Delighted to hear Distant Saxophones (COMMUNITY LIBRARY CL26), an unusual selection of works recorded by the English woodwind player and composer Jan Steele with the pianist and vocalist Janet Sherbourne.
Here are 11 gorgeous pieces of music and song-form works originally written in the 1970s and 1980s, most of them re-recorded more recently at a couple of 2007 sessions, some unreleased, some drawn from previous compilation releases…these musicians may have had a rather low profile during their career, but Jan Steele’s CV looks pretty impeccable; he played on the Centipede album, a milestone of UK jazz-rock led by Keith Tippett, and on the John Cage record Voices And Instruments on the highly-regarded Obscure series curated by Brian Eno. There’s also a 1984 LP called Albanian Summer I would love to hear; it’s on the Practical Music label, also home to some Janet Sherbourne releases such as Slower Than Molasses, Walks Abroad, and Cafe Ole. Besides their avant-leanings, both players were students of ethnic music, and a wide range of world music influence shows up in their work – gamelan, jazz, pop, charanga (Cuban dance music) as well as modern classical forms. Their taste for slow-moving and melodic music has also led to comparisons with the “ambient” genre and to the music of Angelo Badalamenti, at least according to the press notes here, probably compiled by Paul Dickow, the co-owner of the Community Library label.
What’s coming over most strongly on today’s spin is the sheer assurance of the players here – all the music sounds dignified, stately, replete with golden ceremonial robes…there’s no need for them to hurry, and they don’t fudge a single note. There’s a real charm to the sparseness of the arrangements, even when playing with comparatively large ensembles, such as on the sumptuous ‘Temporary Farewell’ recorded in 1993. This seems an opportune moment to mention a few of the great musicians and technicians credited on this collection: Fred Frith, Tony Levin (not the King Crimson bassist, though; this is the English improvising drummer), Steve Beresford, and Rhett Davies. “I love space in music”, is one of Janet Sherbourne’s observations printed here, “A rest or space is just as important as a sound.” This is amply demonstrated in the understated but brilliant compositional structures at work here, which show the power of dynamics and space without having to go all the way down the rabbit-hole of “minimalism”; consequently, there’s also plenty of melody, rhythm, and harmonic delight awaiting the happy listener who purchases this excellent collection.
If you’re as enchanted as I am, you’ll join my quest to clamour for more reissues of their catalogue. Dickow has been working on this project for over 15 years – we owe him a debt of thanks. Recommended to fans of Brian Eno and “Blue” Gene Tyranny. From 27 April 2022.