|From the opening moments of their debut disc I Understand, the Circles Quartet succeeds in capturing the listeners attention. The tune is Little Candles. Neil Whitford is front and centre with a moody guitar introduction, breaking into a rhythmic ostinato. Quickly the bass and drums enter with aggressive punches only to give way to the melody of the tune, immediately a beautiful if slightly melancholic vibe is established, flowing like water, only to be twisted into a dark and brooding figure that the quartet will return to many times throughout the composition. After the statement of the theme, Matt Roberts is the first soloist. Playing with a round and singing tone on the bass he builds a strong statement that is melodic the whole way through. Next is Whitford with an extremely clean sound, taking his time letting each languid line unravel until the next. Hayoun Lee gets his say too, alternating between darting lines and climactic block chords. The tune concludes over a rhythmically intense drum solo by Nico Dann.
The disc proves to be the quartets own musical statement, a largely original recording featuring the compositions of three of the members; Matt Roberts, Neil Whitford and Hayoun Lee. There is one cover, the McCartney pop classic Blackbird that is molded into a subtle and fresh arrangement for the group. All three writers have a very strong and individual voice and Roberts has done a great job producing this into a seamless and cohesive piece of art.
Another highlight of the disc is Hayouns composition I Understand. It unravels beat to beat with a poignant solo by the composer at the piano, slowly building into guest Alex Taits patient vocal line and Terry Quinneys tasteful tenor saxophone playing. Matts composition How To Walk On Water also stands out. Seeming to build from nothing but the sound of water and Alex Taits wordless vocals, eventually the whole band seamlessly joins in concluding with the stark and poetic line, Why did you doubt?
This is modern jazz with a penchant for meaningful expression, not trivial musical athleticism. Their compositions and improvisations strongly show the influence of the music that these players have surely been immersed in; rock, pop and even possibly classical, Brazilian and free music. These are ingredients that are strained through a jazz approach that gives the group a highly individual and organic sound.
by Christopher Butcher November 2008
1. Little Candles (Whitford, 7:50)
2. Pegasus (Lee, 8:11)
3. How To Walk On Water (Roberts, 10:30)
4. September (Roberts, 7:31)
5. No Rest For The Wicked (Whitford, 8:12)
6. I Understand (Lee, 8:17)
7. Blackbird (McCartney, 8:06)
8. Cap Diamant (Whitford, 7:21)