Recorded in the summer of 2011 and originally given a limited release last year, this debut album from the F-IRE Collective members Fly Agaric has now been given a new lease of life. It is deserving of further attention, not least because of its defiant strangeness, and for the group’s willingness to mesh styles and approaches in unconventional ways. In Search Of Soma is, as its title suggests, an attempt at finding a new way of seeing – a contemporary jazz album that is less about jazz language and technique and much more about sound, concept and imaginative juxtapositions.
Although multi-instrumentalist Zac Gvi might be considered Fly Agaric’s nominal leader, it is drummer Fred Thomas who emerges as the leading compositional voice here. Thomas’ principal study at the Royal Academy of Music in piano and he is an experienced performer on that instrument in a variety of contexts. This might go some way in explaining not just his dominance in the writing, but also the colouristic, textural approach he adopts on the drum kit.
Much of the music here is quirky, unusual and humorous. At times it feels like it might be an ironic (or even parodic) commentary on jazz history. The melody of Travailler Plus Pour Gaagnier Plus hints at Caravan, Juan Tizol’s piece made famous by Duke Ellington, although its engaging 6/4 groove is taken in a number of unexpected directions through abrupt shifts in tempo. It is a prime example of the group’s restlessness, and of the strong awareness and communication between the musicians.
The haunting balm of the ballad Serenity hints at Charles Mingus, just one example of many occasions when Mingus’ influence looms. Mingus is also present in the joyful, mischievous and celebratory manner in which the rest of the music is delivered. One of Fly Agaric’s defining characteristics is a combination of sounds and approaches drawn from the wilder fringes of improv with a rhythmic clarity and directness that seems to come from as early in the tradition as the swing era.
Many of the pieces take their titles from the world of cinema – Inspector Clouseau hints at this album’s strong playful streak, whilst the opening Closely Observed Trains reflects some of the naivety and innocence at the heart of Jiri Menzel’s excellent film. The closing piece (Y Tu Mama Tambien) shares its title with Alfonso Cuaron’s more anarchic picture and perhaps suggests a wider preoccupation with the coming of age theme. There is a wry, knowing quality to this particular composition.
Yet amidst the frenetic flow of ideas, there is also a sensitivity and maturity on display too. Unfinishing is a compelling, effective mood piece with a carefully paced, gently lilting melody and Il Niege A Pontault, with its sustained accordian chords, is graceful and beautiful. Here are suggestions that Fly Agaric are a multi-faceted band with feeling and atmosphere in their music to match the pointed deconstructions.