“Shields is their major statement: two long, no-edits performances recorded in a converted Methodist church in Leeds. The saxophone, guitar and drums trio…..sound like anything but – the huge, echoing rumbles of “North” resemble slowed down whale song or tectonic chatter; they just come from sax or guitar, but flanged and gated and utterly, fascinatingly denatured. There is a deep understanding between the players, because both movements…..move with an almost narrative logic, as if a journey has already been made.” – Brian Morton, THE WIRE
The Geordie Approach is 2 Norwegians and a Geordie. They met in Leeds and play improvised music. They have been doing it since the early 00s. The name? A stupid comment about the correct volume to operate amplifiers (loud enough to disrupt all surrounding activity and stimulate acts of desperate violence) that became a kind of mantra to how the band would approach its performances and recordings.
Both of the band’s previous records (on Simon H. Fell’s Bruce’s Fingers label) featured edited improvisations, cut to ‘song length’ to emphasise the group’s highly compositional approach to improvisation; opting for focused episodes of layered improvisation over the more stream-of-consciousness approach of some free improvisation.
In the lead up to The Geordie Approach’s latest album ‘Shields’, the band toured extensively around Europe and Japan honing their episodic, ‘everything-is-permitted’ approach to improvisation. Following festival performances in the UK, the band set up in a re-purposed Methodist church in Leeds with a handful of microphones and played two 30 minute pieces. These two pieces, ’North’ and ’South’ comprise the album. What you hear is what we played. No edits. No fixes. We have travelled and played quite a lot with this band over the years, and had always felt that we fell short of capturing the excitement of our live gigs onto tape. We remember discussing the Kind of Blue session, how they set up and recorded as a live band at Columbia 30th Street Studio – just like playing any other gig – and how the ‘liveness’ of that album comes through in the music. Recording this session at Chapel FM in Leeds, we tried to do the same; setting up a PA, in the same space, no headsets, playing to each other and the room as we normally do. And we felt that finally, finally, we managed to actually record what we do.
We are very proud of this record. The patience and slow, focused pace of the music is something we’ve been striving for, for a long time and it makes for an extremely satisfying listen for us as a group.
The album was recorded by Håkon Holmås and mixed by Chris Sharkey with mastering by Peter Beckmann
Ståle Birkeland – Drums
Petter Frost Fadnes – Saxophone / Electronics
Chris Sharkey- Guitar / Electronics
Shields is their major statement: two long, no-edits performances recorded in a converted Methodist church in Leeds. The saxophone, guitar and drums trio…..sound like anything but – the huge, echoing rumbles of “North” resemble slowed down whale song or tectonic chatter; they just come from sax or guitar, but flanged and gated and utterly, fascinatingly denatured. There is a deep understanding between the players, because both movements…..move with an almost narrative logic, as if a journey has already been made. – Brian Morton, THE WIRE
The Geordie Approach are no ordinary improvising trio. Their previous two albums….both showcased short extracts of longer improvisations, edited to highlight the group’s compositional approach to spontaneous music making. This overdue follow-up, however, contains two much longer pieces that more closely resemble their live shows, revealing an impresssibe feel for long-form story telling. There’s a cavernous ambience and sense of scale to both these pieces, as though broadcast from inside some enormous hangar: on “North” a thick, foggy rumble is pierced by a plaintive, distant call, like a train on a rainy night, while a tactile percussive clatter sets up the foreground. Later, a driving throb emerges, powered by a simple snare figure and seeded with elusive electronic sounds. Half the fun here, in fact, lies in trying to figure out which instruments are making which sounds, as they deal in lumbering squelches and queasy timbres. The second piece “South” moves even further away from improv clichés, intriducing an irresistable 808 acid wibble more likely to encourage the shaking of butts than the stroking of chins. – Daniel Spicer, JAZZWISE
One of my favourite groups ever, and if you’ve never tried them, now would be as good a time as any. The basic set-up is straightforward enough: two Norwegians and a Tynesider who came together in Leeds. Their first released work was on Simon H. Fell’s Bruce’s Fingers label, but they’ve evolved a bit since then. The background inspiration – or guideline – for Shields was the spontaneous method Miles Davis adopted in the studio after Lift For The Scaffold. Turn up, start playing and see what emerges. The earlier records were edited somewhat, but his new one delivers two chunky pieces, North and South, that go where they listeth and make much use of the group’s (also possibly Miles-inspired) commitment to quiet playing. A friend asked me – and I still don’t know what inspired the question – Are they anything like Borbetomagus? And the simple answer is that TGA probably stand at the opposite pole or antipodes to the unlamented Borb. There’s no frantic overblowing. Often the busiest thing on the stand is Ståle Birkeland’s augmented kit, and while he can do a Blakey or an Elvin when the mood takes him, his default mode is quieter and more reflective. He reminds me oddly of Shelly Manne. Sure, there’s an undercurrent of violence in some of the music, but it’s far more reflective than the normal run of improv/noise situations. Petter Frost-Fadnes’s saxophone has a certain Nordic chill about it, but he often sounds like Trevor Watts in Amalgam days, which implies a folksier feel. Chris Sharkey is the glue that holds everything together. Whether he live-samples or uses presets and prepared materials isn’t clear, but here he does seem to feed back a lot of the others’ output. Discus has become of the essential labels of contemporary music, thanks to Martin Archer’s tireless commitment to new sounds and ideas. It seems like an ideal berth for TGA. – Brian Morton, JAZZ JOURNAL
Two Norwegians and a Geordie—the nickname for someone from an area of North East England—excel at semi-structured and largely improvised acoustic-electric works, and celebrate their first album for this multi-dimensional UK-based record label that is unrestricted by any musical boundaries. Therefore, the trio straddles avant-garde, ambient-electronica, and other EFX-framed offshoots. However, they defy tradition because of drummer Ståle Birkeland’s asymmetrical timekeeping and pulsing beats, which are not commonplace in cosmic, textural, and colorific electronica outings. Basically, the unbalanced cadences drive home these off-colored murals, sparking one’s imagination to run rampant. The two lengthy tracks project a broad spectrum of noise-shaping events which could be backdrops for sci-fi thrillers or, in some instances, impending cataclysmic events, but Birkeland’s beats inject a free-jazz improv element into the production, swaying it from the norm. On “North” Petter Frost Fadnes and Chris Sharkey morph different pitches with an undulating synth dialogue into episodic storylines, often gleaning a series of menacing occurrences along with forceful rhythmic build-ups and a sweeping soundstage. “South” begins with crackling and reverberating EFX canvasses, charted on an ominous sound design and perhaps smashing atoms along the way, as the tenor and tonalities shift during its 37-minute length. But the drummer’s straightforward bass drum groove leads the trio into a dark forward-moving current toward a digital abyss of sorts. Moreover, they could be saluting the gods of free jazz amid Frost Fadnes’ searching sax lines and Birkeland’s peppery use of cymbals and small percussion implements just before closeout. Hence, the trio’s unorthodox electronica slants elevate the production into much more than just a dreamlike fantasy. – Glenn Astarita, ALL ABOUT JAZZ https://www.allaboutjazz.com/shields-the-geordie-approach-discus-music
Ein Geordie ist offenbar jemand aus Newcastle upon Tyne in Nordengland (oder der Umgebung), der zudem den dort vorherrschenden, recht eigenen Englischen Dialekt spricht. Chris Sharkey stammt wohl von dort, und entspricht auch sonst der eben genannten Definition. Anfang des neuen Jahrtausends lief er in Leeds (wo die drei Protagonisten offenbar leben) den beiden Norwegern Ståle Birkeland und Petter Frost Fadnes über den Weg. Das Ergebnis des Zusammentreffen war das Trio The Geordie Approach, welches seither vor allem live aktiv ist, da man siech vorwiegend spontan improvisierten Klängen widmet. Trotzdem hat die Band bis dato auch drei Tonträger veröffentlicht: “Why Eye” (2008), “Inatween” (20013) und “Shields” (2019), letzteres unlängst erschienen auf Martin Archers Discus Music. Zwei lange, ungekürzt und auch sonst nicht nachbearbeitete Liveimprovisationen sind auf “Shields” zu finden, die schon im Herbst 2015 in Leeds aufgenommen wurden. Eine Art Free-Rock gibt es zu hören, den das Trio vermittels eines Schlagzeugs, eines Saxophons und einer E-Gitarre erzeugt. Dazu erklingt noch recht viel Elektronisches, zwitschert und zirpt es, wogen allerlei pulsierende Sounds durchs Klangbild, und erklingen im Hintergrund diverse kosmische Klangwolken und Tongespinste. Dass hier meist ein Saxophon zu hören ist, erkennt man eigentlich kaum, sind dessen Tonerzeugnisse doch umfangreich effektverfremdet und live prozessiert, was meistenteils auch für die E-Gitarre gilt. Nur das Schlagzeug macht das, was man von ihm erwartet, oder klingt so, wie ein Schlagwerk zu klingen hat. Birkeland bedient es zudem sehr virtuos, vielseitig und dynamisch, offenbar zusammen mit allerlei weiterer Perkussion. Einige der perkussiven Sounds, und auch einige weitere Klänge, kommen aber vermutlich, von den Protagonisten gesteuert, vom Band (oder besser: vom Computer). Das Ergebnis ist eine ausgesprochen beeindruckende Tour de Force durch freie Rockwelten. Elektronisch, seltsam psychedelisch, fast krautig, wuselt das Trio dahin, verliert dabei aber nie die Kohärenz. Eine Art elektronisch-progressiver Jam ist das, oft durchaus wüst, hektisch, sperrig und wild, der aber nie zu Lärm oder völlig verkopftem Plingen à la quietschende Tür gerät. Will sagen, man kann hier prima zuhören. Die vielschichtige Musik nimmt gefangen, erreicht immer wieder eine ausgesprochen hypnotische Intensität, erzeugt oft ein energetisches, repetitiv-minimalistisches Pulsieren, dröhnt mitunter gewaltig, ergeht sich aber im Ausgleich auch in ruhigeren Inseln, die mysteriös wogen, kosmisch wabern und bisweilen fast ambientartig dahin gleiten. Sehr dicht verwoben sind die ausgesprochen farbigen Klänge, die sich dynamisch voran arbeiten, versehen mit viel Hall und Tiefe. Das Ganze ist zudem sehr mächtig und klar produziert. “Shields” ist ein ausgesprochen spannendes Album mit improvisierter, treibend-wogender, progressiv-rockig-elektronischer Musik, das mir ausgesprochen viel Spaß macht. Wer Freiformatiges aus dem Grenzgebiet von Elektronik und Rock schätzt, der/die sollte “Shields” nicht verpassen. Erfrischend! – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
The cd is comprised of two lengthy improvisations of 26 and 37 minutes that are heard as played. In both cases we dealing with heavy electric and electronic improvisations of an abstract level that seem to depart from a fusion-music approach. Guitar and sax are often treated beyond recognition, except for the drums
by Birkeland. ‘North’ opens with a section of deep melancholic sounds, before they continue to develop thick layered spatial soundscapes that drift upon the repetitive patterns played by Birkeland. Also ‘South’ starts with creating spatial and floating textures of ‘cosmic’ proportions. We are almost halfway this space travel before a pulsating beat is introduced. Both excursions are very dynamic improvisations. – Dorf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY
Negotiating the narrow parameters that join minimalism to mesmerizing are two unconventional trios whose sessions’ allure lies in devising unexpected textures without losing touch with progressive narratives. Much younger of the groups is The Geordie Approach, which despite its name includes only one player from the UK’s northeast and two Norwegians. Now Leeds-based, the Geordie, guitarist Chris Sharkey, plays in a duo with Mark Sanders and any number of bands. Norwegian drummer Ståle Birkeland plays in groups like the Kitchen Orchestra, while alto saxophonist Petter Frost Fadnes is director of Jazz Studies at the University of Stavanger. There’s no hint of the academic in the trio’s two extended tracks. However the astute use of electronics by the saxophonist and guitarist interpolates unanticipated pulses into the program. Over the course of “North” for instance, the interaction leisurely stretches from drumstick clacks, string shakes and repetitive reed puffs to metrical drum splatters and echoing saxophone wheezes. Mixed with wave form undulations, backing from a pseudo-vocal chorus is suggested as affiliated timbres expand to a crescendo of tremolo patterning then fade. Companion track “South” is louder and tougher, with the percussion rhythms more disjointed though thumping, while organ-like tremolos and spiraling crackles take over the forefront along with backwards running flanges. Although the dissected reed tones and guitar licks are initially distant, by mid-point a groove is established. Melding ratcheting string twangs, simple drum clip-clops that could emanate from a small practice kit, and nasal reed vibrations, the recurring motifs are divided into further unidentifiable noise variables which wiggle to a climax. As the signal processing extraterrestrial pulses and acoustic impulses stake out different parameters clipped drum beats bring them to a defining conclusion. – Ken Waxman, JAZZ WORD. http://www.jazzword.com/one-review/?id=130280
The Geordie Approach is sax + electronics, drums, guitar + electronics, provided by Petter Frost Fadnes, Ståle Birkeland and Chris Sharkey, respectively; but think about how many ways that could go, especially around these Squiddy parts. The three do use that ensemble, but there is something else making the final product so spectacular: The engineering (and mastering, and the “natural resonance” of Chapel FM in Leeds), whose contribution isn’t a simple addition of low-end or compression on the Juno 6. It’s crucial clarity required for ingesting this synthesized — yet organic, not digitally blinding — high definition amusement park meets Mines of Moria. (It sure is goofy and snobbish to start an art review with a full paragraph about the house where the piece is hung, so to speak, rather than the work or components making up the thing, but that’s the type of “um, wow!” impact this Timbaland sheen inspires near two minutes into “North” when a floor tom hit lands like a dump truck. Thirty seconds later, something akin to a demolition blast splits the ceiling and ricochets as a depth charge. Yes.*) To call Shields a journey (split into two half-hour installments) is an understatement, and it admittedly requires a long night drive or a summer of home projects with it as the soundtrack to justly absorb the sound bath-like elements and gradual shape-shifting atmosphere. You will often feel pressed against the window of an aquarium watching a bonkers-looking ecosystem work in harmony; close your eyes, and overactive minds raised on television will think of motor-less craft humming over gases and terrain of various supernatural colors. Or it might remind you of the time you were fortunate enough to wander star-eyed amidst the shops on shops in the cobble-stone maze of downtown (insert European city here). At times, Fadnes & sax capture the reverent spookiness that John Butcher’s work with (cave) acoustics can summon; that comes to a halt when Fadnes tosses in a pseudo-trombone and further tweaks it into an Oberheim Matrix brass pad. One section mutates from a spritely hoe-down vamp of snare, brushes and a mountain of sound into that same threesome plus drum machine set on “Acid House”. There are long passages of the aforementioned futuristic drum kit where Birkeland switches between “Moby Dick”, the “tuning up” improvisers do when sizing each other up at the beginning of a session, and the type of jazz tethered to a tempo, but each arm is doing what it can to find ways to swing (or topple) the beat. And of course there is a careful choreography of amplification and manipulation to make his work here otherworldly. The edges of any occasional straight-forward beat are frayed and filtered, like messing with someone’s shadow. I may have heard a single three-note arpeggio and a couple positive matches for string plucks, but an implied vision (in my head) of Sharkey in concert involves welding and lightning, the Hendrix-hunched-over-burning-guitar pose, screw drivers, and squinting as he reads what he’s toggling and patching while juggling a piece of wood around his neck. Regardless, he has to be somewhere in the cloud brewing at the finale. A recurring motif of staccato wooden strikes, taps, pokes, and smacks briefly appears and chokes as this fog swells around, pulling Fadnes’ looping horn parts with it. The wind down of the last moments eschew brute force in favor with a wavering, almost tonally grounded drone / melody that soothes a dying storm of saxophone growls. One last jump in the form of what sounds as someone taking the brunt of a falling harp, and we’re crawling away dehydrated. At their core, The Geordie Approach is equal parts Art Ensemble of Chicago, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and other crews who keep form and composition as a guide when improvising (aka Instant Composition). There are numerous other touch stones and references to other musical universes (and even a cheeky riff on the Bolero theme) in Shields, but one would be cautious to accuse the trio Approach of anything but homage or happenstance (how many guitar songs end up in E major?) when pointing out similarities with Kosmische greats, or the band’s penchant for focused twelve-minute development tornadoes ala specific Canadian collectives linked with “Post Rock”. Music is a language, it just happens that The Geordie Approach is fluent in at least ten. – Dave Madden, SQUID’S EAR
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