Tom Challenger, John Edwards, Benedict Taylor, Kit Downes, Strite's Balnae ***

If you don't like collective free improv meaning a specific style that sits alongside free-jazz but is often very different then don't read on. But still with us? No idea what the title Strite's Balnae means, firstly. One anagram however absurdly …

Published: 21 Jun 2022. Updated: 14 days.

If you don't like collective free improv meaning a specific style that sits alongside free-jazz but is often very different then don't read on.

But still with us? No idea what the title Strite's Balnae means, firstly. One anagram however absurdly renders these words ''able straitens''. Extraordinary ability is never in doubt narrowing and banishing that thought to a disposed-with redundancy because it is a given picking out a path towards listening.

Kit Downes, recently in New York to record for Red Hook with Bill Frisell and Andrew Cyrille, is heard here on a very experimental recording made last year unusually playing cello (unusually given that the Norwich icon is known mainly as a pianist) along with Huddersfield saxist Tom Challenger (Dreamlife of Debris), free-improv icon the Parkerian John Edwards (All Knavery and Collusion, Spencer) and avant-garde ''contemporary classical'' violist Benedict Taylor (Saoirse).

Avant-garde in nature, there is a soothing sense to the serenity achieved on the second track especially. But you are not listening to come away with words like ''soothing'' as a reaction however much you believe this to be. Because this is highly abstract in nature. Abstract means nothing exact, figurative or referential essentially. It is a neutrality and an aspiration towards the totality of creating sound as a unit alone in the universe and that can be achieved sometimes without the distraction of tunes, melody or overt beat and makes sense on some mysterious however impossible to describe but completely legitimate level. It is not necessarily or even at all about being hostile or obscurantist just for the sake of it. Spontaneity is only one tool, often the least important. The unselfconscious creativity in the moment ethos, however, as a collective, is all. The riff/groove alchemy important in a lot of styles is absent within the Strite's Balnae dictionary and that absence isn't at all felt. Listen to the work in one go as a whole piece. All about texture, and anti-cacophonous to tackle that old canard not that there is anything wrong with a well-aimed so-called cacophony, given the way the strings generate adventures in sound if you listen to a lot of serialist music then this makes perfect sense especially the plangent passages where Edwards generates a built-from-the-ground-up idea.

Hearing Challenger last year live with another bassist the free-jazzer Olie Brice, (who doesn't sound like Edwards much) Challenger with Brice can play more full-on than here. With Downes who does not operate as a surrogate bassist or soloist that much in context (he squiggles out some jagged scalar shards beyond a sort of comping apostasy in his original method) there is a different kind of rapport. Taylor's input is most fascinating in the ensemble mix and the viola tonal colour acts as a gelling agent. Challenger's boisterousness is one of the great active ingredients in what is a rewarding, complex, sound that pushes us to listen and pulls us ever-deliriously in to this unique experimental freeness to readily accept its entirety. Tom Challenger, photo: marlbank

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'Shadows' streams ahead of upcoming Tom Harrell quartet album - Oak Tree

Quartet record Oak Tree is out next month, the latest from the great trumpeter and flugel player Tom Harrell who continues to inspire new generations of players and whose work is avidly collected by record buyers for all the right reasons - chiefly …

Published: 20 Jun 2022. Updated: 15 days.

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Quartet record Oak Tree is out next month, the latest from the great trumpeter and flugel player Tom Harrell who continues to inspire new generations of players and whose work is avidly collected by record buyers for all the right reasons - chiefly the ability to move. You can listen to the pleasantly invasive fragility of 'Shadows' containing a sort of a samba feel to it that gathers its own warts and all modal gravity wrapped around it. There is a slight sense in the passages involving overdubbed horn harmonies of the way Gil Evans liked to draw out delicate light in his writing. Harrell on this HighNote album is with pianist Luis Perdomo, tremendous last year with Miguel Zenón on El Arte Del Bolero; bassist Ugonna Okegwo heard recently on Aaron Seeber's excellent First Move; and completing the personnel drummer Adam Cruz who was on Harrell's beautiful album Infinity contributing percussion and is an alert presence as the piece eases on to achieve a fine resolution. 'Shadows' arrives in the latter part of Oak Tree which is out on 15 July.

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