Where Are You?

Improvised sax and computer-music on The New Me (REQORDS REQ007 / TEST RECORDINGS test11), performed by the duo of Quentin Rollet and Andrew Sharpley appearing on the front cover under the snappy name “Q&A”. I see the pair have known each other for over 20 years and moved in similar improvising / music / label / social circles, but for some reason they never played together. Some would argue they didn’t really play together this time either, as The New Me is another lockdown album made in 2020 when circumstances demanded they could not meet up in person. Quentin recorded saxophone parts in Paris, and sent them to Sharpley in the UK, who did the final assembly, combining the woodwinds with electronic sounds manipulated by his computer. Sharpley, who is evidently pleased with the results, points out that the listener can’t really tell it wasn’t recorded live, because it mostly seems like they were in the same room. From here, he muses on the way that lockdown has now rendered these distinctions meaningless in any case. “That’s an interesting place to be”, he opines. Sharpley used to be part of Stock, Hausen & Walkman in the 1990s, not a combo I cared for very much at the time, but at least they brought chaos and energy and a certain amount of bare-faced cheek to their live appearances. We could have done with some of those qualities on this lifeless record. They’re both playing well, but nothing really catches fire, the tempo is slow and the mood is ponderous; even if they weren’t in the room, it still seems like they’re tiptoeing cautiously around each other. (21/06/2021)

Modern saxophone and electronic music from Inclusion Principle on The 4, The 8, the 10 (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 110CD) produced by the team-up of Martin Archer and his sparring partner of long standing, Hervé Perez. Actually “sax and electronics” doesn’t even begin to describe the complexity and richness here. To begin with the instrumentation is extensive, including three different instruments from the saxophone family, plus clarinet, flute, recorder, keyboards, synthesizers and software devices – and that’s just from Archer’s credit list. Perez supplies a good deal of the electronic manipulation, as well as playing two saxophones himself and the shakuhachi flute, plus he also programmed the beats and the keyboards, and layered in field recordings as part of his overall sound design vision for the album. You can hear more of his elaborate method of studio composition on 2020’s Garden Of Secrets album. On today’s record, the partnership results in a variety of modes, though two prominent themes involve lush digital soundscapes, much like modern-day exotica music, where you can’t separate the field recordings of birds, water, and nature from their synthesised counterparts as you explore this imaginary paradise. The other noticeable trope is rhythmical, where programmed beats propel the instrumentation and allow the soloists to create energetic trills and loopings on their saxes, creating a species of free-jazz blended with avant-techno moves. (14/06/2021)

Polish composer and violinist Tomas Sroczynski has pulled off a solo tour-de-force on his Symphony No 2 / Highlander (ICI D’AILLEURS MT013) …with the help of a sampler and harmonizer device, he’s created loops and overdubs of his own amplified violin playing, stacking everything up until he resembles an entire orchestra. Improvisation, rather than composition, lies at the heart of this process, but there’s no denying his remarkable organisational skills in assembling the finished work, which is coherent and satisfying. It’s even arranged in movements, like a conventional symphony, and there’s a real mastery of the internal dynamics and changes of pitch and mood that finally produce a moving, emotional work. I particularly like the melodic and wistful passages of ‘Adagio’, though you may prefer the up-tempo opening segment, ‘Moderato Pastorale’, on which the young performer sets out his stall with brio, soon summoning up powerful forces with his method. There’s also the sparse arrangement of ‘Diablak’, with its stark rhythm as if produced by three plucked cellos, and its inventive curlicues of melodic snatches, sparingly added. This piece probably could be filed under “modern classical”, but Tomas Sroczynski not only has a foot in the free improvisation zone, he also works with DJ / electronica producer Jacek Sienkiewicz, who runs the Recognition label in Warsaw (they released his Ajulella album in 2018). A fine piece of performance and studio craft, and music which transcends its process. Available on vinyl, and part of this label’s “Mind Travels” series. (21/06/2021)