Thirsty Ear TH 57123.2

Note: this CD project was done by certified professionals. Kids don’t try to replicate it at home.

That fanciful slogan could be attached on a parental advisory sticker for this disc. For despite the proliferation of less expensive computer mixing and sampling equipment over the past few years, producing a CD which melds improvised music and studio-created sounds is much more difficult than your average club remix.

But Britons John Coxon and Ashley Wells, who operate as Spring Hell Jack (SHJ), know exactly what they’re doing, as this session aptly demonstrates. Many attempts by others are embarrassing, unmusical, or both.

Coxon and Wells proved their mettle a little more than a year ago on MASSES, when they mixed and matched live solos from such downtown New York heroes as bassist William Parker, pianist Matthew Shipp, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and violinist Mat Manner with their own computer sound and sampling. A prodigious accomplishment, this disc encouraged the likes of the Chicago Underground crew, drummer Guillermo E. Brown and DJ Spooky and a host of very much lesser talents to try similar projects with disastrous results. Burying improvisation under repetitive dance beats and turntable tricks suggested that this innovation was stillborn. Appropriately it takes an originator like SHJ, to show what should be done.

This time out the cast of sampled characters, with the exception of Shipp on electric piano is strictly EuroImprov, including saxophonist Evan Parker, trombonist Paul Rutherford, bassist John Edwards, drummer Han Bennink and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn. Added are MASSES man George Trebar on electric bass and rock band Spiritualized’s J Spaceman (Jason Pierce) on guitar. Compared to the first CD, results are mixed as well.

Perhaps it’s the presence of rocker Spaceman, or Bennink, never the most disciplined of drummers, but some tracks seem to be gilding the lily of improvisations with unnecessary effects. “Obscured”, the last track, suffers the most, with hand-clapping effects that sound as if they migrated from a Manchester rave. Add to this some pseudo Jeff Beck-like psychedelic guitar licks and snaking electric piano marathons and the tune ends up being a very long nearly nine minutes.

Also disappointing is a duet between Spaceman and Parker on soprano saxophone, whose Middle Eastern sounds no doubt suggested the clichéd “Maroc” title. The space cadet tries to match the saxman’s distinctive circular breathing, hollow reverberating line and foreshortened chirps with guitar feedback. Frankly Parker could have gone it alone. It’s sort of the same thing on “Duel”, with Bennink pardiddling and flaming drum stratagems while Parker, on tenor saxophone, creates a dark sepulchral, glottal tone —imagine E.T. bar walking. But the rumble and thunder of electronics is hardly needed. Neither is what sounds like the same note being repeated over and over again on the keyboard.

With his own electroacoustic ensemble built around sampling and treatments, Parker is quite familiar with this type of sound trickery. So on “Wormwood” and other tunes he manages to produce his distinctive tenor saxophone timbre, pushing asides the quasi-BITCHES BREW electric piano and guitar riffs and feedback that seem to date from the space explorations of the original Yardbirds and initial Pink Floyd line up. Similarly Rutherford, one of BritImprov’s veterans, goes his own way as well, bulldozing a place for himself through the dense electronic tinkling and sampled static.

Elsewhere, luckily, other musicians, especially Parker, are there to add some backbone to the ethereal work of Wheeler. Usually forced into the Miles-meets-organ-washes role, the trumpeter suddenly fires out some unexpected higher notes on “Lit”. Probably he figured that this would be the best way to counter backing that resembles someone attempting to create a Nordic jazz CD with what could be the sounds of ocean waves receding from the shore.

Together on “100 years before”, the flugelhornist’s long-lined cadences and the soprano saxophone’s spinning balladic tone combine for what should have been the best dialogue on the date. That is if Bennink, scratching away on his cymbals didn’t seem to be reading from a different fake book. Soaring over what appears to be interrupted radio broadcasts, reverberating pipe organ chords and what could be carpenter ants crunching away on a back deck, Wheeler beautifully configures and shapes his solo, which is then given added strength from Parker’s trills.

AMASSED prove that the Spring Hill Jack duo have the best handle on the bastard art of mixing improvisations and samples. This disc is an impressive companion piece to their last effort. But future efforts will be scrutinized with even more interest however, to determine when —and if — novelty gives way to an organic musical whole.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Double Cross~ 2. Amassed+@~^ 3. Wormwood+@^ 4. Lit* 5. Maroc@ 6. 100 years before*^ 7. Duel^ 8. Obscured+!~@^

Personnel: Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn)*; Paul Rutherford (trombone)+; Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophone[all tracks but 8]); Matthew Shipp (Fender Rhodes piano)!; Ed Coxon (violins)~; J Spaceman (guitar)@; John Edwards (bass [all tracks but 4, 5, 7); George Trebar (bass and electric bass [track 8]); Han Bennink (drums)^; John Cox and Ashley Wells (all other instruments)