‘Spacious, energetic, colourful’ | Interview with Assembly Trio

The Assembly Trio, originating from Sheffield, UK, creates a jazz soundscape that is rich in soul and features genuine atmospheric improvisations. Read our discussion below!

Describe your sound in 3 words

Spacious, energetic, colourful

How did you meet and form Assembly Trio?

The three of us all studied music at the University of Sheffield between 2016 and 2019, playing together in big bands, jazz bands, theatre pits and rock bands. There weren’t many other jazz musicians on our course, so we all formed a small, dedicated and very tight-knit community that would practise together as often as we could, with what would become Assembly Trio often making up the rhythm section in our cohort. The three of us have a very close friendship outside of music as well and I think that’s a huge factor in having helped the group endure.

Tell us a few things about your debut album Bloom. What is the story behind it?

Bloom was written in the year or so after we graduated in 2019, and reflects the peaks and troughs of navigating the world as aspiring musicians. The drive and sense of urgency to achieve (Palpitations), the lethargy of creative and mental burnout (Rumination) and the frustrating ambiguity of what path to tread next and how to go about it (Bellows). Bloom is also about expressing our gratitude to Sheffield as being based and formed here is a huge part of our identity. It’s a peaceful and quiet city (Metropole) filled with greenery that sits on the doorstep of the Peak District (Hillwind). The name Bloom is not only a reference to the start of what we hope to be a long and fruitful artistic partnership, but is also the name of a stage in the production of steel, the industry widely associated with Sheffield.

What do you consider the biggest challenge in being in a trio?

How exposed everybody is I would say, especially being a guitar trio and not a piano/organ trio. If one person quietens down or drops out it runs the risk of making the sound weak, but give too much too early and the whole thing could peak before it should. With our music being so based on improvisation and having musical conversations with each other it can also be very difficult to ensure that what you have to say is worth hearing! Learning to enjoy the delicate moments and playing with subtlety is the key to making the trio setting work for us. This makes the greatest challenge one of the ensemble’s greatest advantages and joys!

Artists and people that have influenced you?

I’m always a little scared to share influences as it almost feels like a confession to copying our heroes, but Paul Motion, Paul Bley, Carla Bley and Bill Frisell’s approach to open and spacious textures are a huge influence on the structure and narrative direction of our compositions. They start modestly and with warmth, building up to rapturous, out-of-control crescendos. Wayne Shorter’s impressionistic approach to harmony, the way that he uses unconventional yet ultimately very simple chord movements to create such beautiful colours is a masterclass in subtlety. Thelonious Monk’s approach to using catchy and singable melodies as a grounding while taking a curveball approach to his structure, rhythm and harmony for that almost ‘uncanny valley’ effect is something we utterly love as well. I’d say that we have more modern influences when it comes to our rhythm though, looking to artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel for his use of melodic syncopation, Fergus McCreadie’s folk-infused skipping ballads and Phronesis’ heavy grooves in irregular time signatures. I think we love anything that has a clear lineage to jazz tradition but with a clear twist or subversion, it aligns with what we’re aiming to achieve in our own music.

Jazz music as a genre has been accused as music for snobs. Is jazz music elitist?

That’s a big question! I think to those looking from the outside in it can definitely give off the impression of being elitist, perhaps because jazz can be difficult music to access sometimes as a listener. I think those ‘snobs’ that look down on other types of music and hail jazz as being above other forms of music are fortunately a loud few in an otherwise very accepting, welcoming and eclectic crowd. In our scene in the North of England, jazz is a member of a family of improvised musics that include folk, electronic, world, contemporary classical and avant-garde music among others, this makes the audiences extremely diverse and inclusive. To those of your readers that have been put off of jazz because of any snobbery or elitism, I’d encourage them to find a local grassroots jazz gig near to them and give one of their nights a try. The smaller venues are usually very affordable as well. Our local jazz venue here in Sheffield – Jazz at The Lescar – rarely charges more than £10 a ticket, regularly puts on world-class music and is one of the most accepting and welcoming rooms you’d have the pleasure of sitting in!

How do you relate to the music scene of Sheffield?

We love the scene’s independence, the wealth of artists in Sheffield that want to create and just ‘make it work’ is such an amazing thing to see and be a part of. Sheffield has a more modest music scene when compared to other Northern cities like Leeds and Manchester, so it’s the stubborn resilience to create and produce good art in spite of that fact that we really relate to.

If your music was in the end titles of a film, which film would that be?

Whiplash 2: Whipped Again…
or any film where you need to Google what actually happened.

Thank you!

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