Though the band name suiggests heavy metal, Leeds trio VORONOI will confound your expectations with their latest album, The Last Three Seconds. Forming off the back of contemporary jazz outfit Zeitgeist, Voronoi take the power and rhythmic complexity of heavier prog-metal and fuse it with the sophistication of classical music and jazz. A passion for science fiction thematically drives the band’s heaving and chopping style, while a diversity of artists, from Bach to Car Bomb, shape the rigid, experimental structure of their compostions.
We thought it was about time we explored VORONOI’s influences more deeply, and in this extended and very entertaining edition of Under The Influence, band members Aleks Podraza, Sam Quintana and Tom Higham discuss three albums that have been hugely impactful on all of them.
VORONOI‘s new ablum, The Last Three Seconds was released via Small Pond and Art As Catharsis on May 7, and can be ordered on Bandcamp
Tigran Hamayasan – Mockroot
Without question my favourite album from Tigran. In fact, it’s the only one I still listen to. Shadow Theatre was good enough, but always only ever felt like a peek behind the curtain at what Tigran is really capable of. All of the fun elements were there, but were very tame, likely to make way for a more improvisational approach, which… is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. But I’m a rock and metal guy. I wanna hear riffs. When Mockroot hit it was clear that Tigran had stopped giving a shit about appeasing his jazz audience and basically went full prog metal sans guitars, and it hit me like a train. This Armenian piano warlock showed you that you can riff just as fucking hard with a piano as you can with anything, and he was as metal as the rest of them, and needless to say, I felt empowered.
It’s not just about that though. I’ve found more interesting ideas in just ‘The Grid’ alone than in the whole of Shadow Theatre. I don’t know what brain steroids Tigran was taking when he wrote this album, but it is back-to-back ideas, none of them inconsequential, and all of them cohesive on their own and sequentially. The tracks groove like hell too, and are played well by the new line-up.
I’ve got to admit, before Tigran released Mockroot I did spy that he’d put his tour playlist up for public viewing, and after seeing ‘Finish It’ by Car Bomb and a couple of Meshuggah tunes on there I knew something was cooking in his brain. Turns out that thing that was under the grill was probably the definitive guitar-less prog metal album. Shame the wheels fell off for his latest release. Maybe it just didn’t grab me in particular. I do distinctly remember the last one digging its mock roots into me from the moment I played the first track, and the latest release hasn’t done that once.Yet.
Mockroot is probably one of my most listened to albums. It’s beautifully heavy, and the performance executed with the utmost finesse. Tigran has always been a big inspiration for me and the direction of Voronoi. I have always been interested in complex and intricate rhythms and this is definitely one of the records that have shaped my playing into what it is today and the way we play together as Voronoi. I did at one point become obsessed with ‘Entertain Me’ but it still sounds fresh to me, even after re-playing section after section in order to score the whole thing out as drum notation with a pencil. Also ‘Double-Faced’ and ‘The Grid’ are just outrageous. One of my favourite records.
Tigran Hamayasan is easily one of my favourite artists operating today. He is someone who has achieved what many musicians strive to do – fusing an array of different influences to create a sound that is distinct, organic and truly theirs. In Mockroot one can hear soundworlds that draw from rock, metal, prog, jazz, electronic music, romantic piano music and Armenian folk music coming together in a beautifully unforced and natural way. This record really takes me on a journey; I love the beauty and expressiveness of tracks like ‘To Love’ and ‘The Apple Orchard in Saghmosavanq’ as much as I love the gnarly, circular grooves of ‘Entertain Me’ and ‘Double Faced’. If you haven’t checked out this album I would highly recommend it – one minute you’ll be head banging and the next you’ll have a tear in your eye!
Led Zeppelin – IV
It’s Led Zep IV guys, come on.
End of review.
Just gonna… wait here for a while…
Just gonna… Oh okay, fine.
Fine. FINE. I’ll talk about Led Zep IV.
So like a lot of British white-male millennials, Led Zeppelin basically got me into music. I liked music before that. I was playing piano five years before I discovered Zep, but I never really loved it. Then the old half-deaf oak that bequeathed life to this here acorn (sorry Dad) put on ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and holy mother of Terry Crews I fell in love with the art form faster and more deeply than the girl who took my virginity. It was like I found a reason to exist. Aaaaaaaaaand, here I am, clinging onto it like dead rope in a dying world. Thank you Led Zeppelin.
They paved the way for everything. Everyone writes riffs like Zep, but no one does at the same time. Everyone sounds like Bonham, but no one does. Everyone knows the words to ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but no one knows them. I was lucky enough to meet Bob Plant outside Laser Quest in Kidderminster – no, I’m not joking, my Dad used to tour in a band that supported Zep “back in the day” and recognised him and collared him… don’t go on about it please – and he was so nice to me. Got a picture and everything. Your favourite musicians become even more your favourite when you know they are decent human beings. This works
the other way round too by the way James Brown if you can hear me from the afterlife, ya fuckin weirdo.
Led Zep IV was my favourite album as far as this list is concerned, but in reality I could have picked any of them up to Houses of the Holy. I’m tearing up just thinking about how much this band kicks ass.
A Led Zepp album had to be on this list, and we’ve gone for IV. Stick this on in the car ([as we have] many a time on our travels to shows), when you’re in the shower, or making an omelette. It’s just great. It’s raw and flavoursome. Bonham is a guru of rock drumming, so for me I always hope to take an element of his huge yet subtle grooves with me whenever I play. Favourite tracks: ‘Black Dog’ and ‘When the Levee Breaks’.
I’ve been listening to Led Zeppelin for more or less as long as I’ve been listening to music. My Dad is a big fan and he introduced me to them when I was seven. I was initially hooked in by the incredible virtuosity of each member of the band, as I imagine most people are on first listen; but what keeps drawing me back to them is their intense groove and the brilliance of the riffs and the song-writing. They have a certain intricacy and intellect that really sets them apart from other rock bands of the era.
It’s hard to pick just one album from their discography, but Led Zep IV has some great examples of their genius. ‘Black Dog’ is way ahead of its time with its extremely cool off-kilter grooves. It’s easy to dismiss ‘Stairway To Heaven’ as overplayed, but when you actually sit down and listen to it you realise why it’s a classic. It never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – that guitar solo! In my opinion it’s one of the best ever, regardless of genre.
Dave Holland Quintet – Extended Play Live At Birdland
Extended Play. Should’ve really been called Long Play Long Play because it’s a double album (I know, why did I ever choose a career in music). Probably the record responsible for getting my head thoroughly buried in the Jazz sand and me alienating at least 230% more people at social gatherings, but believe me the latter is a small price to pay when you look at how incredible this body of work is. Also, it’s the only album I like that features a trombone as a lead instrument, so brownie points for Dave there too (sorry trombonists, you must get it all the time though).
Can we talk about Chris Potter? This guy. This fucking guy. He doesn’t just play the saxophone. He 360 no-scopes that things on new game +7 and doesn’t even spill his Special Brew. Listen, if you want to hear what God – or Terry Crews – sounds like playing a horn, whack on the tune Claressence and wait till Chris swoops in. This solo copies your work in class, steals your lunch money and snogs your sister behind the bike sheds. It is a bad motherfucker. My poor little 18-year-old head nearly caved in from sheer pressure of bewilderment the first time I heard this.
Okay, that’s Chris Potter out of the way. Time to talk about EVERY OTHER GODDAMN THING ON THIS ALBUM. You know, this is an essay in the making so I’ll keep it brief – by my standards. This album shreds. Dave Holland is a world-class legendary bass player – and a Midlands boy waaaaaaaaaaay – who also shows himself off as a fine writer too. Robin Eubanks can play in time, which I’ve heard is the hardest thing to do on a trombone (I’m so so so sorry, it’s low hanging fruit, please don’t give me evils at that one big band rehearsal dep spot I do a year). Chris Potter makes me squeal with joy. Steve Nelson just sounds like warm fluffy marshmallows with harmonic language contained within. Billy frickin Kilson. Oh damn, this guy is a hurricane that lost a bet with Zeus and now has to spend the rest of his days trapped inside a drummer. Where the hell did this guy come from? And where did he go? Billy, where are you? You can’t just blow my brains out with your playing like that and just sod off.
Honestly though this is a double album of solid compositions, taught me most of what I know about Jazz, has a line-up of living legends, and has a very stable place in my bitter Jazz heart. Cheers Dave and friends.
This record is jazz quintet playing at its very very best in my opinion, what a band. It’s an absolute masterclass of composition, improvisation and interaction, it’s so exciting. I’m not sure I can say that Chris Potter is the best saxophonist in the world, more that he is floating on his own podium somewhere. As a drummer I suppose my ear is naturally always drawn slightly more towards for the element of rhythm whenever I listen to music and I get such a buzz listening to the way Chris Potter and Billy Kilson improvise on this record, particularly ‘Claressence’. Their sense of rhythm and when to create tension in the music is phenomenal. Big inspiration for us. Check it out if you haven’t already.
If any rock/prog/math fan was seeking a foray into jazz music and asked me for recommendations, this would be the first album I would suggest. This record contains some of the best examples of world-class musicians collectively improvising I’ve heard. Each tune contains a number of vamps where each soloist blows for a loooong time (some of the tunes are 20 minutes in duration) but your attention never wanes for a second. The ideas come thick and fast, the intensity is unwavering and the virtuosity is second to none. Chris Potter is a relentless powerhouse on the saxophone. Billy Kilson is excitable and interactive to the nth degree; I would describe his playing as obnoxious in a good way. Dave Holland epitomises the old metaphor of the bass player being the engine room of the band, keeping everything together whilst there is carnage all around him. Someone once said to me that you’d be able to hit him with a hammer whilst he’s playing without him missing a beat – I’m inclined to agree.
[Editor’s Note: It has been challenging to find any available YouTube material for Extended Play. We’ve chosen instead the quintet’s live performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2002. The set includes ‘Jugglers Parade’ from the album and, crucially, the line-up of the band also matches that of the LP]