And This Is One Of Them...
Eclectica!'s debut album, And This Is One Of Them..., was released on 33 Records in 2009, with a second album due (this time from MGP Records (UK)) later this autumn. The present offering is one of those great, wonderful rareties - a live recording, recorded in the intimate settings of a club. Or, in this case, two clubs. Part of the album was recorded at Ronnie Scott's on 26th October, 2008, the remainder at Oxford's Holywell Music Room on 13th December, 2008. Live recordings of this kind generally offer the advantage of straight "first take" recordings, and that indefinable extra atmosphere that an audience in such a setting adds. And This Is One Of Them... certainly is no exception here.
The band were formed in 2007, with ace guitarist Nicolas Meier replacing the original second guitarist, Argentinean Luis D'Agostino (who returned to Argentina) in 2008. Eclectica! is a band that is not easily described or pinned down. They describe themselves as a string quartet with the second violin and the viola replaced by two guitars. Essentially, they play jazz that's informed by their very diverse backgrounds, with the material principally being furnished by South American music - tangos, sambas, bossas and so on - and the more recent popular music "standards" of North America and Britain - particularly, Joni Mitchell material - as well as some of the more recent classics of jazz. And not forgetting, of course, originals by guitarist/composer Pete Oxley. A veritable smorgasbord then.
Eclectica! is comprised of Lizzie Ball, violin and vocals, Bernard Gregor-Smith, cello, and Nicolas Meier and Pete Oxley, guitars. Ball's background is essentially classical, with latin music also prominent in the form of her work with Classico Latino (a group specialising in Colombian music), as well as prominent work in the pop world. Gregor-Smith is still best known for his forty-year tenure with and as a founder member of one of the world's most highly regarded string quartets, the Lindsay String Quartet. The guitarists' backgrounds are principally in jazz. Oxley, though initially classically trained, is a jazz guitarist and composer, best known for his work with world-jazz group Curious Paradise, while Meier, also conservatoire trained, is perhaps best known for his work with his Meier Group and diverse jazz guitar trios and quartets, with his music being heavily informed by Turkish music and flamenco amongst others, and if that's not enough variety, Meier also performs and records with his metal band Seven7.
Impeccable pedigrees all round, then. And, on paper at least, Eclectica! couldn't have chosen a better band name.
And the material on And This Is One Of Them... certainly proves the point. A delightful surprise here is the inclusion, in the form of the opener, of a Luis Borda composition, Baionga. Surprise on account of Borda regrettably, even shamefully, not being anywhere near as well known in the anglophone music world as he certainly deserves. Borda, an Argentinean composer and guitarist (of principally tango nuevo) living in Germany, is generally considered as one of if not the most important exponents and composers of tango nuevo since Piazzolla, extending the form further.
The outstanding mix of material further consists of Joni Mitchell's River, one of three vocal tracks on And This Is One Of Them..., Chick Corea's Spain, Astor Piazzolla's La Misma Pena, Lennon and McCartney's Get Back (the second of the vocal tracks), and Antonio Carlos Jobim's unforgettable Girl From Ipanema (the last of the three vocal tracks). Three wonderful Pete Oxley originals round off this delightful smorgasbord. How much more eclecticism could one ask for!
It would be extremely tempting here to go into each of the selections individually, but I shall restrain myself from doing so and limit myself to just one of them that I really can't resist. Overall, this blend of extremely diverse material works beautifully, and Eclectica! most decidedly live up to their name. Moreover, they blend this very eclectic material into their very own style with superb cohesion. The musical and virtuosic pedigree of Eclectica! has to be beyond question, and they could have been paying together for many years, such is the empathy among the players. Both soloing and ensemble play are second to none. Lizzie Ball, in addition to her superlative violin, also gives a vocal performance that is impressive and at times - no pun intended - ballsy.
The one track on And This Is One Of Them... I simply can't refrain from commenting upon individually is, of course, Jobim's Girl From Ipanema. This is about as far as one can get from the typical, stereotypically "cool bossa" kind of performances that one so often heard in the past, and even the recent past. It is an absolute classy delight, with Ball's sensitive vocals (in English, and later also Brazilian) interspersed with a long instrumental interlude that presents some outstanding solos. A performance that Jobim himself would have enjoyed. I have to admit to without reservation preferring this version to the Astrud Gilberto one. Classy and sensuous as no other.
With And This Is One Of Them..., Eclectica! have produced a debut album that is not only a very mature effort but totally consistent. It is also an album that is more than compelling, rather, it is utterly enchanting as well as exciting. Simply put, brilliant. You will want to play this over and over again and never tire of it even in years to come. Its single fault is that it leaves the listener craving for more. Roll on, the new Eclectica! album! I for one am more than impatient for its arrival.
Eclectica's And This Is One Of Them... is, almost needless to say, an addition to any good contemporary jazz collection that is beyond essential. It will also be a most welcome addition to any good general modern/contemporary music collection. An absolute must have!
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