Mystery & Wonder is a new Canadian label supported by Arts Council funding and founded in 2017 by two musicians, Elizabeth Millar and Craig Pedersen, both players operating in the areas of jazz and free improvisation. But I do them no favours with my rush to pigeon-hole their music or indeed the label, which makes no claim to represent any sort of music, rather to “release editions of creative music that share and/or positively challenge the intersections between our values in art and humanity.” A benign intention which I think we can all support. I’m certainly excited about their first release, where Millar and Pedersen teamed up as Sound Of The Mountain and created the record Amplified Clarinet & Trumpet (MYSTERY & WONDER MW001), packaged in a beautiful black cover with gold printing. Already to me it’s extremely evocative, invoking everything from Japanese prints of the landscape to wild stories of mountainside terrors by H.P. Lovecraft. The sound they make is indeed akin to two ancient Gods of the Wind sighing and rumbling, stretching themselves after a long sleep and threatening to erupt into a powerful storm at any moment.
The pair arrived at this deep sound through close-miking their instruments and allowing amplification to reveal all sorts of details about the workings of the trumpet and the clarinet, the tubes, the keys, the wood, the metal, the reed…all made very present, very physical. Hundreds of years of classical technique (for orchestras and chamber music) have disguised all these things and trained musicians probably regard them as unwanted artefacts; the “better trained” the musician for classical purposes, the less they will sound as though they are blowing into a tube. This record embraces the exact opposite of that position and makes a tremendous virtue of the sound of breath. Of course you will no doubt start digging into your collections and produce records by Stéphane Rives and Axel Dörner and Robin Hayward from the furthest reaches of extreme improv, players who have all made a virtue of showcasing their lung power. Aha. But there’s an aesthetic dimension to Sound Of The Mountain which I like, whereby they transcend the materiality of the situation and start to stir our dreams and imagination with their deep rumbly sounds. In this, their overall plan has drawn inspiration from Pauline Oliveros (natch!), but also from Haino, Nakamura, Franz Hautzinger and Isabelle Duthoit (the French improvising clarinettist). Also available as an LP; recommended. From 11 September 2017.
From same label, we have Craig Pedersen Quintet playing Approaching The Absence Of Doing (MW003), a seven-part suite. Compared to above, this is more easily identifiable as free jazz music, but there’s much originality and innovation in Pedersen’s take on the genre – he allows plenty of space for free blowing and wild improvisation, but he’s also concerned with composition, arrangement, and direction. I suppose all of these elements, combined with a real knack for economy and concision, are what make this such a satisfying listen. I also like the sparse instrumentation – two drummers (Eric Thibodeau, Bennett Bedoukian) and a bassist (Joel Kerr) are all that’s needed to support Craig’s trumpet work, and the alto sax lines of Linsey Wellman. This means the sound is never over-crowded and the players never smudge or smear a single note, all good things helped by the very “natural” sound of the recording. None of this compromises the energy and attack of the quintet when they catch fire, as they very often do, but they’re also capable of turning in some deliciously autumnal and reflective melodies, such as the opening ‘Intervention’. This suite successfully walks the tightrope between composed music and free jazz, not an especially easy task, and Pedersen has learned his lessons well from his declared mentors (Cecil Taylor, Coltrane, David S. Ware and others). Only the childish doodle on the cover disappoints; it’s like what a sarcastic New Yorker magazine cartoonist of the 1960s would come up with to communicate “free jazz album” to his readers. From 11 September 2017.