Questio Io…where to start? In Glasgow would be best probably, among the thriving live folk and jazz clubs the city, its inhabitants and its visitors foster. Somewhere in among that morass of musical adventure, trombone player Michael Owers has brought together a few like-minded souls, and Questio Io is the result. Last year this group of six highly gifted, and exceptionally busy, musicians somehow managed to spend some time at Mattie Fould’s Caribou Studios in the Scottish borders to record their debut album – Take A Moment Apart.
And in the album’s prologue, Questintro, it’s soon apparent that the double meaning in the title, merely hints at the myriad musical directions in which we’re about to be taken. Innes Watson’s rhythmic and reverbed guitar brings to mind the work of Vini Reilly, but is immediately softened by Gillian Fleetwood’s harp. A vocal chant slowly insinuates itself into the track, along with a smidgen of bass trombone and the short introduction is over. It’s a deceptively sparse sound that, very eloquently and succinctly, says rather a lot about what’s to come.
Harpist Gillian Fleetwood takes control of the melody for A Good Time To Call early on, and it’s in very safe hands. There’s something familiar about the structure of that harp melody; its gentle trad pedigree and frequent punctuation by brass, keyboards and percussion. The notion, however, is lost, as drums, guitar and keyboards suddenly become emboldened and rumble, in a chorus of cymbals, towards a King Crimson-like jam session, which drummer Greg Barry revels in. In time the harp melody returns and that glimmer of recognition is reconciled as several layers of vocal bring Todd Rundgren to mind. Don’t be fooled, though, by so many 70’s & 80’s jazz/rock indicators. What Questio Io are up to arrests the senses immediately and despite apparent influences, still comes across as something new, fresh and exciting.
Throughout the album Michael’s trombone works in an unpredictable partnership with Laura Wilkie’s fiddle. This rarely involves a straight forward sharing of melody, and more often consists of each trying to exert a wayward or stabilising influence on the other. This would suggest conflict, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What the partnership does, is explore; and that’s what Questio Io is all about.
Get It Together opens with a punchy fiddle/trombone combination sharing a sprightly melody. As fiddle takes over, the intensity of its electric enhancement increases just a little. That ever present and impeccable rhythm section are given free rein and Charlie Stewart’s bass makes the most of it. How I Feel About You continues in a similar vein until that fiddle finds its way to a pedal board. Laura Wilkie’s approach throughout the album is so reminiscent of Martyn Bennett in his more jazz influenced moments, but there’s an added, brave grittiness here.
Innes Watson’s incredible range of guitar sounds feature heavily. His lengthy, hypnotic atmospheres for Steve Gadd’s Dad Part 1 weave around bass and cymbal like birds dodging a changing tide. In Part 2, atmosphere makes way for melody delivered with gorgeous, warm, elevating brass; the fiddle finds joy in the wind and soon each instrument is playing happily among the waves, with rising excitement.
Richard Foote, named after Michael’s fellow member of glorious brass rockers Young Pilgrims, is a perfect microcosm of what Questio Io do throughout the album, and Gillian Fleetwood’s closing song, Sleep, makes the most of Laura’s natural and relaxed vocal among a deliciously lethargic, trumpet-led burst of nostalgia.
On the surface it’s a jazz album, but the folk, and even country, elements simply can’t, and won’t, be ignored. There isn’t a slide guitar, a reel or a Strathspey in sight, but their influences are there just the same. Take A Moment Apart feels like it’s grown from what takes place outside those Glasgow clubs, rather than in front of their audiences. Those moments apart where friends from different musical spheres unwind, fill in the gaps, question the boundaries of their music, and decide to have some fun. Questio Io have decided it’s time to share some of that fun, and the result is beguiling.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Released 20th March.
Pre-Order it via Amazon
Questio Io are:
Greg Barry – Drums (Elephant Sessions)
Gillian Fleetwood – Harp/Vocals (The Duplets)
Michael Owers – Brass/Keys (SNJO)
Charlie Stewart – Bass (Dosca)
Innes Watson – Guitar (Treacherous Orchestra)
Laura Wilkie – Fiddle (Fat-Suit)
The album will be launched at Stereo in Glasgow on the 20th of March.