Somnambule - Writing About Music

Spin Marvel

Spin Marvel is an intriguing new project led by drummer Martin France, aided by Tim Harries on bass and keyboards, John Parricelli on guitars and Terje Evensen on keyboards, drums and other programming. France first came to notice in the ‘80s as part of the Loose Tubes big band. Since that group’s demise he has worked with Django Bates, Billy Jenkins and a wide variety of other musicians. The music begins with reverberating bass that gradually meshes with echoing notes from Parricelli’s guitar. Brushed drums steal up and overtake this contemplative soundscape while a heart-like pulse beats at its rear, then bass and guitar return for a concluding segment. The clarity of this simple structure allows for contemplation and a welcome sense of mystery.

Black Wing is less ruminative, but it continues its predecessor’s mood with extended tones suspended over racing drums like the half-remembered memory of breakbeats (particularly the noirscapes of Roni Size and DJ Krust’s pre-New Forms releases). There’s a flickering, thrumming energy here which becomes genuninely exciting when married to Parricelli’s screaming guitar. Interestingly though, his solo is kept in the middle distance with Harries and France dominating the foreground. Although the beats sound partially programmed there’s a real sense of rhythmic improvisation that maintains attention where the more rigid rhythms of Two Step and its offspring fail to engage outside of clubland.

Mono Mouth is drum and bass re-imagineered by skilled improvisors: there’s that particular form of determined attack that only the physicality of instruments played in real-time can achieve. Mono Mouth prompts thoughts of Noh theatre Butoh dance while Totem presents four minutes of active ambience, a drifting fog that appears to harbour bandits. Copper Field recalls the mid-term releases of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society with France’s whirring rhythm mechanisms winding and unwinding over its six minute course.

Given Martin France’s history, Spin Marvel is a real surprise. This music is ambitious, abstract and remarkably contemporary. There’s no hint of jovial parochialism or the tyranny of ‘real jazz’ (whatever that means). Spin Marvel deserves the sort of attention that defining labels like Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series or Rune Grammofon are accorded, here’s hoping it gets it.
Colin Buttimer
August 2005
Published by the BBC