NMC Guest Playlist #4: Public Service Broadcasting

7th July 2021

Playlists NMC Recordings

Our next guest playlist comes courtesy of the band Public Service Broadcasting, as trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist JF Abraham shares some of his genre-hopping favourites and wide-ranging musical influences. 

One of our favourite things to do as a band after a gig is to get into a marathon game of “You choose, I choose”. It’s as simple as it sounds; one person chooses a song and then passes the phone around the until we have 15 or so tracks lined up. The stakes are high and there’s a lot of pressure to keep the vibes going. The last thing you want is to bring the tone down and risk a mass dressing room exodus. That being said eclecticism is usually embraced and more often than not it’s in these games that I’m introduced to great music. 

Some of the choices on this playlist have come directly from my band and crew-mates over the years, some are things I’ve heard recently and others feel like ever presents in my life. However they’ve arrived they’re pieces that have moved me in some way. To want to dance, to stop and listen or to be inspired to bring some of this creativity into my own music. 

Emergence in Nature is the opening track from Hannah Peel’s most recent album Fir Wave. Like the rest of the record, this tune buzzes with life and a vibrancy which flows from the rhythms and combination of electronic and acoustic elements. It’s sonically beautiful whilst also packing a punch and feels like a great reflection of an artist so embracing of many styles and genres. 

As a young trumpet player Wynton Marsalis was the first soloist I remember hearing. My Dad had a copy of Classic Wynton and Henri Tomasi’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra was a piece that stood out. The arresting fanfare opening is almost immediately contrasted with a soulful muted melody sitting on top of slowly shifting strings. Colourful harmony and intricate rhythms are a feature and Tomasi’s rich orchestration recalls some of the spirit from Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, another piece I could have easily included on this list.

Sometimes I hear a new piece of music that feels like it’s been in my life forever. Walking by Flashlight by Maria Schneider is one of those. Profound in it’s simplicity it feels familiar and comforting without ever becoming stale. The way the melodies are passed from instrument to instrument is so seamless and the subtle backings stack to create an amazing layered texture which grows into a huge audio hug. I love it. 

Joanna Bailie is a composer I recently became familiar with through the NMC label. I wanted to include a couple of pieces from her 2019 record Artificial Environments, made with Plus-Minus ensemble. The first, Symphony-Street-Souvenir: I. Symphony combines live and pre recorded material which is gradually being slowed. The material in question is the opening of Brahms 1st Symphony in C minor and as the phrases elongate there are sometimes snarling but often very beautiful textures captured in the warping landscape. Trains also uses pre-recorded and live material. Here there are seven recordings made at very high sample rates that are then manipulated by ratios equivalent to that of the melodic minor scale. These are then descanted upon by Alice Purton, the cellist with Plus-Minus. These brilliantly immersive pieces are summed up in the sleeve notes of the record by Evan Johnson: “Both Symphony-Street-Souvenir and Trains, then, deal with construction of worlds upon, within, and to some degree despite our own world, which they invite us inside and then reinterpret.

Sometimes I hear a new piece of music that feels like it’s been in my life forever...it feels familiar and comforting without ever becoming stale

I don’t know much about Jacob Mann but his tune Baby Carrots is so great. The way the parts interweave on top of the laid back feel is magic and Amber Navran’s tenor solo is brilliant. 

More than with any other music I feel like the looping, slowly morphing cells of material in minimalism provide a canvas for my own creativity and imagination. Steve Reich is a master of the art and Electric Counterpoint is one of my favourite pieces of his. Hearing an electric guitar in this context after growing up listening to indie bands felt like opening a door to different possibilities and Reich’s influence has been an ever presence since. 

In the lassa is a song by Argentine artist Juana Molina. I love the subtly shifting textures and rhythms alongside her etherial vocal. Like the Reich there is this sense of openness when it comes to feel and I seem to find something new in this tune every time I hear it. 

I first came to Caroline Shaw’s music after hearing her incredible Partita for 8 Singers and the 2019 album Orange with Attacca quartet is similarly brilliant. Entr’acte opens with a simple, sighing figure which soon subsides as the music shoots off in all sorts of unexpected directions. The playfulness and freedom of her music makes it a joy to listen to.

Many of the pieces on this playlist are tied to memory. Urlicht, the fourth movement from Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony opens with one of the most stunning chorales I’ve ever heard and I’ll never forget being part of the orchestra at college, playing it at the Barbican. It’s one of those moments that will always give me goosebumps. The same can be said for Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine. The suspensions and resolutions created by the interweaving melodies of the trumpet and singer are amazing and I really love this particular recording with The English Concert featuring Alison Balsom on natural trumpet and the counter tenor Iestyn Davies. 

More than with any other music I feel like the looping, slowly morphing cells of material in minimalism provide a canvas for my own creativity and imagination

Phoebe Bridgers’s latest record Punisher was one of my favourites to be released last year. On the Copycat Killer EP she collaborates with arranger and multi-instrumentalist Rob Moose on four new versions of songs from the album. I’ve long been a fan of Rob Moose’s work (having been made aware of him through his contributions to Bon Iver, Laura Marling and The Staves among others) and this version of Chinese Satellite is beautiful.

In my first summer of festivals with Public Service Broadcasting we played on the BBC Radio 6 Music stage at Latitude. Being part of a lineup that included Alt-J, Caribou and Wild Beasts was (and always will be) a massive buzz for me but I hadn’t heard much about Jon Hopkins who was headlining the 6 stage. I’m so glad I stayed to watch his incredible show. The level of detail in his music is on another level to so much electronic music I’ve heard and twinned with cinematic visuals his performance of Open Eye Signal really stood out. 

I wanted to feature a couple of friends in this playlist who are making brilliant music. The first is John Rittipo-Moore. His talents are great and far ranging and on Oil for sax quartet Kaleidoscope he showcases his soulful handling of beautifully simple material. Equally at home with acoustic and electronic music Johngy is combining the two to create amazing work and I can’t wait to hear what he does next. Oliver Leith’s Honey Siren was commissioned by the 12 Ensemble in 2020 and has since been programmed by the LA Philharmonic for their 2021 season. It’s described brilliantly on the 12 Ensemble website as “a deeply captivating and emotive work that brilliantly encapsulates his vision to heighten the mundane and everyday, creating music relevant to all.”

Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now is a favourite song of mine. I could have easily included the 1968 version but there is something about the 2000 recording (with Vince Mendoza’s string arrangement) that feels more poignant to me. Whilst not wanting to dig up the past I think there’s something useful in an artist revisiting old material and on this version it feels like Joni Mitchell’s experiences with life and love have given the song a new kind of weight. 

Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring is a favourite track from his 1954 collaboration with Zoot Sims. The musicianship on this record is incredible and I’ll never tire of hearing it. Brown’s untimely death at the age of 25 came only 2 years after this record and although he left behind a great deal of recorded material it seems like a great injustice that the world didn’t get to hear more from this amazing talent. 

It’s only been in the last couple of years or so that I’ve come to appreciate the depth of influence that Nina Simone left on the world of music. A peerless virtuosic performer she fought against racial injustice her whole life and bore the scars of a person battling abuse from childhood. The breadth of her artistic expression is enormous and whilst I could have included the perfectly observed, fizzing protest of Mississippi Goddam I wanted to share her 1969 version of I Get Along Without You Very Well. Set against a glistening piano accompaniment she sings with such great sincerity and I believe every word. 

There’s perhaps no artist I’d like to work with more than Brian Eno. Since meeting him briefly at college over 10 years ago I’ve been eager to learn more about his approach to creativity (the Oblique Strategies forever coming in useful) and have loved discovering his music. An Ending (Ascent) from 1983’s Apollo is such a beautiful piece which seems to close this playlist nicely.  

Public Service Broadcasting have been “teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future” for more than a decade now. 2013’s debut album 'Inform-Educate-Entertain' used archival samples from the British Film Institute as audio-portals to the Battle Of Britain, the summit of Everest and beyond. Two years later, 'The Race For Space' used similar methods to laud the superpowers’ rivalry and heroism in orbit and on the Moon. In 2017, joined by voices including Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield, 'Every Valley' was a moving exploration of community and memory via the rise and fall of the British coal industry. Pointedly topical in its analyses, it reached number four on the UK charts. Their new album 'Bright Magic' comes out 24 September 2021.

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