Winter Pilgrim Arriving

Martin Archer/Simon H. Fell
Pure Water Construction

Some musicians who have already researched the outer limits of jazz and improv music are still looking for new areas to investigate. One bit of uncharted territory — the intersection of improvisations, the mechanics of chance and electronic gadgetry — fascinates Martin Archer. And these two quite different discs offer a glimpse into his thought processes.

Initially a free jazz saxophonist and composer, Sheffield, England-based Archer has spent most of the past decade immersing himself in the mechanics of electroacoustic music. Both these CDs involve music played by him and others in real time then twisted, turned, tweaked and mixed with other samples to create a new soundscape. When it succeeds it transports the adventurous listener who often can't identify the source of an individual tone; when it doesn't it becomes merely self-indulgent.

PILGRIM has been described as Archer's "rock" record, which is as fallacious as describing Tom Waits as a jazz singer because his backup instrumentation sometimes refers to swing. Thus this mixture of harsh electric guitars, hearty background rhythm and liner notes hommages to Nick Drake and the Soft Machine is supposed to suggest 1970s prog-rock.

King Crimson fans shouldn't get too excited though. Because if there's anything PILGRIM superficially resembles rather than a Robert Fripp epic, it's Miles Davis' post fusion period. Here Derek Shaw's ethereal cornet, snaking around unvarying synthesizer pulses, plays the Davis role. "River followers (for Nick Drake)", another rock red herring, relying more on what's probably sampled "classical" sounding piano played off against Archer's chalumeau register clarinet's then heavy guitar riffs or folksy acoustic strumming.

Not only that, but the salute to the Soft Machine, "Chemistry lock (Mike, Elton, Hugh, Robert)", doesn't seem as if it could get work at any rock festival, since it's built around electronic drums, with the melody carried on Mick Beck's bassoon.

The title track has cornettist Shaw in a more upfront mode, soling over South Asian-sounding samples. Plus the later part of "The eclipse farm heresies" could be heard as out-and-out contemporary jazz, with a cornet solo working in counterpart with Simon Fell's acoustic bass inventions, almost masking the electronic patterns that move in and out from background to foreground.

Fell's input is equally important to PURE WATER CONSTRUCTION, since this electroacoustic studio composition was created by both him and Archer. Echoing the work of Bob Ostertag and other tape cut-up composers, each track features additional music grafted onto reprocessed versions of the listed performers' solo improvisations.

Paradoxically, the result actually sounds more "live" than some concert performances. That can probably be attributed to the fact that experienced improvisers such as Fell, Davies and Collins are involved, and that Archer's processing seems more complimentary than intrusive.

Although there are points on the CD when it appears as if a radio is moving from a heavy metal station to a serious classical music program to a glimpse of experimental techno, overall the end product fits its agenda. The only harsh notes that are struck come, perhaps intentionally, from guitarist Jaworzyn, who manages to overpower the others every time he lets loose. This may be a minor quibble for guitar fanciers, though.

Another irritant is that the composition's first section is labeled "Part O", so your CD track number read out will reflect a higher number than the section that's actually playing.

With these discs (only available by mail order from and his other work, Archer has managed to document his unique take on EuroImprov, which involves the studio more than other performers. Still it would be interesting to see him, sampler in hand, plus a cross section of top-flight improvisers present this music in real time to a live audience.

—Ken Waxman

Pilgrim — Track Listing: 1. Angel words 2.The eclipse farm heresies 3.Beautiful city on the hill 4.A dream of broken and floating doors 5.Horn 6.Death-runes, death-rumours, ruins, rains of death 7.Chemistry lock (Mike, Elton, Hugh, Robert) 8.Winter pilgrims arriving 9.River followers (for Nick Drake) 10.Harbour town online

Personnel: Martin Archer (sonic dp synthesizers, sopranino saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, consort of recorders, vioelectronics); Derek Shaw (cornet); Mick Beck (bassoon); Charles Collins (flute, sampling); Benjamin Bartholomew and Tim Cole (guitars); Derek Saw (cornet); Simon H. Fell (double bass); Gino Robair (percussion), James Archer (amplified objects); Sedayne (crwth)

Water—. Track Listing: 1.Part zero - Prelude 2.Part one - Robin Hayward ; 3.Part two - Chris Burn; 4.Part three - Rhodri Davies (harp) ; 5.Part four - Jenni Molloy; 6.Part five - Stefan Jaworzyn (guitar)

Personnel: Martin Archer (sound processing, bells, sopranino saxophone, electronics, organ, violin, drum machines); Charlie Collins (bass clarinet); Robin Hayward (tuba); Chris Burn (piano); Stefan Jaworzyn (guitar); Jenni Molloy (cello); Rhodri Davies (harp); Simon H. Fell (sampling, bass guitar, bass); Gino Robair (percussion