Track: Peace Flag Ensemble – ‘Human Pyramid’; Canadian improvisational jazz quintet drop a lovely, fluvial piece ahead of their debut album

Peace Flag Ensemble

LADIES and gentlemen of the weirder musical persuasion: introducing a new act to especially intrigue the weird jazzers among you, Peace Flag Ensemble, an experimental collective drawn from various points across the verdant central Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

The quintet are set to release their first venture into long-playing recordings on June 18th on Toronto’s We Are Busy Bodies label, already home to such diverse acts as the brilliant, shambling indiepop of The Lemons, the scorched leftfield post-punk of Newfound Interest In Connecticut and the gentle ambience of Michael Scott Dawson. Another feather in the label’s already finely festooned cap.

Actually, its Michael who’s in the production chair for their debut album, Noteland, a first, unveiling track from which, “Human Pyramid”, you can run the rule over below.

Yeah, right? When you think free jazz, you maybe immediately conjure up Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, pure raw skronk and articulation; but what you get in “Human Pyramid” is a free-flowing melodicism, with brass up top looking after the licks and melody, a warmer piano harmony underneath, all a-glimmer. It forges a course out in Jaga Jazzist country – unafraid to be weird but equally unafraid to be pretty.

It’s that piano that lends the starting point for everyone else, and that fluvial improvisation comes courtesy Jon Neher, ably pinned into a deeper sonic pace by the bass work of Travis Packer. It’s Dalton Lam and Paul Guthiel handling the brass – trumpet and sax respectively – bringing both texture and melody; while Michael Scott Dawson moves beyond the faders to mix guitars, electronica and field recordings into proceedings.

It draws from such influences as Keith Jarrett and Mark Hollis. Peace Flag Ensemble is the sum of its parts. Everyone leaned into their own intuition and inspiration. I think that kept us from limiting possibilities,” says Micheal.

“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.” 

And how about this for rock’n’roll; the ensemble took seed when Michael and Jon bonded at … a book club, somewhere around the time they were reading Haruki Murakami. Talk soon moved beyond books to the Seventies output of legendary leftfield highbrow imprint ECM, contemporary minimalists and musique concrète. 

Jon 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.”

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.

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