News From The Shed

By Ken Waxman

Twenty years after the News From The Shed quintet was first constituted and about a dozen since it stopped playing concerts for good, a CD like NEWS FROM THE SHED takes on historical as well as musical importance.

Released as an LP on reedist John Butcher’s own Acta label in 1989, the session confirmed that the second generation of British Free Improvisers had established themselves as firmly as the first. Perhaps it’s comparable to HORACE SILVER AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS or Max Roach and Clifford Brown’s DAAHOUD of the 1950s, which served notice of a hard bop renaissance spearheaded by younger players.

This comparison is more apt then hyperbolic. For just as those 1950s sessions included veterans from the preceding era – drummer Art Blakey on the first and drummer Roach on the second – so not all the members of News From The Shed are neo-tyros. While Britons Butcher on soprano and tenor saxophones, Phil Durrant on violin and electronics and guitarist John Russell were just beginning to be noticed on their own, Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti and German drummer Paul Lovens had decades of high-profile playing under their belts with, in the brassman’s case, the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra (LJCO) and Brotherhood of Breath (BOB), and in the percussionist’s various projects with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach.

Additionally, the CD, which has been beefed up with four previously unreleased tracks is now also as historical as say a Louis Armstrong Hot Five recording or perhaps one by a 1940s Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie combo. Put simply, FreeImprov doesn’t sound this way any more. NEWS FROM THE SHED has a sort of staccato excitement encompassing raucous sonic vibrations which Malfatti, for one, has completely rejected. In 2006, both the saxophonist’s and the guitarist’s improvising is now more distilled and concentrated than it was in 1989 and Durrant focuses more on synthesizer and sampler software as well as site-specific projects. Only Lovens, in bands with von Schlippenbach and reedist Evan Parker, is basically still refining his mature style.

What this means is that while some of the oscillating whistles and triggered wave forms that would characterize the reduced parameters of late 20th Century improv appear, the dissolving silent pauses that make up early 21st century reductionist sounds are conspicuous by their absence. The pauses here are silences or quiet, not exaggerated statements given the same value as sound.

This is most noticeable on “Sticks and Stones’, where mid-way through the obvious wave-form reverberations from Durrant are treated as a reason to mute, not cease the others’ improvisations. Around it Butcher continues to sound double-tongued fluttering, Russell strummed guitar licks, Lovens claw-like cymbal scratches and Malfatti back-of-the-throat rubato plunger tones.

Similarly, on “Whisstrionics”, sharp, triggered pulses from Durrant are only one part of the sound picture. Also contributing in broken cadences are restrained, contrapuntal reed blowing, hocketing drum smacks and rubtao triplets that contrapuntally accelerate to ghostly shrieks and peeps.

Meanwhile, anyone familiar with the trombonist’s wholehearted adoption of the minimalist ethos might be tempered to wonder if he had a more raucous twin brother with the same name in the 1980s. Not as outgoing as his LJCO or BOB playing, there’s still a point on the newly released “The Clipper” that his plunger work is so raucous that it almost moves into tailgate territory. Not to be outdone, the saxophonist adds tongue slaps, the guitarist splayed flat picking and the drummer bangs his cymbals and drum tops.

It’s a good thing tracks like that were preserved, for Russell, who was in the midst of an apprenticeship in drummer John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble, is frequently odd man out here when it comes to volume.. Corresponding to the violinist and electronic-manipulator’s struggle to be heard, only a few of the acoustic guitarist’s delicate below the bridge chromatics are audible. He fares better when he bears down with blunt, concentrated strumming.

As for Butcher, his polyphonic multi-tonguing, extended split tones fluttering irregular vibrations mixed with episodes of circular breathing mark the codification of his mature style. On this CD, however, the emphasis is on harmonic parallelism with the others’ extended technique. Today he’s more likely to play solo, with broadening electronic pick-ups or as a part of much smaller bands.

These various strategies reach a crescendo on the appropriately titled “Weaves”. Here Russell’s constant rasgueado complements sul ponticello shrilling from Durrant’s violin and slap, snaps and smacks from Lovens’ bells, drum tops and unselected cymbals. Meantime Malfati produces sniggling tremolo slides and Butcher pitch vibrated overblowing.

A mixture of old news and new news, NEWS FROM THE SHED is still good news.

Track Listing: 1. News from the Shed 2. The Gabdash 3. Reading the River 4. Kickshaws 5. Everything Stops for tea 6. Sticks and Stones 7. Weaves 8. Whisstrionics 9. Mean Time 10. Pepper’s Ghost 11. The Clipper 12. Coracle 13. Crooke’s Dark Space 14. Inkle

Personnel: Radu Malfatti (trombone, zither and accessories); John Butcher (soprano and tenor saxophones); Phil Durrant (violin and electronics); John Russell (acoustic guitar); Paul Lovens (selected drums, cymbals and saw)