FATEA Magazine - January 2020
I remember one summer in Ibiza, lying on the beach at Es Cavallet and watching a group of people building rock stacks at the water's edge - vertically balanced columns of pebbles of varying shapes and sizes. I had a go myself. The process is simple, and is both satisfying and relaxing. By carefully selecting the right pebbles, the stacks can bring together a variety of colours, contours and textures, all carefully arranged to create one harmonious structure.
'The Careful Placement of Stones' is the debut album from London based quartet Counter's Creek. It brings together jazz pianist (and member of leading tango ensemble, Tango Siempre) Jonathan Taylor, violinist Tom Newell (founding member of folk trio Effra), guitarist Moss Freed (from jazz-punk band Let's Spin, and also jazz collective Moss Project), and drummer Andy Tween (who has worked with numerous folk, jazz and pop musicians, as well as with choreographer Michael Clark). Counter's Creek is named after a stream that once flowed from Kensal Green and into the Thames. Like many of London's 'forgotten' rivers it has since become incorporated into London's canal and Victorian sewer system, but remaining an imortant part of the city's underground infrastructure.
Listening to this album reminded me of those rock stacks in Ibiza. Each of the twelve tracks has been created by bringing together distinct individual facets of shape and form, and by balancing and arranging them together to create a unique musical structure. Taylor himself compared the writing process to placing stones in a Zen garden - the various elements must be selected and combined to create an apparently natural and organic composition.
The result is a collection of highly original tunes that feature strong elements of jazz and blues, but also incorporate a keen sense of swing as well as bursts of both East European and African dance energy. But, essentially this is a contemporary folk album with melodies inspired by locations throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These include the gentle 'Ullapool' from the Scottish Highlands; Celtic rhythms of 'Caer Llan' from Monmouthshire and 'The Ballymagarvay Wedding' from County Leath in Ireland; and incorporating a dichotomous beat that was inspired by the village of 'Once Brewed, Twice Brewed' in Northumberland.
Further inspiration comes from the nation's capital city. 'Fish Out of Water/The Walthamstow Reel' is an ironic, but spirited, reaction to hipster migration into districts of North East London; 'First Snowfall/The Lord of Misrule' is a wintry flashback to London's first daytime snowfall in five years, as well as a traditional celebration of December's Feast of Fools. Even the salubrious riverside community of 'Richmond' is celebrated in a curious tripling that juxtapositions it alongside 'Fidel's Farewell' (written on the day of Castro's passing) and 'The Path of Least Resistance'.
Whilst the skill mix of this talented quartet cannot be overstated, special mention needs to be made of Taylor's charismatic whistle playing, and of the rich sonorous tones emanating from Newell's octave violin. The Careful Placement of Stones is probably the best jazz-folk album that you will hear this year. I fervently hope that the busy schedules of the four individual cornerstones of Counter's Creek can somehow be arranged together for a live tour some time soon.
Bright Young Folk - March 2020
Counters Creek is Jonathan Taylor (whistles and piano), Tom Newell (fiddle, octave violin, mandolin, jew’s harp and banjo), Moss Freet (guitar) and Andy Tween (drums and percussions), a new London based jazz-folk collective of musicians with different backgrounds. The Careful Placement of Stones is their debut album, an intriguing collection of original tunes with a refreshing sound, blending the musical tradition of the British Isles with grooves from Western Africa and Eastern Europe.
The album kicks off with a series of modern sounding and atmospheric tracks, culminating in Beloved, a haunting low whistle led track, a bridge to the second and more energetic part of this release. Right in the middle of the album there are the three most striking tracks: the lively jig Once Brewed, Twice Brewed, the dynamic Fish Out of Water / The Walthamstow Reel and especially the sublime Richmond / Fidel’s Farewell / The Path of Least Resistance in which Newell’s sensitive fiddle playing reaches its highest peak of expressiveness.
The album closes with a tribute to Austrian composer Hanns Eisler. An Den Kleinen Radioapparat is one of his tunes, written in 1942 during his exile from his native country occupied by Nazi troops.
Taylor’s whistle playing gets the headline in the majority of the tracks, especially the ones in which he plays low whistle. However, every member of the quartet has his own voice in these twelve tracks: Newell’s versatility makes the perfect musical partner for Taylor’s whistles out of him, Tween’s jazzy and syncopated drumming adds an exotic touch to the tunes and Freet’s guitar envelopes everything in intelligent arrangements. Algebra is the best example of this mature musicianship with its experimental but catchy setting in which the different features of the band’s peculiar sound are effortlessly demonstrated.
The process of composing, selecting, combining and arranging the tunes for this album has been described by Taylor as placing stones on the grass to obtain an harmonious effect, something connecting the old Zen and Celtic cultures, and there is no better allegory for this highly recommended release merging so many elements of different traditions in such an elegant and smooth way.
Musician - March 2020
This debut album of jazz-folk fusion marries traditional instruments such as whistles, banjos and jaw harps to proggy progressions and meandering melodies with great effect.