The band are named after the protagonist from an ’80s sci-fi film by David Cronenberg called ‘Scanners’. George Birkett of the band told me, “The character has the ability to explode peoples’ heads with his mind! ha ha! “
A point of interest is the way Cameron Vale have secured funding for their creativity. They have a solid fan base and have played several festivals and venues but George also told me, “We were lucky enough last year to receive funding from Jazz North through their Northern Line scheme. We were featured as an ‘ambassador’ artist. This means that we were connected with venues and promoters across the north and got gigs at Manchester, Liverpool and Marsden jazz festivals. We also did a live show alongside other ambassador artists on Radio 3′s Jazz on 3. Another facet of Northern Line’s support was subsidies on gig fees. Jouska is an album entirely funded by a combination of Northern Line subsidised gig fees and a successful Kickstarter campaign, independently raising a budget of over £2500.”
From the start, Cameron Vale’s creative music is not easy to categorise. There are jazz references in the rhythms and lines but also strong rock and progressive music links throughout, making it intriguing and interesting. George explained a little about the band’s creative feel. ” Cameron Vale has always been a band that spans different genres and Miles Spilsbury (sax) especially is a part of a rehearsal space/collective in Leeds called Chunk. Chunk is a creative space for musicians and artists and generally produces bands of a heavier nature. There are a lot of grunge and heavy rock bands and this is a scene that Cameron Vale also fits into. It is nice to play a jazz festival one day and then a very sweating grimy room in industrial Leeds the next!”
George Birkett explained to me that ideas for a tune are generally brought to a rehearsal in a skeleton form, sometimes is can be just one riff that forms the initial idea for a song. The musicians then work on the idea and see if it can be fully realised and arranged as a band.
‘Jouska’ is a collection of the band’s compositions over the past two years. The artwork for the album was designed by Steve Myles, an illustrator from Leeds who also runs the independent clothing label/art collective Pyre Climber. He represents a connection to the scene in Leeds completely separate from the jazz scene.
The CD opens with the title track ‘Jouska’ ; a track which unnerves from the start – in all the right ways. Stonking, reedy, rapid-fire sax repeating the slightly manic theme over and over, changing keys and reverting back, underpinned with a rapid-fire percussion for the first third. The second third morphs into a gentler, easing-off the pedal section, though guitar and percussion continue the transferred mesmerising rhythm until it is taken a further step back and the whole atmosphere changes briefly before the changes are rung once more and we set off into a slightly less than perfect but nevertheless gloriously maniacal sidestep towards the unknown and the abrupt end. It is a track which announces the free creativity of Cameron Vale and makes for a great introduction.
‘Fire is The Devil’ starts with improvisational guitar work over percussive sounds and rhythms intertwined together to form a tapestry into which the chords and various ideas are woven to create a musical picture. There is a militaristic feel in the background here, over which the guitar and the rest of the band weave until the second section where they up the tempo, alter the rhythms and set off fast forward on a journey to organised chaotic delirium. The sounds are extraordinary with reedy sax, deep percussive bass lines and a wired energy which is infectious and pervades until it is once again slowed, calmed and ever so gently at the last we are laid down to earth. ‘Limp Home’ begins with synthesiser under which the guitar introduces a delicate theme given an edge by the open strumming technique. The track works its way towards a fast , racy middle section with sax and unison themes from most of the musicians over the percussion. There is a strength and conviction to this section which make a great contrast to the opening and final section where it is quieter, gentle and almost esoteric, with atmospheric keys emphasising a shortened 6 note theme which eventually soars out of the ether to become the dominant passage, along with vocals and pervasive drums, around which the track builds towards its ending.
‘The Wall’ is a track with a lot of structure and multi-textures, from the 6/2 lilt of the guitar in the opening, the addition of percussion and sax to the thunking, bass line. There is a continuum in the rhythm through to the final third when there is a change and something redolent of an epic production begins to emerge, thankfully halted before it becomes too complex. There is a wonderful sense of timing through this track and also that all important understanding of when enough is just enough without overwhelming. Brilliant track and wonderful percussion.
‘Galactic Pot Healer’ is different, beginning with what sounds alarmingly like bubbling mud before synth and guitar provide more levels and the scene is set for a cleverly crafted and well structured piece with the whole band working hard and bringing different ideas and concepts to the piece. Beyond the introduction, it is held together by the subtle yet prevalent guitar rhythms imposed by George Birkett, coupled with the intuitive space-filling of the sax. A track with great communication and a sense of togetherness. It builds into a wonderful discordant final third with sax creating Parker-esque counter sounds to the solid tonics of the guitar and keys.
‘Tinker’ starts with something akin to an epic rock feel before it progresses into more of a jazz-rock fusion number with a guitar-led rapid fire section using subtly counterpointed rhythms linking into a short bass section and finally more conversant guitar work. ‘ Subsumed By The Dark’ (parts 1 and 2) is interesting and takes the listener on a gentle but sure journey to oblivion via some pretty technically adapt guitar and sax work and the softer feel of the first part is superseded by the second part which evolves, from the first dissonant sax notes into a lovely, creative and intriguing number, added to by vocals and underlying rhythms which contradict and counterbalance each other to create almost perfect harmony, but just short enough of the whole to maintain the listener’s intrigue. This is a track which draws you in, first for a dip and finally total immersion as the band all add their lines and narrative. A great way to finish.
Many of the tracks on ‘Jouska’ are linked sections and this seems to be a pattern in the composition structure. There is a sense of taking many parts and creating a whole – usually to the benefit of the listener. Cameron Vale have a distinctive and original sound.
There is a professionalism present here, evident even from the careful preparation of the band’s EPK to their willingness to painstakingly explain their ideas, even their name and the background to some of the numbers. The recording quality is on occasion, just a little scratchy but actually, this has the odd effect of adding to the sound because this is a CD of sound landscapes, painstakingly put together and created by the band. If this is what Cameron Vale can produce on their own, who knows where the future will take them? If you listen to nothing completely new to you this year, I recommend a listen to Cameron Vale for an assuredness that the future of experimental/fusion jazz is strong and holds a lot of interesting possibilities. Band members have different musical backgrounds and it shows -and it works. On their web site, the band state to ‘ … expect a high energy blend of polyrhythms, improvisation and riffage’. they do just this and more. The band do not currently have a label but are open to ideas.
Personnel: Miles Spilsbury: Tenor saxophone, keyboards and synths
George Birkett: Guitar - Sam Dutton-Taylor: Bass guitar
Finn Booth: Drums, percussion - Rosie Evans: Vocals on tracks Limp Home and ‘Subsumed by The Dark parts 1 and 2′
Direct link to purchase Please note the album is currently unreleased and is out on the 15th October.