Theo May’s Odd Unit
Alive in the Forest of Odd
Discus 168CD
(2024)
Available formats: CD/DL

 

“The dynamic is strong yet offers up space, it’s clever and clean ….. handled with delicious detail.” – Steve Day, 2024

“Progfans might love this a lot, and there’s also classical music and jazz-fusion parts, so a really healthy fresh mix of aforementioned styles all throughout the album.” – Gabor Kleinbloesem STRUTTER’ZINE

“A strong new release. The music borders on modern classical with Bulgarian folk influences. Beautiful.” – Dereck Higgins online vlog

 

Theo May: Violin and Compositions
Gustavo Clayton Marucci: Bb and Bass Clarinets
Will Bracken: Piano
Ali Watson: Double Bass
Alex Temple-Heald: Drums

with

Francesca Brito & Jan Halen: Violins
Cubby Howard: Cello
Daniel Swani: Flute

High octane and fiercely frenetic tunes inspired by Bulgarian folk dances contrast with dark and mysterious soundscapes and melancholic and lyrical pieces. Odd Unit’s first album is a weaving of vibrant and rich musical tapestry pieces that encapsulated many of Theo’s earliest influences. Theo states that “…getting variety into the suite of music was of paramount importance, so some of the pieces draw heavily on the sound world of the avant-garde and make use of experimental soundscapes, whilst others are immediately listenable, groovy and have strong ties to folk and modal jazz music.”

It is music of fierce intensity, featuring variety and scope of musical territory that will appeal to listeners from a wide range of musical backgrounds.

Theo May was born in October of 1997 surrounded by the rivers, cornfields and hedgerows of the north Wiltshire countryside. Inspired by his father’s love of jazz and extensive collection of music, he began teaching himself to play the violin at the age of 4. Formal training in music came much later, first at the southwest music school in 2009 and then in 2015 at the Purcell School of Music in less rural Watford. Following two years at the Purcell school, Theo studied composition at the Royal College of Music in London with classical composers Mark-Anthony Turnage and Errollyn Wallen.

Growing up, Theo’s musical development was guided and supported by the legendary late Keith Tippett and his wife Julie, who Theo’s father had come to know in the 1980s. Theo was immersed in Jazz, free improvisation, folk and predominantly modern and contemporary classical music from an early age. This wide range of musical influences continues to inform and inspire his musical voice today.

His first major project is the launch of his band Odd Unit, a quintet featuring music college graduates from London, playing Theo’s original music.

Reviews

Theo May’s father Greg believed in taking his children to live music.  In the mid 1990s Greg and I were regulars at the Rare Music Club in Stokes Croft, Bristol hosted by Keith & Julie Tippett.  As far as that audience of cognoscenti were concerned – Mr Tippett along with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, Tony Levin – Mujician were THE band.  Over the next 20 years, as often as not Teo, along with his father – took in spontaneous compositions like they were an elixir of hope.  I used to have a disk that Theo made when he was still a kid – playing violin with some of the Mujician crew.  A truly startling home-recording; his chosen path was evitable, at some point he was going to take the same road as these guys.  Theo May cites Bulgarian folk dance, Vaughan Williams and the French maestro of the clarinet, Louis Sclavis, as focus points.  I’d add Peter Knight’s violin to that mix; there’s some of Knight’s clear purity of purpose about the playing.  Crucially though, Theo May produces fearless music that puts aside his influences.  He’s an extraordinary gifted violinist taking his own sound-world-route. Alive in the Forest of Odd – seems like a weird title to hang on such a journey, that’s as maybe (sic).  Plug into the music; this 2022 session is an hour long aural kaleidoscope of strings and woodwind riding on neat bass and drums; ten deftly executed compositions with bravo interaction.  Individually they paint the ears, not into a corner, but out onto a wide panoramic range.  The two closing tracks are great examples of balance – Kopanitsa and Ballad of Acceptance.  The former, counted-in raga-style at an extremely fast pace, has percussionist Alex Temple-Heald patterning 2-2-3-2-2 beats under the violin lead – kit drums as tabla. The dynamic is strong yet offers up space, it’s clever and clean.  The ballad that follows is judicially placed in the running order, melodic yet ‘still’, handled with delicious detail. The two tracks together seem to take, and then give, measure from and to each other. A highly recommended album and a good way for the Discus label to introduce itself to the New Year.  I’m continuing to hear you Theo! – Steve Day, 2024

THEO MAY is a violin player/composer who recorded an album titled Alive In The Forest Of Odd together with Gustavo Clayton Marucci: Bb and Bass Clarinets, Will Bracken: Piano, Ali Watson: Double Bass and Alex Temple-Heald: Drums, while guests include Francesca Brito & Jan Halen: Violins, Cubby Howard: Cello and Daniel Swani: Flute. The included music is interesting instrumental melodic electric violin music that has influences of progressive rock and celtic, and I must say that it sounds really good this instrumental album. Progfans might love this a lot, and there’s also classical music and jazz-fusion parts, so a really healthy fresh mix of aforementioned styles all throughout the album. (Points: 8.4 out of 10) – Gabor Kleinbloesem STRUTTER’ZINE

Violinist Theo May says that his original music for Odd Unit is ”a rich weave of the jazz, folk and classical music which has always surrounded and inspired me” so it’s a pretty broad brushstroke. What’s here comes over to these ears more folk than anything but pretty appealing it is too – there’s plenty of feverish expression and a feeling of letting go on a piece such as the ‘Joy of Nine’. With May are bass clarinettist Gustavo Clayton Marucci, who proves particularly effective on ‘Under the Earth’, pianist William Bracken, bassist Ali Watson and drummer Alex Temple Heald. Highlights include May’s beautiful soloing on ‘The Ballad of Acceptance. – MARLBANK https://www.marlbank.net/posts/theo-may-s-odd-unit-alive-in-the-forest-of-odd-discus-music-1-2

Alive in the Forest of Odd (DISCUS 168CD). This is THEO MAY’S ODD UNIT, with Gustavo Clayton Marucci on clarinets, Will Bracken on piano, Ali Watson from Glasgow on double bass and Alex Temple-Heald on drums, led by a young violinist in Malmesbury. ‘Voyager’ opens with lively melodies with folk-jazzy drive, ‘The Joy of Nine’ and ‘Kopanitsa’ go in the same direction with Bulgarian dance rhythms. ‘Set Free to Sing in the Clear Sky’, on the other hand, brings violin melting carried to grumpy bass. With ‘Solemnity’, May bows to Louis Sclavis, with another cello and the introverted bass clarinet in leading roles. ‘Politicians’ owes its contemplative freedom to the improvisational influence of Keith & Julie Tippett on the young May and begins to swing its legs in the second part. On the groovy ‘Twelve’s Blood’, Temple-Heald takes centre stage with his expertise in NYJO tributes to Jon Hiseman with witty, swirling, rumbling stick strokes and a powerful boost for the violin and clarinet. ‘The Place Without Words’ is an intimately melodic duet for violin and piano, ‘singing’ without words of disappointed love and hope, followed by Bulgarian 9/8 in a clarinettistic swirl and a fiddly quotation from Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’. With ‘Under the Earth’ – and also with the ammonite from a quarry in Wiltshire on the cover – May reveals his penchant for fossils, with a squealing and exuberant bass clarinet, but sweetened with the cello again. The second trip to Bulgaria, now in a fast-paced 11/8, brings a more prominent guest performance by flutist Daniel Swani in the middle section. May closes with ‘The Ballad of Acceptance’ and the bittersweet interplay of bass and piano for a final lyrical touch. – Rigobert Dittmann BAD ALCHEMY

A strong new release from Discus. The music borders on modern classical with Bulgarian folk influences. Beautiful. – Dereck Higgins online vlog.

When Theo May was just 13 and attending the South West Music School, he had the good fortune to collaborate with two elder British jazz legends, Keith and Julie Tippett. The trio recorded a disc which was released by the school. Someone, one of Theo’s parents, contacted us here at DMG so we got in copies to sell. That disc was fabulous and we might still have a few copies left. Since then young Mr. May has recorded with Paul Dunmall (tenor saxist for Keith Tippett’s Mujician quartet). Which brings us to this disc, recorded in 2023, more than a decade after May’s debut disc. Theo May’s Odd Unit is a quintet and the members attended the Royal Academy in the UK. I don’t recognize any of their names from previous releases. This disc begins with “Voyager” which recall both British folk-rock and progressive influences. It is Mr. May’s long, thoughtful violin solo which shows off his talents as a fine soloist. Mr. Clayton Marucci also pulls off an extraordinary clarinet solo here, one of the first highlights of this disc. ”Set Free to Sing in the Clear Sky” has a haunting melody which is played by the violin and clarinet, both play the theme together and then slowly play around the theme. The two lead instruments and the piano play exquisitely together with a most expressive, enchanting solo from the violin. The rhythm team often plays skeletally, subtly providing the rhythmic support and leaving space for everyone to breathe together. Although the writing is somewhat proglike, these acoustic instruments play with tasty flourishes and none of that grandstanding that comes with electric prog rock. On two tracks Mr. May adds two other violinists & a cellist, all of whom attend the same school as he does, the Royal Academy. These added musicians give the music a more orchestral sound yet the sound is still somehow understated. “Solemnity” is actually a solemn, haunting, subtle piece featuring some quaint yet inventive clarinet. “Twelve’s Blood” shows the aggressive side to this quintet, the band actually rocks out a bit and the sound is closer to some well written progressive/folk/rock, even erupting intensely near the end. “The Joy of Nine” is a complex, uptempo piece which shows this quintet at its best. Similar to an Irish jig yet sped up and thoughtfully developed. Although some of these piece are skeletal, the playing and writing is consistently engaging. If you mid-seventies prog like Gryphon or perhaps Renaissance, then you should really enjoy this since it is even. There is no singing going on and the music is superb throughout. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

Now, here’s where things get interesting! One particular aspect of the arts we’ve enjoyed in recent years is the revived interest in folk cultures, their musical customs and the myriad ways in which performers have incorporated these traditions into boldly progressive statements. This Bulgarian-influenced album arrives in stark contrast to everything it surrounds, with the Slavic bacchanale May and his merry troupe conjure up suggesting, in places, the sort of sounds you might otherwise expect from peak-era King Crimson or Mahavishnu Orchestra. In all, a wonderful fiddle-led fusion, extraneous from either time or space. – Barney Whittaker, PRESTO MUSIC

Odd Unit was formed around five years ago by violinist and composer Theo May by bringing together jazz and classical students from several music schools in London explicitly to perform and record May’s compositions; Alive in the Forest of Odd is the group’s first album. The core of the group features May on compositions and violin, Ali Watson on double bass, drummer Alex Temple-Heald, pianist Will Bracken, and Gustavo Clayton Marucci playing Bb and bass clarinets. In addition, several more guest musicians join the fun, track depending, on cello, flute, and additional violins. The album features ten purely instrumental pieces that are informed by classical, chamber, and jazz elements, though within those basic boundaries there is quite a lot of variety, some slow and pensive pieces, others very lively and fun, and all points in between. A track like “The Joy of Nine” is a complex and fiery workout that stands as one of the most immediately energetic jazz points among the album’s ten cuts. Opener “Voyager” introduces the group with an interesting, almost chamber-folk vibe that opens the curtain to May’s eclectic compositional style. Most of the cuts here are a little on the longish side, five to eight minutes in length, but given that there are so many changes and so much going on as each piece proceeds, the astute listener might not even notice. “Solemnity” is an introspective chamber-styled piece driven by piano with cello and extra violins in tow, the result is a masterpiece of dark shimmering beauty, with the clarinet taking a beautiful solo as the piece nears its conclusion. A duo for piano and violin, “A Place without Words” offers a dreamy soundworld where the mood can change quickly from delicate and introspective to a powerful torrent of majestic tonal color. All taken, there is so much energy in each of these cuts, and every one so different from all the others, I can seriously recommend Alive in the Forest of Odd to adventurous listeners everywhere. – Peter Thelen EXPOSÉ http://expose.org/index.php/articles/display/theo-mays-odd-unit-alive-in-the-forest-of-odd-3.html?fbclid=IwAR2N7bs2ueyDPdwk8EwoH7mDlNpBI7hmsmfXwZLg2N2VKO9D9UdGVU7qtjM

Depending on your experience of music, the opening notes of ‘Voyager’ (the first track on this album) might evoke the spirit of European folk music – or, for me at least, ‘Smoke on the Water’… This is not to denigrate the music on this sparklingly eclectic set of tunes, so much as to highlight how often and how easily May is able to wrong-foot the listener. So many of the pieces work along parallel paths that occasionally intersect but more often move in different directions, keeping diverse ideas alive, but always run together. It is, perhaps, not a coincidence that the set begins with ‘Voyager’ as a way of introducing an approach to music-making that takes such delight in the journey (rather than the destination) of a composition, travels across so many musical traditions and countries, and reaches out to explore novel ways of bringing familiar instruments together. While Deep Purple was clearly not relevant to listening to ‘Voyager’, May is not averse to hinting at, or wholesale quoting from, other music. ‘The Joy of Nine’, track 7, includes lines from Vaughan-Williams, ‘Kopanitsa’, track 9, uses a rhythmic pattern from Bulgarian folk dances, and ‘Solemnity’, track 3, has a more opaque hint of the playing of Louis Sclavis. May’s ‘Odd Unit’ comprises musicians who comfortably straddle the discipline of classical music, the looseness of improvisation, and the swing of jazz and this creates another sense of ‘voyager’ as the musicians drift between the comfort of their own musical idiom into different waters. The result is a collection of tunes that superficially might be classified under the vague heading of classical-folk-jazz chamber music, but which reflect the idiosyncratic (odd) nature of the musicians and May’s ability to define a vision that is so all-embracing, enthusiastic, and warm. – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS https://jazzviews.net/theo-mays-odd-unit-alive-in-the-forest-of-odd/

Theo May kommt aus dem ländlichen Wiltshire im Südwesten Englands, dort wo das legendäre Stonehenge liegt. Bereits mit vier Jahren begann er Geige zu spielen, durch seinen Vater und den Pianisten Keith Tippett fand er zum Jazz. In seiner ersten Gruppe Odd Unit verbinden sich Jazz und Klassik, britische und bulgarische Folkelemente. Das Quintett für sein Debütalbum bildete May mit sehr kompetenten StudienkollegInnen in London. Vehement geht man den Opener „Voyager…“ an, den May wie alles mit kräft igem Bogendruck und Fiddle-Artikulation spielt. Wie Jean-Luc Ponty meets Fairport Convention. An Louis Sclavis erinnert das expressive Bassklarinettenspiel von Gustavo Clayton Marucci. Vier Gäste aus der Klassik – mit zwei Geigen, Cello und Querfl öte – bereichern die Palette, die Th eo May für jedes seiner zehn Stücke neu bestückt. Beim nächsten Mal gerne mehr von seinem furiosen Geigenspiel und weniger Sorge ums Konzeptionelle. – Karl Lippegaus, FONO FORUM

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