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.
World Music Central - April 2020
Counter’s Creek, Inspiring Virtuosity Rooted in Celtic Traditions
The Careful Placement of Stones is an outstanding instrumental album by a London-based ensemble called Counter’s Creek. The Careful Placement of Stones contains a mix of lively dance-oriented jigs and reels and introspective downtempo compositions rooted in Scottish and Irish Celtic traditions along with jazz elements. The name of the band, Counter’s Creek relates to one of London’s old streams that used to flow from Kensal Green into the Thames River.
The lineup includes composer Jonathan Taylor on high and low whistles, piano; Tom Newell on violin, octave violin, banjo, mandolin, jaw harp; Moss Freed on guitar; and Andy Tween on drums and percussion.
The Careful Placement of Stones features timelessly crafted whistle and fiddle tunes masterfully performed by some of the finest musicians in London’s contemporary folk scene.
Interview with World Music Central - April 2020
London-based Celtic music trio Counter’s Creek recently released a debut album that we enjoyed a lot. We communicated via the internet with whistle player and composer Jonathan Taylor to find out more about the band.
What are your fondest musical memories?
I’m not sure if this relates to my childhood or adult experiences of music. Childhood: my parents took me to lots of classical concerts which I enjoyed. I also spent many, many hours playing the piano, avoiding practising the stuff my teachers wanted me to do, instead playing Scott Joplin and pop songs. Adult: touring with Fred Wesley playing funk keyboards, various concerts playing Argentinean tango on the piano!
What was the first tune you learned?
On the whistle, ‘The New Broom’ by Vincent Broderick.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
A memorable melody and often something rhythmically unusual.
You play various types of music, how did you come up with the Counter’s Creek project?
I had a period of 2 or 3 years without a girlfriend. It was the ideal time to write lots of tunes! Some of them made it on to the album. I started the band in order to be able to play these tunes with other musicians. It took a while to find the right musicians, though I’d known Andy Tween the drummer for many years. But I was incredibly lucky to meet Tom and Moss who are very talented musicians with a broad interest in all types of music.
Tell us about the debut album, The Careful Placement of Stones.
The Careful Placement of Stones is a collection of original tunes that combine the musical styles of the Celtic tradition with grooves from West Africa and Eastern Europe; closely interwoven harmonies hint at jazz and blues allied to a strong sense of swing and dance energy. The process of writing the tunes is analogous to placing stones in a Zen garden: the various elements must be selected and combined to create an apparently natural and organic composition, but one which is the result of careful planning and construction.
How many instruments do you play?
I play the piano quite well, the whistle (sufficiently well!) and the electric bass (quite badly).
How did you come into contact with the world of whistles?
I was on tour with a theatre show in Belfast and couldn’t access a piano in the daytime to play. So I wandered into a music shop and bought a cheap tin whistle. I quickly became obsessed with trying to learn as many tunes as possible from recordings and the internet. I’m not sure what appealed to me about the whistle but I do remember seeing Steve Buckley, a jazz saxophonist, playing the whistle many years ago and thought it was amazing that he could play such great music on such a simple instrument!
The UK has a strong Celtic music scene, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland. How’s the Celtic scene in London?
Being such a large city there are of course many talented musicians playing in the Celtic tradition. Bands like Crossharbour for example. There are regular Irish/English folk sessions across the city and many gigs are promoted by the Nest Collective – an organisation dedicated to putting on acoustic (often unamplified) music in all sorts of performance spaces both indoors and outdoors.
How has the corona virus affected you as a musician?
All gigs have been cancelled. I’m doing some online instrumental teaching and trying to use the time to practise and study composition.
What are you doing these days while people are asked to stay indoors and maintain social distancing?
In addition to what I mentioned earlier, also looking after my 3 month-old baby Leo!
How do you distribute your music?
On Bandcamp and through our website www.counterscreekmusic.com
Mainstream media does not provide an outlet for roots music in general. In what ways are you promoting your music?
Facebook and Twitter posts, videos and information about gigs, directing people to listen to the music on our website/Spotify/Bandcamp. Sending out CDs for review also!
If you could gather any additional musicians, or bands, to collaborate with, whom would that be?
It would be great to work with a melodeon player, for example Andy Cutting or a vocalist – I would love the challenge of writing songs as well as instrumental tunes.
Aside from the release of The Careful Placement of Stones, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?
Everything’s slightly on hold at the moment of course. I have another whistle project with a fellow whistler in London and we hope to record some of that music soon. Expecting to tour with Tango Siempre next year (on piano of course) with Vincent Simone from Strictly Come Dancing and we have a project in mind to commemorate Astor Piazzolla’s centenary.