With the release of 2013's double EP/The Shape of Doomjazz To Come/Saxophone Giganticus, the renegade Scottish trio Free Nelson MandoomJazz laid out its musical manifesto in bone-crunching terms and followed up in 2014 with the equally potent Awakening of a Capital. Both recordings showcased the Edinburgh-based musicians Colin Stewart (bass), Paul Archibald (drums) and Rebecca Sneddon (alto sax) in a provocative blend of doom metal and free jazz, influenced principally by such artists as Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard, Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Wayne Shorter.
The band's sound has progressed with each new recording, and now with The Organ Grinder they take it up a couple of notches. While retaining the same intensely throbbing core that is at the heart of Free MandoomJazz music, the addition of trumpeter Luc Klein and trombonist Patrick Darley on a few tracks brings new colors and textures to the proceedings. This is a bigger, bolder vision for the group without forsaking its punk-jazz essence.
"One major difference with this album is the space we recorded in," says drummer Archibald. "Before any writing took place, the first thing we decided on was the space-a 218-seat Victorian venue built in 1859. The Reid Hall is a huge space with tons of natural reverb, and our starting point for each song was 'what would sound good in this room? We worked closely with the sound engineer, Seamus Connacher."
Regarding the more focused intensity and aggressive attack heard on the core trio tracks throughout The Organ Grinder, Archibald says it's a natural development that came with time and bandstand experience. "Gigging has helped, listening to each other and seeing the reaction to certain songs. I think it comes individually, living apart, playing in different projects, and coming back together to see what we've all experienced. It keeps things fresh and gives us time away to think about direction. I know bands that tour all the time, get super polished but often struggle to find time to not play, but to compose and consider where they would like to go musically. We're the opposite of that, though there must be a happy balance somewhere!"
Bassist Stewart expounds on the notion of how the trio has grown since its incarnation. "The initial concept of the band was quite straightforward: doomjazz. 'Let's see if we can combine these two seemingly disparate genres'. But I think since then we've developed a lot in terms of what we can each bring to the group." Saxophonist Sneddon agrees that the band's approach to composition has definitely evolved since the first EP and Awakening of a Capital. "Each of us has taken a more collaborative role in writing for all instruments, not just our own. I think we all have a strong desire to push the boundaries of our own instruments, which creates limitless possibilities in composition. So our overall approach has matured, and with this album we all felt like we needed to break out of some of the structures of the previous releases."
The idea of adding trumpet and trombone for some track on The Organ Grinder also came about organically. "All three of us have worked with Luc Klein before in various jazz/blues projects," says Archibald. "We first met in 2010-2011. For some years now he's been living in Amsterdam as part of the jazz scene there. One of my earliest ideas for the album was that I wanted to do a take on 'Calcutta Cutie' by Horace Silver. We needed a trumpet for the head so I asked Luc to join us for that track. Luc came over for the whole period we were recording and ended up hanging out during rehearsals, our time in the Reid Hall, and the time in-between. We noticed quite early on that his personality was rubbing off on us as a group so we invited him to jam on some of the tracks we were rehearsing. He even wrote a song for us, which we liked and kept ('LORA')." He explains, "As for trombone, I had always wanted Patrick Darley on the album but was determined to wait until the right spot on the album came up. I love the sound of a trombone, and Paddy loves exploring what sounds and noises the instrument can make. When Luc wrote his song he incorporated trombone because he knew Paddy was playing (he knows him too!). The band met Paddy around the same time as we met Luc. We both have the same taste in jazz music and recently took a trip to New Orleans together. Paddy plays in many bands around Edinburgh; he makes a personal study of early trad jazz players."
Adds Stewart, "Luc was there while the songs were being written for the most part and it became obvious that his knowledge of us, as people and players as well as the sound of the band and what we wanted to achieve, was going to be invaluable. I hadn't initially included parts for him on any of the tracks I started but Luc is an 'ideas-man' and he certainly helped to shape the album, including his playing on this album, which I think is incredible."
Sneddon has equally high praise for the special guests on The Organ Grinder. "Having Luc's second opinion and creative input really helped with the clarity of tracks, and introducing trumpet into our sound was a fun and interesting step. When I conceived 'The Woods' and workshopped it with Colin and Paul, it was lacking something -- a hole which Paddy filled nicely. It was excellent timing, with Paddy only having recently arrived back in Edinburgh. His subtlety and inventiveness in playing really added to that track."
The introduction of piano on the Horace Silver tune "Calcutta Cutie" and organ on "Om" (both played by Archibald) was another new touch to the recording. "One advantage to using the Reid Hall was that it is an active classical concert venue with lots of instruments," explains Archibald. "I was excited to get access to these instruments and incorporate them when was appropriate. We obviously needed a piano for 'Calcutta Cutie' and there was a beautiful concert grand already there. The 'ting' sound you hear almost immediately at the start of that song was actually an old celesta in the corner. As for the organ, it dominated the space the moment we walked in. A 21-stop 2-manual German organ built by Jürgen Ahrend in 1978, it's considered to be one of the finest of its kind in the UK. It fills the room and is high above you as you record. It was just 'there' the whole time, and it just needed to be heard!"
Archibald adds that the idea of including Horace Silver cover, "Calcutta Cutie," was an easy choice. "Horace Silver is a very important artist to me. He's what got me listening to jazz in the first place. Of my five favourite albums in the world, two are his."
And Stewart says, "I'm definitely the least jazz literate of the group but Horace Silver really helped me to get into the genre as a whole and I think it's just because a lot of those riffs as you could call them are really memorable and get stuck in your head. I guess in that sense there is a parallel with the rock and metal stuff we like so much as well. I'm a sucker for a good riff in any genre."
"I've known about Paul's love for Horace Silver for a while, so I guess it was inevitable that he suggests this track," says Sneddon. "Luckily, I'm also a fan, and as a horn player it's always fun to play these tunes, especially with Luc on board. I was initially unsure as to how it would fit in on the album, but Paul convinced me that the tune was 'doomy' enough, and in context alongside our jazzier tracks I think it works well."
Sneddon also contributes the compelling, atmospheric piece "The Woods." Says Archibald, "We each have one on this album (a first for us, where usually everything is equally-composed). Mine is 'You Are Old, Father William' and Colin's is 'Shapeshifter' (Luc's is 'LORA'). Becca had given me instructions as to what she wanted, mostly in metaphors, but very helpful."
Currently, the three core members of Free Nelson MandoomJazz, who formed in Edinburgh, Scotland, are scattered to three different spots on the globe -- Rebecca in Bristol, Colin in Abu Dhabi and Paul in Edinburgh. "It's very easy to collaborate nowadays even when we're far away," says "Archibald. "We come together on average for two/three sessions per year, one European Tour and then for another shorter thing, a festival, or a one-off big performance somewhere. And perhaps a recording. This has been the format for the past two years. We will be doing our third European Tour this September, doubling as an album launch, and we are booked for a festival in Gdansk (Festiwal Jazz Jantar) in November. And maybe something further afield after that."
Stay tuned for the further adventures of this mighty triumvirate. They may be coming to a jazz festival near you. Meanwhile, dig The Organ Grinder.
1. Open The Gate
2. You Are Old, Father William
4. The Woods
5. Calcutta Cutie
7. Bicycle Day
8. Inferno Pt. 1