A stated, unstated, paradoxical yes journey to and return from the mysterious, private, heart of the inferred abstraction of song by way of a sidelong glance in all saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and pianist Marilyn Crispell’s intensity, fearlessness undimmed. 

Part conversation, in its ache of consciousness and means of expression, this is quite simply spectacular in its entirety — dusk to dusk, paced and poised.

On the title track, the opener, this is neither free improv nor is it a conventional treatment of a standard. It has a certain folky element, a beefy impossibly duduk timbre and heartcore tone conjured up that speaks emotion cycling monastically into the aloneness of pibroch (the ultimate Scottish highlands art music for a piper).

Yes ‘Roundabout’ is very stark, an emotional hue to MacDonald’s Steve Lacy-like higher register playing, Crispell sounding very different to the title track, a grandeur to her overlapping chordal imaginings.

If you haven’t already, listen again to Azure, the American 1990s long-time Braxtonian’s much more recent duo album with Gary Peacock and you may get more of an overall sense of her painterly style especially on the radiant ‘Waltz After David M’. 

I have no idea what the alphanumerical series at the beginning in the titling which I won’t type out of ‘[ ] Why I Missed Cole Porter’ means if anything (maybe just randomly generated digits or a private duo code — it matters not a jot and crops up later).

There are no notes at all provided for Songs Along the Way in case you were wondering, perhaps some will appear online, so your guess is as good as mine about anything on this album. 

The squally ‘Beach at Newquay’ enters an Evan Parker-like world because there are multiphonics and partials either ornamenting or anatomising. ‘Foresee’ is a big ballad: Crispell arpeggiating silkily, then MacDonald enters into a Scots folk music reverie and, again, that husky melodic feeling emerges unforced.

As for Crispell, I kept thinking of NYC: The Kitchen Concert. That was for trio. This duo, folkier and so fairly difficult to make a comparison, compatible only in terms of impact and as such similarly a taste of ambrosia. 

‘Vortex’ at the beginning is a dirge, the multiphonics emerge after a while, the track physical and demanding on MacDonald going by the gulps of breath needed to power on. The track goes into Ayler territory later, again the emotion in the playing important and yet the levels of abstraction kept intact.

‘We Are Going’ is a beauty, Crispell in a bluesy gospelly Abdullah Ibrahim direction delivered as if the pentatonic is a universe. ‘Neolithic’ has multiphonics again and this time there is direct interplay by the duo from the beginning. Industrial chordal stabs and a factory floor of resonance are part of the effect. 

‘Stars’ has a remoteness to it, a factor absent on ‘Across the Reservoir’ which is the one place where Marilyn Crispell’s inspiration in Cecil Taylor is fairly clear in the way that the pianist uses unusual intervals and hangs the notes in the air. When MacDonald comes in on I guess soprano sax this is one of those moments that do not come along very often. Final track ‘The Gallery’, again like so much on this landmark redefinition of improvisation, is full of tenderness and love. On Babel: *****     

• Further reading, a 2013 review of Raymond MacDonald and Marilyn Crispell’s Parallel MomentsUpdated on 11 August with additional comments. SG 

Image result for get the blessing marlbank

While drummer Clive Deamer who is “out of the loop with Radiohead these last weeks,” says manager Matt Fripp, and could not be reached, bassist Jim Barr, trumpeter Pete Judge, and saxophonist Jake McMurchie of award winning Bristol band GET THE BLESSING thankfully were, and easily make the official 75 per cent marlbank quorum required for this interview. Yes, one exists.

Without ladling on the superlatives too much, and no money exchanged hands in the extensive brain shrinking process needed to arrive at the adjective, it is blindingly obvious that they have a stunning album on their hands, in BRISTOPIA (Kartel). 

The Blessing 3, or 4 minus 1 if you prefer, start by talking about their hometown at the heart of it all, rise to a crescendo and conclude spectacularly with a much anticipated diminuendo. 

Bristol, what does it mean to you?
JAKE Energy, tranquility, life. Above all home. It’s a great place to live and the most creativity-dense city I’ve ever known. We made the music for a film about Bristol recently — BRISTOPOLIS.

The film and music were commissioned by the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival and our long-term friend and collaborator John Minton made the film out of a century’s worth of footage found in the Bristol Archive.

None of us were born in Bristol but (most of us) call Bristol home. It was an intense and moving experience.

PETE Bristol is where this band was born and in which it is still trying to grow up, or, rather, in which it is still determinedly clinging on to childishness.
The city has a very special atmosphere. It’s a kind of crossroads city, where travellers often arrive intending to pass through and instead end up staying forever, seduced by the watery light and the distant hills, and by the like-minded fellow-traveller-staying-put people.
It’s hard to imagine these four people making this four-sided music, for nearly 20 years now, in any other city.
There must be something in the water, in the 1980s it was Weil’s Disease, now it’s otters. However, the title BRISTOPIA does at least hint at the fact that underneath all the glittery wonder we’re still on the road to hell in a handcart.

Ornette Coleman, what does he mean to you?
JAKE Energy, tranquility, life. The freedom with which he approached his music, the importance of melody, and above all the desire to push the music just a bit further each time are still a great inspiration to us.
PETE Ah, Ornette... not to mention Don, and that joyous dancing fearless quartet of theirs from the late 1950s/early 1960s... what a blast, what a spirit, what an intoxication, what an inspiration.
JIM Ornette to me means art outside the establishment outside of entertainment and outside of the need to qualify with displays of conventional technique or crowd pleasing stunts, just beautiful singular terrifying originality.
[For Jim] what bass do you play on the record and what studio techniques did you use?
JIM I mostly played a cheap copy of a Fender bass V1, which is a guitar essentially, but an octave lower. It's got 3,000 000 pickups and a tremolo arm, so, various pedals: tape delay, reverb, tremolo, harmoniser, etc. Also: jazz bass with nice crunchy ampeg bass amp studio techniques devised with TJ Allen from years of recording this band in unsuitable rooms: Cornish fishing huts; Welsh tin mines; and Bristol aircraft wing factories. [
A] very simple setup as it has to be portable — more and more pedals for everyone every time (Clive has 700 drum pedals). Lots more saturation and “analogue” sounds on this record.

[For Pete] Do you like Olu Dara as well as obvs Don?
PETE Well, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard any Olu Dara until you mentioned him. Nice player! I’ve always had a soft spot for cornet (including Don’s pocket cornet, of course). Have you heard Ron Miles’ cornet-​playing on the recent Still Dreaming album? [marlbank, “yes!”] pure brilliance, and another example of Ornette’s legacy.

As for trumpeters... there’s the other Miles of course, just as wilful and unmistakable as Don in his own extraordinary patchwork of ways; a whole world in a single note.

I also like trumpeters who sound as if they’re not playing trumpets, especially the Scandi-love-children of Jon Hassell and the Arctic Circle (Palle Mikkelborg, Nils Petter Molvær, Arve Henriksen).

The future of trumpet in three words? 
PETE Breath, brass, diminuendo​.

Out on 21 September

Pretty much unknown outside Japan the only place it got an official release this epic folky sea song spiritual space jazz-rock reissue from alto saxophonist/vocalist Akira Sakata with Panthalassa reimaginer Bill Laswell, US drummer/conguero Hamid Drake and Dark Magus guitarist Pete Cosey is a must and makes it to vinyl at last. Crystal ball time — deserves to be a contender among the reissues of the year it is patently obvious. On Trost. 

Fizzles Sunday

Waiting for the first Fizzle at Happy Days, the Beckett festival, a man and a woman entered Charlie’s pub on Church Street. The tall well dressed man stood by the bar and looked somehow familiar although his was a new face to me.

I thought for a moment, could it be...? My hunch turned out to be right and I haltingly said hello to the nephew of Samuel Beckett. 

In 2019 it will be 30 years since the Nobel laureate died.

Edward Beckett — the playwright's executor and custodian of a great literary body of work famed the world over — looked for the bartender who keeps some of the best stout in Enniskillen to approach.

There is a certain likeness to the famous face of Sam Beckett, inescapable thanks to Happy Days in what ahead of the completion of the Godot tree expected in a few weeks has turned out to be a vintage year. 

Placing Beckett in context in the theatre and out there into the natural beauty of Fermanagh and melting all sorts of artistic borders in the process given that he went to school at Portora in the town is what Happy Days is all about.

That face again, the Jane Bown photograph of Beckett, part of the street furniture whether in shuttered spray paint added Potemkin style when in a general sprucing up for the G8 world leaders coming to the Lough Erne resort kept the town's painters and decorators busy or on the walls of pubs and cafes is part of the cultural fabric of the town. 

Edward said that he was looking forward to seeing “Adrian in Fizzles later”, Adrian being the actor Adrian Dunbar (Superintendent Ted Hastings in BBC TV police corruption drama Line of Duty), and said that he was in Happy Days for pleasure mentioning that while other members of his family had attended Portora he had gone to school back home in Dublin at St Columba's. 

I did not wish to waste his time and he ordered his drinks and returned to his booth.

Then famed Beckettian actor Barry McGovern joined him soon after. He had just finished that evening's performance in The Old Tune at Ardhowen after playing the Strule in Omagh two nights earlier.

I had chatted to him serendipitously on a bus meeting him for the first time the previous evening returning to the castle car park on the island of the town from the secret location of What Where, which turned out to be a large agricultural shed near the walled garden on the Colebrooke estate of Lord Brookeborough, the location for What Where, Beckett's last and little performed play.

Technical issues had dogged that night's performance but hardly spoiled it for those without a detailed prior ''head memory'' knowledge of the text, although the persistent Beep became a fifth character joining Bam, Bom, Bim, and Bem. Quizzed by me Barry said this new character was ''Not in the script''. As the bus trundled through the estate, driver Leslie earned applause when the lumbering coach managed to negotiate a close squeeze below maximum headroom. Stuff happens in the theatre all the time, and the Kabosh director did well nonetheless to keep on keeping on. 

Later there, in the audience just before the ever mysterious dusk for a Fizzle in the beautiful Crypt of St Michael's church reached via entering a gate to the right of the front door, in front of us actors Adrian Dunbar, Anna Nygh, and Ciarán McMenamin read sharing portions of texts from Fizzles standing in turn at the altar table, the words a tumble of shadows, an entering and re-entering of the imagination part of the spell. This was prose as beautiful poetry of a kind that hangs there in the air. The form did not matter at all. There is always poetry in Beckett somehow whatever the genre style he chooses, one of his greatest achievements.

Fizzles Adrian Dunbar, Anna Nygh, and Ciarán McMenamin read from Fizzles as a trio on the first two nights; Dunbar and his wife Anna Nygh (who was Mrs Huxtable in the acclaimed 1990s TV series Between the Lines) by themselves on the last night 

The three actors especially on the first night showed how fresh and relevant the little known work compared to say Godot is in their readings. 

David Copperfield actor McMenamin (and author of local Chippie Street phantasmagoria Skintown which garnered some great reviews and has sold well) added another, third, authority, the actors a vessel for the work the words pouring out.

Enveloped by darkness, dusk just a touch away, over the water at the last Fizzles you could hear floating over the river Erne from the Shoreline stage the strains of local country hero Nathan Carter, who has added a new Enniskillen song to the repertory with 'Island Town'. 

Fizzles, from 1977 is a hopeful work fundamentally albeit cloaked in despair and Beckett is not kidding any of us or significantly himself via any type of sentimentality which is one of his unique strengths.


Adrian explained in his opening chats to the audience each night that he felt very close to St Michael's church as he has discovered via becoming the subject of Who Do You Think You Are? the popular BBC genealogy series that his grandfather, who was a regimental sergeant major in ''the Skins'' as he referred to the Inniskillings by their usual nickname, was baptised in the church the year mass was first said there. Stephen Graham

At dusk in the Crypt of St. Michael’s church, Enniskillen, top. Last words, from Beckett taken glimpsed driving along the road from Sligo, within Séan Doran's 'Three (or more) Billboards Outside Enniskillen & Sligo' on the Sligo Road between Letterbreen and Enniskillen. From Neither, they are, in a stark stillness of candour, ''unspeakable home.'' photo: marlbank