Woodwind and acoustic guitar improvisation here from the team of Graculus, comprising the Liverpool saxophonist Phil Hargreaves and the guitarist Richard Harding. Asteroid (WHIMUSIC whi016) is a double CD set, with 11 pieces of their improvising work on the first disc drawn from sessions recorded in 2021-2022.
I see that Graculus have been working together since 2008, and they regard their particular take on free improv as something more akin to classical chamber music, than music which has followed the more familiar jazz-based line of propagation. This is reflected very much in the guitar work of Harding, who’s not only skilled and very fluent, but he doesn’t fear melody or hamony – indeed he embraces them so much that at times I almost mistook parts of this release for a Julian Bream recital. The combination with woodwind, especially the flute (for instance on ‘Riches In Iron’) is extremely pleasing; you might find yourself transported back to the 1970s and a dream of a BBC Children’s programme or a segment from Vision On. I confess I haven’t been too taken with recent Hargreaves work, but this one is charming. If the right meeting could be arranged, there’s every chance that either player would be welcome on a Martin Archer / Discus project at some point in the future.
On the second disc, somewhat unexpectedly, there’s a single 48-minute piece called ‘A Hundred Aprils’ which was assembled by Richard Harding from the raw material of their improvisations; it’s called an “ambient” piece here, and though it’s evident he has used a number of electronic processing effects and mixing desk techniques to get here, the end result still includes many moments of music identifiable as short passages of playing retrieved from the sessions, floating weightlessly in a sea of wispy cold drone. Oddly pleasing, too. There are a few instances I can recall where improvisers have allowed themselves to be recast into a more modernist idiom; one milestone would be Solar Wind, where old-school puffer genius Evan Parker was heavily reprocessed by Lawrence Casserley in 1997. ‘A Hundred Aprils’ however is clearly not a process-based work, and Harding’s intention is to create another form of beautiful music, even at the risk of creating something rather “pretty” by conventional standards. From 25 May 2022.