Graham Crothers meets Bellcrash
Nu-Jazz production duo Bellcrash formed on the hub of the millennium after Paul McMahon and Mark Bell met through a mutual friend by the name of Timmy Stewart.
Being musicians and producers with similar tastes, their pairing would prove an inspired one as what was to follow would be a classic example of chic cosmopolitan jazz, delivered with a distinct Belfast twist.
McMahon and Bell form the core of Bellcrash, building and constructing percussion and adding electronic manipulation to the stylish sound bed, with various session musicians of numerous other projects making up the rest of the recording collective. The exception is Martina Evers, who remains the ensemble's dedicated vocalist.
‘One of us will come up with a gem of an idea. We then pass it on to the other and it will gradually take shape, almost by itself,’ Bell explains. ‘We work in an organic way and seem to complement each other's input. As for research, we sometimes hear music that inspires us, old and new, and pass it to each other to try to get a feel for whatever we're doing.’
Any discerning music fan who listens to the crew's critically lauded Suzume Park LP (released on Austrian label Sunshine Enterprises) should be able to easily pinpoint a range of influences, with Lalo Shriffin, Ennio Morricone, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Azymuth, Gilberto Gil, James Brown and Stevie Wonder being just a few.
Reading their influences alone, one can guess that what they have conjured up is a sound that is both timeless and versatile.
‘We are so pleased that Suzume Park got picked up by so many people,' says Bell. 'We still get messages from fans all over the world on MySpace saying how the album touched them and that it’s the soundtrack of their travels. We're just buzzing that people like it so much.’
Having gigged extensively all of last year as an eight-piece live band, the crew have yet to tour outside the UK, which may seem peculiar to some. Live, Bellcrash are a visual and aural experience that would be as equally at home in a smoky Vienna jazz club as in a Belfast bar.
‘When we started working together it was mostly samples and program based, although we were still trying to capture that old, loose, warm feel. As we became more confident, we started working with live musicians and got a sound we liked.
'Our number one priority was quality control and we set ourselves a standard to surpass every previous release. We always admired artists who managed to produce music that could be played on any medium and sound equally as good.’
Both McMahon and Bell cite Bellcrash as their focus, Bell states they’ve always enjoyed the process of working with other musicians and producers on side projects.
McMahon has been recording under the pseudonym of Crashdaddy for a number of years and Bell records under a number of aliases. He is perhaps otherwise best known for being the co-founder of Island Hopper Records.
It’s with friend Timmy Stewart that Bell enjoys a successful bi-weekly residency at Belfast’s Stiff Kitten, one of the most popular venues in the capital.
Sweeping the globe from Gothenburg to Tokyo is the smouldering reinterpretation of the traditional jazz form named Nu-Jazz. Whilst Mark would acknowledge its presence within the Bellcrash output he stresses that their musical vision remains much wider.
‘Nu-Jazz music is a lot more accessible than traditional jazz, so it is finding acceptance everywhere. Jazz in all of its forms is an obvious influence for both of us but there are many other musical styles that influence us. Our music is a hybrid of lots of styles which makes it more accessible to people.’
A large part of Bellcrash's allure is the duo’s fusion of organic musicianship with innovative technological techniques. It’s a concept that always raises an interesting response from those working within the field, and Bell's viewpoint is no exception.
‘Technology in music is like technology in any other form of life: it brings its good sides and bad sides. The current explosion in music technology in the last five years or so definitely has introduced more people to the possibilities of making their own music. If the technology is used to make music more accessible, it is definitely a good thing, as long as the music is the most important thing.’
So in the case of Bellcrash, don’t overlook what’s right on your musical doorstep as you might miss a worldwide contender.