August 19, 2017
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 229 CD
By Ken Waxman
Closely miked and closely knit, this eponymously titled CD captures four tracks of in-the-moment improvisations from Halifax-based guitarist Arthur Bull and visitors, Montreal drummer John Heward and American bassist Adam Linson. Like sophisticated linguists finally given a chance to speak the same language earlier studied in formal contexts, rapport is nearly instantaneous. Soon afterwards the three are unearthing a vein of connective musical inspiration like theoretical geologists discovering a valuable mineral deposit during a quarry visit.
A picker, whose every timbre is outlined with crystal clarity like a diamond displayed on velvet, Bull’s echoing bent notes and slurred fingering usually establish the exposition, with Linson’s tremolo runs and thumping ostinato commenting on, contrapuntally challenging, or stretching the narrative still further. As unobtrusive as a pacifist at a National Rifle Association rally, Heward, also a noted visual artist, contents himself with the occasional distant rumble or ruff. Case in point is Improvisation (2), which works its way up from austere string plinks to spiccato top-of-scale thrusts from Linson, with the merest suggestion of electronic processing. Reaching a crescendo of drums slaps and rattles; sul ponticello double bass shrills; and staccato scurries along the guitar neck with chipmunk speed; the trio concludes the track with a distinctive balance between chicken-picking motions from Bull, that rest comfortably on top of Linson’s double bass string buzzes. Alternatively expanding the sound mixture to widening cascades or shrinking to microtones like an Alice in Wonderland potion, Improvisation (3) is the perfect prelude to the final track. Here Linson’s buzzing continuum, encompassing conservatory techniques steadies the tune’s foundation, while locking in with occasional drum patterns. Eventually the guitarist’s irregular twanging fastens tongue-and-groove with the bassist’s sideways string swipes, creating a crackling finale that’s both multiphonic and memorable.
Bull often deals with more folk-based material; Heward is more oriented towards jazz; and Linson is an electronics experimenter. Yet together on this CD they manage to coordinate their ideas with the best qualities of a long-time working group.
-For MusicWorks #128 Summer/Fall 2017