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Stephen PLEWS (b.1961)
Extracts From Infinity:

God’s Mates Revisited
Industrial Language
Theme – Highland Clearance
Lament For Synesios
King’s Casualties
Five Études
On The Street Where You Died (In Memoriam)
Mourning The Death Of An Illusion Parts 1 & 4
Interrogation – A Quick Sketch
March Of Disorder/Inner Migration
Echoe’s Bones

Robert Bellatalla (double bass); Bill Eyden (drums); Mike Walker (guitar); Steve Berry (double bass); Iain Dixon (bass clarinet); Jeff Clyne (double bass); Trevor Tomkins (drums); Peter Fairclough (drums); Duncan MacKay (trumpet); Roger Heaton (clarinet); Stephen Pruslin (piano); Stuart Death (piano); Andrew Long (violin); Ed Jones (saxophone); Phil Clarke (drums); David Jones (piano); Stephen Plews (piano and keyboards)
No recording information. DDD
CAMPION CAMEO 2029 [64'20]

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Stephen Plews is a musical polymath.. A classically trained pianist, he is a jazz composer and player as well as composing in the ‘classical’ world. He is also a champion of new music, having set up his own studio and record label ASC Records though he has now returned to performance and composition.

This CD has examples of Plews in out-and-out jazz form but more of the music is contemporary classical with jazz inflections of various kinds. If you are not a lover of jazz, don’t be put off. That also applies to those normally allergic to keyboards, which includes me. Their use here as serious instruments contributing to the impact of the music is entirely convincing and I had no problem with them at all.

"God’s Mates Revisited" is a straightforward, highly enjoyable jazz trio piece of boppish virtuosity. The titles of jazz numbers rarely mean anything to me and the information in the notes that this is the original trio version of "God’s Mates", is no more helpful than usual (the wrong way round, in fact). Essentially, the same applies to "On The Street Where You Died"; its melancholic and wistful nature might suggest the title but equally could refer to, say, a failed love affair. It’s a good talking point, just how much do we need titles or to know about what extra-musical thinking lies behind a composition? Of "King’s Casualties", Stephen Plews says that it is ‘about all the anonymous dead soldiers that there have been’. A big subject and one can’t argue with the sincerity of the motivation but, although undeniably a fairly desolate sounding piece, in what sense is this ‘about’ the dead soldiers?

Even though the musical styles employed are very different, a generally somewhat bleak atmosphere pervades the whole CD. The most obvious examples include "Industrial Language", a tough piece for violin and piano - a moto perpetuo with stabbing accents in the violin creating a harsh, bleak effect. In spite of the completely different instrumentation involving keyboards and jazz-based style, "Theme – Highland Clearance" also manages to sound bleak. Unusually, I enjoyed the repetitive figures of the second half of the piece although it reminded me of constant traffic on a busy road rather than an empty Highland landscape! That underrated instrument, the bass clarinet, has a prominent role as it does in "Echoe’s Bones", an improvisatory meditation on poems by Samuel Beckett.

Stephen Plews is obviously a skilful pianist but entrusts his Five Études for piano to David Jones. In spite of the warnings in the notes about the minimalist nature of Plews’ jazz piano studies, I enjoyed them immensely when I found they were not in the Terry Riley mode; far more interesting and preferable to Czerny any day!

The fusion of contemporary classical styles and jazz is very successful in "Lament for Synesios", samples of choral music adding an unexpected dimension. "Evolution" sums up the feeling of the record in its amalgam of jazz riffs and classical motor rhythms under a discursive saxophone solo. I will ponder on the claim in the notes that "the ensemble succeeds in depicting the punctuated equilibrium of evolution."

The combination of superficially diverse styles unified by a consistent feeling provides interesting listening and I would recommend this CD to the musically adventurous.

Roger Blackburn


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