Neue Grafik Ensemble ‘Foulden Road’ LP (Total Refreshment Centre) 4/5

Neue Grafik Ensemble is a collaboration between French producer/DJ Neue Grafik and the Hackney based Total Refreshment Centre. The ensemble’s core is a quartet of saxophone, bass, drums with Neue Grafik on keyboards augmented by other musicians on a track by track basis. The mini-LP, “Foulden Road” is the ensemble’s debut.

The title track, which opens the set, however, is performed by a trio comprising of drums, bass and keys. It’s a kind of jazzy drum and bass with its urgent broken beat style drum patterns. The chorused slidey bass, while maybe a little polite in the mix, also emphasises the staccato keyboard stabs. Next, it’s south to “Dalston Junction”. The pace is slackened to swaggering gooey hip-hop. The rhythm section drops out; in comes dreamlike solo flute and a brief spoken word part from Brother Portrait, who appears on several tracks in this release. “Voodoo Rain”, with its light percussive introduction, is progressively embellished with sweeping saxophone and squiggly Worrellian synth noodling, the strutting bass line bringing forward momentum. “Something is missing” follows. Dual saxophones harmonise over the urgent, repetitive, stuttering rhythm section and swinging keys. The drum and bass slow build gives a platform for the pleasing sax solos.

“Hotel Laplace” is recorded from live, as is the previous track. A Rhodes piano led soulful ballad and a beautiful vehicle for Melbourne based (not Derbyshire) Allysha Joy, whose smoky, soulful and yet fragile voice is enchanting. As the verses trail off, the track continues to very slow fade with simple sax and key melodies. The tempo is raised on “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” with it’s driving tight rhythmic pattern and brief but expansive sax-led melody, topped with manic rhymes from Brother Portrait. The album’s closer “Dedicated To Marie Paule” is jazzy hip-hop reminiscent of the early 90s with vocals, again, from Brother Portrait. The smooth, floating, envelope filter washed backing gives way to a simple and cute solo piano melody.

“Foulden Road” is an exciting and enjoyable album. It is musically not particularly innovative or unique but has plenty of energy and joyfulness which rubs off on the listener. While the most successful tracks are the harder, more uptempo tunes such as the dynamic “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” and the title track, there’s also some moments of quiet delicacy, which may reward repeated listens.

Kevin Ward