The Whole Note December 2019
Rob Clutton and Tony Malaby, Offering
Bassist Rob Clutton has long been a mainstay of Toronto’s jazz community, as diligent supporting player in the mainstream and a creative catalyst in more adventurous settings. Clutton leads his own Cluttertones, combining songs, synthesizer and banjo, and he’s explored individualistic inspirations on solo bass. Here he’s playing a series of duets with New York saxophonist Tony Malaby, a fellow member of drummer Nick Fraser’s Quartet, and a standout soloist, whether for the animated gravel of his tenor or the piquant air of his soprano.
That pared-down instrumentation reveals its rationale on the hymn-like title track, one of Clutton’s seven compositions here, his bowed bass complementing Malaby’s warm, airy tenor sound. On "Refuge", as well, the two reach toward the grace and intensity of John Coltrane. Often admirably concise, the two can also stretch out, extending their spontaneous interaction on "Crimes of Tantalus".
Among the three improvisations, "Swamp Cut" has both musicians reaching deep into their sonic resources, Malaby’s grainy soprano meeting its double in the high harmonics of Clutton’s bowed bass. The rapid-fire "Twig" has Clutton to the fore, plucking a kind of compound ostinato that fires Malaby’s lyricism. "Swerve" has as much focused energy and raw expressionism as bass and tenor might provide, while Nick Fraser’s "Sketch #11" possesses a special melodic attraction.
Throughout, one hears the special camaraderie that two gifted improvisers can achieve in a stripped-down setting, while Clutton’s compositions could support a larger ensemble and further elaboration.
Musicworks October 2018
Bassist Rob Clutton has been composing for his group the Cluttertones for over a decade, modelling his work for a quartet that includes trumpeter Lina Allemano and guitarist–banjoist Tim Posgate, with Ryan Driver playing analog synthesizer and singing. The approach is unusual, combining occasional folk-like melodies and lyrics with electronica and frequent freely improvised solos. On Leeways, Clutton and the group extend the dialogue of parts and personalities by adding pianist and singer Lee Pui Ming.
The first five pieces come from a series of contrapuntal works that Clutton composed at the rate of one per month during 2014. A couple of the series appeared on the group’s previous release Ordinary Joy. Each composition features a single member of the group, with Lee adding her own piano in subtly interactive ways as well, from understated percussion to string textures. The opening piece, Gull, foregrounds Driver’s synthesizer and voice. It’s an oddly folk-like use of electronics in which initially brief trumpet interruptions gradually lead to developed contrapuntal lines from trumpet and guitar. That folk-like aspect is still more pronounced on Bears, with Driver’s reedy, keening voice mining Clutton’s rustic lyrics amid a continuous obbligato from Posgate’s banjo. Julio features Allemano, who explores wind effects through her horn without articulating notes, as group elements gradually appear and grow stranger until the piece revolves back to Allemano alone. Septiembre begins with Clutton’s feature fluid bass solo, which eventually encounters sudden collective intrusions from the rest of the band, led by Allemano’s trumpet, and ultimately transmutes into a calmly extended group piece.
The album’s second half is given to Leeways, a five-part suite in which Lee is given freedom to improvise throughout in a kind of concerto, at times providing great lyric sweep. The group continues to emphasize solo and duet voices, such as the pianist’s developed dialogues with Posgate in the first segment and with Allemano in the second. At times, identities seem to pass from one instrument to another, Allemano’s trumpet functioning as percussion while Clutton’s bowed bass soars into the cello register, the banjo assuming a kind of unlikely nobility while the synthesizer resembles a hurdy-gurdy.
As songs match up with instrumental abstractions, the Cluttertones happily provide a forum for Clutton’s highly personal musical visions, combining improbable materials into textures and sequences with dreamlike qualities.
Exclaim October 2018
Bassist/composer Rob Clutton's emergence as a bandleader is an example of the singular visions that have been blooming in Toronto over the last decade or two. The Cluttertones encompass such radically diverse movements as the jazz-noise scene, and the ornery ennui of the Rat Drifting movement.
What sets them apart is a gentle lyricism , reminiscent of some of Efterklang's best work, and Clutton's ability to showcase the individual voices of his band, which incorporates some of the most original virtuoso voices on the Canadian scene.
Leeways is a divergence from their last release, Ordinary Joy, as it incorporates pianist Lee Pui Ming in some remarkable forays into the world of harmonic grids. While "Gull" finds Lee occupying a more supportive role, she jumps to the forefront and occupies the free jazz spaces in "Leeways 1" to "Leeways 3," returning to the asymmetrical world of the Cluttertones in "Leeways 4" and "Leeways 5."
The other extraordinary and quite wonderful thing about this release and Clutton's oeuvre are the songs. They are beautiful, thoughtful and engaging, with instrumental support that goes far beyond mere accompaniment. Ryan Driver's voice is reflective and is set off wonderfully by sensitively played arrangements. Kudos to Tim Posgate (guitar/banjo), Lina Allemano (trumpet) and Driver (doubling on synth) and also the stellar bass work of Rob Clutton for creating the world that pianist Lee Pui Ming is so comfortable in. (Independent)
Toronto Music Report, Sept 2018
There is something irresistible about listening to the manner in which bassist Rob Clutton shepherds this music by The Cluttertones, using the bluegrass picking of the banjo by Tim Posgate and the elementally sad vocals of Ryan Driver together with his frequent manipulation of an analogue synthesizer all of which is woven into the wild atmospherics and free improvisations of Lina Allemano’s trumpet together with Lee Pui Ming’s piano and voice. It is an affirmation that they are bound by the belief that the inner dynamic of tradition is always to innovate. And innovate they do with this defiantly provocative music that puts the trumpet in creative conflict with a synthesizer and the piano in conflict with the bass, the human voice and of course the trumpet and the guitar too. But this is no pastiche of archetypal proportions.
By actively throwing overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that have become expressively blunted through overuse, Mr Clutton and The Cluttertones – together with Miss Ming, who flings herself into the depths of innovation in her pianism as she worships at the altar of creativity – as together they build from what might- or might not – be left of the elements of music. And yet melody and harmony are reborn and coexist with almost instinctive radicalism as instrumentation is sometimes brutally disjointed, then shredded and made whole again with sublime musical device and gesture into agitatedly ticking motor rhythms, volatile white noise all ignited in an acoustic and electronic soundscape that is wrenched from each instrument, and sometimes glued together by the human voice.
The defining moments of this approach to music come in the pivotal “Leeways”, a suite of five parts written, it would seem, expressly to bring the piano of Miss Ming into this extraordinary music that The Cluttertones have been making for the first half of this recording. Beginning with the hushed sonorities of Miss Ming’s piano at the edge of audibility Mr Clutton’s music generates structural arcs that provoke extended instrumental techniques from the piano (and the other instruments led by Mr Driver’s compendium of electronic keys and knobs, Mr Posgate’s guitar and the rest of the instruments) to shatter the score. And long passages of Miss Allemano’s trumpet rip the score apart by abrupt scrapings, while manic staccatos send melodic cells scattering to the outer limits of our ability to hear them.
This is not easy music to nail, but no group could perform it better than the musicians of The Cluttertones. If the sounds Mr Clutton hears in his inner ear move off the radar of conventional instrumental timbre, Lina Allemano Tim Posgate, Ryan Driver and the inimitable Lee Pui Ming unerringly zone into Mr Clutton’s intentions, realising his ideas faithfully.
-Raul de Gama
Whole Note, October, 2018
Encompassing a five-part suite and shorter features, the array of musical paths followed on Toronto-based The Cluttertones’ Leeways (SnailBongBong SBB 005) make the previous CD appear singularly directed. Tunes composed by bassist/leader Rob Clutton feature fine performances by the band – trumpeter Lina Allemano, guitarist/banjoist Ted Posgate, Ryan Driver on analog synth and vocals plus Clutton – with pianist Lee Pui Ming joining for the title suite. Remarkably enough, Lee’s formalist/improv comping is no more prominent on those five tracks than the other players’ contributions. In fact it’s Allemano gritty, back-of-throat growls and rounded capillary exposition that make the greatest impression on “Part 2”, when backed by keyboard jumps; and a similar scenario unfolds on “Part 3”. Here Clutton agilely moves the tune forward with discursive but emphasized string drones, vibrating multi-string slaps and pinched sul tasto runs as Lee comps, the banjo twangs Bluegrass-like and synthesizer tones tweet. Earlier on, the most fully realized group effort is “Septiembre”. Consisting of a slew of intermezzos, it highlights double-bass stopping, buzzing electric guitar licks and high-pitched trumpet slurs, with a conclusion that’s rhythmically solid and notably kinetic. Instructively “Gull”, the first track, effectively adumbrates what’s to come, as crackles and flutters from the synth underscore a near-vocalized, muted trumpet tone, sometimes harmonized with a walking bass line, spiky guitar flanges and Driver’s high-pitched scat singing. Unfortunately it’s songs which undermines the entire disc’s effectiveness. Those times when Driver mouths the impressionistic folksy lyrics in a lachrymose fashion, almost halt the proceedings, but are saved from stasis by pointed trumpet obbligatos. With the skill and sophistication displayed on the other tracks, it’s unfortunate that vocalizing prevent Leeways reaching the highest musical rung.
Avant Scena, December 2018
“Leeways” is a new release of “SnailBongBong Records”. Album was recorded by “The Cluttertones”. The ensemble plays innovative and engaging avant-garde jazz – Lina Allemano (trumpet), Rob Clutton (bass, compositions), Ryan Driver (analogue synthesizer, human voice) and Tim Posgate (banjo, guitar) here play together with special guest Lee Pui Ming (piano, voice). Five great jazz masters create original, bright and passionate avant-garde jazz, who is mixed with other music styles. The basics of avant-garde jazz, sound experiments, free improvisations, wild and thrilling solos, spontaneous musical decisions always keep the base of musical pattern. It’s mixed together with aggressive and sharp bebop, expressive hard bop, cool and some other styles of contemporary and modern jazz. The repetitive playing technique, simple chords, primitive and ordinary instrumentation, quadratic form or modern, vivacious, evocative and fresh ideas, musical decisions or expressions – all these elements brought relation with contemporary academical music, academic avant-garde and other styles of modern academical music. The musicians are individual players, who have colorful and expressive playing manner, unique sound and impressive musical language.
“Leeways” is filled with bright, intense and dynamic sound. Here avant-garde, experimental and modern jazz styles are mixed together with contemporary academical, academic avant-garde, minimalism, electronic and experimental music. The music is balancing between academical, strict and evocative sound, innovative instrumentation and wild free, impressive and dizzy improvisations. The music also connects together the basics of Western Europe and Asian music. Soft intonations of China ethnic music are gently and subtly mixed with Western Europe harmony, expressions and other typical elements. Album is evocative, engaging and full of surprises – musicians are passing through different moods, styles, manners and colors. They manage to create dynamic, variable and passionate sound with rich musical language, spontaneous changes and sudden turns. From silent, peaceful and subtle pieces music goes straight to dramatic culminations, roaring blow outs, charming and bright passages, vivid melodies, sparkling and fascinating sound experiments or aggressive and turbulent collective improvisations. The music is filled with changes and colors – that really makes a strong effort to whole musical pattern and its compounds. Sometimes it’s eclectic, ascetic, ordinary and simple, illustrated with synthetic tunes of electronics or synthesizer. Musical pattern has many different layers, who are individual, but still connected together. Each of them has independent form, unique sound and own musical language and mood. There’s a huge range of playing techniques, factures, forms and expressions – polyphony meets with diatonic homophony, warm acoustics go straight with synthetic electronics. Eclectic and exotic instrumental combinations are the key to innovative and engaging searches of weird timbres and unusual sounds. Musicians are inventing new and extraordinary ways of playing, experimental and specific playing techniques, bordering dynamics and variable rhythms. The harmony also is very rich – soft consonances are used together with expressive and sharp disonances, the harmonic intonations of Asian music, strange chords or weird intervals, who are not usually used at musical language. The voice elements and banjo bring the elements, who are mostly related to ethnic music of South Europe, especially Spain or Italy. The stylistic range is so wide, that it’s impossible to predict one exact music style, to who this music is related. Roaring and charming piano solos gently fit together with passionate, light and loud trumpet, impressive passages, dizzy solos, remarkable melodies, intense guitar’s riffs, heavy hard core, soft, getle and light banjo or specific voice elements. Acoustics gently fit together with electronics – all the instrumentation of compositions is innovative and touching. From roaring blow outs, passionate and gentle pizzicatto, strict staccato, soft arpeggio, colorful and fantastic glissando and dozens of other typical playing techniques of acoustics are mixed with alterated tunes, modified timbres, vibrant and electric solos, subtle and ascetic ambient, sounds machine, sonic system’s experiments, sounds of computer and electronic devices, and a little bit of intonations similar to drone and glitch. That’s just a part of electronics playing techniques, who are used here – it’s splendidly fit together with acoustics. Two different instruments groups subtly and genuinely mixes at common and natural musical pattern. The music of this album has touching, bright, passionate, expressive and vivacious sound.