July 2020 saw the debut album release, Small World, from Ensemble C. The band C is a septet led by pianist and composer Claire Cope and features vocalist Brigitte Beraha; on saxophone Rob Cope; Jack Davies plays trumpet; Jon Ormston is behind the drum kit while Ed Babar plays both electric and upright bass; the rhythm section is completed by guitarist Tom Varrall.
Small World consists of seven tracks plus an intro and outro. The primary theme of the music is:
Inspired by a love of travel, as well as the power of human connection and our common hopes, ‘Small World’ celebrates the great versatility, yet inherent ‘smallness’, of our world.Ensemble C Bandcamp page
‘A Day in a Life’ is the first full track and opens with the warm tone of Tom Varrall’s guitar before being joined by the rest of the rhythm section in a gentle riff which is then picked up by Brigitte Beraha and her wordless vocals – a wonderful example of the voice being used as an instrument. Saxophonist Rob Cope then took the lead and drove the tune on with terrific playing before handing back to the ensemble and Brigitte Beraha’s soundscape.
When listening to ‘Spirited’ I was instantly reminded of the African rhythms I had heard many years ago at Womad. Claire has written of the inspiration of her trips to Kenya and the “slums of Kibera in Nairobi. A place of great struggle and hardship, it is also a place where the most sincere generosity and warmth of human spirit can be found…” This tune has a geniality to it that washed over me as I listened.
The title track ‘Small World’ starts with an up-tempo energy before settling back with the first real opportunity to hear trumpeter Jack Davies stretch out. It is also the track when you get to hear Claire Cope’s particularly good piano playing terrifically support by Tom Varrall. ‘Small World’, then leads to out of this world with ‘Sea of Tranquility’ inspired by the film First Man. There is a spaciousness in this tune that allows each note to be heard and reflect the vastness of space.
‘Eyes Open’ is a lullaby written after the birth of Claire’s niece. I am not sure that this lullaby would have a soporific effect on me as I would be looking to hit the repeat button just to hear again and again the sublime guitar work of Tom Varrell. ‘The Time is Now’ picks up the tempo from the previous two tracks and, for me, is one of the stand-out tunes of the album. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between the vocal sound of Brigitte Beraha and the trumpet of Jack Davies and the coming together of the trumpet and saxophone reminiscent of the way the front line plays in a big band setting.
‘Travelling Again’ is a song that sets the words of the great Chinese poet Du Fu, taken from his poem dated 761 of the same title: it is the only piece where Brigitte Beraha gets to sing words. For me, the singing has a folk quality to it while the rhythm section has some of the African feel to it heard in earlier tracks. This may sound odd against the fact that the lyrics would have been originally written in Chinese, but it all hangs together very well and is a superb number on which to draw the album to a close.
This is a particularly good, strong debut album from an ensemble that puts across a very coherent, well-written set of tunes from composer Claire Cope. I shall be listening out for more from this group of talented musicians led by someone who clearly knows how to write highly enjoyable ensemble jazz music.
1. Intro 2. A Day in a Life 3. Spirited 4. Small World 5. Sea of Tranquillity 6. Eyes Open 7. The Time is Now 8. Travelling Again 9. Outro
This album is available as a digital download from Bandcamp