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Full Focus

Burke & Hare

Matthew Read Trio

 

'Full Focus' is a series where musicians and others discuss a jazz track or tracks in detail. The idea is that you are able to listen to the track that is discussed as you read about it. If you have a track on an album that you have released you might like to share the ideas behind it and talk about how it developed - if so please contact us.

 

Matthew Read and Benedict Wood

Matthew Read and Benedict Wood

 

 

This month, as his Trio sets out on a UK tour, bassist Matthew Read talks about one of the tracks on their engaging 2018 album Anecdotes II. Matthew is modest in saying little about his own accomplished bass playing, but as he says, the music is a very much the result of his talented and well co-ordinated band with drummer Arthur Newell and guitarist Benedict Wood.

Born in Winchester, Matthew started out early, dancing with his brother to the music of Weather Report. His bass playing began at Alton College in Hampshire where he took double bass lessons from Tom Mason. He was funded with a music scholarship and went on to study Jazz at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He graduated with a first class honours degree in Jazz in 2016 when he was also awarded the prestigious Dankworth Prize for Big Band composition and arranging.

Matthew has played in many prestigious venues and with many bands (click here for his website). His MRT Trio has been playing together since 2015 and from May and June they will be playing 24 dates around the UK from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Southampton via Ronnie Scott's Club in London (click here for the tour dates - catch them when you can).

 

Listen to the track as Matthew writes about the background to the track Burke & Hare from their album Anedotes II.

 

 

 

My favourite bands, jazz or otherwise, have always been the ones with a fixed lineup. If you talk about the John Coltrane Quartet, you are talking about John Coltrane but also McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Similarly, the Oscar Peterson Trio not only means OP, but also Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen and Led Zeppelin are Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. These bands have always intrigued me because there is something beyond the music that in turn influences their music. There is a mutual understanding and in turn a group voice. Before starting the trio, it was always my intention for my future band to have this kind of group voice.

When I first played with Arthur and Benedict, I instantly thought that there was something there. I wouldn’t want to listen back to our first couple of months playing together now, but I think that we were all aware that we approached music in a similar way. I started bringing rough sketches of songs to our plays and gradually the band formed, eventually becoming more than simply three people with their instruments. The band may be called 'Matthew Read Trio', but that is more of an acknowledgment of my administrative role in the band. Once we are playing, the band is all of ours.

I’ve always written best with a story in mind, hence the whole “Anecdotes” concept. The first album was a collection of stories from my life leading up to forming the trio - a suite devoted to my family, a landscape where we spread my father’s ashes, a friend’s flat, my love/hate relationship with Lewisham, a depressing conversation I had about British weather outside a function in Chelsea Town Hall... The second Burke and Hare Strip Clubalbum however became a collection of our stories as a band and as such we managed to move even closer to the originally sought after group voice and collective experience.

Probably the most controversial subject matter on Anecdotes Volume 2 is the penultimate track. The day after my final recital at Guildhall, I boarded the train to Edinburgh for a good friend’s stag do. As so many of these events do, we ended up at a strip club (I would like to add that this is the one time I’ve set foot in a working strip club and do not intend to return!). The whole experience was summed up for me when Radiohead’s Creep came on over the sound system. I turned to my friend as the lyric “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here, I don’t belong here” was being sung and he looked at me with a face that perfectly blended middle-class discomfort and confusion.

After we left, the same friend turned to me and explained that the strip club we had just attended was in fact named after two 19th century Edinburgh serial killers. Originally starting out as grave robbers who sold corpses to doctors for medical research, the two graduated to killing when they were told they would make more money if the corpses were fresher. It really tickled me that a strip club was named after two men who made their living dealing in flesh, and so Burke & Hare was written.

I approached the composition with the idea of having a pretty exterior with a dark undercurrent. This materialised in the form of a very singable melody underpinned by a sinister chord progression. During the writing of the album, we were all listening to a lot of Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell. We spent a lot of time working on Bill Stewart and Larry Grenadier’s straight-8s feel from the albums Trio Live and Past Present to give the piece a fluid yet uncomfortable feel and tried to incorporate John Scofield’s heavily blues-inflected sound into Benedict’s playing. I feel that, whilst these were great starting points, we have managed to go beyond them to create a really exciting track that encapsulates my original goal of “a pretty exterior with a dark undercurrent”.

Not on the album, the composition has had an updating since we recorded it. We played Burke & Hare on our last tour and, at The Jazz Bar in Edinburgh, we were informed afterwards by the bar man of a development in the story that we didn’t originally know about. After their 16th murder, William Hare sold out William Burke to the police to save his own neck. William Burke was hanged, dissected and his skin turned into a notebook that can be seen to this day at Edinburgh’s Surgeon’s Hall Museum, just a short 0.8 mile walk from the aforementioned strip club.

Whilst I couldn’t claim direct influence, we have since added a new ending to the original composition. 15 bars long, getting more and more dissonant and repeating over and over whilst slowing to a grinding halt I feel that this ending perfectly illustrates its namesakes’ sticky end.

 

Burke and Hare painting by James E McConnell

Burke and Hare picture by James E McConnell

 

The Matthew Read Trio playing Burke & Hare live at the Bull's Head in Barnes in 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Matthew Read Tour Poster

 

 

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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Marton Juhasz - Little Prayer
Alan Benzie Trio - Sunken Ruins
Henry Spencer and Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change

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