Matchless MRCD 41

Manchester has been best known since the 1960s as spawning ground for British pop bands. But the hometown of groups ranging from The Hollies to Oasis, also has a thriving improv community of which Bark! is perhaps the most venerable and accomplished member.

Since 1991, the nucleus of Bark! has been guitarist Rex Casswell and percussionist Phillip Marks, who have also played and recorded with other musicians. Along the way, Casswell has also found time to lend his talents to such postrock ensembles as Lob and Stock, Hausen, and Walkman. Just recently, though, reflecting a growing interest in computer sounds, which is fascinating musicians all over the world, Casswell and Marks have made Bark! a trio by adding electronic and sampler expert Paul Obermayer, who is also one-half of the electronic music formation FURT.

Don't worry about tyranny of the computer on this CD, though. The session works so well because these precise improvisations reflect the same reality that allowed the album to be entitled SWING without a Count Basie or Benny Goodman lick to be heard. Bark! "swings" in its own 21st century European way and Obermayer's instrument — for it's as an instrument, not an effect that it's treated — helps define the basic concept. All the musicians see electronics as yet another color added to the pallet.

Thus while the title track may have a steady overlay of Obermayer's swooshes and pulses, Marks is still very much upfront, commenting on the proceedings as they appear. Plus many of the electronic pinpoints originate in Casswell's amp as well as Obermayer's treatments. Roles are reversed on "Pavo", with Marks' restrained snare patterns and cymbal work leading the others forward, causing the guitarist to end with a bit of repetitive fuzz tone. On the other hand, "Vela" finds electronic thunderstorms preceding passages that are almost exclusively guitar lines and percussion accents. There's even a portion on the later half of "Grus" where aggressive, locomotive electronics to the contrary, the guitarist and percussionist seem to be creating a spiky Star Wars version of Duane Eddy's twangs and Sandy Nelson's beats. From beginning to end, each track flows seamlessly into the next, as foreground quickly becomes background and vice versa.

Few other acoustic improvising ensembles have integrated electronics so thoughtfully into a presentation. And that alone should draw you to SWING. That and the good music contained on it as well, of course.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Mal 2. Swing 3. Meshes 4. Pave 5. Nobody's Sweetheart 6. Aisle 7. Vela 8. Grus 9. Swerve

Personnel: Rex Casswell (electric guitar); Phillip Marks (percussion); Paul Obermayer (electronics)