So some thoughts on the new double CD by the French improv group Hubbub, a release on the Matchless label named Whobub. Now I have been playing these CDs a great deal since I first picked up my copy at the Freedom of the City festival over a month ago now. As I hinted last night, I have really been struggling to think of what to say about this music. The problem is, beyond calling it really beautiful and describing in floral metaphors, as I have so often done with CDs before, it is hard to know what to say. It is, quite frankly very beautiful indeed, but I have to somehow do better than just saying that.
Hubbub are FrÃ©dÃ©ric Blondy (piano) Betrand Denzler (tenor sax) Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto sax) Jean-SÃ©bastian Mariage (electric guitar) and Edward Peraud (percussion). The group have been playing together, on and off for more than a decade, having formed back in 1999, and this double disc set is (I think) their fifth release. They are about as “tight” a group as can probably be found in this vague area of improvisation right now, featuring five musicians who are each thoroughly experienced and skilled with their selected instruments, but also seem to play and think together with exceptional harmony. The music they make just all seems to flow together with incredible ease. It does, in fact, often sound composed.
In one of the first things I ever wrote about improvised music, a comment somewhere on a forum that I can no longer track down, maybe six or seven years ago (believe it or not I have only been on the internet that long!) I said how much I liked a couple of the early Hubbub albums that also came out on Matchless, and remarked, in my vaguely naive opinion how much they reminded me of AMM. Well now a few years later, this new release leads me in some ways to do the same, but also I cannot get the CD releases from a year or two back by the American group Haptic out of my head. With Haptic, I found myself massively enjoying the experience of wallowing in what were huge swathes of thoroughly rich, beautiful sound, bowed percussion, electronic tones etc, but all coming together into swells of sound that were full of detail and undercut with some subtle grit, but still, to me, glorious, colourful works. They reminded me of a Turner sky- full of passion and drama, and slightly over the top, but wonderfully, beautifully so. Well this new set by Hubbub fits into exactly that category for me as well. The combined sounds just pull together so well into dozens of little waves of sound, soft sax notes, always tonal, but rarely with any attack, the guitar almost recogniseable, more eBowed waves and lightly tapped rhythms than anything axe-like. The piano is played mostly on the inside, as a stringed instrument, so more shimmering glows and piercing scrapes, and the percussion is probably the most disruptive (not that anything is at all) influence in the music, occasionally pushing the music off into more troubled waters, and providing the grit that stops it all from going anywhere near ambient sound.
I am reminded of AMM for a number of reasons, though some of them probably have little to do with the music itself. My first experience live with Hubbub, maybe a decade ago came in the same week I had seen AMM, and the link was forged in my head that long ago, but recently I saw them again at Eddie Prevost and co’s As alike as trees festival, the evening before a further AMM set. Plus of course this release has appeared on Prevost’s label, as others have done in the past, so the link is an obvious one to make. Musically there are a lot of similarities, and not just the surface ones, the mix of bowed metals, the piano (In the first track of the second disc here, Blondy suddenly appears playing minimal straight notes during a quiet passage of glowing sounds and I am immediately, instantly put in mind of Tilbury, the use of space is so similar) there is also the way the music swells, seemingly precariously, threatening danger, never quite toppling over the edge, but brooding like stormclouds watched by the anxious captain of the the fishing boat. (see, metaphors!!)
But there is something else in this music. It has a certain passion to it, a deliberation, an intensity in each seemingly arbitrary sound that makes it impossible for me to just put these CDs on as background music. The second disc, and that first half hour long piece in particular has something about it that I also hear in a Beethoven string quartet or see in a Turner sky. Without trying to make crass comparisons along those lines, there is an intensity here, a sensation of importance to every sound, an emotional pull from the music that works in a similarly romantic, gestural way. Listening closely is an intense experience. Its like following a pot of water closely as it comes to the boil,an overall mass of activity resulting in one cohesive impact, but each little bubble, tiny hiss, fluctuation in the water’s surface a joy to study when separated from everything else.
So, Whobub is a very beautiful album. Its not an album that will please those that think that improvised music is resting on its laurels, it does nothing particularly new and it uses very traditional instrumentation, albeit it in a quite different manner. Its not that these musicians are not capable of pushing the barriers. The likes of Guionnet and Denzler are just as likely to be found on very different, conceptually more challenging CD releases, but in the case of this release their sheer musicality, understanding, and dare I say it romantic sensibilities come right to the fore. Wonderful, stirring stuff.
A couple of concerts to mention. A week tomorrow, on the 10th, in a church up in a place called Whalley Range, Manchester there will be a very intriguing performance by John Tilbury of Samuel Beckett’s novella Worstward Ho!. Lasting an hour and a half, Tilbury has apparently made a recording of himself narrating Beckett’s book, which he will then play alongside on the night. Not to be missed methinks, with support from some fluffy haired guy from Oxford. Details here, about halfway down the page.
Then on the 22nd June, another little gig in London’s finest bookshop, The LRB by Keith Rowe, performing solo. Details here. In the past these events have all sold out as the numbers that can fit into the space are limited. I’ve not seen this one mentioned very much so tickets are still there for the grabbing, but I doubt they will be for long.