uroboro
a story like fire
Discus 163CD
(2023)
Available formats: 2xCD/DL

 

“A superb album from beginning to end.” – Peter Thelen, Exposé

“Quietly enchanting, never getting too free or intense or else the well crafted mood would be broken.” – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

Andy Champion – bass on tracks 9 – 16 & 18
Laura Cole – piano & keyboard
Anton Hunter – guitar & electronics
Johnny Hunter – drums
Keith Jafrate – saxophones & spoken word
John Pope – bass & electronics on tracks 1 – 8, 17 & 19 – 21

Recorded August 24th & 25th 2022 at The Old Post Office Depot, Todmorden and 15th September 2022 in performance at The Mill, Walsden.

All compositions by Keith Jafrate
Unlaced arranged by Laura Cole

Recording engineered & mastered by Jimmy Green
Serpents & dragons by Luca Jafrate

For their first release, Uroboro play nakedly romantic, passionate music which can also travel strange and disturbing territories. Keith Jafrate’s compositions are designed to be completed through improvisation, so in a way they are never finished. But they are far from random, creating focused, narrative music that is lyrical, beautiful and fierce, passing through a range of moods, from balladry to abstraction, via sinuous, funky rhythms and outstanding solo work.

Uroboro is Italian for ouroborous, the symbol of the serpent eating its own tail. It’s a symbol of connection, continuity and renewal, processes central to an improvising band, so the name is intended to symbolise how the music happens. Keith’s compositions are meditations on belonging, on the green world, and on transcience and flight, many of them inspired by and sourced from the landscape where he lives, in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. They call musicians and audience together into a magical space, a field where journey and exploration can take place.

Keith explains the reasoning behind the release of 21 tracks, in this extract from his sleeve notes:

“After enforcing a venue change, circumstances had stuck around, and denied us the sound of John Pope for our first gig, so we got the sound of Andy Champion. The family extended. That’s why we’ve released so many tracks: it felt right to chronicle our rapid evolution as fully as possible, to represent what felt like, to me at least, 2 different bands. The two sets of music that appear on the CDs show how much our sound changed, by travelling less than 2 miles after only 21 days and changing 1 musician. The group of 5 other takes add perspective to the story. It’s proof of the force of character, in their totally different ways, of our 2 splendid bassists, that their playing creates such contrast between the 2 sessions.”

Reviews

Brings meditations on belonging, the green world, and transience & flight. – Jack Sinimin Porcello, WAYO 104.3FM

Keith Jafrate, nominal head and writer of the endless serpent that is Uroboro, gathered together this exploratory quintet to give flesh to various ideas and coincidentally to act as guinea pig for a newly converted studio the Old Post Office in Todmorden run by some friends. There was a piano already in place and an eight-second reverb which Laura Cole pronounced usable, and off the group went for an initial live run out. Although the pieces are essentially Keith’s, they were just bare bones and he left it entirely up to the assembled players to decide how best to dress them. Keith’s dusky sax is the first ingredient, but all elements introduce themselves as opener “In Passing” starts to unfurl. The players are on tiptoe, sniffing the air, working out the acoustic possibilities of the room and revelling in them. The piece is light like a caress, the five elements immediately entwined, prowling. The tracks are long and deep enough to recognise a need for structure, often bass-led around which the other instruments revolve like dusty comet tails, their irregular trajectories and shaded textures interacting unexpectedly. At other points they follow Keith’s lead, the sax digging into the unknown with the players shadowing him, their sounds shaking and shimmering in his wake, breaking up and reforming with an awkward, unstoppable gait, the instrument setting the flow while stomping piano and angry guitar push home the point. The different moods are pregnant with opportunities and the often languorous sax is a woozy temptress which the other players indulge sometimes, taking its lead and feeling the intoxication flow. A flamenco fling may raise its head, or charged, staccato piano will ring through the rafters; but once they hit a groove, they leave Keith to enhance with sultry salvos of purrs and groans. When Andy Champion‘s bass and Johnny Hunter‘s drums combine, they can brew up a real churn, tearing up the rhythm by the roots; and this in turn causes the others to frazzle, enlivened by the singular tempo. At some points, a dreamlike cascade of sound ensues while in others, as in the portentous “Straight Up Ahead”, I couldn’t help but hear a heavy flicker of Shock Headed Peters bass as the sax is dragged in its irresistible wake. More purposefully abrupt, more difficult notes are cracked and sustained as the intensity increases. Towards the end of the first disc, more abstract textures emerge and these suit Keith’s lyrics, particularly on “A Story Like Fire” where the space between the words is like the air vibrating around the instruments. The words are dropped carefully, fully and perfectly formed, into low-level radiation leading to a brief loss of composure from the other four before drifting to an electronics-studded end. The second disc included here is from a different studio and with a different bassist, the strength and structure of John Pope giving way to a lighter, more integrated Andy Champion tone; and interestingly, four of the eight tracks are reworks of tracks from the Pope session, giving the listener an opportunity to hear a different rendering. The other four players show familiarity with the pieces and further comfort in the joint venture, with delicious little drum fills and an abstract subtlety that causes the pieces to coalesce in a different way. Where the piano leads, the sax follows later and is sweeter, more enigmatic, not attempting to answer any questions. Keith adds words to “A Dream Where Birds Dream” and “The Huntress” is a little more confident. These are in no way carbon copies of the earlier session and they way that they are interleaved with other compositions, gives this a very separate listening experience. “Praise” laps gently against a deserted beach, each wave varying slightly, the percussive pebbles and scorched guitar overwhelmed by more piano stomp and wild sax. These pieces feel more elemental, wilder and more emphatic while Andy’s softer approach loosens the tethers. Towards the end, the stirring piano and sax conversation of “Mesmerised” is full of trembling tones, the bass drawing in succour and the guitar a gentle reflection. This dreamlike sequence where the tear-like reverberations and flutter of percussion show another side of the ensemble, a nebulous quality very different to “Unlaced”, where the sax takes on the sweetness of a clarinet and feels like a trip down memory lane, a romantic dart into the past, a joyful revel in a lost era with an opportunity for the bass to stretch its legs and soothe our weary souls. The final track hints at space and further possibilities, the group deconstructing as if in preparation for some as yet unrealised next chapter, the gentle bowing of the bass ushering the players behind the curtain and into the shadows. Story Like Fire is a work of passionate interaction and the search for a new way of progressing, taking Keith’s ideas, dissecting and repackaging them with a joy and sense of adventure that is tempered by mystery and a sinuous charm. The two discs are certainly varied enough to warrant their joining together as one album and provide a pretty impressive and dramatic exploration. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ https://freq.org.uk/reviews/uroboro-a-story-like-fire/

The group’s stock in trade is an expressive jazz style highlighted by the sax and piano, though every member of the group gets their turn in the spotlight across the album’s sixteen long cuts. There are a few tracks that feature spoken word parts by Jafrate, who also composes all of the material, though the compositions tend to be open to plenty of interpretation and improvisation by the group, much in the way that Soft Machine’s “Facelift” proceeded from a basic melody, and then caught fire in a number of different ways depending on the performance and players over the years. Perhaps I mention that because, even though the instrumentation is different, one might get a similar dreamy, immersive feeling from much of what Uroboro has on offer with their opening salvo. A superb album from beginning to end. – Peter Thelen http://expose.org/index.php/articles/display/uroboro-a-story-like-fire-3.html

KEITH JAFRATE, who has lived in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire for decades – working class, football fan, politically left of Labour – was a poet before he came to the saxophone in his late 20s and has since, self-taught, combined jazz and poetry in Orfeo 5 and Wolf Scarers. And here at A Story Like Fire (DISCUS 163, 2xCD) as UROBORO, with Laura Cole on keys, Anton Hunter on guitar, Johnny Hunter on drums. The fact that Andy Champion plays bass in Todmorden and John Pope plays bass in Walsden makes the difference in Jafrate’s I’ll be playing this, you have to make the rest of it method to the versions of ‘in passing’, ‘a dream where birds dream’, ‘cesare ha detto’ and ‘the huntress’. In addition to ‘wild bird’, ‘mesmerised’, ‘praise’ or ‘no man’s wood’ as a story like fire / hot and careless and unfinished. With without magic / the days pass over / leaving trash and damage / in a town of strangers, Jafrate declares himself to be a forest walker away from the hypnotist capital / in whose wood we make room / with the wrong light. As a dreamer connected to nature and to female beings named Fay and Persephone, he incites dreaming, burning along, flying along, with a brittle but never giving in blast tone to self-oblivious piano, dragon seed and silver tooth guitar and the time-forgotten flow of a ‘landscape music’ that insists on its obstinacy, as creamy as it is pithy jerking or shrouded by clouds of sound. As a Canterburyesque current in ‘Britain’s Visionary Music’, as if jazzed up by Elton Dean, concealed in “Electric Eden”. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Uroboro is a sextet of musicians, most of whom have worked with Archer or for Discus in the past: Anton & Johnny Hunter, Laura Cole and Andy Champion. If it weren’t for Discus, I would’ve not known about these fine musicians. CD1 was recorded at an old post office in Todmorden in August of 2022. Saxist Keith Jafrate (the one musician here I didn’t know previously) composed all of the pieces here and wrote the liner notes. “in passing” opens with somber sax, over a cushion of calm piano, guitar, bass & drums. The piano and guitar both play sparse, haunting sounds which seem to drift through the air. The bass and drums create a soft, pulsating groove while the sax, piano and guitar play a theme on top. “cesare ha detto” has a calm vibe and moves at a moderate pace. It is a free piece which flows organically with the guitar and piano duetting together. “The Huntress” has a suspense-filled skeletal bass-line with tasty laid back tenor sax, majestic piano and sublime, eerie semi-acoustic guitar. The thing I like most about this disc is this: Mr. Jafrate writes songs which often have a hypnotic repeating groove/melody. Solos are often laid back and there are just a few. The music does a good job of creating thoughtful moods. The second disc was recorded live at The Mill in Walsden around 10 days earlier than CD1. The quintet uses a different bassist and covers four of the same pieces as CD1. The music on CD2 is similar in sound although it does have a more live in the room sort of sound. The overall vibe here is relaxed and calm with exquisite solos which rise like smoke into the air and fade away. Both of the discs here are quietly enchanting, never getting too free or intense or else the well crafted mood would be broken. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

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