The Runcible Quintet

Reviews of 'Four', FMRCD489-0618, recorded 2017/18

Runcible - Four
Five by the (mostly English) Runcible Quintet on FMR (discussed here in May 2017) is an album that I had particularly enjoyed not only for its masterful (chamber improvisation) technique, but its cultivated sense of five-way interaction. In some ways, it seemed to be "one of many" albums out of the strong London improvisation scene, employing a global palette of sounds & evocations, and indeed in retrospect, perhaps it developed more tentatively than some.
That said, a followup has now appeared — recorded 18 & 23 months later — in Four, and what were perhaps more exploratory interactions have become that much more powerful: However, as the title might already suggest, Four actually opens with a quartet session (minus bassist John Edwards) from late last year, followed by another quintet session (with the same full ensemble) from this past March: Both are about a half hour in length,
meaning that Four basically consists of two (relatively) short albums.Returning to a discussion of Five, of course I was familiar with Edwards, and I had already admired guitarist Daniel Thompson (in e.g.Hunt at the Brook & related projects), as well as
some complementary material from flautist Neil Metcalfe, but was not yet familiar with
drummer Marcello Magliocchi or saxophonist Adrian Northover. As also mentioned at the time, I first enjoyed Five as a sort of "flute trio" album (& I often enjoy flute in improvised music, including for its pan-native evocations...), and then came to appreciate the sorts of interventions & commentary that Northover & Thompson were making as well, as integrated in large part by Magliocchi — whose drumming style I've continued to enjoy, including for its sometimes almost minimalist accents & repetitions. (Subsequently, I was also quite taken with Ag, the trio album from Northover & Thompson with Steve Noble, and their contributions have come to seem that much more distinctive since....)
However, the quartet session that opens Four — with a long track, and then a much shorter followup track — precludes focusing on a "flute trio," due to the absence of bass: Guitar fills a similar role at times (as it had, often shadowing Edwards, on Five), but the quartet tends to break more into two duos than interlocking trios (both around drums). Nonetheless, after a relatively austere opening around flute, there is a wide range of energetic interaction & exploration, making for a very compelling track (evoking & incorporating globalized styles into a sometimes mysterious mélange), with a new
brightness to the sound in the absence of bass. (The flute & drums duo also seems to
profit from a more "direct" interaction.) The short followup opens with a brief guitar solo, into a curiously intricate machinic assemblage.... Of course, Edwards is the player who most attracted my attention in the first place, and his absence makes for an interesting
revision to the ensemble, but one needn't dwell on such absence for long, as the next two tracks (of relatively equal length) employ the full quintet again — while often retaining the group's new brightness.The bass makes its presence known instantly, however, and often appears (once again) at the center of activity — including some "flute trio" moments, particularly on the last track, which also features an unusual (for this group anyway) solo from Northover. (Indeed there are more solos here than on Five, and more reed, but there is basically more of everything, due to the increased length,pace,comfort....) Another aspect that I just promised to address is "use," and so what is the use of this album? (What's the use of a runcible spoon? To eat mince & quince, evidently....) First, I enjoy the wonderful collective interaction, which seems like a typical response, but I also hear it as stimulating other creativity in turn, and have
generally foundlistening to Runcible Quintet to be a helpful (& often calming)
experience when considering written forms, next steps, etc.: It evokes a timeless quality, but not through a lack of activity or drive... and the spaciousness of the result seems to leave plenty of room for my own ideas as well. (It's also a great, generally non-soloistic
tour-de-force for flute, something that can't be said every day. Indeed, Four might already be my favorite "flute album.") And despite some potential awkwardness involved in
combining two different sessions, including the quartet, and despite this followup being so recent, Four is simply a great album. Circumstances made me wary, but the result is very satisfying... "ideality" can obviously be an enemy to recordings of improvised music, but this one captures something special, including that Runcible is one of the most
compelling improvising collectives working today.

10 October 2018

Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts -

Reviews of 'Five', FMRCD437-0217, recorded April 2016.

The Runcible Quintet: Five (FMR). Recorded live in April at the Iklectik club in Lambeth, this is music in the tradition of the Karyobin-era Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which means that Neil Metcalfe (flute), Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone), Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar), John Edwards (bass) and Marcello Magliocchi (drums) require sharp ears, focused empathy, fast reflexes and a command of extended instrumental techniques. It’s funny to think that this tradition is only two or three years younger those heavily referenced in some of the preceding records, but in such capable hands as these it retains its ability to startle and provoke. Edwards, as always, is staggering.


A British quintet that improvises nicely. I know that some people get very nervous about this music, but after a minute I'm sitting on the tip of my chair, because here are five musicians busy listening extremely well to each other, and who are able to know incredibly exciting music in a very subtle and sophisticated way.
John Edwards on bass, Marcello Magliocchi on drums, Neil Metcalfe on flute, Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitar and Adrian Northover on soprano saxophone. Northover and Edwards we already know about The Remote Viewers, even such a fancy musical company, but The Runcible Quintet just gives you less attention. Five improvisations, five unheard of exciting pieces of music that you mainly listen to
Open mouth to listen to. Just go listening so. If the clips appeal to you, you absolutely need to purchase the album.

Holly Moors


In THE RUNCIBLE QUINTET, named after the 'runcible spoon' that Edward Lear has rhymed with 'light of the moon', one meets with John Edwards on the bass and Adrian Northover on the soprano sax, two good acquaintances with divided whimsicality in B-Shops For The Poor and The Remote Viewers. A ruthless debut under the citation of Marcello Magliocchi (long-time companion of Gianni Lenoci and Carlo Actisdata) on the drums, Neil Metcalfe (London Improvisers Orchestra and already FMP-tested with Paul Dunmall) on the flute and Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitar Five (FMRCD437). They give you a quince, of course, and stretch the runziblen hat so far, until the mollusks and the owl mutter fit underneath. Edwards saw bong trees. Thompson tingles and glitters and twists bridal wreaths of barbed wire. Northover and Metcalfe bellow, trill, and flutty so capriciously, that so much brittleness fades before so much British spleen. Magliocchi bursts as a percussive mire and daring pirate to the elbows in kinker lumps and crown jewels. There must be the matching ring. The soprano howls and flogs without taking breath, flutes the flute and does the same again, Edwards also saw Magliocchi's sticks, if he does not pull them away quickly enough (and his wooden leg). But the man from Bari, apparently a Biedermann, is so damn fast, that even Thompson, the youngster of the ants, does not overreach himself. But all five twirls around / Till they sink underground ... [BA 94 rbd]

THE RUNCIBLE QUINTET with NEIL METCALFE / ADRIAN NORTHOVER / DANIEL THOMPSON / JOHN EDWARDS / MARCELLO MAGLIOCCHI - Five (FMR 437; UK) The Runcible Quintet features Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitar, Neil Metcalfe on flute, Adrian Northover on soprano sax, John Edwards on double bass and Marcello Magliocchi on drums. I recognize most of the members of the Runcible Quintet from previous sessions like: Neil Metcalfe (for Paul Dunmall, Olie Brice & SME), Daniel Thompson (Alex Ward, Francois Carrier & Michel Lambert) and Jphn Edwards from way too many sessions (100 ) to name here: Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill & Decoy). It turns out that drummer Marcello Magliocchi can be found on at least a half dozen discs from: William Parker, Joelle Leandre and Steve Potts. Even Adrian Northover can be found with the Remote Viewers and DHA. This is a marvelous mixed quintet with folks older and younger, all seasoned improvisers with varied backgrounds. This was recorded at Iklectic, a studio recording from the way it sounds, superbly balanced and close mic’d. All instruments are acoustic and the blend is quite right. From insect music to UK free improv, both inside and outside of the tradition established by the founders of SME and Company. The flute and soprano sax often move in similar ways, notes carefully bent together and around one another. When the quintet finally hit their stride, the energy erupts in spurts which are focused and intense and then calming down to a more hypnotic dream-like state. Another jewel from the FMR gault. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMGS

The Runcible Quintet (Adrian Northover al soprano, Daniel Thompson alla chitarra acustica, i non presenti al festival John Edwards al contrab. e Neil Metcalfe al flauto) + la percussione di Magliocchi. "Five" privilegia strutture molecolari, dove la decostruzione del mozzare i suoni dal canale d'aria, tirare le corde o sfrondare piatti con archetti è una chiave per portarvi in territori vergine e sconosciuti ai più, paesaggi del dialogo in cui mai vi sognereste di entrare. Si ricreano quei poteri dell'improvvisazione che è pratica di vita, in cui si aprono porte cigolanti, si osservano oggetti appartandosi, si percepiscono relazioni o percorsi da effettuare (la traccia Two e Four sono particolarmente esplicative al riguardo). Un ambiente a tratti persino bucolico (alcune parti della traccia 3) con tutti i musicisti che istantaneamente si coordinano allo stesso scopo. Un'arte artigianale immensa a cui Magliocchi e i suoi partners europei non hanno mai smesso di infondere importanza.

It took me a little while to warm up to Five by the fancifully named Runcible Quintet, not that I didn't find it enjoyable, but because it's not really the sort of album that seizes one's attention with anything flashy or aggressive. Its various ensemble interactions & resulting polyphonic tapestry reward close attention to their sometimes subtle articulations, but Five has also been a very enjoyable album in a more "distant" sense: It's really helped me pull my mind together with a calm focus, on more than one occasion now. So in that sense, the music "works" — at least on me. Before getting to some details of the quintet & album, this outcome- or "use"-based approach both complements & challenges some of the basic notions I see about how free improvisation (or other styles tangentially related to free jazz) might be "too intellectual" & so lack an emotional component. (One sees this often enough in public discussion of contemporary "classical" music as well.) What such criticism tends to mean is that listeners want to hear a specifically identifiable emotion being expressed by the musicians themselves. What I'm talking about is more how I'm feeling after listening — perhaps because of a specific emotion being expressed, but perhaps because my emotional state has been plied via pre-emotional affective relation, etc. — whatever one wants to call it. So does an album have emotional depth because one identifies those emotions in the musicians, or because one feels oneself? Obviously, I'm arguing that the latter is the real gauge, and that it might or might not involve the former. Whereas this brief discussion might suggest that Five is about emotional manipulation, to pick one possible interpretation, I certainly don't want to suggest that the musicians were being inauthentic in their improvised expression: Rather they're pursuing their musical vision, and it's having a fine effect on me. Part of this effect, as noted, derives from the various ensemble interactions possible in a quintet, i.e. various duos & trios (& even quartets) forming spontaneously, then disintegrating as someone falls away or someone else joins. There's a broad polyphonic sense of continuity surrounding this activity, but not an emphasis on line, as e.g. on Amethyst (another recent quintet album, also featuring two strings, on FMR) or some other recently discussed releases (where I've focused on continuity per se). I've been listing (perhaps misguidedly) a particular musician with albums here, and that can be rather arbitrary, including here with its distinguished ensemble cast, but I tend to feel as though the Runcible Quintet pivots on Marcello Magliocchi on drums: His drumming is usually subtle, sometimes absent or not really noticeable, yet seems to animate the five tracks. There are almost two trios here, both including Magliocchi: The most prominent is basically a flute trio with Neil Metcalfe & John Edwards. They're the two most immediately noticeable performers, and at times, the album does have the character of a trio, perhaps supplemented. I've mentioned Edwards here in conjunction with many albums at this point, and he's a consistently interesting bassist. Whereas getting to know the English improvisers was a difficult task, particularly given their superficial similarities of style, Edwards is someone I always seem to notice — he's also billed first here, although it's (also) alphabetical. (And everyone reading this probably knows who he is too.) I can't think of another prominent English improvising flautist offhand, so Metcalfe is easier to distinguish. He's also excellent throughout, with great tone & technique, very precise: I had mentioned him in conjunction with another English (although Five is only mostly English) quintet album on FMR, I look at you (discussed March 2016): It also has something of a classical feel, but in that case, it's more specifically post-Romantic, suggesting the 20th century English chamber tradition. Five is not generally tonal, however (yet not abrasive, for those concerned), so more contemporary in that sense. Whereas those performers might be more noticeable, the others have fine moments as well, moments that become more apparent with increased exposure: Daniel Thompson is actually someone whose participation spurred my attention, since I've enjoyed his playing on Hunt at the Brook & elsewhere. Although maybe in Edwards' shadow a little bit here, and the two do engage in dialogs, Thompson has e.g. a wonderful duet with Metcalfe to open track #2, and various subtle contributions elsewhere. (Five is generally more subtle than minimal or slow.) As a trio, Hunt at the Brook often moves a little faster than Five, is a little more close & fractured, but does slow down at various moments too. Both are also acoustic albums, which makes for a ready technical comparison. Finally, there is Adrian Northover on soprano sax, with whom (like Magliocchi) I was not familiar: He has recorded extensively with Edwards in a band called The Remote Viewers, though. Northover intertwines Metcalfe subtly at various points, as well as having his own moments. Despite its relatively large number of players — and I note that improvising quintets are much less common in this space than quartets or especially trios — Five generally maintains an airy ("Air"-y?) sense of open space, even a sylvan feeling (not so unlike Hunt at the Brook), and of course there is something of a sense of whimsy, as suggested by the quintet's name. As already suggested, the ensemble seems to pivot on Magliocchi, allowing a rich sense of interplay to maintain even as some players are silent. The result is something of a study in pace. Chant is probably the most similar recent (quintet) example — to be featured in this space anyway — in terms of varying combinations & maintaining a sense of quiet balance, sometimes becoming animated, albeit there mostly within one instrument family. (The other non-composed quintet album in my current list of favorites is Ramble, and it isn't constructed to prioritize this sort of interaction, i.e. it could have been a very similar album, at least in many ways, with a different number of players.) One might say that these albums explore a geometry (here underscored by the titles). The number-titled tracks on Five actually build in length from the first to the fourth, which slows down & becomes almost atmospheric after a while (perhaps heralded by sounds of distant traffic): At first I wanted more activity, but the resulting calm has come to seem very welcome, before the quintet returns to a more animated chirping interchange & into the brief final (almost an encore) track with its abrupt ending. (I might characterize some passages via the notion of "eye of the storm" except that there's never really a storm.) There are some tiny flashes of "jazz" along the way, little snippets of style, but this is mostly nonidiomatic music. It took me a while with this album, since it's hard to say what makes it come off "differently" from so many other English productions, but Five has taken on a distinctive & compelling feel with more exposure.

Free – music volatile par un quintet vif argent : haut perchés et étirant le souffle entre les notes, la flûte baroque de Neil Metcalfe et le sax soprano d’Adrian Northover, bruissante et arachnéenne, la guitare acoustique de Daniel Thompson, frottée de manière incisive et avec plénitude, la contrebasse de John Edwards, agitée et frappée sous tous les angles, la percussion libérée de Marcello Magliocchi. Personnalité incontournable de la percussion en Italie, avec derrière lui une belle carrière de batteur de jazz, Marcello Magliocchi s’épanouit en Grande Bretagne en compagnie du saxophoniste chercheur Adrian Northover, un pilier notoire du London Improvisors Orchestra qui vit de sa musique dans plusieurs démarches musicales qui vont du jazz (projets basés sur la musique de Mingus et celle de Monk), au « cross-ethnic » en passant par les inclassables Remote Viewers. Un autre acolyte, le guitariste Daniel Thompson qui fait équipe avec le clarinettiste Tom Jackson et l’altiste Benedict Taylor au sein de CRAM. Il joue et enregistre fréquemment avec le flûtiste Neil Metcalfe. Northover ayant tourné durant des années dans toute l’Europe avec John Edwards au sein de B-Shops For The Poor avant que le contrebassiste ne soit révélé aux côtés d’Evan Parker et de Veryan Weston, quoi de plus naturel d’appeler son camarade pour ajouter des fondations boisées pour équilibrer le groupe en un quintet. Deux cordes, deux vents et une percussion. Les instrumentistes tissent des relations individuelles séparément et collectivement avec chacun d’eux, créent de courts mouvements tour à tour contrastés, complémentaires, enchaînés, lyriques, hyper-actifs, délicats, pastoraux, coordonnent leurs élans et leurs silences. Ils jouent à cinq, à quatre, à trois, à deux, s’invitant mutuellement à partager l’espace et le temps. Chacun d’eux à sa spécificité : on pense aux notes étirées du flûtiste qui trouve un écho chez le saxophoniste. Ou au percussionniste qui use une variété confondante de frappes, grattages, chocs, frottements, secouages, vibrations métalliques à l’archet. Les grondements moirés de la contrebasse se distinguent dans les taillis et s’élèvent entre les souffles. Même si la vitesse est une caractéristique de cette musique, ils jouent tout autant au ralenti en travaillant le son, la note, la phrase et les échanges les plus divers avec sérénité. Un rien suffit à faire sens. Un très bel exemple de collaboration spontanée intégrant magnifiquement cinq personnalités de l’improvisation dans un flux ludique, poétique qu’il faut écouter tout au long avec la plus grande attention pour pouvoir saisir pleinement le fond de leurs pensées.

FMR RECORDS, CD, 437-0217 - 2017
Quintet improbable, quintet caduc ? Y a-t-il un sens a cette formation, qui tire son nom d'un non-sens emprunte a Edward Lear et son poeme The Owl and the Pus¬sycat, ou une correspondance avec ce qu'il propose ? Five est en fait une musique entierement improvisee entre cinq par-tenaires qui se connaissent bien, ayant souvent travaille les uns avec les autres au hasard de leurs periples respectifs. Adrian Northover (saxophone soprano) et John Edwards (contrebasse) officient au sein de Remote Viewers (et auparavant dans B. Shops for the Poor), Daniel Thompson (guitare acoustique) a fait des duos avec Neil Metcalfe (flute) et avec Northover. Seul Marcello Magliocchi (batterie), d'ori-gine italienne, n'apparait a ma connais-sance sur aucun autre enregistrement d'un de ses quatre partenaires. Les cinq titres, sobrement intitules de « One » a « Five », offrent des rencontres souvent convulsives, presque paroxystiques, debouchant parfois sur de (courtes) sequences plus apaisees, et marquees par quelques rentatives d'unis-son. Le quintet developpe (ou esquisse) diverses interactions (parfois en duo, en trio ou en quartet), a la recherche d'une polyphonie spontanee, libre et prenante. PIERRE DURR

From Sept 2017 Revue&Corrigee.

The Runcible Quintet
FMR CD 437-0217
Should (shudder!) the idea of there being superstars exist in Free Music, trend setters seeking them will have come to the wrong place at a gig by The Runcible Quintet (RQ). If internationally known player are the equivalent of film stars whose mere presence sells a picture, then these quintet members are like the character actors who bring verisimilitude to the celluloid situations. Particular breakthroughs may result from the actions of a few innovators, especially where music is concerned, but the genre’s continued health and dissemination depends on players like these.

At the same time the group which improvised on five untitled tracks ranging from slightly more than 2½ minutes to more than 17½, bring a certain sharpness and subtlety to the program. For a start the band is named for a fork curved like a spoon, mentioned in Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat. Combing decades of experience, the London-based ensemble consists of bassist John Edwards, known for his work with Evan Parker, among many others; soprano saxophonist Adrian Northover, a member of The Remote Viewers; flutist Neil Metcalfe, part of The Dedication Orchestra; drummer Marcello Magliocchi, who has taught percussion and worked pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Joelle Leandre;, and acoustic guitarist Daniel Thompson, who has also played with Parker and been in The London Improvisers Orchestra. Throughout the disc, the main strategy appears to be the contrapuntal face-off between the delicate puffing of Metcalfe’s flute with the hard-edged strumming of Thompson’s strings. No beat-monger, Magliocchi, is a colorist, with additional tinctures supplied by the other two players whose musical sympathies line-up on either side of the string/horn continuum.

By virtue of the sheer length, “(17:14)” come across as the RQ’s major statement. A stop-time extravaganza with riffs cascading in many directions, flute squeaks, sax bites, drum pops, and string scrubs sets up a multiphonic canvas upon which the horns exert stringent pressure. Metcalfe’s angled tone plus Northover’s stretched timbres dig a deep enough groove to gyrate back upon their own textures, and are pushed into overt expressiveness by Thompson’s sly finger picking. Producing a break in what begins to resemble endless rumble, the soprano saxophonist soaring squeak later become the cork in the musical bottle.

Other tracks allow different players to weave their contributions within the defining Metcalfe-Thompson light-dark/soft-hard saw off. Edwards’ shaved spiccato lines temper guitar onslaught at points; while Northover’s forward-pushing vibrations add resolute grit to the flute narration. More a record of a journey by intrepid improvisers than a celebration of goals attained. Five is yet another demonstration of how Free Music continually renews itself, as the highly accomplished if not famous continue to play it.

—Ken Waxman

Výraz runcible je nonsensové slovo vytvorené poetou Edwardem Learem a je svým zpusobem prototypem nonsensu, tedy neceho nepatricného, v praxi nepoužitelného. The sice naopak funguje skvele, ale faktem je, že i v tak otevrené disciplíne jako je svobodná improvizace pusobí opravdu nejak jinak. Tomu vlastne napomáhá už nástrojové obsazení, kde se výrazne prosazují flétna (Neil Metcalfe) a akustická kytara (Daniel Thompson). Ale i univerzální kontrabasista John Edwards, který má pri ruzných príležitostech vždy svébytný rejstrík, lec mnohdy jindy žene svuj nástroj silou dopredu, tady jakoby našel ješte další fígle a ústrojne je zapojoval do celkového soundu. Podobne tak bicí Marcella Magliocchiho splétají roztodivné obrazce z filigránské roztrepanosti. A pozadu nestojí ani saxofonista Adrian Northover, který se však do celku vplétá spíše nenápadnými štebety. Názvem slovní hrícky koncí a jednotlivé instantní kompozice jsou oznaceny pouze císly od jedné do peti a jejich rozsah se rídí proste momentální invencí a vše má adekvátní zacátek i konec bez ohledu na to, zda skladba trvá dve a pul minuty nebo více než sedmnáct. Komplikované struktury mají svuj vnitrní rád a nepracují s prvoplánovou gradací nebo efektními zvraty, ale vše tu do sebe skvele zapadá. Nahrávka vznikla v avantgardním londýnském klubu s príznacným názvem IKLECTIC. Nutno ovšem ríct, že v prípade The Runcible Quintet nejde o eklekticismus v hudebním slova smyslu, protože to není propletenec jazzu a postupu soucasné vážné hudby, jak by se možná mohlo zdát, ale skutecný novotvar. Spíše se tu setkávají a prolínají mikronálady, v nichž je spíš než humor pousmání a spíš než melancholie jakési pozastavení se a procítení.

Five was recorded in April 2016, at I'klectik, a performance venue favoured by LIO, just across the Thames from Big Ben. The album consists of five tracks, somewhat unimaginatively entitled "One", "Two", "Three", "Four" and "Five", totalling under forty-five minutes. All of the music was freely improvised by the five players. Although the quintet's instrumentation may suggest a front line of saxophone and flute supported by a rhythm section of guitar, bass and drums, the reality is far freer and looser than that, with all five players improvising throughout. On "One", their playing is tentative as they feel their way, hinting that this is not a well-established quintet. By "Two", they sound more assured and the music starts to flow freely, kick-started by a sprightly, assured flute passage from Metcalfe that seems to relax everyone. "Three" and "Four" are longer pieces that form the heart of the album; throughout each of them, the five engage in a series of animated exchanges that radiate confidence and the sheer joy of playing together; interchanges between flute and saxophone are particularly noteworthy. "Five" is a brief end piece that draws the album to a satisfying conclusion, and leaves the listener wanting more.
The music on Five is good, old-fashioned improv that could easily have been recorded in any year from the mid-seventies onwards. It augurs well for future albums from this quintet. Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that the word "runcible" is borrowed from the comic writings of Edward Lear. The word itself is a piece of Lear nonsense without any agreed meaning, often being attached to non-existent objects such as the "runcible spoon" of Lear's best-known work The Owl and the Pussycat. We must hope that its inclusion in this quintet's name is not intended to signal that the group was a one-off and is actually non-existent itself. More, soon, please."-John Eyles, The Squid's Ear