ROCK ‘n’ roll: the experimental jazz collective Peace Flag Ensemble has its seed in a meeting at a book group, somewhere, we’re told, between when pianist Jon Neher and ambient artist and producer Michael Scott Dawson had been reading and discussing Her Body And Other Stories, by Carmen Maria Machado and Murakami’s Killing Commendatore.
As talk progressed further into the arts beyond the bounds of the strictly literary, the two began to bond over a shared love of musique concrète, the Seventies’ output of the ECM label, modern minimalism; ere long the idea of collaborating was floated, and thus was Peace Flag Ensemble born, as the two called on musicians with the correct chops from across their home in the verdant Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
The ensemble found a purity and an openness of approach when it gathered together, as you can find within the covers of its rather lovely debut album, Noteland, which is out on We Are Busy Bodies on June 18th. Need further evidence? Well, we’ve embedded the video for their latest teaser single, “Presentism”, herein for you.
Contemplative, maybe a little sad even, on “Presentism” the brass is throaty, and the melody somehow feels like the end of the affair; minor chords bring the lyrical flight of the main melody back to earth, but it flies bittersweet in between. The track progresses into a more piano-led passage, one of high chime and extended chords, before gradually dimming into a repeating synth figure, chirrups and squeaks. Rather lovely.
It comes accompanied by a video that experiments with creating moving portraiture. The director, Evan Parsons says: “I was messing around with the speed of the video afterwards and just really loved the effect it had when I slowed it down – almost to the point that you can’t even tell it’s a moving image at first.
“There’s something dreamy and hypnotic about it that I think really lends itself to Peace Flag Ensemble’s music.”
The album is really rather lovely itself; built around Jon Neher’s piano improvisations, it features the electric bass anchoring and melodies of Travis Packer and the punch and yearn of trumpeter Dalton Lam and saxophonist Paul Gutheil. Michael Scott Dawson was behind the faders and also contributes electronics, guitars, and field recordings, resulting in a record drawing on Keith Jarrett and Mark Hollis.
“Everyone leaned into their own intuition and inspiration. I think that kept us from limiting possibilities.” says Michael. “Sometimes that means a saxophone is reduced to just the crackle of a spit valve, sometimes it’s blurred into pastoral ambiance, and sometimes … well, sometimes it’s just a saxophone.”
John adds: “This record really allowed us to explore so many kinds of spontaneity while still crafting and polishing a finished work; that is a rare treat in improvised music.”
Of course, Backseat Mafia has had the album a little while – watch out for our review on the morning of June 13th – a d we’ve said, by way of sneaky preview: “Discipline. That’s a key thing here: the ensemble has such talent, such chops, and with the studio wizardry and the infinite possibilities presented by filtering through electronica post-production, they could’ve flown as high as they’d wished into experimenta; but they didn’t, every moment of looseness, freedom and trickery is executed with thought and maybe a wise chuckle.
“They wanted to make a pretty, but odd, but actually pretty album; and they’ve succeeded. It surprises you in the way it approaches the jazz and compositional canon with respect and also playfulness. A record that can go on to serve as a trusted companion for your solo meanders across town, yourself as the camera; for a blissful evening. If you’re a fan of Samuel Sharp’s recent Patterns Various, or even Martin Duffy’s Assorted Promenades, you’ll love the mood and the intelligence that Peace Flag Ensemble bring.”
You know, maybe rock’n’roll ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Peace Flag Ensemble’s Noteland will be released digitally and on vinyl by We Are Busy Bodies on June 18th; you can pre-order you copy now over at Bandcamp.