NCH Kevin Barry RoomWho, you might be tempted to ask, are the Rynhart Speakers, who made their debut in an Irish Composers Collective concert at the NCH Kevin Barry Room on Tuesday? That, however, would not be the right question. They’re a what, not a who. Composer Dylan Rynhart has updated the Leslie speakers, the loudspeakers that give the Hammond organ its special tremolo effects, and brought them into the digital age. The Leslie speakers distribute higher frequencies through a rotatable horn, mounted on top of the speaker cabinet. Actually, what’s mounted there is a pair of horns, but the second one is included only for physical balance during rotation.
The rotation of the horns in a Leslie speaker can be set to medium, fast, or off. Rynhart has made the speed infinitely variable within its working range, and is also able to reverse the direction of the spin.
The Hammond organ tremolo is the result of what’s known as the Doppler effect, familiar from the fall in pitch of ambulance sirens when they pass you by. But tremolo is not what interests Rynhart the most. The spinning horns also spatialise the sound by sending it off in different directions to be reflected or absorbed by whatever it encounters. It’s the spatialisation that’s been firing him up, so much so, that he’s not bothered at all with the low-frequency aspect of the Leslie speakers, and he uses a separate, unmodulated sub-woofer in his setup.
The Rynhart Speakers are presented in a four-unit layout, in which the spinning of all four speakers – placed not at the corners of a listening area, but at the sides – can actually be kept in synch (or not, if that’s what a composer wants).
Well, then. What does it all sound like? Before Tuesday’s concert at the NCH Kevin Barry Room, Rynhart made a short presentation. The impression in rapidly moving music or in speech was of fragmentation and blurring. The familiar Hammond organ effects came most obviously into play when the sound was more constant. The spatialisation was, well, hit and miss.
Rynhart opened and closed Tuesday’s programme with works of his own. Components is an edit of separate performances of a piece that calls on players to improvise, with all of the performances piled on top of each other – a good opportunity to sample the speakers’ effects on individual lines. Spin Cycle comes from the Fuzzy Logic Ensemble’s Mouthpiece album, and provided the opportunity to hear the spinning speakers transforming co-ordinated, jazzy ensemble writing and voice.
It was useful to have such clear reference points from the speakers’ developer at either end of the programme. A number of the evening’s pieces were drone compositions, Piaras Hoban’s newmorningwintervlight getting heavy and dirty and detailed, Francis Heery’s Glean clearly concerned with stasis, and offering an almost dimensional shift as the horns began to rotate slowly, and Adam McCartney’s Troposphere-AMDG bringing the sound of a “dilapidated” pipe organ into the electronic domain for slow transformations.
Three other works were performed on conventional speakers, Matthew Whiteside’s Youth tantalisingly blended not always readily decipherable recorded speech with the sounds of what might have been a fan or a gentle vacuum cleaner. Ian McDonnell’s Spear Fragment was a recorded improvisation, playing with sine tones and taped scratching sounds, and espousing a sense of narrative that most of the other works seemed to shun. And David E McCarthy’s Performance VII offered a sonic assault with punitively loud drum-kit effects synched to strobe lighting – the composer provided a health warning, and himself chose to exit the room before the performance.
As to the Rynhart Speakers? Are they an important development, or just a tool waiting for a task? Time alone will tell.
FUZZY LOGIC ENSEMBLE is Ireland's largest and longest-running big band - or "contemporary improvising ensemble" as composer and founder Dylan Rynhart prefers to describe the group. This distinction is important. "Big band" can connote music of the swing era or a conventional reeds-and-brass, riffs-and-solos approach that is far from Fuzzy Logic's sound range and musical vocabulary. Yet the band is very much part of a jazz tradition that goes back to Duke Ellington, using extended forms and varied instrumentation to create a broad range of sonorities and textures. Like Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, Rynhart writes music with a compelling balance of highly arranged orchestral passages and carefully chosen solos. And like Brookmeyer's protégé Maria Schneider, he searches out non-traditional rhythmic and ethnic influences to create twenty-first-century music that is both sharply executed and expressively open-ended.
Mouthpiece is the ensemble's second recording, and its flowing lines and tight sound are evidence of the band's longevity and its success in articulating its founder's vision. Much credit is due to Rynhart, who continues to drive the group with hard work and good-natured advocacy. Credit must also go to Florian Ross, conductor and musical director of the pieces on this album, and of course to the musicians, whose collective dedication is matched by inspired execution and inventive soloing.
The album's centrepiece is the title track, which takes as its point of departure a fragment of a speech recording of Rynhart's mother, Justine, in which she speaks of a painting done by her stepmother. Her words carries themes of family, creativity and legacy into the piece, but they also allow Rynhart, who transcribed his mother's voice musically and arranged the tune's melodies around its rhythms, to explore the dimension the spoken word brings to music - hardly a new concept, but one you don't often encounter in the big-band tradition.
The shifting, multi-textured density of "Mouthpiece" is very satisfying and characterises the album as a whole, especially "Flip Shuffle", with its lilting melody and intriguing rhythms; the Zappaesque "There is so much to Smile about", featuring Joe O'Callaghan's fluid guitar and Sue Rynhart's airy vocals; and the quirky "Dusty Time", which surprises at every turn. Rynhart sticks mostly to Fender Rhodes on this outing, and it would have been good to hear more of his swirling Hammond organ, which enlivens tenor saxophonist Brian Wynne's piece "Order Later". Nick Roth's composition "pliARS", with Roth's ferocious alto sax weaving through the tune's Middle Eastern rhythms, is also a highlight. The musicianship is brilliant throughout, particularly Roth and guest soloist Tom Arthurs on trumpet.
FUZZY LOGIC ENSEMBLE has been a prominent feature of the local Dublin scene over six years, so it is appropriate that the album has been so handsomely packaged and presented by Fuzzy Music and the Improvised Music Company, who have both done so much to document this very productive period in Irish jazz.
Putting together a jazz band is a quixotic affair at the best of times. But putting a large ensemble together, and keeping it together for the best part of a decade, is a feat of the most sublime optimism. Eternal optimist Dylan Rynhart founded his ten-piece FuzzyLogicEnsemble in 2002 to perform his own compositions and since then, the ensemble has toured extensively and in 2005, released its first album, New Hat, to great acclaim.
If there was a concern, it was that with such a young group, there were no mature soloists who could do justice to the scores Rynhart was putting in front of them. The addition of saxophonist Brian Wynne - himself a formidable composer but also a player of great depth - and the recent arrival of virtuoso guitarist Joe O'Callaghan have added considerably to Rynhart's palette.
For the group's second album, Mouthpiece, which will be launched at the National Concert Hall on Wednesday night, the composer has also drafted in some special guests, including the highly-regarded German pianist and composer Florian Ross as producer, and up and coming British trumpeter Tom Arthurs to add some bite to the horn section.
The Arts : Dylan Rynhart's jazz ensemble breaks many moulds, with his innovative compositions and unusual juxtaposition of instruments - including a voice - in the 10-piece orchestra
JUST about the last place you expect to find a jazz musician is on the River Shannon, doing a spot of sailing. "Hi. I'm dry," says Dylan Rynhart. "The sun came out. It's been so windy all day - we've been reefing sails and we got absolutely soaked. But it's a nice way to spend a week. The Shannon is a lovely place to be."
His words conjure up an image which is light-years away from the heavy-drinking, smoky-bar jazz stereotype. But then we don't have smoky bars any more, jazz ain't what it used to be and this young man - voted Best Young Irish Jazz Artist at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival four years ago, when he was just 24 - is accustomed to demolishing preconceptions. He describes himself as a composer rather than a performer; and when, almost a decade ago, he came to set up a band to play his music, he eschewed the trios and quartets he saw around him and established a 10-piece orchestra. Why? "I think it's the sound," he says. "When you've got a trio, okay, there's great things you can do. But when you're trying to deal with sonority and musical texture, which is what interests me - well, I mean, there's so many different sounds that every instrument can make. When you multiply that by 10 it just becomes massive."
Besides, he adds, no one else is doing it - at least, not in quite the same way. "There are a few people who are doing big bands, and are actually playing big-band scores, and that's great. But it's not necessarily what we're doing. I would consider Fuzzy Logic Ensemble to be a contemporary music ensemble that improvises, rather than a jazz band as such. I don't want people to think they're coming to a big-band gig. It's very different."
WELL, YES . There's a clue in the name. Who came up with Fuzzy Logic? "I did, actually. We had our first rehearsal, and I was driving some of the lads to the Dart station, and we were, like, so what are we going to call this band? And for some reason I had written ‘fuzzy logic' into my phone because I liked the words. I liked the idea of making decisions - about writing, for example - in a kind of illogical way. It was only afterwards that I discovered it's a mathematical term. The way I had it described to me is that if your microwave is open, then it's open - and if it's closed, then it can work. In fuzzy logic it can be closed enough to work, but not really closed."
Difficult mathematical abstractions are not, in any case, what Rynhart's music is all about. "I love the idea of surprise in music," he says. "I think it comes across in the way I write things. I love to change the context all the time - which probably makes my music a bit crazy and not as cohesive as it might be."
It's also attractive, easy-going and - according to reviewers who are expert in these matters - highly distinctive in the sonority department. This is partly because of the way Rynhart structures his pieces and partly because of the way Fuzzy Logic Ensemble juxtaposes classical jazz instruments - with a central trio of Cathal Roche on soprano sax, Nick Roth on alto and Brian Wynne on tenor - with more untypical instruments such as Kate Ellis's cello and Lee Tobin's electric guitar. Most distinctive of all is the role played by the voice of Rynhart's wife Sue, a classically-trained soprano who has studied with Emma Kirkby and is a lay vicar choral at Christchurch Cathedral.
"Our use of voice makes the ensemble sound very specific," says Rynhart. "The voice is prevalent in any mix - whether you listen to live or recorded music, your hearing automatically gets drawn to the voice as a kind of centrepiece." But Sue, he says, thinks of the group as a choir rather than a band with herself as "lead singer", which is a very different proposition.
The mellifluous voice of the English trumpeter Tom Arthurs is also a centrepiece of Fuzzy Logic's new album, Mouthpiece , which will be launched with a live performance at the National Concert Hall next week.
The album is, in Rynhart's words, "a collection of music written for trumpet and ensemble . . . inspired directly and indirectly by speech, patterns, emotion and expression". He describes Arthurs, who was commissioned to write a piece for this year's BBC Proms which will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 on August 31st, as "a superb trumpet player - someone you can rely on being 100 per cent on-it all the time - a fantastic performer".
The title track of the new Fuzzy Logic album, however, features someone much closer to home. "The inspiration for Mouthpiece was an interview I did with my mum," says Rynhart - whose interest in jazz is also something of a family affair. His uncle Ivor Carroll, now deceased, was a tenor saxophonist and his cousins Justin and Roy Carroll are major players on the scene. "I want to hang on to the family stories because some of them are really, really bizarre," he says.
HIS GRANDFATHER moved to Ireland from England as a young man, moved into the Shelbourne Hotel and lived on the second floor. "It was all very lavish." In the Mouthpiece interview, Rynhart's mother speaks - with great affection, it must be said - about her step-Grandmother "Bessie."
"All kinds of people have played with the idea of speech in music, from Steve Reich to Zappa to the piano player Jason Moran," Rynhart says. He took the recording of his mother's voice and transcribed it musically, mapping the pitches on to the stave, writing down the rhythms, then arranging the melody for the band in various different ways.
"I think one of the most important things when you're writing music is to try and think about the relevance to people," he explains. "If you're used to hearing a lot of polkas, say, and I put a polka into the music, it will be a reference point for you. Speech is an interesting one, because everyone hears people talking all the time - but they don't generally associate it with music. With my mum talking, my idea is that she has an accent that I'm familiar with. So when I hear her ‘speech melody' in the music, it's an anchor point for me because in some sense I would feel I've heard it before.
"The strange thing is that the meaning in the words doesn't necessarily translate into music. When you record someone laughing - or saying something in a kind of a joyous way - sometimes it can really be sad musically. The intervals in the speech are exactly the opposite of what you might expect."
As a concept, speech transcription may seem to be a long way from the traditional jazz set-up of improvisation on basic, often familiar, melodies. But Rynhart insists that jazz itself has moved much faster than our preconceptions often allow.
‘IT'S SUCH A fascinating art form - it's so intricate and there's so much to it," he says. "And we've got to the point now where we're not just playing music which was popular in the 1930s and 1940s any more. As a composer, I spend a lot of time working arrangements; and I like the idea of written music as a starting-off point for improvisation.
"You learn all these rules when you're learning to compose," he adds. "And then it all goes out the window when you start putting pen to paper. Or finger to keypad. Getting going is the really hard bit. Getting started. I really want to write a piece for the album launch, because we have this fantastic piano player, Florian Ross, coming over from Germany. He was the conductor and musical director for the recording, and he has written a piece for the band - so I really want to write one as well."
He is, he says, toying with a new piece based around the medical card protests last October. "I was really angry about it, so I started gathering all these recordings of people getting really upset about the recession and how the Government was really squeezing the small people, or whatever. There was one woman who spoke in a very articulate way about how it was morally wrong."
Let me get this straight. Rynhart is planning to produce a new composition between, what, now and next week? "Okay, let's see," he says. "What day is today? Oh. Tuesday. So I have to write it by tomorrow fortnight - but I also have to score it and deliver the parts. I don't know if it will happen or not."
We'll just have to wait and see. But personally, I wouldn't bet on the likelihood of the terms "happen" and "not happen" being able to withstand a bit of determined fuzzy logical magic.
There was much to admire, too, in Mouthpiece, at the Royal Hotel, where composer and orchestrator Dylan Rynhart's Fuzzy Logic teamed up with British trumpeter Tom Arthurs. Almost a week of rehearsals and touring had sharpened the ensemble's delivery of his demandingly inventive charts, all but one of which, Happy New Year , was new or relatively so.
Rynhart's pieces, crammed with ideas, melodic, contrapuntal and rhythmic, are full of incident, light and shade. But on the evidence of So Much To Smile About, Twist Your Shape and Flip Shuffle , especially, this abundance is being developed more cogently and impressively. And that, in a way, is an apt simile to describe the festival, which next year will be 10 years old.They both deserve and require the chance to move on to the next level.
'In the last three years we've done various things, like playing in Cork Jazz festival. We tend to do a series of concerts every so often,' he says.
'Last month we're in Dublin, this month in the Mermaid and I think next month we're back in Dublin again.. we move around the country quite a bit.'
Fuzzy Logic is made up of Sue Brady on vocal, Bill Blackmore on trumpet, Cathal Roche on soprano sax, Nick Roth on alto sax, Brian Wynne on tenor sax, Kate Ellis on cello, Derek Whyte on bass, Lee Tobin on guitar and Phil MacMullan on drums and then Rynhart on the hammond organ.
Already the group has won much acclaim from some of the most prolific critics in the business. 'A music quite unlike anything that has preceded it on the Irish Jazz scene, hugely enjoyable for its quirky beauty and rich orchestral palette.
A group to savour', said The Irish Times in a recent review, and, it's not an inaccurate appraisal.
'Jazz is a funny thing in Ireland, in the centres there is a huge following for it..this is something that can't be stressed enough,' he says.
'In Ireland there is a definite trend in jazz. People generally talk about European jazz being different to American jazz, like that which would be in New York.
'It used to be popular in the thirties and nobody really listens to it that much, but now with this new generation of young musicians in Dublin, there's a huge following for it,' he says.
Fuzzy Logic will take to the Mermaid stage on Saturday, March 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available from the Box Office on (01) 2724030.