Drummer Corrie Dick on the joys of 'outsider jazz'

Drawing on a multitude of musical traditions, Corrie Dick’s second album energetically defies convenient categorisation, writes Jim Gilchrist

As a drummer, Corrie Dick creates intriguingly idiosyncratic sound worlds that extend way beyond percussion. In Sun Swells, his second album under his own name, the Glasgow-raised, London-based drummer and composer enlists a stellar line-up of musicians – most of whom he regularly plays with in other groups – to generate music that is ever-changing, rich in tone and texture and with surprise never very far away.

So far as his new recording is concerned, the 31-year-old Dick, a former BBC Young Scottish Musician of the Year, wanted to create what he describes as “a jazz album that had rock instrumentation at its core”, to which end he recruited guitarist Rob Luft and bassist Tom McCredie, with both of whom he has been writing and improvising for years. Other respected London jazz scene names on Sun Swells (Ubuntu Music) include trumpeter Laura Jurd, of whose Mercury Prize short-listed band Dinosaur Dick is also a member, singer-violinist Alice Zawadzki and vocalists Dave Malkin and Marianna Sangita.

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In fact, Malkin’s assertive vocals, along with Sangita, feature on the opening track, Warehouse, and as the accompanying crisply flickering percussion and staccato piano give way to swirls of guitar, horns and organ, you realise that this is music which energetically defies any convenient categorisation. Those who constrain their listening within pigeonholes may find Dick’s widely ranging musical imagination difficult to deal with.

Corrie Dick PIC: Alex Morley
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Another track, Fingers Full of meaning, for instance, is a hard-driving rocker with gutsy guitar from Luft, but also tight horn work and a tearaway sax break from Joe Wright. She Speaks, by way of contrast, features passages of hauntingly delicate piano and acoustic guitar as well as lissom vocals from Zawadzki, while The River flows to a jaunty, faintly township groove (Dick has played and studied with Ghanaian, Moroccan and Congolese drummers). The perkily, repetitive riff of Light Blue Igloo, meanwhile, put this listener in mind of the Penguin Café Orchestra.

He agrees when I suggest that, for a drummer, he’s clearly as interested in sounds and textures and lyrics as much as the percussive aspect, but adds: “Not to mention dynamics. The drums are often miscast as a loud instrument, but actually they’re simply the most dynamic. We drummers can play as softly as imaginable.” And he acknowledges that there is plenty of light and shade on the album – “it’s all part of the drama.”

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Asked if he had any particularly over-arching aim in making the album, he explains that, “I wanted to slightly question some assumptions about how jazz should be presented or should sound so, to that end, all the roles for the instruments are a bit twisted; it’s all open for the artist to interpret their part.”

Working with such an impressive line-up he agrees that he pretty well just gave them the bones of the music and stood back to see what they would do with it. “I don’t see the point in hiring all these incredible artists then just telling them what to play. By all means I had an idea how things could sound, and some back-up plans. But I didn’t want to dictate.”

Dick was back in Scotland last month, playing in saxophonist Matt Carmichael’s Dancing with Embers international ensemble, a collaboration he relished. And he hopes to return to Scotland in the new year while touring with musicians on the new album: “I might have special guests in different regions, and I’m hoping to do a Scottish leg with them.”

When we last spoke, some years ago, when he released his debut album, Impossible Things, Dick told me: “I’m trying to occupy territory somewhere between jazz, folk, world, free jazz and singer-songwriting. I don’t know if there’s a word yet for that – humanity, I suppose.”

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That’s still pretty much his stance, he agrees: And for those who really do need a label, “I’m trying calling it ‘outsider jazz’ just for the minute”.