Ron Caines / Martin Archer Axis
Port Of Saints
Discus 128CD
Available formats: CD/DL


“Imagine the AACM contingent crossing paths with Keith Tippett’s Centipede, injected with a healthy dose of contemporary electronic sound design, and you’ll get some feel for the diverse breadth of Axis’s multi-dimensional constructs.” – Darren Bergstein, DMG NYC

“Such a beautiful and uplifting record, filled with hope.” – comment from a Discus customer


Port Of Saints is the third collaboration between Archer and Caines – all compositions by Caines with arrangements and production by Archer. This time around the 14 pieces have been edited into three long suites, and a careful listener will hear thematic links running all the way through the album. Caines takes centre stage throughout with the other musicians carefully arranged to provide a shifting and sometimes almost orchestral setting. Breaking with the group’s tradition, whereas previous albums have featured Laura Cole’s piano, this time round chordal parts from Chris Sharkey (guitar) and and Corey Mwamba (vibes) are edgier and darker. Electronics have always been a feature of the group – on Port Of Saints Martin, Chris and Corey all use electronics to extend their sounds, alongside Hervé’s radical post production interventions. We’re delighted to welcome Byron Wallen as featured soloist on this record, and Graham Clark returns on violin for some telling interventions. Johnny Hunter underpins the group with detailed work on drums, which Gus Garside’s darkly atmospheric bass provides a considered commentary. Very much not a blowing band and more an electroacoustic suite…..

Cast in order of appearance:

Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones, kalimba & small percussion
Johnny Hunter – drums
Gus Garside – bass
Martin Archer – baritone & ensemble saxophones,
organ, Rhodes, electronics
Hervé Perez – soundscapes, processing, electronics
Chris Sharkey – guitar & electronics
Byron Wallen – trumpet
Graham Clark – violin
Ben Higham – tuba
Corey Mwamba – vibraphone & electronics

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The third collaboration between Caines and Archer under their Axis moniker is quite the corker. Archer’s Discus imprint continues to push the envelope in ways that defy easy analysis, where categorical boundary lines cease to exist, and one simply surrenders to each release’s idiosyncratic nature. This latest is no exception. Caines’s tenure in 70s prog rock eccentrics East of Eden belie a curiously awry take on jazz idioms as pressed through numerous British psychedelic filters, and, alongside the guidance of Archer and their illustrious bandmates, his more avantist impulses are given the freedom to spread its wings and soar. The duo are joined by the enigmatic vibist and electronics manipulator Corey Mwamba, frequent partner Herve Perez, whose sonic alchemy and warped aural processing knows no equal, drummer Johnny Hunter, trumpeter Byron Wallen, bassist Gus Garside, guitarist Chris Sharkey, Graham Clark on violin, and tuba player Ben Higham, all of whose contributions bring formidable flavors to the tonal spectrum that blossoms across three lengthy suites. Imagine the AACM contingent crossing paths with Keith Tippett’s Centipede, injected with a healthy dose of contemporary electronic sound design, and you’ll get some feel for the diverse breadth of Axis’s multi-dimensional constructs. Initially, it’s obvious that Caines’s and Archer’s sax volleys are leading the charge, their probing voices waxing Lester Bowie funereal procession one moment, warping Dadaist blues the next, and tumbling down some thorny rabbit holes thereafter. Accompanying these constantly shifting loci are any of a dozen glorious accents telling their own wondrous stories: Mwamba’s vibes roughly halfway through “Suite 2” erupting in acidic drizzles, spackling the terrain; Sharkey’s diamond-sharp guitar interlocutions; Hunter’s percussive walkabout suggesting ever-evolving landscapes as they underscore the indiscriminate digital splashes and scree posited by…Perez? Archer? It’s unclear in that regard who’s responsible for what, but the inexplicable nature of the resultant cascade of sounds never deters from its sleight of hand. The future of ‘big band’ is right here, folks, rendered in superb high definition via the praxis of Axis. – Darren Bergstein, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

Such a beautiful and uplifting record, filled with hope. – Comment from a Discus customer

Never judge a book by its cover, okay but before ever I caught audio of Port Of Saints I spent eye-time on the Susan Caines cover, Petite Afrique, a painted wonder-boat seeping surf in darkness. The whole artwork is a torrent of silent sea. There’s also a monochrome of Ron Caines surrounded by recording mics. He’s poised over a curved soprano nurturing a score on its stand; sound comes through the picture, the eyes hear it. Port Of Saints is a perfect pitch in the depth of oceans. Three suites, the first with six movements, the second and third with four movements each; throughout all fourteen pieces it’s Ron Caines’ three horns that lead the line. I’m not going to trot out all my Ron Caines knowledge. There was a time in my life when he lived in Bristol and I used to regularly catch his gigs. That was then, this is now. He’s made a trio of recordings for Discus, Port Of Saints is number three and though the previous two were cut diamonds, Saints is the boundary breaker; in large part down to the improv-orchestrated arrangements of the Martin Archer Axis. Composure in compositions emanates from Caines, cradled in the woven storytelling of Chris Sharkey (guitar), Corey Mwamba (vibraphone), Bryon Wallen (trumpet), all spun on electronic post-production. It sounds as if it feeds on tidal currents of musical wave power. Caines-music maps neo-impressionism just like the cover-art. A painting of a boat but equally it could be something else. And the music too is ephemeral yet at the same time extremely specific. One of the pieces is named after Philip Guston. The work of the Canadian painter contains cornered brilliance, reflected in the visual art of The Caines Couple – this short audio dedication on Port Of Saints cuts it close too. Another very ‘specific’ impression is the penultimate track on the third suite, Endgame – a full-on mesh of pumping air with overdubbed electrics. The final four minutes is the intense Note Chain; Ron Caines summing up everything that has gone before in a stir pool of audio equality. Take me to this sea Port Of Saints and listen to the wealth of currency in the water. Thank you guys. – Steve Day, March 2022

The latest by the collaborative project of Brighton-based saxophonist Caines, and Sheffield multi-instrumentalist and Discus label boss Archer, extends the methodology of their previous two albums. Caines concise, Ornette-ish melodic sketches form an authoritative nucleus, performed with a relaxed, unshowy sense of freedom by a core unit including bassist Gus Garside and drummer Johnny Hunter. Archer not only arranges these somewhat introspective doodles but also edits, mixes and sequences them, stringing together short individual pieces to build larger, more expansive suites. There’s an impressive range of moods on display, among which fans of Archer’s hefty back catalogue will recognise some of his key obsessions: vibes, violin and scattered percussion suggest a date recorded for the AACM: gnarled electric guitar and punchy horns nod tot he jazz rock of late-1960s bands such as Colosseum or even Caines’ old outfit East Of Eden. At the same time, the generous application of electronic effects suggests richly imagined sonic universes – from sub-aquatic depths to avian, tree-top twittering. But, no matter how far the session roams, Caines’ quietly determined lyricism provides a cohering central voice. Simple yet arresting themes tumble from his horn in a generous stream of invention, seemingly oblivious to the chaos around him. – Daniel Spicer, JAZZWISE

Ron Caines and Martin Archer reconvene here for their third Axis album, two years on from Dream Feathers and with a cast of collaborators that includes familiar faces and some new to the adventure, but all willing to lend their personal stamp to Ron’s suite of undulating shoreline visions. Spilt into three distinct suites, that sweet sax sound of his is ever present throughout Port Of Saints, but the support of the ensemble has the perfect weight, always supportive, sometimes forceful but never overwhelming. The album opens with the sax unfurling like smoke from the speakers, writhing and twisting in the wind as Johnny Hunter‘s drums tumble and shiver like the waves in Susan Caines‘ lovely cover art. Gus Garside‘s bass picks out the foreshore, a steadying influence on the ever-dancing sax. There is a muted quality as the pieces progress, a sense of restraint that acts as a kind of shelter for the listener. Ron’s reveries are measured and dreamy, and unfold with a keening sweetness that soothes and hints at protection. Although there are ten players listed on the cast list, it is a shared and delicate series of arrangements and while written by and centred around Ron, his playing is so generous in the space left for the others to entwine. Chris Sharkey‘s guitar is fine and painterly, and as the opening suite progresses, so a groove of sorts is attained and the sense of the players drawn into its wake with Ben Higham‘s tuba lending a faint sense of urgency; a drawing together giving more of an ensemble feel that lies somewhere between drifting jazz and minimalist orchestra on the final section. There is a lovely duet between Martin and Ron that highlights their different approaches, and the squalls of seabirds and the search for textures are ever satisfying. This is music of detail and the interstitial subtleties are a delight to spot. The addition of Corey Mwamba‘s vibes on the second suite lends that magical feel that only they can to an already charming sound. The sense of distance form the everyday is reinforced when all else drops away and Ron weaves a spell that entrances the rhythm section and gradually draws them back in. Their gentle insistence pushes him a little further out as things progress, and a brief storm flash of vibes and drums shakes things up into a stately march that winks to New Orleans with its ruffling snare but continues to paint its own unique soundscape like the impressionistic washes of the cover art. The listener constantly marvels at Ron’s lightness of touch and the generous support of the ensemble who splash the odd repeated motif into the mix like sonic landmarks seen through the sea mist. Each suite feels as though it starts from a slightly different perspective of a particular place, and the final one builds ghostly passages that have a touch more deliberation and obfuscating interventions. A sense of underwater adventure pervades and the longform “Oceania” is replete with sonar and the distant cry of whales. it is shrouded in blue, that sense of ocean floor disturbance that renders things opaque and indistinct. There are few more surprises here including and electronics, drum and tuba workout that feels as though something is being dragged unwillingly from the depths, while the violin, guitar and birdsong outro finds the clouds parting, the sea settling and calm reigning once again. Port Of Saints is a real pleasure of an adventure and one from which really demands repeated plays as the listener searches for the little details that tie this group of players together. Everyone is on good form and the production from Martin and Hervé Perez is top notch. It pleases and surprises that Julian Tardo from Insides is also involved; but then this album is all about the willing the listener to ignore expectations and give up to the gravitational pull. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ Https://

Caines has always been a great map reader (“Mercator Projected”) to explore the surreal corners of the Northern Hemisphere. With Archer & Axis, he has already triangulated the painterly and mythical with his own past in “Les Oiseaux De Matisse” (2018) and “Dream Feathers” (2020), which he had previously extended into an idiosyncratic present in Brighton as a painter in the postmodernist waters of de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi and Matisse and in playing with Keith Tippett, Evan Parker and the Brighton Musicians Collective. With the streamlined reeds, the feeling, the colorful refinements and the incessantly morphing flow, Axis paints a dream of the wind and the ocean currents with a psychedelic brush. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Musical careers can take very different routes, like Ron Caines, who played in prog rock band East of Eden at the end of the 60s(!) on the first two influential albums of this band from Bristol. Subsequently, he was active in the local improv scene for many years and performed with Steve Lacy, Keith Tippett’s Ark, a.o. In 1995 he stopped and concentrated on painting. Since 2008 however, he is again active as a musician. Around 2018 when he was already in his 70s, Caines started working with Martin Archer as Axis, resulting in the albums ‘Les Oiseaux De Matisse album art’(2018) and ‘Dream Feathers’ (2020). A fruitful collaboration that now is marked by the third album with compositions by Caines and performed by: Hervé Perez (soundscapes, processing, electronics), Chris Sharkey (guitar, electronics), Byron Wallen (trumpet), Graham Clark (violin), Ben Higham (tuba), Corey Mwamba (vibraphone, electronics), Johnny Hunter (drums), Gus Garside (bass), Ron Caines (soprano, alto & tenor saxophones) and Martin Archer (baritone & Ensemble Saxophones, Organ, Rhodes, Electronics). A more extended lineup as on the first two recordings with Sharkey, Wallen, Higham and Mwamba as new participators. They perform 14 tracks that are grouped in three suites. All three of them are organic and meandering unities that came into being by intensive editing and processing by Perez. Besides Perez, Sharkey, Archer and Mwamba add electronic textures to the acoustic interplay. The suites work as open and spatial excursions with a focus and sense of direction. The music is built from ledoci material, has a slightly psychedelic touch and continues in a friendly multi-coloured flow. – Dolf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY

With “Port Of Saints” Ron Caines (a long time ago at East Of Eden) and Martin Archer, the duo Axis, present their third album, again at Discus Music from Sheffield. A sweeping, three-part suite can be found on the well-filled album, which moves stylistically in similar paths to its direct predecessor (see “Dream Feathers”) and therefore offers a virtuoso mixture in the border area of jazz, free rock, retro Canterbury, free sound tinkering and electronics. The material was again composed by Caines, whose saxophones (soprano, alto and tenor) are also the tonal focus of the pieces. The whole thing was then arranged, enriched and prepared by Martin Archer, taking into account the various contributions of the other musicians. The ensemble has been slightly changed and expanded, which has led to a slightly different tonal composition. Thus, “Port Of Saints” is probably the most sonorous and expansive work by Axis to date. Jazzy and big-band-like conglomerates sound here, interwoven and supplemented by all sorts of electronic webs, which usually waft around in the background, but sometimes also work their way forward hissing, echoing, chirping and wheezing. A few nature sounds (water noise e.B.) can also be seen from time to time. Quite a lot of percussion can also be heard, especially the bell-like reverberating, sometimes electronically alienated sounds of Corey Mwamba. The electric guitar sometimes provides rock yelling, while the violin and horns sometimes move in the direction of chamber music. Rarely does the music roar up edgy, there are oblique outbursts and angular noise. Actually, I can freely repeat my conclusion to the predecessor here: “Port Of Saints” is a nice album for the jazz-savvy Avantprog or Canterbury adept, who has no aversions to electronic contamination. Produced in a very voluminous and detailed manner, the disc opens up new facets of sound with every listening run. – Achim Breiling, Babyblaue Seiten

Port of Saints is the third collaboration between saxophonists Ron Caines and Martin Archer and the Axis ensemble. Caines is in the spotlight most of the time whilst the environment transforms around him: densely-textured ensembles jostle evocations of blues, New Orleans processions (with richly-coloured harmonies from the reeds and brass) and a touch of calypso, and fugitive snatches of melody rise to the surface: one phrase seems to evoke a ghostly visitation from Richard Rodgers’s “If I Loved You.” Mostly, though, it’s free and fairly abstract (including some splendidly ferocious baritone sax) building to an intense climax with “Endgame”. – Barry Witherndon, BBC MUSIC

Quanto alla classifica del mio personale gradimento, che comunque conta relativamente, l’album si colloca in mezzo rispetto al primo lavoro del trio ‘Les Oiseaux de Matisse’ (2019), che mi aveva entusiasmato, e al secondo, ‘Dream Feather’ (2020) che, invece, mi aveva deluso. Al progetto, oltre a Ron Caines (sassofoni e composizioni) e Martin Archer (sassofoni, organo, piano rhodes, elettronica), hanno collaborato Johnny Hunter alla batteria, Hervé Perez all’elettronica e agli effetti e Chris Sharkey (chitarra ed elettronica), Byron Wallen (tromba), Graham Clark (violino), Ben Higham (basso tuba), Corey Mwamba (vibrafono ed elettronica), Gus Garside (basso): insomma gran parte della scuderia della Discus; ma non Laura Cole, i cui accordi al piano qui sono funzionalmente sostituiti dalla chitarra e dal vibrafono. I 14 brani sono articolati in 3 suites che si richiamano l’una con l’altra con significative riapparizioni di materiali nel corso di tutto l’album. Il genere è il jazz d’avanguardia cui ci ha abituati in questi anni la Discus, e soprattutto il prolifico Martin Archer, che qui collabora in particolare agli arrangiamenti. Se i sassofoni, e in generale i fiati, sono spesso in primo piamo, gli interventi del vibrafono, dell’elettronica, del violino, della chitarra non sono insignificanti. Disco d’atmosfera, piuttosto che piattaforma per l’alternarsi di assoli, propone la tipica successione di riff melodici scanditi e ripetuti – dando a volte l’impressione di citare momenti topici di famosi standard jazz (come in Anubis, che mi riporta alla mente Round Midnight e anche qualche altro classicone) e momenti più magmatici. Una prova più che discreta. – Alessandro Bertinetto, KATHODIK

With all the genuine excitement of our hearts, we present here the album “Port Of Saints”, the third work created by the ensemble grouped under the name of RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS, the same one that was published at the beginning of March 2022 through the Discus Records label. The name itself designates that it is an ensemble with double leadership, that of Caines [soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, kalimba and percussions] and Archer [baritone and alto saxophones, organ, electric piano and electronic effects]; the other members of the ensemble on this album are Johnny Hunter [drums], Gus Garside [double bass], Hervé Perez [field recordings, electronic effects and sound processing], Chris Sharkey [guitar and electronic effects], Byron Wallen [trumpet], Graham Clarke [violin], Ben Higham [tuba] and Corey Mwamba [vibraphone and electronic effects]. The name of Martin Archer is very important within the British musical avant-garde of the new millennium, being himself the head of the Discus Music label, obviously, the same one that has produced the album that we are now reviewing. But it is that the name of Ron Caines also sounds to us, what happens is that we have to extend our memory to the first two albums of that band that was EAST OF EDEN, pioneer of the psychedelic movement and jazz-rock eclecticism within the British underground of the late 60s and early 70s. Of course, he continued with his musical career within the jazz avant-garde over the decades and it was practically inevitable that his path would cross with that of maestro Caines. “Port Of Saints” is, as we said above, the third album of this project and its repertoire consists of the homonymous suite in three parts, one of 28 minutes, another of almost 19 minutes and the last of 27 1/2 minutes. Caines took charge of all the compositions, while Archer assumed the reins of the arrangements and arrangements of the same. The recording sessions took place in various sessions that took place at Church Studio and Discus Music Studio in the years 2020 and 2021. Well, let’s now go to the details of the repertoire of “Port Of Saints”. ‘Port Of Saints Suite Part 1’, whose sections are individually titled ‘Franz Kline’, ‘Spanish Opening’, ‘Petite Afrique’, ‘Elegy’, ‘Port Of Saints’ and ‘Calypso Roto’, exposes by itself most of the musical approaches to be developed and settled throughout the album. It all starts with some saxophone and drum free effluviums that handle the deconstructive tension with enough refinement not to be frontally shocking. In any case, it becomes clear in the course of the first minutes that there is a growing vitality to be established with urgent immediacy, reaching a passage where the double bass briefly assumes the leading role. Shortly past the fifth-minute border, the drums stop for the saxophone to delineate new flourishes through cybernetic scraps that float with a mysterious halo. The new groove that is assembled from there offers more warmth without giving an iota of the deconstructive logic that prevails throughout the instrumental interactions. The third section delves into a solid and evocative tangle of evocative lines of different winds while the rhythmic duo creates a ceremoniously languid framework: it is time for the expansion of a twilight atmosphere that, in some way, rescues the legacy of cool jazz with an increased avant-garde mood. The enveloping beauty of this passage serves as a hotbed for both the elaboration of an endearingly melancholic lyricism and the subsequent emergence of an agile exercise of colorful fusionic vibrations: the first of these resources is the nuclear center of the fourth section while the second promotes the gently extroverted spirituality of the fifth. The last section feeds reliably on this display of extroverted vibrations to raise them to greater levels of sophistication and exuberance. The sequence of these last three sections is based on a glorious confluence between the paradigms of SUN RA, NUCLEUS and the early years of WEATHER REPORT. Great and electrifying start of the album, a powerful marathon of varied avant-jazz resources. Part 2 of the Suite contains the sections called ‘Philip Guston’, ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Dada Blues’ and ‘Anubis’, and Part 3 does the same with its content of ‘Flims’, ‘Oceania’, ‘End Game’ and ‘Note Chain’. ‘Port Of Saints Suite Part 2’ begins directly with a network of winds, drums, double bass and tonal percussion that initially concentrates on a warm extravagance and then turns towards a mysterious setting that is deeply inserted into the tradition of free jazz. Thus, a potential for postmodernist dynamism opens up that does not take long to sprout throughout this leafy and ambitious sonic garden. There is a passage where the vibraphone elaborates a penetrating solo that not only serves to drive an extra color within the global instrumentation, but also serves to exorcise a new moment of sharp tangles between the various winds. The third section is articulated around a serene landscape marked by a latent grandiloquence. In this way, the bridge to the last section is reinforced, whose central focus is installed in a new exercise of free forms where individual improvisations fit perfectly within the persistent musical dialogue. You can see the energy that operates and the musicians are responsible for channeling it with impeccable discipline. ‘Port Of Saints Suite Part 3’ has certain affinities with Part 1 in terms of the elaboration of the initial dialoguing sonorities, with a low profile and an open attitude of deconstructive subtlety, but very quickly a climate of shared liveliness is created. From there, the ground is prepared so that at some point a place begins to take shape for calculated shaking on the part of the instruments based on a lively convergence; this is very closely related to what was given to us in the more intense dialogues that were included in Part 2. For a few minutes, the drums hide to let the network of winds, guitar and vibraphone enter an ethereal area surrounded by a dense solipsistic mantle, but when it returns, it puts itself at the forefront of community action and directs a new way for luminous joviality. There is a graceful encounter between the vibrant roughness of avant-jazz and the vivid color of jazz-fusion under a postmodernist guidance that also leaves some spaces for the insertion of some cybernetic effects. The excitement grows and grows until everything ends up becoming a chaotic trope where all the acting instruments share a mischievous complicity… that’s the only thing they share. The epilogue turns drastically towards a serene place, soberly complex, but, above all, playing with dreamy climates. The right ending for the last part of the album. “Port Of Saints” is a true jewel of contemporary avant-jazz whose bizarre eclecticism makes it shine with infinite brilliance. The people of RON CAINES / MARTIN ARCHER AXIS have shown off with this new phonographic work that convincingly asserts that there are still many areas to explore within contemporary jazz experimentation: this adventurous journey has reached the mainland with convincing energy. – Cesar Inca Mendoza, AUTOPOETICIAN

On Board the Solar Barque – Impressive jazz suite from veteran player Ron Caines with Martin Archer Axis. – Port Of Saints (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 128CD) has been a labour-intensive construction and editing job from compositions by Caines and what seems to have been some marathon recording sessions, arranged into three related suites on the album. There are musical themes stated and restated throughout this musical travelogue, which takes in locations such as ‘Petite Afrique’ and ‘Oceanania’ with detours into Ancient Egypt, a mythological maze, and the paintings of Franz Kline and Philip Guston. Archer did all the arrangements and production for this ambitious work, besides playing saxophones, organ, and Rhodes electric piano, and the Axis group comprises familiar names from the Discus roster such as Gus Garside, Chris Sharkey, Corey Mwamba, and Johnny Hunter. The spotlight also falls (occasionally) on guest trumpeter Byron Wallen, violinist Graham Clark, and Ben Higham on tuba. The use of electronics has been extensive; both guitar and vibraphones have been subjected to live electronic treatments, plus there’s the soundscaping work of Herve Perez – who also provided post-production tweaks. These soundscapes are subtle, but act as ante-rooms or bridges between the various imaginary spaces which freely flow from the imagination of Ron Caines. The saxophones of Caines remain the centre of musical attention, but it’s admirable the way this ensemble and their contributions have been seamlessly integrated into this elaborate tapestry of music, providing subtle counterpoints and layers to what is already very busy and lively music. There is much content to reward the inquisitive listener; at times you can feel two or more opposing currents, pulling in different directions like the tides or buffets of wind. Small wonder that Archer and Co proudly regard this record as “an electroacoustic suite” and not just another jazz album, and although Teo Macero is not explicitly name-checked, one would like to think Port Of Saints has been constructed in the same spirit of Macero’s unique way of “painting” on the recording tape. From 1st March 2022. – Ed Pinsent, SOUND PROJECTOR

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