'Amassed' by Spring Heel Jack, 'Veggie' by Food
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
'Amassed' was one of those "What the F***?!" CDs. I haven't followed Spring Heel Jack's career that closely of late, and last time I bought something by them it was drum 'n' bass with jazz-tinged electronics. This most definitely isn't. In fact, it pretty much lacks beats altogether and seems also to lack anything that would warrant it being credited to Spring Heel Jack in any way, shape or form. The record centres on a series of improvisations by a group including Evan Parker, Matthew Shipp, Hans Bennink, Paul Rutherford and Kenny Wheeler, plus, somewhat surprisingly, Spiritualised's Jason Pierce, and, at first sight, has no room for the Spring Heel duo. But when you step back and look at it again, you realise that the input from Jon Coxon and Ashley Wales has been decisive. They picked the musicians who work together here, including the genius curve-ball stroke of pitching Pierce into the mix, and then selected the crucial pieces of improvisation and framed them with subtle, low-key electronic treatment.
The jazz players here are all seasoned improvisers who have worked together in numerous combinations. They are all in fine form, but Pierce, though, is a real find. Those used to the symphonic stoner rock of Spiritualised will be surprised at the skill and sympathy he brings to his work here. His fragmented, oblique guitar work fits in with and complements the work of the other musicians in a wholly unexpected way, particularly on Maroc, where he goes head-to-head with Evan Parker and holds his own without either being outrun by Parker or bludgeoning his subtle playing to oblivion. You might expect someone like Thurston Moore to pull this sort of thing off, but I'm not sure even he'd do it so well. An inspired addition to the mix. Coxon and Wales also surprise. Their electronic treatment of the improvisations serves to add texture and elevate them to new levels and treats them with understanding and sympathy, whether it be adding a cavernous bass pulse to Obscured or enveloping a subtle interplay between Wheeler and Pierce on Lit in a low crackle part way between rain and worn vinyl.
Surprising and impressive, this follows on from DJ Spooky's pleasing 'Optometry' in Thirsty Ear's continuing reinvention of jazz though feeding in exciting and sympathetic currents from other musics. I look forward to future releases with much anticipation.
Also continuing to surprise and delight in the improvisation arena are Ian Ballamy's band, Food, whose third release 'Veggie' is another wonder. In Food, Ballamy teams up with the Norwegians Arve Henriksen, Mats Ellersten and Thomas Stronen to form a much more relaxed improvising set up than Spring Heel Jack's. Henriksen's masterful treated trumpet work ranks him as about my favourite trumpeter currently working and he complements Ballamy's gentle sax work superbly, particularly on Veg. The music here is mainly meditative, tuneful and spacious, and has been selected and mixed from live performance by Helge Sten (also known as Deathprod). For some reason, track six here, Nofood is not by Food at all, but actually by Deathprod. Why is anybody's guess, but it fits in pretty well, being a gently throbbing cavern of electronics. Sten's production and the effective use of sampling by Ballamy and co anchors the more expansive wind work to relaxed rhythmic bases throughout to produce a coolly confident work of impressive virtuosity. This is the third album derived from live work that food have released, and given the success of this I have to say I'm really looking forward to hearing what they can do in a studio.