The opportunity to review a fusion of progressive jazz styled rock within a contemporary music setting does not often arise. That is unless the perpetrators of such musical combinations are actually in the business of specializing with such amalgamations. The North Sea Radio Orchestra (NSRO) is one such outfit concentrating in such musical fusions being an English contemporary music ensemble and a cross-disciplinary chamber orchestra (plus chorus). The album itself was recorded in concert at Conservatorio Nicolini in Piacenza, for Dark Companion Records on November 30th, 2018
The selection of Robert Wyatt’s highly acclaimed album ‘Rock Bottom’ as a project is certainly an inspired choice for many reasons, mainly the complexity of different time signatures, and the weirdly complex lyrical prose and audio interludes. All this together with the intensity of the compositional make up and multi instrumental impact giving much latitude for musical interpretation and re-expression.
NSRO have totally understood and grabbed, in its entirety, the spirit of the original recording. In addition not only have they captured the beautiful textures and moods of the original scores but have elucidated the associated and complex rhythmic soundscapes to make them more charismatic, melodic and somehow accessible. Even the strange and sometimes childlike-wit, encompassed within the poetry, of the original composer, is so brilliantly captured with the amazing vocal skills of Annie Barbazza
But the really good thing is, for those who are not familiar with the original album by ‘Robert Wyatt’, it really does not matter if you have heard it or not... For this as a standalone project shines brightly incorporating some wonderfully composite instrumental passages with violin, bassoon, complex percussive patterns and all sorts of audio inserts layered into the mix. It is indeed an intriguing album that totally engulfs you from the very start and which gets better with successive plays. It is an album to enjoy, savor and play frequently.
Summary: A perfect fusion of jazz-influenced rock with the subtle harmonics of chamber music infusions.
1. Sea Song 5:54
2. A Last Straw 5:27
3. Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road 5:04
4. Alifib 7:45
5. Alifie 5:19
6. Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road 5:18
7. The British Road 6:25
8. Maryan 5:41
9. Shipbuilding 4:47
10. O Caroline 5:09
Annie Barbazza: Lead Vocal/Farfisa Organ
John Greaves: Bass guitar/Vocal (track 4 and 11)/Spoken Word (track 3, 5 and 6)
Nicky Baigent: Bb Clarinet/Bass Clarinet/Spoken Word (track 5)
Luke Crookes: Bassoon
William D. Drake: Piano/Farfisa Organ/Vocal (track 2,3 and 5)
Harry Escott: Cello
Craig Fortnam: Guitar/Farfisa Organ/Vocal (track 7 and 9)
Tommaso Franguelli: Vibes/Percussion
Cheb Nettles: Drums
Laurent Valero: Violin/Viola/Recorder/Bass Recorder
Arranged and directed by Craig Fortnam
Executive Production by Max Marchini
Recorded live, mixed and mastered by Alberto Callegari at Elfo Recording
Studios, Tavernago, Italy during “Musiche Nuove a Piacenza Festival”,
From The Web:-
The North Sea Radio Orchestra is an ensemble of varying size, drawing on a pool of up to twenty members. It performs compositions which range from single-instrument solos and voice-and-guitar duos up to full chamber-orchestra-and-choir pieces (and all points in between, including assorted trios, quartets, quintets etc.). The instrumentation within the ensemble features woodwind, strings, orchestral and electronic percussion, nylon-string guitar, chamber organ, piano and the human voice. Between six and ten members sing as "the North Sea Chorus".
Compositionally, the NSRO favours original material with elements of the following – tonal/melodic classical composition, English choral and festival music, modern and ancient folk music, and minimalism. Some improvisation is also encouraged. The NSRO themselves cite influences including Benjamin Britten, television composer Vernon Elliott, The Incredible String Band, Vaughan Williams, and more metaphysical influences such as "London clay, water from the Thames and shingle from Bankside". Various critics have also made comparisons to the music of rock/classical/crossover musicians such as Simon Jeffes' Penguin Café Orchestra, Sean O'Hagan's High Llamas, Frank Zappa, Clogs, Sufjan Stevens, Max Richter, Nick Drake, Virginia Astley, Kate St John and Peter Warlock. Since 2010, the band has displayed a stronger influence of Krautrock.
Another frequently-cited compositional influence on the NSRO is Tim Smith, leader of the British psychedelic rock group Cardiacs (which incorporates influences including Early and baroque music). The NSRO is generally regarded as being part of the collection of varied musical groups connected with Cardiacs: it includes in its line-up one former and one current member of Cardiacs, plus at least five other musicians associated with the band.