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Around the Sun

Audio-b ABCD 5018 [55:46]




Cows (Alcyona) [7:35] *
Monkey (Alcyona) [4:30] **
Improv 1 – Black Notes, White Notes (Alcyona) [3:32]
Marigold (Alcyona) [6:54] **
Changing Times (Alcyona) [6:23] *
Outside (Alcyona) [10:40] *, 1
Improv 2 – Discussion (Alcyona) [3:14]
The Charioteer (Alcyona) [11:30] *
Close (Alcyona) [1:17]
Alcyona (piano)
Robbie Robson (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Mark Hanslip (tenor)
Phil Donkin (bass)
Asaf Sirkis (drums) *
John Blease (drums) **
Olivia Chaney (vocal) 1
rec. 23-24 June, 2004, Royal Academy of Music, London

Alcyona – she seems to have dropped her surname of Mick – is a British pianist and composer in her twenties. This is her debut album, but since it was recorded the best part of three years ago, it shouldn’t be taken as necessarily accurate image of her present musical whereabouts.

The music on Around the Sun might reasonably be described as an updated reading of Blue Note hardbop-and-beyond of the 1960s. That is the musical language which provides the core around which other, later and more personal, elements are woven.

‘Monkey’ is a wittily titled acknowledgement of Thelonious Monk, and it begins with a glorious pastiche of Monk’s piano style; Robbie Robson, prompted by some wonderfully Monkish accompaniment from Alcyona, explores the language quite delightfully, his muted trumpet, almost Cootie-Williams-like at times, offering reminders of Monk’s affinities with Duke Ellington’s piano style. This, in short, is the music of a group – and especially a leader – thoroughly at home in the jazz tradition, able to move with affectionate ease amongst the inherited tropes of the music, wittily shuffling the pieces and the gestures and adding materials of her/their own. The solo piano piece ‘Improv 1 – Black Notes, White Notes’ suggests that she has also listened to Lennie Tristano and Paul Bley, her persistent reiteration of keyboard figurations effecting a striking exploration of musical possibilities. In the second of her unaccompanied improvisations, Improv 2 – Discussion, there are moments which sound like a Monkean take on Bach! Another presence hovering over the album is that of Wayne Shorter, both in the emotional shaping of some of her compositions (such as ‘Outside’) and in Mark Hanslip’s tenor work. ‘Changing Times’ shows Alcyona’s music reaching forward into newer territory – the Blue Note of Andrew Hill, as it were – but without ever ceasing to be accessible.

Out of these influences – and the presence of such influences need come as no surprise in the music of a musician still relatively near the beginning of her professional career – Alcyona has created a music for which no one of those influences can take full responsibility. She is not, emphatically, one of those many young musicians readily identifiable as a clone (or would-be clone) of some established master. There’s plenty of air in the music, her silences – like those of both Monk and Shorter – are as telling as the notes she plays; it is harmonically sophisticated music, capable both of great gentleness and a certain aggressivity.

Alcyona is very well served by a group of accomplished and sympathetic musicians. Hanslip’s is a sinuous, oblique voice on tenor, lingering behind and sliding across the beat; Robson’s work on trumpet and flugelhorn is inventive and tonally various. The two horns have some lovely unison passages which have about them a slightly roughed-up elegance which is very engaging. The rhythm section, in which Phil Donkin is a stable but alert and responsive presence throughout and to which both drummers make valuable and thoughtful contributions, is impressive throughout, precise and yet supple.

A fine album – it would be wrong to call it promising (though it certainly is), because the level of achievement is already considerable.

Glyn Pursglove


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