UNschooLED

Hymns for Robots
SLAM 2103

Probing into this instanced of advanced improvisations from the United Kingdom’s heartland is like being an anthropologist who discovers an advanced culture practiced by a hitherto unknown tribe. Although globalization is a modern catchphrase, Hymns for Robots confirms that, just as in other media, a country’s largest population centres don’t have a monopoly on its most accomplished artists. Although so-called territory bands may no longer exist, there still appears to be an ample number of gigs in the so-called hinterlands to keep outside players working.

Least known of the trio members who play on the six untitled improvisations here, is drummer Ed Gauden from Bridgnorth in Shropshire, who mostly is occupied being the unaccredited half of two-piece rock band the Jake Flowers Scandal. From Shrewsbury guitarist Barry Edwards has recorded with Paul Dunmal and Mark Sanders. Meanwhile Manchester-based tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip, who elsewhere plays with such locals as Phil Marks and Stephen Grew, has worked in London with elders like Tony Marsh.

Despite the players’ mixed pedigree there’s no sense during this high-energy program of a city slicker coming along to demonstrate worldly techniques to the country bumpkins. The six-track CD, which is doubtlessly presented as it was recorded, captures three disparate musical personalities blending into one. Despite a tendency to overuse bass drum strokes, Gauden is more about clank and clatter than crash. This becomes increasingly noticeable and is most pronounced on “III” where his fanfare-like percussion introduction is the equivalent to setting up a big top performance. With suggestions of the ying and yang of both Barney Kessel and Derek Bailey in his technique, Edwards could be the half-man, half-woman in this runway show. Like the suave master of ceremonies, at least on “III”, Hanslip sounds positively balladic. This is in contrast to most of his near-ecstatic work on other tracks and posits that in this imaginary three-ring spectacle the MC may do double duty as a villain.

Cycling through tunes that meld reductionist ambling with splashes of Energy Music, folksy asides and technical exuberance, the trio demonstrates its story telling facilities. Unlike apocryphal camel designers – that’s a horse created by a committee – these blueprints result is the appropriate improvisational mammal.

By the final tracks “V” and “VI”, triple cohesion is achieved. On the first the saxophonist’s arching irregular pitches resonate alongside ragged twangs from the guitarist; and on the second a unique stop-time theme is established, That is once distinctive corkscrew reed howls are modified by Edwards’ percussive strategy which sounds as if he’s slashing taut stings with a Bowie knife. Still over-relying on the bass drum, Gauden manages to come up with a proper pulse that advances the themes without obtrusion.

There’s nothing robotic about the presentation on this CD. And it appears a bit presumptuous to think the mechanical folk need religious tunes. On the other hand a case for taking these boys out of the country is indisputably made. That would expose them all to a larger audience.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing.1. I 2. II 3. III 4. IV 5. V 6. VI

Personnel: Mark Hanslip (tenor saxophone); Barry Edwards (guitar) and Ed Gauden (drums)