Jazz Journal September 3, 2020
Rob Clutton Trio - Counsel of Primaries
By Andy Hamilton
I’d admired bassist and composer Rob Clutton’s previous recording, the duo Offering with New York avant-gardist Tony Malaby (2019, also on Snailbongbong). It was aptly described by Downbeat as “expansive and sensitive in spirit” , and that seems a good description of the present album also, which features an all-Canadian trio of alto saxophone, bass and drums.
The two albums have a common compositional approach: several pieces began as deconstructions of improvised bass lines from Clutton’s archive of recordings. In both cases, there’s a richness and fluidity to the music-making that’s very engaging. Clutton is a long-time and formidable presence on the Toronto jazz scene, which is a major one. He has a song-based project called the Cluttertones, but recordings have focused on more avant-garde material. On Counsel his very simpatico partners are Nick Fraser and Karen Ng, the latter a compelling, original voice on alto saxophone. Her playing isn’t as bluesy as Ornette Coleman’s, but it’s a sound that couldn’t have existed without the jazz revolution that Coleman wrought. Early influences — she explains by email — were Lee Konitz and Lester Young as well as Ornette, and she studied with the ICP (Instant Composer’s Pool). It figures that she’s a fan of cool players Steve Lacy, John Carter, Jimmy Giuffre, Julius Hemphill and Marion Brown.
The trio is wonderfully balanced, the soloists are fully exposed — it’s beautifully honest playing, in the manner of Lee Konitz.
The album begins with Strata, in which sax and drums are prominent; an insistent cymbal pulse interacts with free and tonally complex work from the saxophonist. Festival has an Ornette Coleman-ish ethos, with Fraser echoing the march feel of Ed Blackwell. In the dirge-like Sterling, saxophone and arco bass explore dark, broken phrases in a kind of lugubrious heterophony; percussion is subdued but gradually expands its role through the piece. The stately Old Nick, and the jaunty, bucolic Shelter that follows it, make a neat contrast —Ng’s soloing here is beautifully nuanced.
The 10 tracks add up to a very substantial, varied and rewarding musical experience.
Jazz Views, June 2020
Rob Clutton Trio - Counsel of Primaries
By Chris Barber
It’s not until the second track that Clutton’s bass strides into view. During the first track, ‘Strata’, with Fraser’s dextrous cymbal work, Ng shapes a kaleidoscope of notes that, as soon as they combine into a steady shape, are thrust in a variety of directions. There might be two or three bass notes across this piece but the trio’s nominal leader only leaves his shadow. But this, given his long experience in composing for, and playing in, all manner of combinations of jazz musicians, will be a definite choice. As with his recent duo recording with Tony Malaby (‘Offering’) several of the pieces here began life as deconstructions of Clutton’s improvised bass-lines from his archive of recordings. This doesn’t mean simply transcribing the notes and re-playing them; rather, the transcriptions become the starting point for a reconstruction and, at times, this leaves the bass to one side and invites the other players to inhabit the legacy of these notes. For this to work, you not only need well-made musical frameworks but also players who intuitively ‘get’ the idea. If “music is the space between notes” as Debussey (or possibly Miles) said, then the slowly unfolding pieces have almost a rigorous attention to this space: each note, each sound, is given sufficient space to it to be born, flourish and fade.
I know of Ng from her playing with Do Make Say Think but she is adept at a wide range of styles. On this set, Ng’s playing is marvellously suited to this style of music making. In each piece she effortlessly shifts from light, skittering runs that convey contemporary ‘Classical’ or avant-garde jazz, to throaty growls that carry a history of bop and post-bop; almost from bar to bar, she picks up and puts down different styles without once losing her confidently, firm footing. On the title track, track 4, the saxophone bursts into a light, repetitive run (reminiscent, perhaps, of a Stravinsky piece) and this is closely echoed by Clutton playing higher up the bass. He takes a similar approach, of two-lead players, in places in ‘Festival’ (track 2). In other places, like ‘Cloak’, track 5, Clutton’s approach mixes what threatens to be a walking bass line (but he is too subtle a player to get caught in just one groove) with a sequence of bass solos, with Ng taking the role of shading his playing and Fraser taking delight in to ripping into his kit in short sections and then shifting into a subtle but complicated rhythmic pattern. This is clearly a jazz record (for those that prefer their music in the ‘right’ box)…but it is also clearly an extremely well realised piece of contemporary composition; equally it is clearly a set of composed pieces…but it is also clearly the result of kindred musical spirits improvising to create spontaneous and engaging music. The album's front cover is a painting by M. Randi Helmers and those rich, almost edible lumps of primary paint not only give a sense of the equal status of the players in the trio but also the fluidity and richness of their playing.Dusted, June 2020
Rob Clutton Trio - Counsel of Primaries
By Bill Meyer
Double bassist Rob Clutton is part of a Toronto jazz scene that has established an identity unto itself. While there’s substantial difference between his music and that of fellow travelers Lina Allemano, Brodie West, Nick Fraser and fellow double bassist Pete Johnston, they all subscribe to an inclusive understanding of jazz. While they aren’t afraid to interrupt a groove or let some tones clash, or to extract formal and sonic elements from rock, neither are they loathe to let the music swing and sing. Clutton has a band called the Cluttertones that embraces song-derived melody. But when he puts his name on the record sleeve, it seems, he focuses on more austere materials, as on Offering, a collection of duets with Tony Malaby that he issued at the end of 2019.
Joining the bassist are alto saxophonist Karen Ng and drummer Nick Fraser. You could not call either a minimal player; on “Thing One,” for example, Fraser’s robust forays around the kit fill up the frequency range while Ng maneuvers adroitly around Clutton’s athletic runs. But his silence counts for much as Ng and Clutton joust in the first part of the title tune as his dub-like, manmade echo in later in the piece. Each musician’s parts contribute to cohesive and clearly perceptible wholes, balancing elegance with intricacy. Reeds and strings curl long tones in immaculate formation for close to five minutes before Fraser joins in with a few strategic embellishments on “Sterling.” And the three move as one along the switchback path of the airily funky “Festival.” In the case of Counsel of Primaries, that approach yields a whole lot of just enough. The album’s ten tracks add up to a bit over 66 minutes in length, and during that time the musical approaches shifts both within tunes and between them within a field bounded by angular exchanges, still contemplations, and open-ended extrapolations from the material at hand.
All About Jazz, June 2020
Rob Clutton Trio - Counsel of Primaries
By Troy Dostert
Bassist Rob Clutton has been a regular presence in the Toronto jazz scene for some time, having begun his recording career in the mid 1990s, subsequently working within a cluster of fellow Canadian improvisers, including efforts with Lina Allemano, Nick Storring, Nick Fraser, and Karen Ng. The latter two are integral components of Counsel of Primaries, a compelling venture into well-crafted music that straddles the line between an abstract chamber aesthetic and jazz-based improvisation.
Clutton is credited with composing all ten of the album's tracks, but the musicians' unmistakable concord gives the recording a fundamentally cooperative aspect. Ng possesses a striking vulnerability on alto saxophone, whether entwined with Clutton's languid arco on the elusive and moody "Sterling" or on the album's rhythmically subtle opener, "Strata," where her single-note repetitions and evocative phrases build in transfixing rapport with drummer Fraser's cymbal patterns. Even "Festival," a spry and bouncy groover, seems tinged with a bit of melancholy, with Ng's carefully chosen expressions muting the celebration ever so slightly.
Listeners who expect immediate gratification will likely be disappointed. The closer, "Magnetic," unfolds at an exceedingly deliberate pace, taking shape amidst Fraser's fine brushwork and with Clutton's pensive, expansively-spaced notes supporting Ng at her most introspective. The well-titled "Cloak" develops with a bit more fervor, but only once the initial air of quiet mystery gives way to a more determined tempo during the second half of the piece.
The trio does depart from the prevailing modus operandi on "Thing One," where Ng's exuberant, frolicsome lead solo soon takes the group into some energized free-bop, and the album's title track similarly charts a more obstreperous terrain, with Fraser's fractious interjections punctuating an especially animated conversation between Clutton and Ng. But for the most part, the album keeps to a more reflective spirit, in which the players reveal as much in their pauses and silences as in their more direct expressions.
Dziki Nuty 2.0, May 2020
Rob Clutton Trio - Counsel of Primaries
By Rafal Zbrzeski
Despite the fact that the Canadian double bass player Rob Clutton has considerable recorded achievements, and cooperation with significant musicians of the contemporary creative jazz scene, Counsel Of Primaries is my first meeting with the artist's work. This year's album was composed of a three-person line-up: Karen Ng - alto saxophone, Nick Fraser - drums, and double bass leader, who is also responsible for all compositions. The three spots on the cover in basic paint colors are a hint as to the nature of the sounds that they found on the Counsel Of Primaries. Clutton is an artist who shows deliberate economy in the selection of means of expression. It brings tangible results - the first thing that catches your ears is the incredible clarity of individual pieces. Vibrating, repetitive motifs alternate with soothing, swaying melodies. Most of the time, the sounds of the saxophone and double bass move unhurriedly contrasted by the tense playing of the drummer (oh those cymbals!). Laconic, sometimes even ascetic sound works to emphasize the emotions with which the music of the trio is filled. There is something sophisticated about such a restrained and gentle approach to sounds. By reducing the number of notes and leaving a lot of air, the music has become poignantly direct. Listening to Counsel Of Primaries can be compared to watching abstract painting - colors and shapes refer directly to the emotions of the recipients, and their meaning seems to be hidden in the feelings they evoke.
The Whole Note, March 2020
Rob Clutton Trio, Counsel of Primaries and See Through 4, False Ghosts, Minor Fears
By Stuart Broomer
These two Toronto bands have much in common. Each is led by a bassist/composer, Pete Johnston in the case of See Through 4, and they share some key musicians. Rob Clutton’s eponymous trio includes saxophonist Karen Ng and drummer Nick Fraser; so too does the See Through 4, with pianist Marilyn Lerner making it a quartet.
For many jazz musicians, composition can be a perfunctory task, but Rob Clutton takes it seriously and his groups, like the long-running Cluttertones, are designed for it. His new trio plays jazz as if it were sculpture. Lines are clearly etched, content reduced to bare meaning and intent, with a special structural and emotional clarity. Clutton can reduce a line to a spare series of deeply felt, highly resonant tones, while the group that he has assembled couldn’t be more attuned to his work. It’s immediately evident in the opening Strata, brought into sharp focus by Fraser’s insistent cymbals and Ng’s Morse Code-like monotone. Counsel of Primaries veers toward Caribbean dance, with Ng investing even the briefest phrases with a wealth of emotion. Sterlingsuggests a kind of dissonant prayer, Clutton’s bowed harmonics coming to the fore amidst Ng’s long tones and Fraser’s gently scraped cymbals. Cloak is less austere, but it too, carries with it a sense of reverie, an engagement with resonance as an active participant, feeding back into the music.
Given their shared personnel, it’s striking just how different the two groups are, their identities intimately connected both to the leaders’ compositional styles and their partners’ insights. Clutton’s minimalism gives way to Pete Johnston’s further extension of Lennie Tristano’s already abstracted linear vision. In a playful manner all his own, though, Johnston’s pieces can provide a series of loose frames for a series of solos. Another Word for Science has pianist Marilyn Lerner begin an unaccompanied solo with a series of witty keyboard asides, with Johnston and Fraser entering tentatively until the three have created a tangle of kinetic lines; Ng uses the free dialogue to explore a distinctive zone of her own, a compound mood that can mingle celebration and lamentation in a single phrase, while Fraser solos over the band’s final extended version of the theme. Battling in Extra Ends employs a stiff punctuation of bass and drums in unison to frame a flowing, balladic Lerner improvisation. The Sidewalks Are Watching begins with an up-tempo boppish theme, but advances through a series of rhythmic displacements that have individual band members occupying distinct temporal dimensions.
Given how much the two bands have in common, Clutton, Johnston and their gifted associates create two very different worlds.
Dusted, April 2020 - Volume 6, Number 4
Rob Clutton with Tony Malaby, Offering
By Bill Meyer
Sometimes when one musician gets top billing, that just means they ponied up for the session fees. But on Offering, the words “Rob Clutton with” signal that the Canadian double bassist conceived of a sound situation and procured material suited to that concept. Clutton is well acquainted with the American soprano and tenor saxophonist, Tony Malaby. Their association dates back two decades, when both men were resident artists at the Banff Centre For Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada, and they’re both members of drummer Nick Fraser’s band. That common ground gets the nod on “Sketch #11,” a Fraser tune that occasions some of the most swinging music on this wide-ranging and thoroughly satisfying session. But elsewhere the genesis of the material lies in Clutton’s own improvisations, which he recorded, transcribed and analyzed in order to locate nuggets of musical intelligence worth developing into discreet melodies — or further improvisations. Either way, Malaby isn’t just the guy on hand to play the horn parts, but a known musical quantity to be either be written for or set up to set loose. Clutton must have had his tone, alternately ample and pungent on soprano, and his imaginative responsiveness to the melodic, rhythmic, and emotional implications of a theme in mind, for his own purposeful perambulations seem designed to give Malaby plenty to wrap around and climb upon. While the music is ever spare, it’s never wanting.
Downbeat, March 2020
Rob Clutton with Tony Malaby, Offering
By Josef Woodard
Although inherently lean of means, the duo of bassist Rob Clutton and saxophonist Tony Malaby is expansive and sensitive in spirit. A natural and empathetic link is clearly evident here, a fresh case study in how the bass-and-sax partnership can yield broad results.
Clutton has won acclaim and played with a range of musicians, including Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton, and leads his Canadian band, The Cluttertones. But it was while the two were members of the Nick Fraser Quartet that the bassist sensed a rapport with Malaby, a notable inside-outside player whose résumé includes work with Paul Motian and Kris Davis. What Offering offers, though, is a luminous variation on the duo setting.
Clutton composed seven of the 11 tracks here, with the others a testament to the pair’s easy meshing of energies. (A Fraser tune is included for good measure.) Each track owns its own distinct character and bearing, with the two outer pieces—the opening “Offering” and the gentle endpiece of “Latitude”—providing graceful framing for wilder interior moments.
Call this a “chordless” duo at your peril: Both musicians extend beyond the standard single-note voices of their instrument through multiphonics, bass chording and overtones via arco bass. “Twig” has an almost onomatopoeic rela- tionship with its title, rising out of a scattershot percussive foundation on bass, tucked beneath Malaby’s nattering theme on soprano. By contrast, the pensive rubato ballad “Refuge” showcases the musicians’ melodic insightfulness, with Malaby’s soft, breathy long tones floating into the distance.
Offering: Offering; Motion; Crimes Of Tantalus; Swamp Cut; Refuge; Twig; Swerve; Sketch #11; Trilogy; Polar; Latitude. (43:07) Personnel: Rob Clutton, bass; Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone.
Musicworks, March 2020
Rob Clutton with Tony Malaby, Offering
by Ken Waxman
Bolstering his skills as an improviser and composer, Toronto bassist Rob Clutton reconstitutes some of his previously recorded improvisations as notated kernels for this program with New York saxophonist Tony Malaby. No rote recapitulations here, those themes and others are stretched and pulsate with the same cultivated freedom the duo brings to the completely improvised tracks.
Of the disc’s eleven tunes, some, like “Refuge,” come across with supple guitar-like strokes from Clutton matched with relaxed tone expressions from Malaby that explore every facet of the piece. Meanwhile “Lattitude” revolves around a chromatic interface that depends on balancing the saxophonist’s undulating tremolo lines with the bassist’s deep, dark thumps. In contrast, each of the three in-the-moment improvisations resonates with technical prowess that is as outstanding as it is subtle. On “Twig,” Malaby’s sprightly altissimo-pitched soprano sax narrative is urged to flutter-tongued power by Clutton’s pressurized string-stretches; the frenetic commotion created on “Swerve” has tandem bass pumps preserving broken-octave affiliations with the saxophonist’s detours into higher-pitched split tones.
The extended “Crimes of Tantalus” may be the most spectacular expression of the pair’s partnership. Clutton’s rhythmic sophistication, displayed in a solo of pressurized pumps, thoroughly complements the tenor saxophonist’s stream of cries, reed bites, and multiphonics. Yet, as dramatic as it is, the performance comes across with a maximum of sophistication, a minimum of struggle, and with every fluid timbre in its proper place. This notable Offering offers up many instances of Clutton’s musical maturity.
The Vital Weekly January 2020
Rob Clutton and Tony Malaby, Offering
By Dolf Mulder
A very mature recording of two veterans. Rob Clutton (double bass) is an exponent of the Toronto-jazz scene, operating on the borders of improvisation and composition. He has his ensemble The Cluttertones and a trio. Here we have him in a collaboration with New York-saxophonist Tony Malaby, who is known for his work with Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Michael Formanek, a.o. Both are members of the quartet of drummer Nick Fraser, of whom they play one composition (‘Sketch #11). Most of the other titles are composed by Clutton, and some by Clutton and Malaby together. Together they lead us through eleven sensible and expressive duets, that I enjoyed most for Malaby’s sound and phrasing. Most of the duets evolve quietly and slowly. Likewise, most compositions breathe a warm and lyrical atmosphere. In the improvisations, like ‘Swerve’, they permit themselves more dynamics and free playing. Throughout there is fine interplay to be enjoyed here by the two who are equally involved in their dedicated musical conversation. The album is released on Snailbongbong Records, a small label run by Clutton.
The Whole Note December 2019
Rob Clutton and Tony Malaby, Offering
By Stuart Broomer
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.All About Jazz
February 3, 2020
By John Eyles
Toronto-based double-bassist Rob Clutton and New York saxophonist Tony Malaby have history that dates back to 1999; after meeting at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, where both were resident artists, they eventually ended up as half of Toronto drummer Nick Fraser's quartet which released its first album, Starer
(Self Produced), in 2016. Clutton has several albums to his name, including Dubious Pleasures
(Rat-Drifting, 2005) and Suchness Monster
(Rat-Drifting, 2009) both of which are solo bass recordings.
, rather than another solo bass recording, Clutton opted for a duo with Malaby. Presumably, instead of being billed as Rob Clutton & Tony Malaby, the use of "with" signals that Clutton is the senior partner. That is borne out by the credits; of the album's eleven tracks, seven are Clutton compositions, three are improvisations credited jointly to both Clutton and Malaby, while the eleventh is Nick Fraser's "Sketch #11." According to Nick Storring's informative sleeve notes, Clutton's compositions here were based upon transcriptions of his own improvisatory playing.
The eleven tracks vary in length from just under two-and-a-half minutes to just over five, playing for forty-four minutes altogether. The brevity of some pieces is an indication that no time is spent on niceties such as prolonged introductory themes; the two get stuck into soloing from the start. When it comes to playing rather than composing, there is no hierarchy or pecking order here. Clutton and Malaby play as equals, neither of them leading or dominating.
Straight from the opening phrases of the title track, it is apparent why Clutton chose Malaby as a partner here; the two have a good rapport, their melodic phrases flowing and fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw. For obvious reasons, across the album the boundaries between composition and improvisation are blurred, but the two are clearly so used to improvising together that they fit well. Malaby alternates between his tenor and soprano saxophones, keeping the music fresh and varied.
The album as a whole demonstrates the success of the method Clutton used to compose the pieces here. Those pieces work well with this duo, but the results suggest there would also be scope to employ them with a larger ensemble; that is not to dismiss this Clutton-Malaby pairing which clearly has many great days ahead.Esoteros 2020
Rob Clutton and Tony Malaby, Offering
By Michele Palazzo
Rinomato e forte di prestigiose collaborazioni nell’arco di venticinque anni, il contrabbassista canadese Rob Clutton si dedica raramente a progetti tutti suoi, ma la sensibile personalità del suo sound ben si presta e senz’altro merita di spostarsi al centro dell’attenzione. Il recente duo col sassofonista statunitense Tony Malaby – già al fianco di diversi big di casa ECM e con Clutton nel Nick Fraser Quartet – è un inebriante rituale improvvisativo, dai tempi perlopiù lenti e che non disdegna la seduzione di melodie soffuse, benché scevre da banali sentimentalismi.
Nel mezzo di episodi d’etereo lirismo, anche i complementari sconfinamenti free risultano misurati e concentrati sul dialogo creativo anziché sull’avventurarsi in sentieri divergenti: le diplofonie e gli overtones del sax (tenore e soprano) non sovrastano mai con prepotenza il calore della sapiente diteggiatura di Clutton, a suo massimo agio nei solleticanti rumorismi al confine estremo col ponticello.
Un interplay d’alto livello mantiene sempre vivo l’ascolto delle delicate astrazioni del duo, eco virtuosa di analoghi binomi del passato (Sam Rivers / Dave Holland, Ornette Coleman / Charlie Haden).
Renowned and strengthened by prestigious collaborations over the course of twenty five years, Canadian double bass player Rob Clutton seldom devotes himself to projects of his own, but the sensitive personality of his sound lends itself well and certainly deserves to move to the center of attention. His recent duo with American saxophonist Tony Malaby – already alongside several big ECM names and with Clutton in the Nick Fraser Quartet – is an intoxicating improvised ritual, with mostly slow tempos and which doesn’t elude the seduction of soft melodies, although free from trivial sentimentality. In the midst of episodes of ethereal lyricism, even the complementary free-form trespassing are measured and focused on creative dialogue rather than venturing on divergent paths: the diplophonies and the overtones of the sax (tenor and soprano) in no case haughtily overtop the warmth of Clutton’s masterly fingering, at ease with tickling noises at the extreme border with the fret. A high-level interplay throughout keeps alive the listening to the duo’s delicate abstractions, a virtuous echo of akin binomials of the past (Sam Rivers / Dave Holland, Ornette Coleman / Charlie Haden).
Musicworks October 2018
By Stuart Broomer
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
By Nilan Perera
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
By Raul de Gama
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.Whole Note, October, 2018
By Ken Waxman
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
By Avant Scena
“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.