Carlo Costa Quartet
USA NEITHER NOR RECORDS n/n 001 CD (2015)
With a name that conjures up moustachioed Latin jazz, the Carlo Costa Quartet’s slithering, metallic drums and drones could scarcely be a more surprising or unsettling encounter for someone in search of a smiley pick up. This inadvertently red herring is the sole sign of humour in a musical statement that sups the lifeblood of the atonally inclined likes of AMM and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, squeezing out six sides of stark, teeth-rattling improvisation at a painful grind that leaves Bohren und der Club of Gore looking like Slayer.
While boasting fairly conventional instrumentation, the quartet (led by percussionist Costa, with Jonathon Moritz on tenor/alto sax, Steve Swell on trombone and Sean Ali on double bass) does a splendid job of subsuming all humanity into a nightmarish, metallic pulp, pricked by instruments played pointillistically or ground together into a grim, black sediment. Tension is back-of-the-neck; the brittle barrage of bows, breaths, scrapes and bangs somehow providing panoramic possibility thanks to musicians who know every inch of their instruments and their potential for an unsettling sonic range. Were it not for the availability of video footage of their conventional live set up one could easily envisage musical athletes powering through a set grounded by super-gravity. Rather, a lights-out policy would be preferable, that listener imaginations could be free to speculate on this music’s unwholesome origins.
Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer
UK DISCUS 48CD 2 x CD (2015)
Truly confounding my ability to describe is the fluid-formed fourth phase of the ongoing collaboration between versatile ‘jazz’ vocalist Julie Tippetts and multi-faceted composer/instrumentalist Martin Archer; a sprawling double album of proggish jazz fusion that provides solid evidence that not only is their partnership producing increasingly healthy rumination matter, but also that we listeners would be foolish to scoff at Archer’s vaunted ambition for it to take its rightful place in the Canterbury music canon, alongside Soft Machine’s Third, Centipede’s Septober Energy and suchlike. His word is good enough for me, for as I attempt to make sense of this peerless undertaking – every listen prompting a revised description – I feel as though my every effort to make sense of it is a disservice.
This owes in part to the shifting oneiric narrative that binds together this eclectic assemblage of almost wandering instrumental textures and oft stretched-to-breaking-point vocals that issue from the barely-being phase between sleep and consciousness, with correspondingly smouldering, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that walk the line between somniloquy (‘Disappeared Mountain’) and free association (‘Soliciting Crabs’), only occasionally exiting the cocoon of slumber to register a presence bold and dynamic enough to cause the collapse of the whole song structure itself when fever pitch hits (the explosive ‘Firefly’ and closer ‘Stalking the Vision’). Julie Tippetts’ early career as a folk singer is as well-documented as it is redundant here, as are occasional comparisons to Scott Walker for his similar metamorphosis. If anything, Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis supplies a more suitable comparison, his once melancholic register but a hazy memory in that group’s post-rock-y finale Laughing Stock – a destination quite reminiscent of this album – and his more bare-bones solo follow-up.
Equally intangible are Archer’s spidery, Sun Ra-esque keyboard and woodwind lines, which lurk innocuously while somehow holding together the parts of up to eleven top-shelf musicians, as well as a number of viscous, distorted electronic/acoustic backdrops. Such light-handedness corresponds to the sleeve image of a footprint in sand: an ephemeral dream image of identity eroding and provisional in the passing of time, yet rendered permanent through the agency of the subconscious. This harmony of oppositions is maintained for as long as no attempt to interfere or resolve matters into repeated rhythm is honoured. Any narrative tendency (the Lewis Carroll-inspired ‘Like Alice’ for instance) is incidental as this musical ooze assumes and relinquishes form without attachment. It is exquisite, and if Tippetts and Archer are to continue building on this standard, then we have much to look forward to.