Wednesday July 8thJuly 8, 2009
Not feeling great today, but a day off of work has meant I am relaxed enough to get a few things done here and listen to some music as I do it. This post then will probably be the first of four over the next week or two writing up the four recent CDr releases on the Another Timbre Byways series. These four discs are some kind of attempt by the label owner Simon Reynell to capture snapshots of the currently very exciting improvised music scene in London as they all involve younger players from the city, with a couple of visitors passing through also featured. All four of the releases were recorded over a period of about ten days in a series of churches around London, sites chosen for their acoustic resonance, reduced external noise and financial advantages over recording studios. The discs then all have a familiar Reynell character to the recordings, a closely miked intimacy, musicians split clearly between the channels and that resounding resonance maybe only available in churches.
I’ve listened to all four of the releases repeatedly over recent weeks but today I have been listening to Meshes the trio recording of London-based Phil Julian, (electronics) and David Papapostolou (cello) alongside the visiting French trombonist Mathias Forge. The album contains two tracks, the first of which, Long Nylon Oak was recorded at the Church of St James the Great in North London without an audience present, and the second, Floodlit Iron Tracery two days earlier at St Mark’s Church in Clerkenwell in a concert setting.
The music is quiet and spacious, but not overly so. The two acoustic instruments are mainly used in a manner that avoids the tonal sounds they are capable of, with Forge working primarily with fuzzy hissing and spluttering sounds and Papapostolou keeping his cello to small semi-percussive clicking and scratching. Julian, despite his background in noisier, dronier music is probably the most restrained of all here, refining his output to small pops and crackles but also inserting extended sine-like tones into proceedings here and there, a move that always seems to spur the other two musicians into a spell of increased activity.
Maybe it is something to do with the way that the resonant room and quality recording lets sounds hang in the air for a second or so after they are made, but there is a wonderful sense of slowness to the music that suggests each sound, every contribution comes only after careful consideration. Silences are never left to linger for long, but the passages of busy interplay where all three musicians are active are few and far between. There is a nice balance to this group. Not only are all three sets of sounds heard in equal amounts, with no one really dominating the space, but the chosen palette of each musician compliments the others nicely. It is always clear which sound comes from who, but the three voices combine well. The two tracks are of similar length at twenty-six and twenty-two minutes respectively and despite the couple of days gap between recordings and a change of venue the shift from the first piece to the second is almost seamless. The second church here produces a deeper echo (I have attended a concert at St Mark’s and indeed the way the tiniest sounds bounce about the room is amazing) but in general the break between sessions is indiscernible, a very good sign for a trio that had not played together before these occasions.
So, two very nice recordings of three improvisers tentatively picking out a way of making music together. If other London groupings right now perhaps push and challenge each other a little more actively and obviously than on Meshes this can be easily explained by the musicians’ unfamiliarity with one another. What we have here though are two great tracks of graceful, considered improvisation with a really strong sense of time and place and that at its highest points really sparkles.
I should add a mention here for Paul Abbott’s great artwork for this series of discs. Meshes in particular has a lovely, if very simple design, with the presence of a church, so strong to the recording there on the sleeve design. All four of the new Byways releases are available from Another Timbre on a 4 for 3 offer. I give away my feelings on the other three discs by suggesting that you take Simon up on this deal right away. The Another Timbre website is currently undergoing repairs and as I type is down, but if you drop me a line I can put you in touch with him.