I love the word “Inkling”…it’s a notion, it’s a small stick figure lost in a large world, it’s a newborn creature in a Mervyn Peake novel. It’s a word that stirs the imagination, as does the music by Spindle Ensemble. As their name suggests they are a modern classical quartet and this is the first release from newly formed label Hidden Notes, who also run a festival focussed on presenting contemporary classical and avant-garde composers, held at St Laurence church at Stroud in Gloucestershire. The first festival featured the Spindle Ensemble, who must have made an impression as they have since been signed to the newly formed label.
Formed by composer and pianist Daniel Inzani in 2016, and joined by Harriet Riley (tuned percussion), Jo Silverston (cello) and Caelia Lunniss (violin) the quartet are Bristol based. This is their second album, the first being Bea in 2017, and it was recorded at various venues in and around Bristol.
From its piano tinkling opening to its Satie like ending this album is sumptuous, broad ranging and beautiful. It never strays from its modern classical, jazz tinged and slightly avant-garde palette, but it works as several wonderfully crafted pieces of music or an engrossing album. Is it just me or am I picking up elements of “Oh What A Wonderful Mornin'” from Oklahoma at the beginning of the title piece, just before the (Phillip) Glass-ian violin comes in, which is referenced throughout the piece by different instruments, almost like they are shaking hands with each other. There is certainly a feel of the more fantastical elements of early Hollywood here. During the course of its 7 + minutes there are some gorgeous piano led chords that are interplayed by touches of violin.
“Okemah Sundown” comes in like Ennio Morricone riding in over a western horizon before total Hollywood strings paint the landscape with dotted figures and wagons. Okemah is a city in Oklahoma (!) which developed in 1902 from a tent dwelling. “Caligo” is mostly a piece for strings and percussion, with some wonderful unison pizzicato rhythms. The word Caligo has three definitions – a butterfly, a dimness or obscurity of sight, or an oil based ink. Given the title of the album I’m inclined to favour the latter. “Chase” features piano and percussion in a wonderful interplay. I’m no expert in this field so my frame of reference is narrow but I can’t help but think that Ruth Underwood could perhaps be an influence here. Her work with both Zappa and Beefheart bears similarities to some of the playing featured on this album. I’m thinking “Golden Birdies”.
“Waves” starts like an Edwardian drawing room before sweeping itself over broader, darker, ominous landscapes like a camera pulling out and out until the vista lies waste before us, like Joni Mitchell’s “Paprika Plains” (I told you my frames of reference were limited!) with rolling hills and vast dramatic enclaves, rivers slicing through like scimitars, washing it all down to the hungry sea…something like that anyway! And like a typical jazz form, and indeed “Paprika Plains”, it starts and ends with the tune or head, played on violin and harp.
“Genie” creates magic with the lovely rolling tremolo of the vibe with some dramatic rising and falling piano chords pushing and pulling at it, while an other-worldly string quartet plays some thick cloying velvet drapes, like a séance in a Graham Greene novel.
“Menilmontant” is an area of Paris, a silent film from 1926, which portrays the axe murder of the parents of two sisters, and a French comedy drama film from 1936. It’s not known to which the piece refers but it has a stately feel which brings to mind the composer Erik Satie, the velvet gentleman. French boudoirs from the turn of the century, and flickering sepia street scenes of bustles and urchins, carriages and wrought iron art nouveau clocks unfold before the mind’s eye, with comedy style Jacques Tati scenes involving newspaper sellers and portly gentlemen. Or maybe that’s just me!
Whatever images it sums up in your mind I would definitely recommend this. It won’t disappoint.
Find out more on Spindle Ensemble’s official website.
Review by Andrew Wood