Matt Davis / Matt Milton / Bechir Saade
Esteban Algora / Alessandra Rombolá / Ingar Zach
…DE LAS PIEDRAS
Hugh Davies + Adam Bohman / Lee Patterson / Mark Wastell
FOR HUGH DAVIES
Dun is an album whose fecundity is inversely proportional to its lean constitution, which at various times takes us back to the early days of EAI when “reductionism” wasn’t yet an over-abused definition, or an outright banality. Trumpeter Davis and bass clarinettist Saade, having already established their improvising personalities through a string of considerable collaborations and projects, are joined here by violinist Matt Milton for a three-way exchange that never strays from the zone where dynamics fluctuate between p and ppp. Eviscerating the secluded parts of their tools, they wander across godforsaken peripheries of uneven vibrations, liquid fluttering, weakened harmonics and enlightened reclusiveness, with Saade’s undulating partials and Davis’s reticentoff-the-record statements interspersed with sections where all one perceives is a sound of termites gnawing at the wood of a vacant house, creaking noise and nocturnal movement asphyxiated by the all-pervading murmur of an insuppressible isolation. Milton’s approach to the violin, which in part recalls Ernesto Rodrigues’ infinitesimal viola inspections, is definitely not extraneous to this threadbare simulacrum of acoustic decay. Davis is also credited with “field recordings”, but you’d be hard put to say where the actual playing ends and the pre-recorded sounds begin.
The sound of stones is attractive for many people and there are artists – Stephan Micus comes to mind – who’ve built a sizeable portion of their fame and fortune upon it. In …de las piedras, flautist Alessandra Rombolá, besides gracing the improvisations with her facility on the main instrument, is also heard manoeuvring a “tiles installation” that contributes a relatively physical quality to several sections of an outing which, for its very nature, is possibly the closest thing to certain Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening-related recordings that Another Timbre has published to date. Accordingly, the fact that Algora mainly offers dissonant swells of accordion bathed in the natural reverb of the Eremita de la Anunciata in Urueña (Spain) – a stone building, if you had any doubts – is not irrelevant to the overall mood, which maintains an aura of inscrutability and suspension across its six tracks. We’re at a safe distance from celebrated models of “relaxing music”, though; the harsh beating between divergent frequencies occurring throughout the marvellous “Galena” and Zach’s earsplitting zings clashing with Algora’s low-register moans and Rombolá’s well-placed flute stabs represent an ideal display of the musicians’ disinclination to abandon a fighting stance – but we’re talking martial art rather than trading punches. This is seriously considered, finely executed on-the-spot composition in a truly consecrated environment.
In the brief history of free improvisation, the importance of Hugh Davies’ experimentations based on self-built instruments is undeniable, and three years after his death he’s celebrated by a pair of releases on Simon Reynell’s label. Taken by itself, Performances 1969-1977 is just an oddity for collectors, especially due to the not exceptional audio quality which furnishes the tracks with a patina of poverty that, in this case at least, affects the importance of the gesture. Although a mid-70s unaccompanied performance at Ronnie Scott’s is interesting evidence of how the man managed to sustain, all alone, the attention of relatively unsuspecting spectators, and everybody should be curious to find out about a duo of “Shozygs” (one of the many peculiar creatures fathered by the protagonist), the only plausible method to accurately assess this archival material would be with the aid of (unfortunately non-existent) footage of Davies in action. Otherwise, the greater part of the substance contained by this limited edition CDR is nearer to scarcely appealing noise – mostly of the metallic variety – than music.
For Hugh Davies, a homage to the English pioneer by Adam Bohman, Lee Patterson and Mark Wastell, is another matter. Manipulating respectively a prepared balalaika, amplified objects and cello, they decided to bring into play the recordings of the abovementioned Performances, interacting with portions of the early tapes, respecting the essential concept yet at the same time adding their own sauce. The pieces were made using all the possible combinations: Wastell is the Chosen One who’s featured in a “solo duet” with the original tape, then we have Bohman/Patterson v. Davies and the rest of the tracks feature all three v. the Old Master until the final trio minus Hugh. The record is an exercise in attentive listening, the timbres meshing in ways that don’t really surprise but still manage to rub the listener the right way most of the time. A careful sense of spacing and the ever accurate choice of the moments in which the harsh must replace the faint (and vice versa) represent an impartial testimony of the players’ admiration for the craft of this resourceful sonic artisan. It’s perhaps best experienced at low volume, ears pricked up to catch infinitesimal vibrations and small cracks amidst the umbrae of a cautious materiality.