Two Vinyl Varkescues

From the Gas Festival

Some crisp and snappy improv music from the trio of Axel Dörner, Werner Dafeldecker and Sven-Åke Johansson on Der Kreis Des Gegenstandes (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONOLP008). The recordings were made in Gothenburg in 2010 and showcase trumpet, bass and percussion in a bare-bones set-up where every note cracks like a dry twig and slices as surely as an ancient flint knife. It’s full of primal grunts, snarls, rattles, purrs and ticks; a day in the life of Cro-Magnon man. I’ve been struck at how much fascinating incident and event there is on this record, considering how Dörner for one seemed to be aligning himself with a particular school of improvisation which demanded subtraction and reduction as the basic ground rule of participation. After years of near-silent and simplified records where we were obliged to pay attention to the hissing serpent of Dörner’s acid breath passing through the tunnel-like fallopian tubes of his golden brass instrument, all in the production of abstract music that went beyond abstract into the realms of entire continents made from chipboard alabaster painted black, at last he’s decided it’s okay to start making jazz music. Well, almost. All of these four recorded improvisations are still quite fragmented and jumpy, as if the agreement among the three men to assemble a meaningful musical phrase were arrived at almost grudgingly. “If the listeners want to be entertained, then OK, but it’ll be on our terms.” But I like jigsaw puzzles and my ears have been having a splendid time trying to piece together these broken, disconnected, stuttered utterances like pebbles from the tongues of green lizards. Except they aren’t really stuttered so much as shouted out; double bass, percussion and trumpet producing loud but clear and simple statements, starkly presented against an all-white background. It’s as though the three of them had simultaneously taken a trip around an art exhibit of Russian Suprematism, wearing boiler suits and thick-glass spectacles, and describing what they see by making appropriate noises in the jazz and improv idiom. Given another few years in this direction, I confidently expect wayward improvisers of this sort to produce something as moving and understated as the New York Art Quartet album for ESP-Disk, an early 1960s work that to this day leaves listeners breathless with its dangerous avant poise, yet still manages to swing. I realise that this trio of Euro-modernists aren’t aiming at music with a core of swing feeling, but if this record indicates a trend towards more dynamics and action in free playing, then I’m all in favour of it. P.S. not to make out that Dörner is the “star” here, because the rhythm section are solid. Like two murderous assassins in black bowler hats. I would hire them to change my locks any day. They’d do it right.

Prelapsarian Bliss

Xela is the English musician John Twells. We have followed and heard every instalment of his “mystical” trilogy of LPs, which included The Illuminated and The Divine and concludes with The Sublime (DEKORDER 057). The narrative structure has been carefully planned and executed; The Illuminated hinted at the unholy works of the Devil, The Divine celebrated all the good works of the established church, while The Sublime contemplates the face of heaven itself. Or does it? With track titles ‘Lust & Paradise’ and ‘Eve’s Riposte’ the record could be proposing a condensed essay on the Fall of Man with an emphasis on the vortex of lust. ‘Eve’s Riposte’ is a very imaginative title, suggestive of missing chapters from the Book of Genesis. Meanwhile the sleeve note quotes a paragraph from the Book of Revelations, the old standby of Fortean Times readers everywhere. The trilogy has originally appeared in cassette form on the Digitalis Industries label, but it’s been good to hear it spread out over a few years in these vinyl instalments from Dekorder. The Sublime is probably intended as a refinement, a distillation of the music heard to date; the other two chapters both contained sound effects, tape loops, voices, and all sorts of narrative clues to help orient the listener, but this record by contrast is solid drone music, all proceeding at the same single glacial pace, with a very basic root note to anchor the content. It takes some doing to marshal all of these competing frequencies and prevent the careless propagation of a meaningless blur of sound, but your man just about pulls it off. It seems that John Twells’ equipment was “pushed into overdrive”, suggesting much effort and labour was poured into the production of this highly synthesised, processed and layered music. Oddly enough, this maximal approach sacrifices one of the things I liked about the earlier records, especially the first one which I described as a “non-droning drone LP”. I mean there’s a serious lack of space in this airless continuum. We also lack the sound effects this time to give us any kind of safety handles, meaning that the listener is pulled into the gently churning centre of the music, as surely as if it were a whirlpool made of bubblegum. I know full well that the road to Hell is soft underfoot. Will we be drawn to Heaven, or to Hell? Xela himself has remained silent and ambiguous on this point for some years, and I still have no way of determining whether he intends to point us towards the secret workings of the divine agency, or to destroy our inner spiritual being through stealth. The sleeve notes certainly think it’s the latter; at any rate they allude to the trance-like qualities of this heavy drone tarmac, and liken the listening experience to entering an opium den. And then there’s the cover art, which could be read either way. As you can see it’s a close-up from the famous Bosch central panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights (a triptych painting, to match this audio trilogy), but where are the gorgeous verdant greens and fleshy pink tones? All colour is bled out, it’s printed in grey monochrome as though it depicted a post-Apocalyptic version of paradise, a deathly zone where our sinful and bodily pleasures mean less than nothing. It might not be a coincidence that Sun Ra also used a detail from this Bosch painting to tell us It’s After The End of the World on his 1970 LP of that name.

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