Listener’s Digest

Simon James Phillips

Simon James Phillips
Blage 3
RUSSIA MIKROTON CD 39/40 2 x CD (2015)

Conducting a marathon installation improvisation in a dancehall might make as much sense as digging a hole with a banana, but the crack team assembled in Berlin by Australian pianist Simon James Phillips is clearly not intimidated by unlikely tasks, especially not when sporting such formidable musicians as Tony Buck from ambient jazz exponents The Necks and Icelandic sound artist BJ Nilsen. One should not be surprised to encounter a sound world not far removed from these camps, though the original performance time of five hours stands as quite exceptional. Inaugurating the opening of Tanz in 2011, the full duration of the performance was not divulged to the audience, so the near-constant succession of build-ups and prolonged releases must have seemed both cathartic and anti-climatic to viewers, who were free to flit in and out, constituting an ever-changing spectacle for the group itself and one key aspect of what Phillips describes as an ‘exploration of time, perception and place’.

A slightly different experience awaits us however, these two discs containing but two hours of highlights. One can easily spend five or more hours on a single creative endeavour, but this time may encompass doubt, boredom, loss and renewal of direction, tea and biscuits, none of which are noticeably in evidence here. High in intensity and low on audience input, this seamless editing offers a glimpse of the near-constant high of a group in almost perpetual ascent, driven by the force of Phillips’ tremulous piano and the reassuring sway of Bucks’ drums, which ensure strong acoustic counterpoint to Nilsen’s radiant electronics. For two hours the collective undulates in echoic flickers through a dense microclimate of gauzy electronics and atmospheric recordings, dissolved into which the bass, guitar and trumpet serve as solid, textural elements; an aggregate I personally find more reassuring force than, say, the disorienting mania of Vibracathedral Orchestra’s psychedelic ramshackledom. Time evaporates while listening, though having to change CDs is a nuisance. The ipod is a more natural choice I think, especially on train journeys where the smooth transition between events is echoed in changing scenery, enhanced by the odd snooze and rude awakening in god-knows-where.

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