The Remote Viewers

Last Man in Europe
Remote Viewers RV 15

Stripped down to a trio for its 15th CD since 1999, The Remote Viewers (RV) also appear to have abandoned, along with a formal rhythm section, most of the multi-instrumental detours into Rock and Funk beats and electronics that diluted some of its recent discs. Instead the RV concentrates on exploratory improvisation here. Gone too are the tropes which made some of those earlier sessions appear to be sound tracks for unmade spy thrillers. Happily though, this change in orientation means that three of the UK’s most accomplished players are able to make distinguished musical statements unfettered. Titles of the tunes, mostly composed by tenor saxophonist David Petts, still include some ambiguity though. In fact, one could almost take the CD title as a comment on Brexit.

More germane is the interaction propelled among Petts, the RV’s guiding force; his long-time confederate, soprano saxophonist Adrian Northover, who also plays with the London Improvisers Orchestra and other groups; and newer recruit bassist, John Edwards, whose experience with saxophone innovators includes gigs with Evan Parker, John Butcher and Paul Dunmall. Part of the Free Music continuum that includes those three saxophonists, if a little more conventional players, Petts and Northover strive to harmonize the tension engendered by their harsh, frequently altissimo reed work with the pops or buzzes from Edwards thickened bass strings.

Illuminatingly, when Edwards’ power-pumping sets up the defining title track, it marks a change from the saxophonists’ bravura garnishing of earlier narratives with reed chirp and slurs and introduces more profound sentiments. Along with multiphonic challenges, the reedists also elaborate tandem harmonies to meet the double bass exposition. From that point on, Edwards’ ardent strokes join with flat-line saxophone breaths to reconnect the initial dissonance. By the finale, textural association is as plentiful as atonal turns. Guitar-like twangs, string buzzing and a walking bass line also solidify juddering reed tones into choir-like harmonies which showcase sutures as much as split tones on “The Machines Must Stay”, to pick another example.

While the CD ends with an instance of flat-line blowing and intermittent string scratching with the mordantly titled “The Tranquil Life”, the key to the session is how the horns manage to combine exploratory freedom with Jazz-like rhythms and harmonies on other tracks. Jubilant riffing with Petts using his horn’s bottom register and Northover his highest pitches define “Fragments and Testimony” and that way reveal the tune’s understated swing. While this same high-low strategy is expressed elsewhere, as on “The Gods Take a Holiday”, the concise intensity the saxophonists bring to their sputtering theme elaboration is reminiscent of the hot breaks Jazzes had to shoehorn into so-called sweet tunes recorded in the 78 rpm era. No way retrogressive however, on the same tune, the trio proves its free-form commitment by translating peeping reed polyphony and extended bass techniques into a concentrated essay in layered forward motion.

With is canny meld of exploratory soloing and triple-layered connections, Last Man in Europe proves that bare-bones improvising can offer as many if not more musical thrills than more elaborate productions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Noise Of History 2. A Plague of Initials 3. The Night Before the Journey 4. Third-Class Carriage 5. Last Man in Europe 6. Windblown 7. The Machines Must Stay 8. No Day Off 9. Fragments and Testimony 10. The Gods Take a Holiday 11. The Tranquil Life

Personnel: Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone); David Petts (tenor saxophone) and John Edwards (bass)