May 17, 2001
Matchless MRCD 42
The British school of free improvisation is now so established that a disc like 396 won't raise an eyebrow, certain circles, at least. Seemingly a music of protracted silences matched with sudden saxophone squeals, random piano meandering and repetitive percussive effects, it proclaims its allegiance to uncompromising improv in every gesture.
In fact, on this, their first CD, alto saxophonist Seymour Wright, pianist John Lely and percussionist/sampler Yann Charaoui — all British-based — appear to be more a sum of their influences than anything else.
Taking his cues from such masters of BritImprov as Evan Parker and John Butcher, Wright limits himself most of the time to tongue slaps, false fingering and those reed blasts that could just as easily come from a door hinges needing some oil. In the thrall of AMM's John Tilbury, pianist Lely never plays a phrase when a chord will do, or sounds a chord when a single note will suffice. Lastly, Charaoui's contributions include the tiny motions of cymbals being scattered and rotating on the floor, what appears to be chains dragged across a surface and the light scratching of those cymbals for effect.
Occasionally, simple repetitive tones will be interrupted for a meandering pipe organ interlude which resembles music of early, black & white children's' cartoons. Other times the three will erupt into loud, unexpected noises that could come from an electric drill before lapsing back into silence.
In short, you don't know whether to say that the more than 71 minutes of stark sounds with a simple black and white cover could be a record of a fitfully busy home workshop, or perhaps to hear it as a symphony of miniscule gestures. Even though the disc is divided into three tracks, it's impossible to tell where one stops and the next begins. Nor does this artificial division seem that important.
Hard core improv fans will probably revel in this session and there's certainly nothing on it that would offend anyone — unless he or she insists on a familiar melody being jammed into your consciousness every time a CD plays.
Unfortunately, though, too, there's nothing here to tell the listener how these musicians differ in thought or execution from their Free Music ancestors. Until some individuality is developed, these young musicians will have to be numbered as apprentices rather than innovators.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. 2.28'53" 2. 4.17'21" 3. 5.20'10" 4. 13.5'05"
Personnel: Seymour Wright (alto saxophone); John Lely (piano, prepared bal-bal tarang); Yann Charaoui (cymbals, tabletop samples)