From The Rough Hill
Discus 164CD
Available formats: CD/DL

“Strong inspired free improv can achieve this magical casting it’s spell over the audience vibe when it works. This is the case here.” – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

“From The Rough Hill is a thing of ancient and elemental beauty, an inland journey for the head and for the heart.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

“Perhaps my favorite Discus disc in recent memory.” – New York City Jazz Record

Martin Archer – concert flute, Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, recorders, harmonicas, melodica, sopranino saxophone, Hulusi flute, percussion, electronics.

Jan Todd – baritone psaltery, electric Harp.E, cross strung harp, tagelharpa, waterphone, Hulusi flute, cello, electronics, looping, field recordings.

Fran Comyn – frame drums, gongs, cymbals, bells, bowls, hand percussion, field recordings.

Richard Jackson – drums and percussion.

A new quartet formed with a view to making improvised music and instant compositions which avoid the highly active language of free improvisation and tends more towards ritual or even contemporary classical music . The result is atmospheric and occasionally unsettling, as the music ripples between spacious, metallic and otherworldly soundscapes to earthy, rhythmic and strident, yet melodic tones. The use of unusual/ethnic instruments married with two percussionists gives a distinctive flavour of the unexpected, shades of AMM meeting The Third Ear Band maybe…

Fjall recorded live sessions in the studio and also live performance to develop this multi layered and multi-instrumental album.

Expect the sonic atmosphere of the elemental tempered by sounds ‘from the rough hill’.

Essential – Jack Porcello, WAYO FM

Perhaps my favorite Discus disc in recent memory. – New York City Jazz Record

The foursome gathered together for the inaugural Fjall release From The Rough Hill has a veritable cornucopia of instruments, with Martin Archer on a variety of reeds and electronics, Jan Todd playing three forms of harp plus the psaltery, and percussionists Fran Comyn and Richard Jackson including bells, bowls, gongs and field recordings. All in all, an unusual and clearly pastoral-leaning set-up that is beautifully utilised in the twelve-part soundscape that unfolds. Interestingly, two of Freq supremo Richard‘s goats, Tommy and Dolly, appear silhouetted on the CD itself and that timeless image, along with the lovely monochrome artwork, suits perfectly a suite that is ensconced deep in a lonely countryside, memories of ancient rites and integration with nature seeping into its bones. The intro is a slow drift; distant sounds emanate, alerting us to activity deep undercover. Flute and percussion flutter, things hard to spot as they move in and out on the edge of the eyeline. Each sound uncovers new detail, but all at a gentle, welcoming pace. You can see the break of day, grey fading to blue through the canopy, with sweet harp hints and a deep drone breath. Simple repeated motifs linger in the vibrant air as percussion scuffles in the undergrowth. A surreptitious expansion starts to unfold, each player lending subtle pressure with their own accents and intrigue, and a halting rhythm begins, picking up a little momentum, low sounds supporting a pulsing sax, a playful rag that merges with found sounds. This movement ebbs and flows though and the impression is of different perspectives of one view, taken with varying degrees of precision, but constantly evolving. The Zen-like percussion slows the heart and feels so natural, as if grounded by basic forces. By section five, the sound has become particularly alluring, an elemental force, with the selection of instrumentation making for an immersive experience; the constant yet irregular movement of the two percussionists running in and out of sync, passing through light and shade, tracking the course of the day. Here and there storm clouds gather, a percussive wash threatening and a low key drone humming as reeds test the air. At other moments you have the feeling things have stalled, an impending threat circling, tones of breath moving closer, gathering away from the open spaces. A wash of cymbal and a drift of harp open up another vista, the high peak of sax scudding onward, dissipating and regaining until the gently welcoming descent into twilight finds a fitting return to the skeletal opening almost an hour ago. This album was partly live in the studio and you can feel the sense of players very much simpatico with one another, but not afraid to add extra textures that will allow the finished album to really shine. From The Rough Hill is a thing of ancient and elemental beauty, an inland journey for the head and for the heart. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

On the download of this album, there was the option to listen to the complete 12-part recording without track breaks (or to listen to each track individually). Fran Comyn’s photograph of water tumbling down a ghyll on the front of the album sleeve is perfect to illustrate the overarching sense of the music as a communing with a mystical landscape. The band’s name is a Scandinavian word (particularly in Sweden and Norway) that echoes the English ‘fell’ and, again, the music captures the sense of moving up into the peaks of, say, the Lake District. Comyn’s percussion and field recordings bring the listener more deeply into this terrain. This is music that requires a stillness in the listener that mirrors the terrain that it reflects, and which repays this with the richness of an ever-changing musical landscape. The repertoire of instruments that are introduced over the rhythmic textures echoes the human response to the terrain, in all its awe, wonder, fear, and joy. I am always amazed by the ways in which a catalogue of instruments as listed for this album can create such an impression of cohesion, where each instrument is introduced to do just the right job at the right time and, often, to put one side as a different sound is needed for the next phrase. This is not some ragbag of instruments that are pulled out of the store-room but a carefully considered selection, much as a carpenter might select precisely the right tool for a specific task so the musicians are taking the precise instrument for the precise sound at the right time. Nothing feels superfluous and everything has its place – no matter how strange that place might appear or how peculiar the fit is between some of the sounds, everything gels in a harmonious, natural order. – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS

Another terrific release from Martin Archer, on his hugely impressive Discus Music label, based in the UK. This time it sees Martin joined by colleagues, Jan Todd, Fran Comyn and Richard Jackson, in a recording full of free expression, ingenuity and inventiveness, taking you on a journey of pure imagination. – James Drummond, CD Showcase

Just wanted to say a little about this wonderful new album which I’ve been listening to. Extraordinarily evocative music for me. I was put into mind on first listening of waves slowly hitting a beach, a huge slow pulse, but each time the water recedes a new set of tiny details are revealed. The sound world is rich and beautiful, a wonderful sonic palette . There is mention of AMM in the blurb, which I entirely understand, but for me the music of Fjall has an earthiness and a powerfully emotional quality which set it apart. Huge evolving structures of sound which slowly fix your ears’ focus on different things, and touch something elemental and ancient. A feast for the ears and balm for the soul. – Martin Pyne, Bandcamp UK Jazz And Improvised Music 

For more than three decades, saxist/keyboardist/composer Martin Archer runs the Discus label which is now at 164 discs. Mr. Archer is a member of several ongoing bands/projects like Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, several projects with Julie Tippetts and the Eclectic Maybe Band. Each project shows a different side to what Mr. Archer can do with his ever-widening cast of most U.K musicians. Multi-instrumentalist, Jan Todd, is also a member of the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, while both rhythm team members are new names for me. For this session both Jan Todd and Fran Comyn have provided field recordings, while the music was recorded in a studio as well as live. None of the dozen pieces are named. Things begin with the soft sounds of percussion, flutes, psaltery (a zither), harp and a variety of subtle percussive sounds. The music sounds ritualistic and sounds like it was captured in the forest or jungle. There are some surprising combinations of sounds: melodica, suspense-filled percussion and space, rumbling, wind sounds, all flowing organically with backwards recordings, and other undefinable sounds which evoke the spirits around us which we can see but which we can hear or feel if we know what to look or listen for. If I didn’t know who the musicians were on this disc, I would’ve had a hard time trying to figure out their identities since this sounds like other sessions where an ensemble creates an environment which we become a part of as we listen. Strong inspired free improv can achieve this magical casting it’s spell over the audience vibe when it works. This is the case here. In the last section it keeps building and gets very intense eventually taking us away to the other side of life… the Spirit World. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

Instant compositions tending more towards ritual or contemporary cultivated music. Traditional instruments from various cultures add a rich, romantic feel. – Jack Sinimin Porcello,  WAYO 104.3FM

Look away now if what you crave is ‘four to the floor’. Rock ‘n roll this ain’t. It is, though, an unusual, reflective, and highly intriguing work in 12 self-titled parts, largely featuring unconventional-sounding tools of trade (sopranino saxophone, baritone psaltery, tagelharpa and waterphone just some examples of instrumental irregularity). Main Discus man Martin Archer is joined here by a small cohort that includes Terrascope’s very own Fjall guy, Francis Comyn, on an array of percussive paraphernalia (and took the cover shots, possibly while also carrying out many of the field recordings used intelligently on the album). He’s one of a pair of tappers and shunters who don’t so much get into that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans as move them around a bit in the hope of achieving the best Feng Shui ambience. And, indeed, in the more flowing movements you feel yourself wanting to throw a few gentle T’ai Chi shapes or slip into a contented meditative state. Initially, some of the subtle energies eluded me. Blame my lumpen, rockist tendencies and distinct lack of imagination. What then emerged out of perseverance was the sense of a Pogles Wood chamber orchestra lightly limbering up for a tilt at some rugged and potentially unsettling pastoral improvisation, all the while masquerading as a partly deconstructed Third Ear Band (the merest thought of which gets my vote). By Jove, a penny had dropped. At times, such as on ‘Part 5’ when it sounds like they’ve channelled the spirit of Augustus Pablo riding (or perhaps stumbling about) a lonesome trail, or on personal favourites ‘Parts 8 and11’, the intelligent, fine-tuned gradations seem to align perfectly to create a gently insistent and flowing force. The latter, taken in tandem with ‘Part 10’ almost raises a canter, so be forewarned. Along the way we intermittently encounter melody and tarry there awhile before veering off to explore something more tangential away over in a left field only to meander back and forth in no particular hurry. From The Rough Hill is one of those releases best described as the sum of its many fascinating parts and listened to in one sitting where it can be approached as a continuous, seamless whole. That way you understand its true scope and purpose and make more sense of a holistic work across a broad and textured canvas. Perhaps with this in mind, Discus have seen fit to include a version of the album without track breaks as well as in individual segments. Irrespective of how you choose to approach it, if acoustic experimental improvisation is your thing, then you will be amply rewarded. Then you must reward yourself again. – Ian Fraser, TERRASCOPE

Fjall (or Fjell or Fjäll – depending on the Scandinavian language) and probably means rock or mountain. In most cases, however, it refers to mountains or plateaus above the tree line. The term was adopted into English as ‘fell’ and also refers to treeless mountain ranges, especially in northern England. Fjall are also Martin Archer, Jan Todd (frostlake), Fran Comyn and Richard Jackson from Sheffield, and they have been active in this form since the beginning of the third decade of the new millennium. From live and studio recordings from February and March 2023, the quartet then put together the first album “From The Rough Hill”, which was released by Discus Music in November of the same year. However, there is no treeless plateau on the cover, but a waterfall.

According to their own statement, Fjall make improvised music, which moves more in quieter spheres, with a tendency towards ritual or contemporary-classical music. Yes… That fits. By means of all kinds of blown, bowed and plucked instruments, various percussion and some electronics, Fjall create rather free-flowing, discreetly undulating, mysteriously reverberating, percussively rattling and sonorously meandering sound structures. Rather discreetly, the painting is done in tone, finely coordinated, without it becoming wild or really loud, mixed with tape sounds (field recordings) and electronic sounds. The sound result is a bit reminiscent of Japanese Fluxus productions (e.g. by the ), especially the ritual-hypnotic atmosphere, or the music of the Third Ear Band, but glides along a bit more relaxed and not as manic-repetitive as this one. However, a few medieval-folky tracks and melody seem to be made out here as well.

“From The Rough Hill” offers a fascinating and very interestingly instrumented, electro-acoustic suite of progressive tone painting, sometimes statically floating, sometimes nervously hurrying forward, all in all quite mysteriously rumbling, provided with a certain otherworldly, foggy, autumnal-winter mood. Anyone who appreciates improvised progressive sound tinkering with acoustic and electronic means is in the right place here, all the more so as Fjall remain largely on the melodic-harmonic side of the sound spectrum. – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN

A torrent under an overgrown aqueduct in a jungle, goats as harbingers of Pan… From The Rough Hill (Discus 164CD) leaves all ideas of Sheffield far behind. Those who are looking for the overgrown paths to Avalon as FJALL are Martin Archer on flutes, clarinets, harmonica, melodica, sopranino sax, Jan Todd, from Frostlake, on psalter, harps, waterphone, cello, both also with electronics, plus Fran Comyn, a panicked playmate of Adam Fairhall and Johnny Hunter, & Richard Jackson on drums and diverse percussion. And in doing so, evoke England’s pleasant pastures and mountains green, with the pastoral suggestions of a folklore imaginaire, wind-playfully ghostly, multi-fingered rumbling, with fluting, chirping lips, like dreamed melodies. Music, not as it has been, but as desired, not ancient or medieval, but fantastic, even with the more tangible fanfare and persistent ostinato on which the shadow of Stonehenge falls. Yeats and John Cowper-Powys would probably have had the intuition for this, in a vision in which jungle and garden do not intertwine. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Fjall is a quartet of British improvisers who tend to eschew the noisy and chaotic free-improv jazz style, instead opting for a more subtle neo-classical improvisational idiom that is at once gentle and dreamy, at times even approaching a more minimalist, reflective musical palette. The feeling a listener can expect is contemplative and warm, very much atmospheric and layered, where hints of world music abound as well; the image on the cover of a quiet stream cascading toward the camera is a perfect allegory, with tree branches and shadows hanging over the background. From the Rough Hill is a twelve-part instant composition, which (if one selects the full download instead of the CD) can also be experienced with all twelve parts fused together seamlessly. If you have one of those old CD players like mine that inserts a fraction of a second of space at each track transition, that’s definitely the way you’ll want to go….. They certainly play enough of everything that they can switch instruments numerous times over the 55 minutes of the piece to bring a nearly endless variety of sounds as it proceeds gently but steadily toward its conclusion. The involvement of two full-time percussionists makes for a subtle complexity that is often reminiscent of the world sounds of Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Africa, and elsewhere. There are no vocals, this is an entirely instrumental endeavor, but at times one can faintly hear spoken voices buried deep in the mix, from the field recordings, which include bird and animal sounds as well. Fjall really sounds like nobody else, but at times some listeners might be reminded just a little of the Third Ear Band. – Peter Thelen, EXPOSÉ

The mere reading of the data referring to the instrumental logistics used by this quartet gives us a clear indication of the great peculiarity of its aesthetic north. This quartet released the album “From The Rough Hill” at the beginning of November 2023 through the Discus Records label. The presentation event of this album took place on December 7, in the Auditorium of the Samuel Worth Chapel in Sheffield. FJALL’s stylistic approach is based on a cross between free jazz, avant-prog and contemporary fusion with postmodern roots. The repertoire of “From The Rough Hill” consists of a single, continuous piece that lasts for almost 54 1/2 minutes, a piece that is divided into 12 parts, although a link to the continuous piece also appears on the Bandcamp blog. Part 1 takes up a space of just under 6 1/2 minutes, being the second longest of this opus, in fact. The musicians interact as if groping what may be the beginning of a future dialogue while portraying the hazy stealth of an early dawn. The mysterious vibrations revel in their mystery while the expectation grows little by little, while the percussive ornaments are associated in a subtlety that allows the sober phrasing of the flute to show off its moderate coloring. Part 2 is oriented towards the establishment of a dense climate that has something sinister but, above all, allows itself to be enveloped by a magical atmosphere whose surreal agitations are handled with intelligent spareness. The drums are released without falling into the strident while the other instruments retreat into an atmospheric scheme from which certain small climaxes emerge at strategic moments. That being the case, Part 3 continues along this path while letting some strange glow show; You can already tell that expressive enthusiasm is starting to permeate the interactions of musicians. The sequence of Parts 4 and 5 serves to keep the ensemble loose in its lucid explorations: Part 4 is a deconstructive exercise whose gentleness shows the eminently playful character of this moment, something like a gentle prank in a metaphysically tranquil jungle; On the other hand, Part 5 elaborates lyrical resources under the guidance of the melodica while the clamor of the percussive ornaments of the preceding Part increases its expressive solidity. We have perceived here some links with the paradigm of SUN RA AND HIS ARKESTRA and that of the HENRY COW of the 1974-75 phase (in its most abstract facet). Part 6 is inserted in a context of avant-progressive majesty where the tense and the contemplative merge in a series of evocative concerns; These extend in a crescendo that takes shape at a steady pace as the seconds pass. When it’s Part 7’s turn, the ensemble creates a kind of epilogue for Part 6 by retreating into that strategy of tentative abstract approaches that previously marked Part 1. Part 8 is just over 6 minutes long and focuses on crafting a new moment of experimental lavishness. The rattles that build through the sonic amalgam reveal a density that is halfway between the obscurantist and the indecipherable. A surrealist vitalism operates with continuous Fauvist ravings that allow the instruments to provide exalted gesticulations of the human spirit. If we can imagine a cross between THIRD EAR BAND and ANNEXUS QUAM through the filter of JOHN ZORN in its postmodern facet, then that’s what we find here. Part 9 cuts head-on with this exaltation to get into sober mysterious tessitura. From this point on, the sequence of Parts 10 and 11 has a renewed field of action: that of Part 10 is directed towards a continuously intensified capitalization of the potential neurosis of these deconstructive trajectories; the one in Part 11 develops the most recognizable groove of the entire opus, while the fusionesque work scheme fits very well to the need to provide a renewing brilliance to this demanding quadripartite journey. Various percussion and woodwind ornaments allude to a jungle landscape with a controlled celebratory aura. Part 12 is the longest with its space of almost 8 minutes, configuring itself along the way as the obligatory resolution of these massive explorations: the frenzy finally found under the light has to be quickly extinguished by the emergence of the nocturnal mist whose design is already traced within the cosmic order. It closes the circle with the portrait of a darkness that will have an ending similar to the one reflected in the sequence of Parts 1 and 2, when the light was announced. The outcome of silence is very neatly outlined. In the midst of growing languor, percussive ornaments can still operate as a resource of restricted vitality. All of this was what was created in the concept of “From The Rough Hill” at FJALL headquarters. The truth is that the masters Archer, Todd, Comyn and Jackson have done a very embroidered job from their magical avant-garde congregation. Recommended at 400% (one hundred per participant). – Cesar Inca, AUTOPOIETICIAN

Turn the lights low (or off) and play this intriguing album late at night and a quite unique atmosphere is created. The twin drumming of Fran Comyn and Richard Jackson is unlike anything I can recall hearing, very risqué, and working in an incomprehensibly unconventional way – I don’t know how to describe it, but it defines the undertow of the music, an ever-constant glue in a cornucopia of exotic sounds provided by Jan Todd’s harps, cello and flute, electronics and field recordings, and most distinctively, waterphone, with Fran’s bowls, gongs and cymbal also providing coloration to the music. Then there is Martin Archer who adds his own flute, clarinets, harmonicas and recorders to music that can be unnerving and otherworldly as well as lenitive and dreamlike. There are twelve parts, best listened to as a whole. The band describes it as elemental improvisational music. It is difficult to make comparisons, but the Third Ear Band and Jade Warrior immediately spring to mind, although these links are tentative. – Phil Jackson, Dimensions In Sound And Space

This new quartet…mixes a bewildering variety of unusual instruments with field recordings. Unlike a lot of contemporary spontaneously-composed music, From The Rough Hill emphasises the contemplative rather than the confrontational. – Jazzwise

Archer joins with three other improvisers under the moniker Fjall for From The Rough Hill. He explains the outfit’s intent as “making improvisation and instant compositions, which avoid the highly active language of free improvisation and tend towards ritual or even contemporary classical music.” The lineup—with Archer on an assortment of woodwinds, two percussionists Fran Comyn and Richard Jackson and multi-instrumentalist Jan Todd—gives the dozen tracks a distinctive flavor, accentuated by collaging field recordings including muffled voices and trickling water, electronics and loops. The result is a selfless music. Although separately demarcated, the pieces run together, creating a slowly mutating kaleidoscope of sheet metal resonance, clanking percussion, tumbling harp, growling long tones and coiling reeds. A variety of unexpected textures surface: an aching cello, a fluttering flute, a plaintive folky melodica air, stately psaltery (a precursor of the zither), arpeggios, shuffling tattoos and the occasional sudden squall. Assembled from live and studio performances, the music follows an arc that builds to its most anarchic and energetic on the penultimate cut (Part 12), before a crow croak presages a gradual withdrawal into mystery. It’s ambient music but with copious jagged edges whose overall effect is strangely soothing. – NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

As discussed in the interview, Fjall is an improvising “instant composition” outfit comprising four musicians, each of them with a specialised role. Of those, Martin Archer handles all sorts of winds (flutes, clarinets, recorders, harmonicas, saxophone, etc.), Jan Todd handles stringed instruments mostly (psaltery, harps, cello, etc.), Fran Comyn uses sundry percussion (hand drums, gongs, cymbals, bells, etc.), and Richard Jackson plays drums and percussion. The first three also make use of some electronic gadgetry, and field recordings are also credited. With such an instrumentation all sorts of things are possible, and it could have been anything from freeform to rhythmic, avant-garde, folk or jazz rooted. Actually all those things are present in varying quantities whilst the music never really sits in any convenient pigeonhole. Basically it is just one big piece that flows through many different phases, and
there are no track titles – just parts 1 to 12 credited on the cover. The opening section tends to feel a little like some early abstract Between crossed with AMM Music, for want of some comparisons, although one could also quote the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Stomu Yamash’ta or Toru Takemitsu if one felt inclined, as there’s a lot of esoteric avant-garde about it (with similarities to many of the experimental ensembles that I covered in recent Audion’s) and quite a bit of oriental influence comes through as the music progresses due to the percussives and flutes. By Part 5 the mood shifts to a more melodic phase, largely because of the melodica, and then with the drums playing a kind of rotational beat in Part 6 it almost becomes experimental Nordic folk-jazz of a sort (not dissimilar to some music heard on Hubro label releases). The first really significant change is the start of Part 7, with some lovely bowed cello surrounded by all sort of percussive and other elements, which over the course of the next few parts builds up to a feel not so far from some of Keith Tippett’s more adventurous big group pieces – despite the fact that there are only four performers here and no piano! Another anomalous comparison I could draw in Part 11 is the pre-Kraftwerk band Organisation, although I’m probably letting my imagination take over here, and after that the final Part 12 rounds things off, kind of reprising the opening in mood if not in
the instrumental sounds heard. So, in all, a really surprising and impressive work that’s full of creativity and, despite my comparisons, quite original as a whole. It will indeed be most interesting to hear where Fjall go next. – Alan Freeman AUDION

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