Comets & Monsters [Import]
Astrakan started in 2004 as the Astrakan Collective, a flexibly-structured unit formed from a pool of musicians brought together by Michael Garcia to play his own instrumental compositions that combined elements of free improvisation and structured ensemble material. They became in 2006 when a five-piece line-up of Garcia (keys), Raymond Hardy (saxes), Jerry Wigens (guitar), Oli Mayne (bass) and Dave Fowler (drums) emerged. This line-up did it's first gig at London's Club Integral in April 2008 and recorded it's first CD, Astrakan, that summer. Oli Mayne left for Hungary in 2009 and Michael Garcia also left the band at the end of 2010. By this time Hardy, Wigens and Fowler were all presenting material and, on Garcia's departure, it was decided that they would continue using only their own self-penned tunes. Celia Lu joined in 2011, transforming the band's all-instrumental sound to a more connective and dynamic one with her unique vocals and keyboard skills. This line-up recorded this second CD, Comets and Monsters, in November 2011 with Jeff Spencer on bass and production. Trombonist Kasia Kuchnicka also played on two tracks. The music has jazz and prog influences and some see the band as a continuation of a line of British bands like Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North and Soft Machine. The band would hope that listeners approach their music with open minds and ears however. Raymond Hardy is the only remaining original member from the Astrakan Collective and contributes subtly organic, rhythmic compositions. He is an experienced soloist and section player in a wide range of jazz and rock formats. Celia Lu has a unique vocal style that incorporates improvised lines and lyrics often based on her day-to-day experiences. Her imagination and solid musical skills as keyboardist, vocalist and improviser are rapidly becoming defining features of the band. She has previously performed and recorded with the Walter Cardew Group. Jerry Wigens has worked in a number of contexts from free improvisation to pop and rock and composes in a broad range of contemporary styles. Previous bands include The Republic and Milk from Cheltenham and he was for some time associated with Eddie Prevost's improvisation workshop activities. He has also played with The Rude Mechanicals on bass guitar and London country band East Lonesome Drifters. Drummer Dave Fowler is a versatile musician active on the London jazz and improvisation circuit. He also writes tunes ideally suited for group improvisation several of which he has contributed to Astrakan. He has played with leading lights such as Alan Wilkinson, George Khan, Jim Dvorak and the late Elton Dean.