Like all good releases, this duo performance by Sophia Domancich and Simon Goubert has found its way into my subconscious over the past few months, meaning that my largely self imposed break from reviewing has somehow got temporarily compromised by needing to put something down in print about this very fine album.
I interviewed both Sophia and Simon in 2021 for the Hugh Hopper biography – Sophia was charming and eloquent and kind enough to indulge me in an interview in English rather than endure my pigeon French; and later in the conversation was thoughtful enough to pull in Simon from a back room to add an extra perspective to their collaborations with Hugh. Together they were two parts (alongside Elton Dean and Hugh) of the Soft Bounds project which produced two albums, one posthumously, blending classic Softs/Hugh material with a whole raft of new pieces. Sophia’s association with Hugh went back to the first Pip Pyle Equip Out band (alongside both Elton and Didier Malherbe) but she really announced herself to Canterbury scenists as an unexpected fourth member of Hatfield and the North in 1990, when Central TV reconvened the band as part of their Bedrock series. It must have been intimidating enough for her assume the keyboard seat of Dave Stewart in full view of a fairly obsessive Hatfield fanbase, but she slotted into this jazzy update of the band effectively enough, even contributing her piece ‘Blott’ to the concert, captured on the TV screening, ‘Live 1990’ CD and subsequent video release.
A somewhat more coherent vehicle for her talents proved to be Equip Out’s second album ‘Up’, alongside double bassist Paul Rogers, Dean and Pyle, an uplifting blend of themes and free improv a la Soft Head, whilst her masterful solo album ‘Reve de Singe’ helped develop a solo career in beautiful lyrical style which has continued with apace and includes the acclaimed ‘Snakes and Ladders’, released in 2011.
What prompted my return to ‘TwoFold Head’ was unexpectedly witnessing Simon Goubert last month on tour with Magma; their 11 piece, vocal-heavy incarnation airing both new material and an old classic (‘Mekanik Destructiw Kommandoh’) at the Band on the Wall in Manchester. They performed a set of probably the most extraordinary music I’ve witnessed for a number of years. I knew Simon was part of the current band, but as a relative Magma non-afficionado had assumed he would provide a second set of drums to leader Christian Vander; in fact it is him that provides, amongst other things, the repetitive keyboard motifs which are one of the main calling cards of MDK, here executed in the most astonishing fashion with its 7 part vocal arrangement – he also provided memorable solo bridges between different parts of the opus. And so, whilst flicking between recent Magma footage on Youtube, I arrived at ‘Pause’ which contextualises ‘Two Fold Head’, as it turns out this very fine album is actually just the audio footage of an intimate, live in the studio performance of 7 pieces.
What you have here is minimal: largely a jazz-inflected, single passing of the hands across a piano with textural, empathetic accompaniment by Goubert on drums; on many tracks there is scarcely a beat to be found. Occasionally a second organ line finds its way into the mix, undetectable visually, often to add an element of disquiet or counterpoint to the main melodies, most notably on the opener ‘Cafard’. Domancich largely eschews virtuosity to purvey melodies of clear and evocative simplicity, nowhere better than ‘David and Nino’ – her ability to craft memorable themes before breaking out subtly into variations is really her strongest suit. ‘Stairs’ stretches out more freely, ‘Twofold Sense’, ‘Surface de Reparation’ too, but all start from that same contemplative source, namely simple, roaming piano or keyboard, before wandering further afield. The standout track may well be ‘Organum V’, which reverts to a repetitive, hypnotic reverie underpinned by uncomfortable counter-notes, and propelled by ever more urgent drumming. Watching this track’s performance in particular on video adds a powerful indication of how mesmerizing the duo must be live: pictures of the faces of the performers often show them, eyes-closed, in a trance as the tension builds. Their mutual understanding is almost telepathic and we’re lucky to have both visual and sonic evidence of this.
Buy Twofold Head at https://peewee1.bandcamp.com/album/twofold-head
Sophia and Simon play at the Au Sud du Nord festival on 2 September – details at https://www.ausuddunord.fr/