Punch by Elliot Galvin Trio

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I reckon Elliot Galvin was a horror as a child, the kind of kid who just had to find out first hand why you shouldn’t stick metal objects into live sockets.

This learning-by-doing approach is still very much a part of his make-up as a musician and composer. And one suspects he has an intellect to match it.

Punch is the second album by the Elliot Galvin Trio. Their 2013 debut, ‘Dreamland’, on Chaos Collective, received seriously complimentary reviews and signalled Galvin’s arrival at the forefront of the UK jazz scene. Innovative, audacious, mould-breaking and fun, its free ’n’ easy delivery belies the musical chops of the composer and pianist.

With both of Galvin’s bandmates coming from the Chaos Collective stable – Tom McCredie on double bass and Simon Roth on percussion and glockenspiel – it is no surprise that their music tends to avoid the obvious. I reckon it takes lots of talent and years of experience to get from a common start point to a notional end point with no map to get you there. That this youthful trio can do this, and have a load of fun in the process, tells you all need to know about their collective ability.

Praising the symbiotic relationship he has with his colleagues Galvin says: “Simon brings a massive sonic pallet and Tom brings a huge, beautiful sound”.

Elliot Galvin’s manic attention to detail can be seen in his decision to detune a melodica by a quartertone by painstakingly filing down the 36 reeds inside. Why? “I’ve always been a little frustrated that the piano can’t play the notes in between the notes.”

Punch was recorded in a converted old Soviet radio station in East Berlin. On first listen my ears didn’t know what to do with it! It is obvious that Galvin draws on a wide range of influences which include, we are told, “the films of David Lynch, the Dada movement and the literature of James Joyce”. The album is wildly theatrical with elements of old vaudeville coupled with slapstick timing. Add to that the excitement of the circus and the fairground. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? However, look a little closer and you will usually find a suggestion of something darker just out of frame.

The best way to enjoy this particular show is in one sitting (10 tracks, Total time: 38.14). At times you will be moved to ecstasies of joy by the fairytale beauty of the music, other times you will be hanging onto your seat as a head-wrecking rush of sound comes at you. An example of the latter can be found on Hurdy Gurdy as Galvin gets angry with his piano, seeking to create order from chaos. As with everything else on this album in the end it all makes perfect sense.

The album opens with a click and a hiss as a cassette tape starts to play a vintage recording from a live Punch & Judy show. 45 seconds later the piano comes in and we are rolling. The interplay between the three throughout the album’s many swells and dips is seamless.

Standout tracks include the tender and melodious ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ which tip-toes along on softly played piano, kalimba (African thumb piano) and glockenspiel, the double-bass giving a delicious suggestion of menace. The latter is justified when you know the anti-colonial basis of the story.

The track ‘Lions’ also grabs the attention with it’s unusual plucked string sound and grooving double bass. The former is actually achieved by Galvin covering the piano strings in duct tape!

I like the gloomy and sombre piano and bass dominated ‘1666’ which, the history books tell us, was a bad year for London – they were at war with the Dutch, the Great Fire laid waste to the city and, on top of that, the plague decimated the population. I say that was God punishing them for being so mean and nasty to their Celtic neighbours!

The band’s treatment of Kurt Weill’s ‘Mack The Knife’ is likely one of the most ominous and unsettling you will come upon. As such, one imagines that it captures the zeitgeist of 1930s Germany as intended by Brecht who, to that end, wrote an additional verse to the song in 1931. The tune ends, poignantly, with muted piano and glockenspiel.

The album closes with ‘Cosy’ which Galvin describes as “a nice tune … partly inspired by ‘A Day In The Life’ by The Beatles”. It is the perfect finale: a summing up of all that has gone before, and maybe a parting call to take the rough with the smooth because in the end everything will work out for the best.

Punch may challenge you on first listening. Stick with it and you will appreciate it for what it is: one of the most innovative jazz albums released this year.

Elliot Galvin is also a key part of the exciting new jazz ensemble Dinosaur which is led by award-winning trumpet player, improviser and composer Laura Jurd. We look forward to reviewing their debut album, ‘Together, As One’, in September.

Punch by Elliot Galvin Trio is out now on Edition Records.

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