The Act Of Noticing
Discus 172CD
Available formats: CD/DL

Josephine Davies – tenor and soprano saxophones
David Beebee – electric piano / effects
Martin Pyne – vibraphone / balafon / percussion

The Act Of Noticing is an invitation to enter a sound world rich in sonic imagery, evocative atmosphere, and finely wrought detail. This album takes listeners on a journey, at one moment guiding them through changing musical landscapes at high speed, at another inviting them to simply stop and stare.

Espial emerged from a discussion between David Beebee and myself about how to develop and extend the musical language we had established on our duo album for Discus, “Ripples”. David felt that expanding the group to a trio would be a good idea, and suggested inviting Josephine. Our first session playing together worked very well and so this new ensemble was born.

The music on the album is almost entirely improvised. Listening back to the takes, there seemed to be a very evocative, organic quality to the pieces which informed the titling decisions. Just one piece, “… fresh snowfall at dawn”, used pre-composed material as a basis for improvisation. Everything else is entirely spontaneous. Everything is played live, with no overdubs.

Espial is an archaic word meaning “the act of noticing”, which seemed hugely appropriate and appealing as the name for an improvising group. – Martin Pyne, February 2024


My interest in ambient music began, like most of the people reading this I guess, in the music of Brian Eno. While he didn’t invent the form, he did much to show that music could respond to and give emphasis to what surrounds us. Some readers might balk at the idea of ‘ambient’ and associate it with shops that sell crystals and incense in tourist resorts. This music is everything that music is not. What I enjoyed about this set is it ability to be true to its inspirations and to show that ambient music is capable of conveying deep meaning, delicate nuance, and the richness of our surroundings without lapsing into hackneyed repetitiveness that so much of the populist forms of this seem to take. Davies takes the emphasis on what surrounds us and gives it the purpose of encouraging us to notice the eleven phenomena that are used as titles for these pieces. A couple of pieces are short (around 2-minutes), ‘the pleasure of solitude’ (track 2) or ‘the breeze over a meadow’ (track 7), but most run to between 5 and 9 minutes. Of the shorter pieces, ‘the pleasure of solitude’ opens with single vibraphone notes struck like tingsha cymbals with gently tinkling percussion to emphasise the meditative quality of the sounds. This segues into Davies tenor playing rolling lines that tumble, using what sounds like circular breathing, to explore ‘the secret life of the forest’. While not fully immersing in shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) this piece is reminiscent not of calm, still place but of an environment bursting and buzzing with life. I like that ways in which electric piano and vibraphone, on this piece, form a united front over which Davies’s saxophone lines are free to wander as she pleases. On ‘morning sunlight through a curtain’ (track 4), the electric piano creates a languid mood over which Davies develops lines that convey the sense of coming to consciousness and delighting in the ripples of early morning sunlight. This is followed by balafon lines (with occasional bells and cymbals) to introduce ‘the many colours of bamboo’. The balafon, for this piece is an obvious choice not only for the materials it is made from but also the ways in which each of the notes it produces has a unique colour. In this piece, Davies’s soprano responds to the differences in these notes and to Pyne’s changing rhythms. – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS

You could describe the music of Espial as jazz, but there’s a lot more in there than that. It emerged from discussions between keyboard player David Beebee and percussionist Martin Payne about how to develop the work they’d been doing as a duo. Beebee suggested recruiting sax player Josephine Davies, which they duly did. On this, their first album (The Act of Noticing), all but one of the tracks are improvised, although all three musicians pay such close attention to each other, intuitively structuring the music, that it’s sometimes hard to tell (not that all improvised music should sound that way, only that this does). The name of the ensemble is a bit of a giveaway in this regard: ‘espial’ is an archaic word for ‘the act of watching or observing’ – a word almost synonymous with the title of the album. As I said, it would be wrong to pigeon-hole this music as simply jazz. For example, from the very beginning of the first track I was immediately put in mind – not for the last time – of the music of Debussy. It’s entitled ‘warm air heavy with the scent of flowers’, though the sleeve notes tell us the titles were added afterwards and that the music ‘informed the titling decisions’. The musicians quickly establish a luminous, dream-like sound-world. There’s some vibraphone-driven movement towards the end, but the music never really rouses itself from the dream. The first sign of edginess comes with the third track, ‘the secret life of the forest’. Lines cycle nervously round groups of notes, sometimes trying to settle in more sustained melodic lines, but never quite succeeding. The fourth track is one of the jazziest: it occasionally reminded me of early Weather Report. The fifth track begins with Martin Pyne playing the balafon. For those who don’t know, the balafon is a gourd-resonated xylophone associated with West Africa. I know I’ve used it before, but ‘luminous’ is a word one comes back to again and again when trying to describe this album. This track immediately put me in mind of the work of the artist Henri Rousseau. In fact, anyone making a documentary about him and in search of music to go with it could do worse than drop Espial a line. Track six, ‘fresh snowfall at dawn’, is the one that incorporates composed elements. Most of the time this is not immediately apparent, although here and there the musicians play snatches of melody in unison. Track seven, ‘the breeze over the meadow’, is a sax solo. There’s a hint of a Japanese sensibility here: Davies’ playing makes the instrument sound uncannily like a shakuhachi. This mood is carried over into the next track. It has an uneasy wistfulness about it, which probably inspired its title, ‘the moment summer turns to autumn’. The next track contains some of the most frenetic music on the album. Listening to it got me thinking how the album as a whole never has to resort to turning up the speed or the volume to engage one’s attention. I said, of the first track, how it reminded me of Debussy. Of course, the music is far more jazz orientated but, like him, Beebee, Payne and Davies are masters of understatement. They know how to make you want to listen without raising their voices. It strikes me, though, saying all this, that perhaps Debussy was creating elements of modern jazz decades before it emerged and if he were alive today, one could imagine this is the kind of combo he might put together. – Dominic Rivron, INTERNATIONAL TIMES

The previous collaboration between percussionist / vibraphonist Martin Pyne and pianist David Beebee, Ripples, was a shimmering delight; the Rhodes and vibes merging into something fresh and unexpected. Having decided to record again, they chose to invite saxophonist Josephine Davies to add further texture and different impulses to their duo set up and that wise decision has thrown further light onto an already gleaming path. A surreptitious dream of sound, improvised and recorded live, Espial‘s album highlights shared visions yet as seen from three perspectives, tied together in a natural whole. The vibes and electric piano hang in the air like sweet, subtle aromas with the gentle sound of the beaters on the keys being sometimes the only way to differentiate. They linger and sounds merge, creating something warm yet just out of reach. The effected sax is languorous, wafting like smoke and when merged with the vibes and piano, they manage to create an atmosphere that is rather blissful. Suffused with space, the pieces undulate around us, creating a cocoon, but one where each thread is visible, different strands vibrating at different levels. The saxophone is generally busier than the vibes and piano, with the latter at times so gentle that you feel sleep is not far off. In fact, some of the pieces have that late-night jazz feel, but one where everybody has left and the barman moves around the room at his own rhythm, straightening up as summer sunlight threatens to steal through the window. The use of the balafon with its wooden structure gives a hidden mountainous atmosphere. It evokes monk-like solitude way up in pine-scented heights, breathing fresh clear air while the sax hints at something just beyond the threshold. Each piece inhabits a very different place, yet the basic ingredients are the same. How they have managed this is part of the beauty of the album. Some of the pieces have a shimmer of movement light as gauze, while others move like a cat that doesn’t know it is being watched. In other places, a light tapping evokes an electrical pole caught in the wind, while the sax at one point acts like a kite caught high in a tree and as the wind increases so it whips more frantically. The subtlety and interaction is just a delight, with a gesture from one instrument making its way into company and changing its feel, depending on how it is received by the other two. It feels like three friends walking a coastal path; sometimes one walks alone while the other two rush on ahead; and then one of those stops to smell something and the other tow reconvene, but the freedom to follow their own idea of the path is always there. In one piece, the wonderful ache of melancholy sax is tempered by the chime and bustle of piano. At one point I couldn’t help but think they were deconstructing the theme to the Pink Panther, seeing what could be made of the constituent parts, then wandering with those parts into something wilder, losing sight of the initial premise, a vibrancy giving way to a skeletal framework that is as fine and light as a mouse, memories of sound that open into a joyous joust, the three in unison combining to make a headlong rush. I was listening to the radio and they were talking about the cheese rolling and the idea of running as fast as you can downhill until you reach the bottom and land in a dizzy heap is perfectly encapsulated by the final track here. Momentum to stasis in the blink of an eye. Apparently the nature of each track informed its title and as a bit of fun on your first listen, don’t read the titles; just listen and see what they evoke in your mind and then compare that with the title. You might be surprised how close you come. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

Espial is a trio formed when the duo of percussionist Martin Pyne and keyboard player David Beebee decided to develop the music of their Ripples album by adding a third member to the group. Saxophonist Josephine Davies is a very good choice; she mostly plays on soprano saxophone, the sound of which fits well with the overall textures of the music. There are 11 tracks, all given evocative titles, such as The Secret Life Of The Forest or Fresh Snowfall at Dawn. The title of one of the tracks, Unexpected Beauty, seems to reflect the overall impact of the music in which Pyne’s use of the vibes, balafon and other percussion fits well with Davies’ soprano saxophone sound and also with Beebee’sfocus on the ambient sounds of the keys. The prevailing mood is gentle. Two more upbeat tracks, The Many Colours Of Bamboo and Unexpected Beauty provide variety, and Davies’ use of the tenor saxophone on the latter track provides a welcome sense of real contrast. In The Act Of Noticing, Espial presents a contemplative approach to free improvisation in which the mood is thoughtful and the sounds are ambient, a long way from the high energy music of much free improvisation. The album is available on both CD and digitally on the burgeoning Discus Music label. – Tony Dudley-Evans, LONDON JAZZ NEWS

Espial are saxophonist Josephine Davies, percussionist Martin Pyne (also active in MPH) and multi-instrumental pianist David Beebee. They came together in this form when, sometime in 2023, Beebee and Pyne wondered how to further develop the music they had established on their duo album “Ripples”. David Beebee suggested adding a saxophone to the instrumentation and inviting Josephine Davies. Espial were born. With “The Act Of Noticing”, the trio’s debut CD was released in May 2024 by Discus Music, which was recorded at Sessions the year before, largely freely improvised. As on “Ripples”, bell-like vibraphone sounds or sound floating created with this and a bow meet the sparkling sounds of a Fender Rhodes electric piano, but now extensively expanded by tenor or soprano sax sounds. Some percussion was also mixed in and occasionally Pyne also plays a balafon, an African xylophone with calabashes as sound resonators (in “The many colours of bamboo” for example), which then provides a light world music atmosphere, which is also created from time to time by the correspondingly trumpeting sax. Otherwise, solemn to restrainedly undulating, impressionistic tone paintings predominate, coming from jazz, with a Canterbury atmosphere (still mostly produced by this warm-sparkling, jazzy-echoing electric piano sound), sometimes surprisingly filigree, almost fragile, also impressively colorful, voluminously reverberating and often dancing movingly, and all in all more melodic than weird.
The sax provides more jazz, but does not remove the music from the Canterbury corner. Josephine Davies adds new tonal colours to the pieces (compared to “Ripples”), which merge homogeneously with the tonal products of the other two protagonists. “The Act Of Noticing” is thus a very successful sister album to “Ripples”, and if you appreciate echoing electric piano sounds, Canterbury relatives, bell-like floating metallophone sounds and warm-croaking saxophone lines, or a densely interwoven mixture of these, you should also give this one a listen. – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN

The Act Of Noticing is an extension of Pyne and Beebee’s ideas developed on Ripples which came out in 2022. Pyne says that only ”… fresh snowfall at dawn” uses pre-composed material as a basis for improvisation. You certainly couldn’t know this if not told beforehand. ”Everything else is entirely spontaneous.” That is uncanny. There is a firm naturalistic sense at play, whether grasped in the tidal clang of ‘The Ever Changing Nature of River Water’ or earlier the evocations of cicadas you’d swear were additional instruments amid the rustle of ‘The Moment Summer Turns to Autumn.’ – MARLBANK

Martin Pyne, who drums with Martin Archer & Charlotte Keeffe in Hi Res Heart, has also drummed “Ripples” as a disc as a duo with keyboardist David Beebee, his partner in Small Blue. For the act of noticing (DISCUS 172), recorded in Beebee’s Beeboss Studio in Seaford, they now have Shetland Islands-based saxophonist Josephine Davies as their co-scout. What they explore are the beauty (“unexpected beauty”) and solitude (“the pleasure of solitude”) of nature, forest (“the secret life of the forest”) and meadow (“the breeze over a meadow”), the seasons (“the moment summer turns to autumn”). Not only on the doorstep, but also in the Far East (“the many colours of bamboo”). Beebee hints at the East as an attractor with busy working on new material when not playing Bach or trekking in the Himalayas, and is concentrated in Davies in Satori as her most personal project. To free oneself from the heaviness, to dissolve solid and hard, to strive for joy and happiness, not for oneself alone, but in general, for this Davies lets her wind, water, bird nature swell out of her mouth with soprano and tenor, flow, bubble, with ‘the breeze…’ as a soprano solo. Instead, Pyne windplays and trembles with vibra- and balafon, making it sparkle and tint like glass and crystal, woody or metal. And Beebee’s fingers ‘paint’, organ, strum with the keys of the electric piano as if with watercolour, as with icicles, with ‘the ever-changing nature of river water’ as a model. So zen-sublime that even the killer whales take a day of fasting. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

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