April 13, 2008

Now Playing: Spring Heel Jack

Spring Heel Jack: Songs & Themes (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series, 2008)

Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, flute
John Coxon: guitars, bass, samples, violin, glockenspiel
Ashley Wales: samples
John Tchicai: saxophones, bass clarinet
John Edwards: bass
Tony Marsh: drums
Orphy Robinson: vibraphone
J. Spaceman: guitar (tr. 9 & 12)
Mark Sanders: drums (tr. 7)
Rupert Clervaux: drums (tr. 8)

It may appear that today’s Spring Heel Jack has little to do with their roots in the UK jungle/drum’n’bass scene of the 1990s, but their relationship to so-called “jazz” was always at least implicit. There are moments on 68 Million Shades (Island, 1996) and Busy Curious Thirsty (Island, 1997) where the mechanized beats subside and a pregnant space is opened up in the music that might be filled with, say, a breathy saxophone. Nowadays, the beats have been dispensed with altogether and the music is made up entirely of those open spaces.

Admittedly, Songs and Themes is not the bracing amalgam of cool electronics and free-jazz skronk found on the brilliant Masses (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series, 2001) or Amassed (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series, 2002), but this may be their most listenable record yet. Behind this hideously drab cover lies music of rare beauty.

Sure, it’s all atmosphere and much of it sounds a little bit like what ECM was doing in 1970s (minus the cavernous reverb), but that’s OK with me. I have always believed "fusion" was worth pursuing, regardless of its obvious failures. Sometimes, this record is just the right tonic: lush textures, tasteful contributions from all the musicians (notably, the sensitive hornplay of Roy Campbell and John Tchicai and the restrained feedback psychedelia of J. Spaceman), and there’s enough harmonic adventurousness to reward close, repeated listening. What’s not to like?

Even Liz especially enjoys this one and recommendations don’t come any higher than that!



Sam said...

Can't wait to hear this...

You didn't mention what may be my favorite of their records, though: "Live" from 2003. Granted, it doesn't have the post-ECM sensibility of their studio efforts, but it does have Evan Parker blowing his ass off!

Rodger Coleman said...

Sam -

"Live" is a special case. It demonstrates that the music could still work outside the recording studio, but it feels more straightforward in a way than the studio albums, which are postmodern masterpieces (imo). Postmodern as in collage. Or something.

But, yes, Evan Parker does indeed blow his ass off on "Live."