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Interview Three free spirits

OLIE BRICE talks to Chris Searle about the liberating impulse of the jazz he plays with Tobias Delius and Mark Sanders

STANDING on the chassis of a wrecked car, the expressive image on the album Somersaults shows a group of inner-city boys larking about on an urban wasteland, with one of them flying upside down in a forward roll over the graffitied bonnet.

It’s an image symptomatic of the record itself — edgy, risky, yet filled with a sublimated lyricism and audacity.

That lyricism goes back some way for bassist Olie Brice, who’s joined on the record by saxophonist Tobias Delius and drummer Mark Sanders. Born in east London, Brice spent his teenage years in Jerusalem and those years have stayed with him: “Some of my earliest musical memories are of communal singing in synagogue and around family tables,” he tells me.

“The emotion, the group engagement and the melancholy minor-key melodies of that music have had a lasting influence that is always there in my melodic voice and who I am as a person and artist.”

A master of free improvisation, he pays due tribute to his partners, describing Delius as “one of the most exciting” improvisers in the world.

“His saxophone and clarinet sound is so flexible but always sounds exactly like him — he can be huge and roaring, fragile and vulnerable, all in the same phrase.

“There’s a warmth in everything he plays and a huge love and knowledge of the jazz tradition. He takes from it a personal vocabulary and tone.”

Brice has been a fan of Sanders since he was a teenager “and now I’m in the amazing position where he’s the drummer who I play with most regularly. It’s exhilarating to play with him. He’s so quick, hears everything and pushes you on into new places.”

Everything he loves to do musically is always present in the trio’s collaboration, he says. “We can swing and dig into propulsive free jazz, explore timbre and get into crunchy sound areas and it all feels part of the same whole.”

On Somersaults, you can hear what Brice means when he declares that “radical culture is a part of radical change.” Before he was a “serious musician” much of his life and energy was involved in the struggle for a better world through volunteering in Palestine, anti-fascism, squatting, environmental direct action and anti-war activity.

“Creative art contributes to making the world better,” he stresses, “inspiring experiences that aren’t mediated through capitalism and interacting in a way that challenges hierarchies, valuing art and some notion of truth, energy or spirit above money and readily packed culture.

“Engaging with all this opens hearts and minds and that is definitely necessary for real social change.”

Somersaults is a direct musical commentary on those words, underscored by Delius’s colloquial and filigreeing clarinet on the final track or his buoyant tenor saxophone on the first, while Sanders’s sticks clack and his drums teem with sonic acrobatics and Brice’s bass runs and leaps away with his own deep messages.

The life and daring of those boys on the sleeve are captured in these unique sounds.

Somersaults is released on Two Rivers Records.



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