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'Unfurled at The Barnfield' 30th January 2015

By Mike Westbrook


A cold night in Exeter, but still a sizeable crowd turned out for Streetworks. The evening was the latest in the series of monthly concerts presented at the Barnfield Theatre under the banner of ‘A Message From’. As ‘Streetworks’ implies, the quartet plays mostly compositions by Karen Street. Whereas Composer/Pianists are ten a penny, Composer/Accordionists are rare in Jazz, and that is what gives this music its distinctive quality. The accordion is a complete orchestra in itself, with a huge range of timbres and dynamics. In Karen’s hands it can be thrillingly virtuosic one minute, soulful and tender the next.

Being at this concert, it was as though we had been invited to an intimate soiree chez Karen, Andy Tweed and friends. It was refreshingly free of the hard sell that seems to dominate so much of today’s music scene, including jazz. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, as if playing and listening to music is the most natural thing in the world. Which of course it should be.

This was basically acoustic music, or as acoustic as tastefully amplified instruments can be. Streetworks gives an object lesson in cohesion and communication. Each of the musicians listens intently, whether engaged in dazzling ensemble work, playing an accompanying role, or taking one of Karen’s ideas and running with it. The whole process, as each piece unfurls, draws the audience in. No one wants to miss a single note.

Nothing against drummers, but this particular line up was particularly effective in bringing out the sound quality of each instrument, as well as the personal touch of the player. Will Harris’s double bass gave the music its warm centre and its pulse. Mike Outram demonstrated again his mastery of all areas of the guitar, endlessly inventive in time, harmony and texture. Andy Tweed showed his awesome command of the saxophone, from the creamiest sound you’ll ever hear in the tenor, to upper register fireworks. With her disarmingly un-showy and honest announcements, Karen Street, held us all in thrall from the word go, with the magic of her accordion, gentle humour, pyrotechnics, drama and romance.

Peter Bacon - thejazzbreakfast.com

Streetworks - Unfurled ATKS1501

Streetworks is a drummer-less quartet from the South-West led by accordionist Karen Street with Andy Tweed on various saxophones, Mike Outram on guitar and Will Harris on bass.

Originally from Burton-on-Trent, Karen was a champion accordionist at an early age and has brought her virtuoso technique on the instrument to high-standard projects from folk to jazz to contemporary classical.

This band plays all original compositions in a lyrical modern jazz style which, inevitably given the connotations the listener brings to the lead instrument, has folk overtones, but also adds some tango spice too.

The title track, which opens the album, is something of a laying out of the stall, a perky piece introduced by solo accordion and featuring solos from Tweed on soprano and Street on accordion which illustrate how they improvise jazz with very few of the cliches normally associated with the genre. Outram and Harris lock in well in strong support.

Dancer has the swirl of the skirt about it and a little tango heat, or rather warmth: these are English players, after all, and so more restrained than their Argentine counterparts. Ode shows the harmonic riches that Street can summon from the keys and air of her instrument, and Tantrum has a folk dance feel which then opens out harmonically with a classy solo from Outram, ending up in the disruptive, discordant behaviour – especially from Tweed – of its title before order is finally restored. No.255 is a gorgeous reworking of a hymn tune.

All four are fine improvisers and have generous solo space, but it is the leader’s writing and arrangements together with the group sound and the highly sensitive interaction between the players that adds a whole bowl of cherries on the top of this already juicy West Country summer pudding in sound.

Streetworks - Unfurled

CD review by Jon Turney - http://www.londonjazznews.com/2015/03/cd-review-streetworks-unfurled.html

The accordion, leader Karen Street’s instrument here, can be a domineering presence: that garrulous wheeze, the endless sustain, can leave other players with too little breathing space. Have no fear, she is far too good a musician and composer for that to ever happen. She is interested in colouring the soundscape and subtle orchestration and, although she can throw off a rapid fire solo with the best of them, there is relatively little of that here. She states some themes, embroiders others, comments and cajoles. But the bulk of the solo duties, and many of the lead lines, are shared by the pure-toned saxophone of Andy Tweed and Mike Outram’s superbly inventive guitar.

All three players stay mainly in a mellow mid-register, which with the immaculate support of Will Harris’s bass in this drummerless quartet gives the band a gently beguiling overall sound. There are no sonic extremes, save for a brief and – to my mind – not completely convincing burst of sax histrionics that underline the title of Tantrum. Otherwise, the more calculated approach of each arrangement allows the tunes to shine through. All are by Street, save for Tweed’s upbeat Beluga in the Bierkeller and No 255, a limpid reworking of a hymn tune by Basil Harwood. Street has said (in her interview here http://www.londonjazznews.com/2015/03/interview-karen-street-reflections.html with LondonJazzNews) that this a contemplative, mid-life offering. It also seems a very good-humoured set, though, in an English way. Certainly the accordion playing leans more toward the jaunty rather than maudlin side of the instrument’s personality. There are more dances than dirges, although the exceptionally beautiful closer Peace – introduced by simply-stated solo bass – does have a pleasantly melancholy air.

There, as elsewhere, the four sustain the mood brilliantly, with perfectly pitched contributions from all the players. Outram’s guitar lines, especially, always draw the ear, but this attractively unusual CD is really about the band sound, and a lovely one it is. The accordion, almost in spite of itself, is constantly hinting at other musics, from folk tunes to tango, but its use here is individual, distinctively jazzy, and wholly effective. It is a nice lesson in how a mature, relaxed and undemonstrative player can, nevertheless, be the essential, central voice.

Karen Street/ Streetworks: Streetworks/ Unfurled (2015)

By FIONA ORD-SHRIMPTON, Published: June 12, 2015

Women in British jazz, the stand-out sonically wonderful ones, you just don't hear them all too often, and finding them is like chasing unicorns. Outside of stoic jazz hoovers there are still too few mainstream listeners who suck it up these days, and that never helps. In the popular world of musical vacuum, perhaps the only answer budding jazz musicians ever hear is, "Die son." (The popular vacuum -looks good, it's clumsy, over-priced, breaks easy and does half a job). Thankfully, Karen Street has no time for housework; she's too busy digging the street, maintaining the foundations; holding the joints up.

Listening to Unfurled the title song is a real head turner, it's unfurling at 1:01 seconds is sublime. Outside of Astor Piazzolla, the Gotan Project, Richard Galliano and their acco-ilk one can lose accord with accordion pretty early on. Not so here. The combination of Karen Street's lyrical compositions with her responsive and unique accordion playing is classy, spritely stuff. Not to short change Andy Tweed's saxophone skills either, which are cut like De Beers -imagine a Brit tinged folk-lite Bill Evans (saxophone) with flashes of Andy Sheppard.

"Dancer" is a quintessential French town square romancer, think Jean Reno as the Gru (Despicable Me) following Marion Cotillard like a lovesick puppy. "My Next Trick" is accordion bellows, like a swaggering drunk Gallic sailor, an impression augmented by Will Harris' walking bass. The sax melody brings the upbeat funk, a big New Yorkness sax sound, a beefy blues. Mike Outram shines up a virtuoso solo with essence of Lee Ritenour. Bring out the Bourguignon.

"Ode" begins dirge like and sombre, followed by some sympathetic saxophone. The story expands, the guitar flies in some fancy licks not to be outdone. The reviewer first notices that the band doesn't have any drums or piano. The song continues unhindered. "Tantrum" begins with minor heat from accordion and bass. Guitar and sax keep a gentle council while the accordion throws a controlled tantrum. The sax wrecks the shop at 2mins 30sec, it's a pleasant, almost comical interpretation of a tantrum from the outside looking in. The guitar has the last laugh holding it together throughout.

In "No.255" the guitar and bass footsie the 'Don't stand so close to me' and in chimes accordion, feels like the quality of the old Windham Hill compilations. "Beluga in the Bierkeller" begins with swellsome accordion, dripping gold sax of the Andy Sheppard school of sensation...She had a thing for Bavarian fish dishes at 12:15pm, he liked to take a taxi in lunchtime traffic, "Je préfère les hommes incorrect" and all that Beluga.

"The Last Mile" that moment when the car is running out of the last bar on the fuel meter, when you need the loo, need to be wherever on time....captured in perfect sonic anticipation by sax, accordion and bass. Outram has moments of the same energy as Martin Taylor or George Benson. A jolly stroller, that's perfect for the later- lifers dating on diuretics, when you got to go—you got to go.

"Peace" with a bass intro summarised in the immortal tunage of Ron Carter's title "That's Deep." Lingering and lasting, each band member has their own unique statement on what Peace is, from the bluesy Jimi Hendrix inspired guitar solo to the gliding sax eagling.

Lady Street is a beast for bringing this band into being, Streetworks are a heart-warming construction necessary on all good highways.