, alto saxophonist Aaron Standon, Peter Evans with five string violin, Julian Dale, double bass, cello and singing bowls, Anton Henley, drums and guest fluteist Bill Bartlett; an exceedingly stellar cast, in which they are each able to work completely spontaneously (with words and composition).

 

Steve Day is a professional with all the trimmings, but you can also marvel at his extravagant manner of delivery. This time Julie Tippetts is more independent of Day.  Within Blazing Flame she keeps a certain distance, and duets by calls and responses. Right in the opening tones she is rhythmically flexible working off the drums and bass to produce a long term explosive atmosphere. There is an underlining menace with some of the emotive vocals enhanced by the precision of the instrumentation of sax, piano,.... electric violin, double bass and drums.

 

Some tracks are little over a minute, others are more than eight minutes. This is gripping music with fine bass and drums reacting immediately to the vocal which seem to lead the way. The musicians though are inventive causing the occasional diversion. On the title track the piano plays counter melodies, which compliment the voice. Julie Tippetts pronounces the text with the softness and sensitivity expected from this fine singer using a musical melange of techniques. She has an immediacy, every tone is lived, which is reflected not only by the piano but through the other instrumentation. Day's subsequent vocal 'lament' is accompanied by a marching drum (Edgehill), leading to a blending of vocals before introducing a chaotic musical section. While each instrument is present and does not attempt to dominate, they all contribute to the overall impression of the confusion of battle. The violin and piano are central to bringing resolution. There is a somewhat different sound to Portrait of Dora Maar, using both voices and piano and violin. Day uses spoken word, which is often his favoured approach which is always supported by the other voice. Here we can see how Julie Tippetts imaginatively balances the powerful lyrics of Day; they both fit together as though it is one speech. She is is once again alone on In Darkness, which has the piano accentuating the mood and tone of the theme which moves from timidity to great clarity, every word direct and profound as the thread of the story is explored through the slow poignant melody. Piano and violin follow the voice with sensitive percussion bringing eventual closure.

 

Jay is a new refreshing approach in which the vocals come up against the sax playing within the text, they speak together.... and this idea is present on other songs.... a wicked drums and raucous sax duet introduces (Stone Circle) against a vocal duet unfolding a story from Bethlehem through to Babylon, and the Celts attracting followers to their stone circles. This dialogue of vocal ping pong brings us to the final celebration which is opened by bass and piano. Day begins dramatically while Julie Tippetts brings him in contact with the violin, and the violin floats above the piano.... and then everything is suddenly cut off without a final dot.

 

 You can have your ups and downs and different opinions about this album; on the whole, however, this time out it is an unusual, rich, diverse and fascinating work that will not leave you in peace. And is that not one of the important aspects of all art?

 

Vittorio (Music Zoom) 2016, Italy (translated from the Italian original) 

 

Steve Day is a name known in the field of improvised music as a writer, music critic, percussionist. With Blazing Flame he has put together a strong band that emphasizes his poems with free and composed music. A combination of words and music that leaves no one indifferent; both methodologies perfectly emphasize the words of the English writer and musician. The other participants in the project are Keith Tippett piano, Julie Tippetts on vocals, Aaron Standon on alto sax, Peter Evans using five-string electric violin, Julian Dale on bass & cello and Anton Henley on drums. As a special guest Bill Bartlett is playing flute on four of the twelve songs.

 

Day's lyrics are in the booklet so you can read the words, get busy with a dictionary. Off the Coast of Fukushima that opens the album is there to show us the banality with which news is disseminated by the media, as if it were a futility soundtrack. "There are ponies grazing on the stubble grass of Chernobyl / People watch the whales off the coast of Fukushima" are the verses that open the album. The song closes with "The political gofer is swimming in a ​​red and blue sea of bright shite / Waving our world goodbye as they watch the tsunami ride it." The clear political message is declaimed by Day in a voice reminiscent of some moments of James Chance in the late '70s, along with Julie Tippetts who emphasises the final word of each verse. The band supports in a subtle way and the free alto sax solo of Aaron Standon is devastating.

 

In Jay three jazz standards are remembered, Body and Soul, Night and Day and 'Round Midnight, though not musically. The voices of Day and Tippetts are supported by a rhythmic pulse from the sax and electric violin; the atmosphere is charged with tension, giving an additional depth to the lyrics. Poetry and music come together in a single set, as if this was the work of opera singers. The words and music make for a hard impact which is out of the ordinary.

 

George W. Harris (Jazz Weekly) 2016

 

Always looking for new worlds to conquer, UK based Leo Records delivers…. recent productions to excite and invite.

 

(Blazing) Flame includes the voices of Steve Day and Julie Tippetts along with Keith Tippett/p, Aaron Standon/as, Peter Evans/vi, Julian Dale/b-cel, Anton Henley/dr and guest Bill Bartlett/fl. The vocals show a deep debt to Mark Murphy as both singers are highly flexible in their deliveries as on the hip grooved "Off The Coast of Fukushima" and the free "Child and Adult". Evans' 5 string violin creates some rich yet eerie moods as on "Bed of Straw", while Standon's alto sax shrieks with Tippett's piano on "Portrait of Dora Maar." The see sawing violin of "The Ripple Effect" and clucking reed on "Jay" as well as Day himself, keep(s) you on your toes. Lots of ideas bouncing off the walls, many of them sticking to surfaces.

 

Rigobert Dittmann (Bad Alchemy) 2016 (translated from the German original)

 

Steve Day reveals why they use the name Blazing Flame, "in darkness a flickering candle or maybe the light from a mobile can be a blazing flame." Murmuration (LR765) is a flying formation used by a flock of starlings. Though the word is also used as an indictment, a swarm. Morphing clouds of up to one million birds, there is no German word. Day is a poet who sings poems as he did on Play High Mountain Top (2013) with a handful of friends who interpret them using improvisation.

 

Julie (Driscoll) Tippetts, voice and Keith Tippett, piano, Aaron Standon, alto sax, Peter Evans on electric violin, Julian Dale on bass, cello and singing bowl, Anton Henley, drums and percussion, with Bill Bartlett on flute. They change the cast throughout, from two to eight people. Day sings brittle almost eccentric soft spoken songs about Chernobyl and Fukushima, of fracking and plutonium, Greenland, of perishing in the next Tsunami while political henchmen splash "in a red and blue sea of bright shite." He takes the image of fox hunting for worse; where straw could be a refuge (Bed of Straw). Here Tippetts sings as spiritually as Abby Lincoln. (In Child And Adult) Day doubts that aging makes for wisdom and that a child knows better. Actually Markus Lüppertz takes a converse view, that age provides freedom from the peer pressure of fettered youth. Day's Murmuration has some resemblance to A. Paul Weber's concept of 'rumour'. Tippett's ethereal voice sings to strings: "There are gatherings, we know that/ Murmurings, we know that/ it will not be over/ until the dance is done." Edge Hill reminds me of Tristem Marschtrommelchen, it is about a battle of 1642, a bloody slaughter at the start of the English Civil War. This is followed by a poem about Picasso's Portrait of Dora Maar referencing his painting of Guernica. All the time Day is dealing with alternatives: With the song (In Darkness) he asks Tippett to play day and night as a game of chess with "white (becoming) darker than black". In (Jay) Day sings, "round midnight came the owl/ in the morning came the jay". In (The Ripple Effect) he leaves a man in the sand with "a transparent spear of yellow urine" while a woman pees with "hiss on heated grit/ giving the gift of an oasis." In Picasso's Portrait of Dora Maar, the singer recalls the strong colours and strokes of the painting of Guernica. With Stone Circle he sings "as a druid of today" and references, Jesus, Stonehenge, Celts, of summer and winter solstice, as well as Rastafarians. And yet he does not think much of religion, for all its pomp there is nothing to compare to the sound of the skylark ascending into the air (Ceremony), and if he has to show his colours then he is committed, in Moondog manner to pink. I applaud Day's music for his astonishing imagination and an alchemical flame of kinetic poetry.

 

Ian Maund (Sandy Brown Jazz, What's New) 2016

 

Steve Day is a writer and a poet. His published books include Ornette Coleman: Music Always and Two Full Ears: Listening to Improvised Music. He contributed the chapter Free Jazz to Masters of Jazz Saxophone, edited by Dave Gelly, and he produces liner notes for labels such as Leo, FMP and Splasch. He reviews new albums regularly for this website and is currently writing a book about the Russian jazz group, The Ganelin Trio. Murmuration is also his fourth album and his second with his group Blazing Flame. A busy man.

 

For this album he has, once again, brought together a formidable group of jazz improvisers including the internationally respected Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts, the outstanding saxophonist Aaron Standon and violinist Peter Evans, and on some tracks the flute of Bill Bartlett. Julian Dale and Anton Henley provide their completely empathetic contributions to the work and I particularly like the way Julian Dale's bass has been used and balanced in the mixing.

 

If you search for 'Blazing Flame' and 'Murmuration' you will probably find it categorised under the 'Avant Garde' label, whatever that might mean these days. One thing is certain, it should not be labelled 'Easy Listening', the work requires your attention. The music is improvised around Steve Day's poetry. Thankfully the words are provided with the album and you will need to read and think about them to grasp their meaning. Steve delivers the words in a spoken / sung voice that you might find an acquired taste. In the past, his voice has been likened to that of Tom Waites, but as the album progresses you recognise its distinctiveness and it works well in conjunction with the gifted voice of Julie Tippetts. The title track plus Bed Of Straw at track 2 and In Darkness at track 7 are sung by Julie Tippetts.

 

The album opens with Off The Coast of Fukishima. Steve Day appropriately describes Keith Tippett's piano break after the first verse as being 'like a sudden thunder storm and it hangs there rumbling as if time has stood still.' Aaron Standon's saxophone interacts nicely with Keith Tippett's piano and Julian Dale's bass goes on to pair effectively with Peter Evans's violin.

 

Bed Of Straw is a short track that has Julie Tippetts's great voice weaving its way above the violin. As Steve Day says: 'Julie sang Bed Of Straw in one take .. It certainly doesn't have anything like a 'blues' form though the effect is the same. Julie brings her own power to the song, which is about the fragility of safety ... it is just Julie creating a moment of sorrow, the strings weep with her'. Child And Adult at track 3 has Steve and Julie above bass and drums telling of the streetwise child - 'Age is never an excuse, it is merely a milestone. Sometimes the wisdom of children dissipates as people grow older'.

 

Murmuration, the title track, is based on the word given to the swarming of starlings above the Somerset levels. It opens with an interaction between piano, bass and violin that I find completely effective in describing the gathering and swooping of these birds and when Julie Tippetts' voice enters it too floats and soars until the piano, bass and violin again gently close the piece. Edgehill, the first battle of the 1642 English Revolution in which it is believed 1,500 people were killed, is a reflection on the horror of that battle with marching drums under Steve's words and Bill Bartlett's flute. The track progresses to descriptive mêlée of 'free' improvisation but in which each musician seems 'in tune' with each other.

 

Portrait Of Dora Maar is a reflection on the portrait of the photographer painted often by Picasso. Steve and Julie's voices trade lines and Aaron Standon paints in saxophone colours. In Darkness begins quietly with Julie Tippetts's voice above the bass and with Keith Tippett's piano making statements, and Peter Evans's violin weaves its way into the closing bars. Aaron Standon's alto flies into Jay at track 8 with Steve and Julie staccatoing the lyrics with drum, piano and violin: 'A jay keeps clear of magpies, squawking and making such a fuss ....A 'J' stands for jazz, Body and Soul, Night and Day, Round Midnight came the owl, in the morning came the jay.'

 

The Ripple Effect begins with ripples and with violin and bass introducing Steve's poem. Stone Circle is another take on a previously recorded track and it opens with a nice alto solo above percussion and Steve and Julie's voices tell of stone circles, druids, solstice, equinox and the passage of time until they hand back the track to saxophone, violin, bass and percussion. Now Put On The Pink is a brief, unaccompanied piece for two voices, an affirmation towards the LGBT community, whilst the final track, Ceremony, has an atmospheric, satisfying closure to the album from piano and violin.

 

Vittorio, reviewing the album for the Italian Music Zoom says: 'Poetry and music come together in a single set ... The words and music make for a hard impact which is out of the ordinary ... The atmosphere is charged with tension, giving an additional depth to the lyrics.'

 

Considering how rarely the Blazing Flame musicians come together, I think that Murmuration shows a natural affinity between them. On this album the group has achieved a compatibility between words and music, between the musicians themselves, and through the mixing that makes the album well worth spending time with.

 

Marcus O'Dair, Jazzwise, August 2016 ***

 

To listen to Murmuration is at first to feel as though you've stumbled into a fringe theatrical performance, so dramatic is the vocal delivery of Steve Day in particular. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is, of course a matter of taste; what is not in question is his distinctiveness as a recording artist. If there are moments that are reminiscent of fringe theatre, there are others when he comes across as a hitherto unimagined fusion of Tom Waits or Vic Reeves doing his club singer routine. That sounds absurd but somehow, it isn't. As the album unfolds, the accompanying musicians, together with Day's co-vocalist Julie Tippetts, glide into the foreground, their entirely improvised contributions sparked by Day's prepared poems. Tippetts is a standout presence, as is her husband Keith on piano; Peter Evans on five-string electric violin is on startling form too. An album, to borrow from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, that constantly risks absurdity. It's worth it.