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Recording of the Week,
Ben Marc, 'Glass Effect'
Ben Marc is the alias of London-based jazz bassist, producer and composer Neil Charles, who despite having his fingers in many proverbial pies throughout the city’s jazz circuit over the years, only last month released his solo debut album Glass Effect on Los Angeles’ own independent label Innovative Leisure. Some of the names Marc has had the pleasure of working with over the years are nothing to sniff at either; from playing with the Sun Ra Arkestra to touring for over a decade with Ethio-jazz royalty Mulatu Astatke, Marc even has connections outside of jazz music too thanks to collaborations with grime progenitor Dizzee Rascal and Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood.
He’s certainly a well-travelled musician, to the point that Marc’s uses the term ‘jazz’ pretty loosely; citing influences from English electronic acts like Mount Kimbie and Four Tet on his debut, Marc also finds himself comfortably at home on Innovative Leisure sharing a roster with nu-jazzers BADBADNOTGOOD and electronica chameleon Machinedrum just to name a couple.
Ben Marc’s ‘Glass Effect’ in question speaks to his experiences as a Black musician throughout the years in both education and the industry; a ‘glass ceiling’ of sorts relating to the expectations of Black musicians to play in certain styles; critically, in the liner notes for Glass Effect, Marc notes the lack of other Black individuals in fields like classical and electronic music, and recounting his struggles finding professional work in the field of classical performance following his studies at Trinity College.
Luckily though, thanks to a chance encounter with Gary Crosby (co-founder of Tomorrow’s Warriors), Marc was put in touch with other Londoners with a thirst for jazz music – Tomorrow’s Warriors being an incubator of sorts for the talents of musicians like Courtney Pine or more recently Nubya Garcia. Recounting many nights spent at garage and drum & bass clubs with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, Marc’s love of jazz and electronica blossomed and intertwined itself further with his double bass work. These fellow Londoners even appear as collaborators on Glass Effect, often in the form of vocal features from MidnightRoba or Joshua Idehen.
Between funky guitar lines and layered pizzicato strings, Marc puts his first musical foot forward with the opening track ‘Way We Are’, drawing heavily on electronic textures that conjure the sample-heavy folktronica of his cited influences Mount Kimbie or Four Tet. On Glass Effect, Marc’s compositional style is all about the build-up, with tracks often making simple beginnings as Marc weaves layer upon layer of lush instrumentation.
On ‘Dark Clouds’ this comes in the form of Joshua Idehen’s rally against capital and corporate interests as Marc’s dense instrumental reaches a brassy climax, while the cello-led beats of ‘Give Me Time’ make way for the more melodic vocal stylings of Judi Jackson. ‘Sweet Nineteen’, perhaps deliberately, begins to sound rather Radiohead-adjacent as its clean guitar parts enter, while ‘Mustard’s initially lonesome ‘off-the-grid’ acoustic guitar gives way to an ensemble of synths, cellos and violins in a spectacular climax.
Glass Effect pools Marc’s wide pool of musical tastes somewhat understatedly, and while you’d never confuse it for a by-the-numbers jazz record (and certainly not a classical record), Marc’s palpable appreciation for both styles is all over his studio album. Texturally low-key yet structurally ambitious, unabashedly anti-convention, on Glass Effect Ben Marc sees little need to pigeonhole himself on his studio debut, melding the seemingly disparate worlds of classical, jazz and electronica into a subtle, refined package.