November 6, 2020
No Label No #
Stoney Lane Records slr 1883
Just like the creation of a pharmaceutical, improvised music can have completely different effects, if one part of a chemical formula is altered. For instance Stillefelt and Vestiges are both trio sessions which feature a double bassist, a guitarist and electronics but each potion is unique. Although you couldn’t call the first an anesthetic, but the six tunes composed by bassist Chris May for this CD whose title is Norwegian for quiet field move with soothing, mystical qualities. Other members are guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford and trumpeter Percy Pursglove, whose rounded, unhurried tones avoid the soporific by his innate skillfulness. Meanwhile the medication Vestiges most closely resembles is analeptic. That’s because the nine improvisations propelled by bassist Sergio Tavares, guitarist Nuno Trocado and woodwind player Tom Ward are often as pointed as the jab of a hypodermic needle and filled with as much adrenaline.
Birmingham-based, the Stillefelt trio members have had varied experience playing with the likes of Alexander Hawkins, Paul Dunmall and pop bands. Seamlessly the CD’s tracks make up a sutured suite where refinement is propelled by each player. Especially noting the folksy guitar strums, relaxed double bass pops and aching brass timbres expressed on the quiet and atmospheric “Half Life”, that title may define much of the music. Described as the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value, the sounds on this track are diaphanous enough. But although propelled in a reductionist fashion, the tune retains firmness and continuous forward motion throughout. Besides that, Pursglove’s capillary tones, especially on the introductory and final track shiver with such precise airiness that he could be playing baroque trumpet. Yet harmonies, dual string plucks and watery brass burbles aren’t all Stillefelt has to offer. Like some chocolates, there’s a solid centre to the sweetness as well. This is most obvious on the extended “Towards a Rusty Future” and subsequent “Quiet Field”. Crunches and ratchets among billowing textures are heard, with the exposition divided between distant double bass pedal tones, microtonal guitar plinks and aviary whistles. Eventually throbbing electronic oscillations help solidify the narrative into straight-ahead evolution as methodical trumpet puffs and precise guitar plinks maintain the theme, without it lapsing either into silence or scratching. Segueing into “Quiet Field”, Pursglove’s solo is built from pointillist peeps that languidly move up the scale, Backed by only enough pressure from Mapp’s plucks and Ford’s slurred strokes his ethereal echoing is also anchored by guitar frails.
Daintiness is the last adjective you would apply to Vestiges since from the introductory “Escalation” – a giveaway title in itself – the combination of guitar plucks, double bass accents and a collection of split tones, slurs and cries from Ward’s reeds keep the narratives barbed as well, as brimming with ideas. “Remnants’ for instance balances double counterpoint among gentle flute trills with measured guitar strums and Tavares’ sul tasto patterns that cumulatively sweep aside any mellowness to make the theme more insistent. Consistent double bass scrubs on the following “Problematic Regrowth” create the continuum as Trocado’s jagged strums and Ward’s Bop-like also saxophone squeaks unite for a contrapuntal upsurge that adds power to the variations. Replete with buzzing double bass pushes, guitar licks which encompass frails and freak-outs and tonal vibrations from alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, numberless timbres are exposed, examined and elaborated upon here. There’s “Stories Old and New” where Ward’s yelping split tones eventually turn to Klezmer-like bass clarinet variations as shaking guitar riffs and buzzes weigh in. Variations are expressed upfront while a thunderstorm-like ostinato is propelled by Trocado’s electronics and double bass pacing, climaxing with crying vamps that are one part string shakes and the other reed moans consolidated into strangled high pitches. More electronic processing is on “Wipe Out” but it arches around the main action which includes Ward’s shrill tremolo glissandi accompanied by rhythm-guitar-like clipping, then echoing flanges from Trocado as Tavares’ bottom pulses anchor the squeaks and swells to reach a proper finale.
Relaxed or raucous material makes up the contrasting strategies of these trio CDs. Each provides a convincing case for equal appreciation.
Track Listing: Stillefelt: 1. Opening 2. A Kind of a Day 3. Towards a Rusty Future 4. Quiet Field 5. Half Life 6. Never Ending
Personnel: Stillefelt: Percy Pursglove (trumpet); Thomas Seminar Ford (guitar and electronics) and Chris Mapp (bass and electronics)
Track Listing: Vestiges 1. Escalation 2. Caught Among Mirrors 3. Stories Old and New 4. Wipe Out 5. Chant 6. Underground Passage 7. Remnants 8. Problematic Regrowth 9. Tinpot Despot
Personnel: Vestiges: Tom Ward (alto saxophone, bass clarinet flute); Nuno Trocado (guitar and electronics) and Sergio Tavares (bass)