Charmony Harmony

Two new records from Tim Olive released as usual on his own 845 Audio label. More meetings of minds, and musical conversations.

On Charm Point (845-13) he’s met up with those very nice people from the Mystery & Wonder label, Elizabeth Millar and Craig Pedersen, who in a short space of time have endeared themselves to our collective affections with their refreshing and unassuming approaches to jazz and improvisation. On this encounter, there’s a fair amount of rig-em-up hand-made instruments and devices in play, including microphones concocted from an old watch battery and two tins of catfood – well not really, but in spirit these players wouldn’t ever settle for convention when there’s a parade of DIY inventiveness on the march. Millar’s clarinet is amplified using these circuit-bending twisters, so is Craig’s trumpet, and once again Olive is doing no more than generating controlled and subdued feedback hum from his pickups. I sense he has long since dispensed with the guitar or even a block of wood, and soon he’ll be playing pickups and magnetic coils that float in the air of their own volition. Charm Point comes from one date in 2018 when these fellow Canadians all met up in Kobe. Two tracks of gentle and exploratory hum-breath caressing are followed by 15:59 mins of more metallic and abrasive type abstract drone, the sort of elemental force that turns the ocean into a lake of steel and the threatening weather overhead turns out to be a mass of rocky crags. Throughout the record, one is never far away from the breathing lungs of the woodwind / brass section, that most intimate reminder of the human nature of this refined mode of improvisation. Quiet, restrained, but never dry or academic; a fine sesh everyone involved can be proud of.

The second item in the bag is Telquan (845-14). This was made one year earlier in October 2017 and it’s a team-up between Tim Olive and the famed minimal guitarist and improviser Cristián Alvear from Chile. They have played a few times starting 2016, when Alvear came to Japan for three concerts, though I think this might be the first time they made a record together. Instrumentation – than which you could hardly get more minimal – is just the acoustic guitar of Cristián and the typical hum from Olive’s magnetic pickups, yet what results is music with an astonishing inner core of strength, of endurance. This might simply be due to the persistence of the simple pattern-structure set up by Cristián Alvear’s resonating plucks, which deliver a slow but implacable rhythm formed of only a few notes and plentiful harmonic frequencies. Against this delicate framework, Olive is free to allow his feedback tones to float like transparent bubbles made of turquoise water. A single long (41:26) of powerful minimalist open-form work, all resulting from improvisation, and in case you think it sounds monotonous and samey you need to hear the whole thing to receive the unexpected surprises and changes in direction which are posted along the journey…which isn’t to say they are dramatic shifts in volume or intonation, but they do add extra resonance to the overall meaning of the piece, like chapter headings for a long meditational text of some sort. While I wasn’t too enthused about Cristián Alvear’s work a few years ago, the records I’ve been hearing from him lately have really turned me around, and I feel more able to understand the coded language of his work, and what once appeared to be inscrutable and strange is now emerging as something direct and pure.

Both the above from around 19 September 2019.