Ed Wynne – Shimmer Into Nature (Kscoper 827)

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Facelift fanzine was renowned for trying to sneak in Ozric Tentacles reviews at every opportunity, regardless of their tangential links to the ‘scene’ (there are links both musically and personnel-wise if you’re prepared to look hard enough) and I’ve followed the progress of this seminal space-rock band assiduously over the last thirty years. As their leader Ed Wynne re-located back to the UK following a number of changes in circumstances, I was lucky enough to catch him at Kozfest in 2017 firstly as a guest with the Ullulators, then memorably with his own pop-up band as most of the initial Ozrics line-up were re-united for a superb hour long jam.

But any assumption based on these good vibes that this would naturally morph into Ozrics mark z appears to have been misplaced. Instead Ed has been working for a while on his first solo album, whose appearance was initially slated for September but eventually appeared in January. What’s perhaps surprising, given the extraordinary diversity in the early Ozrics tapes both in terms of Ed’s choice of stringed instruments and a heady mix of styles, is that ‘Shimmer Into Nature’ seems to continue the homogenous path of recent band albums, most notably the admittedly excellent double ‘Technicians of the Sacred’. The music is incredibly dense, a blend of busy programmed drums, undulating bass parts and layers of keyboards, with an initial impression that there may not be sufficient space to showcase trademark guitar work.

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Despite myself living so remotely in the nether regions of West Yorkshire that running water is considered to be something of a luxury, I happen to live 3 doors down from a fellow Ozrics aficionado, and when I mentioned to him that I was finding it difficult to find a hook in to ‘Shimmer’ he sagely advised me to ‘stick with it’. And he was right: it’s a slow burner, and beyond the density are all the hallmarks of an Ozrics archetype: titles such as ‘Oddplonk’ and ‘Wherble’ and ‘Shim’ suggest the band’s legacy of slightly absurdist track names is safe – and indeed these final three tracks, each clocking in at around 10 minutes, are the album’s best. Whilst ‘Shim’ is the most instantly recognisable classic based on a superb keyboard theme, ‘Oddplonk’ is probably the best, with, eventually, all the trademark elements: the rolling bass theme, the initial guitar riffing, the swirling, bubbling keyboards, the joyful guitar solo which eventually morphs into the distorted, reedy lead line doubled by further rhythm lines. There are even the ‘Jurassic Shift’ type harmonics in there, and it almost takes me back to the semi-jammed delights of ‘Tantric Obstacles’.

In fact, from what appears initially as a predominantly synth and programmed led album, guitar reveals itself more and more, with further fine riffs on ‘Wherble’. One month on, this album still continues to give, and I’m fairly sure I’ve not finished with it yet. With the news that the spring Gong tour will be backed by support from the Ed Wynne band, this seems like a nice way to finish this particular batch of reviews. Given that the only misgivings I have about this album is a tendency to build a multitude of layers to the detriment of the ‘space’ which allows Ed Wynne’s guitar to shine at its brightest, perhaps the adding of ‘real’ bass and drums will complete a comfortably heady mix to everyone’s satisfaction.

Ultramarine: Signals Into Space (Les Disques du Crepuscule TWI 1236) Ultramarine: Meditations (Les Disques du Crepuscule TWI 1243)

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Ultramarine were Facelift darlings in the mid-Nineties as their clear love for the Canterbury scene (as witnessed by samplings of ‘Lullabye Letter’ and ‘Flute Salad’ on their seminal 1991 album ‘Every Man And Woman Is A Star’) was expanded into their memorable ‘United Kingdoms’ album. This, for the uninitated, featured original contributions from Robert Wyatt and Jimmy Hastings as well as a version of Matching Mole’s ‘Instant Kitten’. Their take on dancey electronica was subtly questioning where that of the Orb was manically subverting, and they continued to record some fine albums after the Canterbury spotlight had passed.

After a very long hiatus, the duo (Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond) reformed in 2011 and released a rather low-key album ‘This Time Last Year’ two years later which received relatively little airplay here. But any suggestion that the outfit had lost their mojo in the years since the mid-Nineties has been rather kyboshed by the appearance of ‘Signals Into Space’ a 12 track album backed by an additional 40 minute ‘meditation’ CD which can be purchased as a bonus artefact for an additional £5 at https://www.lesdisquesducrepuscule.com/signals_into_space_twi1236.html

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Whilst it was always unlikely that ‘Signals’ would ever surpass the diverse excellence of ‘Every Man’, the jazzy ‘Bel Air’ or the minimalist ‘A User’s Guide’, it manages to combine elements of all 3 into a refreshing, coherent mix. Stripped down electronica is represented in the opening track, Kraftwerkish in its top-end percussive noises, and whilst there’s little of ‘Bel Air’s funk, its gentle rave is propelled on by the excellent ‘Arithmetic’ and the vibes (as in the tuned percussive instrument) are maintained by guest player Ric Elsworth at various points on the album. That nod to the Nineties is also present in the gentle rhythms of ‘Framework’ whilst the atmospherics underpinned by the chattering beats of ‘Cross Reference’ eventually stretches out into what could be a quote from the rhythms of ‘Lights In Your Brain’.

The Ultramarine aficionado will remember that on their third and fourth albums the duo added vocals to the whirring beats, firstly through Robert Wyatt, and secondly from a quite bizarre duo from Wigan called Pooka. Several tracks on ‘Signals’, mostly notably the evocative ‘Spark From Flint To Clay’ add the voice of American singer Anna Domino, which whilst not quite as kooky as Pooka, creates a slightly unsettling ambience. The other main guest here is none other than saxophonist Iain Ballamy, a coincidence of real resonance for me as he was an integral part of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, the first band I ever saw (in 1986?) with any sort of connection to music I would subsequently write about. Ballamy’s contributions include his lyrical stage centre on ‘Breathing’ as well as an even more understated presence on the beatless ‘Sleight of Hand’.

What’s great about Ultramarine is the fact that whilst largely uncategorisable (is this dance music or experimental electronica, or both?) they have their own unique calling cards: gentle, minimalist rhythms, simple slightly unnerving atmospherics and a penchant for overlaying this with very human voices and acoustic instrumentation. Their magic remains.

As for ‘Meditation’, well it very much does what it says on the tin. Beatless, slightly eerie and rather relaxing, these are impressionistic soundscapes, etched out by marimba-esque sounds, plinking and plonking against swathes of keyboard backdrop, and backed by the sound of distant conversations or bird song. Occasionally settling into almost recognisable themes before meandering off somewhere else, this is serene stuff and pleasant without being anodyne. Certainly a departure but none the less impressive for all that.

https://ultramarine.uk.com/

System 7 / Mirror System: Café Seven CD (a-wave AAWCD020)

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Steve Hillage makes an annual appearance in my adopted home town of Hebden Bridge with his trancey outfit System 7. I don’t always go and see him as I’ve largely moved away from dance music and have found that I no longer have the staying power or necessary faculties to endure an extended early morning wig-out. That said, I’ve purchased most of his System 7 albums since the late Eighties, and particularly enjoyed both his ambient ‘Point 7: Water’ album in the early Nineties and the equally sedate Mirror System album a decade or so later. When I last saw him at the Trades Club in September, it was as part of a 20 year celebration of local club night Cabbage, where over 3 nights Steve performed as System 7 on the Friday, as Mirror System on the Saturday, and Eat Static did the Sunday slot. As with previous viewings, it turned out the Mirror System were mirror as in ‘alternate’ rather than ‘ambient’, with a particularly hardcore set sending me eventually scurrying for the taxi rank, having enjoyed Hebden’s own Tetchi, a more benign blend of beats and instruments, rather more.

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‘Café Seven’, which came out some time in 2018 is, from what I can gather from the credits, something of a pot pourri of original compositions, collaborations and remixes and whilst it’s apparently fairly faithful airing of what you might hear live, it is in places for me somewhat more accessible, possibly because familiarity breeds context, but mainly because of a quite superb sound mix which elevates a formulaic mix based around the inevitable 4:4 kickdrum. Whilst ‘First Wave’ may appear to set the tone for some fairly standard fare, there are some choice moments at various points in the album. Best in show are Mirror System & Aija’s ‘Smooth Operator’, something of a dance classic, starting with pristine echoed synths and propelled along through some rather funky guitar licks; whilst System 7’s ‘Big Summit’  benefits from some Qawali-style sampled vocals which slice through the pounding backbeats. Even ‘A Smuggler and a Juggler’, a track that originally had me despairing for some variation, has enough hypnotic impact to grind me down into releasing my inner raver. Whilst the ‘And Justice Killed’ resurrects the rather crash-and-burn style of the first System 7 album, not entirely convincingly, ‘Elektra’ adds a more appealing spooked out feel, and the album winds down with ‘Cloudface’ (a remix from a Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society track, no less) featuring glissando guitar, and the rather reflective ‘Golden Mission’ featuring probably the only extended guitar soloing of the album. A nice way to complete an album which refused to let me ignore it.

Whilst the Hillage die-hard may hold out for this spring’s gigs resurrecting material from Green, Fish Rising and Open, let’s not forget that System 7 are 30 years old this year and have a remarkable longevity and following which may have surprised those of us who heard their debut album all those years ago. Café Seven is still available at Planet Gong at https://www.planetgong.co.uk/bazaar/cd/system7_cafeseven.shtml

The Quartet ft. Syd Arthur – Nobody’s Fault But My Own (Dawn Chorus Recording Company

a9S5xfiG.jpgThis unexpected release emanates from two different strands of current Canterbury music and also appears in an unexpected format – 21 minutes of spontaneous composition on vinyl. I’d heard of (and eventually heard) a version of ‘Facelift’ performed by this outfit doing the rounds, but confusingly credited (at least in part) to Syd Arthur. For all their wonderful repertoire, complex compositions, psychedelic credentials and a nod to the classic carefree feel of early Caravan I would not have associated Syd Arthur with the kind of extended workout afforded to either that track or what we have here.

‘Nobody’s Fault But My Own’ turns out to a release spliced together from several takes of the same piece performed by The Quartet (Jack Hues’ outfit with Sam Bailey and the rhythm section of Led Bib, who I saw the Canterbury Sound event in 2017); all of Syd Arthur minus Raven Bush; and saxophonist Paul Booth (from the last incarnation of In Cahoots). There are certainly common calling cards to the original ‘Facelift’ in as much as this is stretched out exploratory multi-instrumental work, but this is languid as much as it is dissonant, with Hues taking the clear lead on guitar. Being neither familiar with Beck nor his track covered I am taking what I hear pretty much as heard, and whilst clear themes shine through this is an accessible, occasionally bluesy free blow with multiple layers of instrumentation contributing towards a rich slightly dreamy atmosphere (although Bailey’s ‘Meddle’-style keyboards, gone slightly haywire briefly cut through the ambience)

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Interestingly, as I sat down to write this brief review, news came through of a set of gigs by the expanded Quartet with a lineup of Mark Holub – Drums;  Liran Donin – Double Bass; Sam Bailey – Keys; Jack Hues – Guitar; Liam Magill – Guitar/Synth; Joel Magill – Electric Bass; Josh Magill – Drums Chris Williams – Sax to perform ‘Nobody’s Fault’, ‘Facelift’ and as Joel puts it ‘devling into some newly re-worked stuff’ (I’ll go with the typo!).

Gigs are at April 10th – Crofters Rights, Bristol April 11th – St Pancras OId Church, London April 12th – St Thomas Hall, Canterbury. Tickets at https://www.songkick.com/artists/930261-syd-arthur?fbclid=IwAR3sc7x-hF-fPVxZiPn-zpkUJlebbo6EqffPqat-4blDN-8DkoQQmrW-E7U

Nobody’s Fault But My Own is available at https://jackhuesthequartetftsydarthur.bandcamp.com/

Manna Mirage: Rest of the World (New House Music NH05) Moon Men: Uncomfortable Space Probe (BHH 2018)

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Around this time last year I penned a few lines about a remarkable CD from Diratz, a collaboration predominantly between the French singer of that name (Carla), and American musicians Dave Newhouse and Bret Hart. Unwittingly the 4 tracks I identified as particularly outstanding were the ones from the pen of Newhouse, who will be familiar to many here as the leading light in The Muffins, that American branch of the Canterbury and RIO scenes who recorded numerous albums in the Seventies and Noughties.

Two releases here highlight his current works, the first band taking its name from a Muffins album which I reviewed (briefly) back in Facelift issue 11. ‘Rest of the World’ is an almost instantly recognisable blend of styles familiar to readers of the this blog. ‘Catawumpus’ a piece originally intended to be recorded by the Muffins, sets the scene with a Windo-esque multiple-horn fanfare, descending into ever more cacophony before a doomy keyboard note increasingly cuts through Van der Graaf style. ‘ Mini Hugh’, a clear reference to a certain Canterbury giant blends his amiable, shifting bass sounds at the start of the piece with some classic fuzz sounds at the end (courtesy of Guy Segers) but also features with some ‘Facelift-esque’ woodwind sounds as Newhouse’s sax alternately expresses or noodles, Elton Dean style, alongisde some Ratledge-esque keyboard atmospherics.

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‘Zed He Said’ was apparently written for Robert Wyatt, and this track is very much in the vein of ‘Maryan’ from ‘Schleep’ with a wonderful melody sung by Michele King, simply stark keyboard backing and some sympathetic guitar accompaniment . ‘Alchemist In the Parlour’ is a made to measure collaboration between bass clarinet and the voice of Carla Diratz, interspersed with some very Art Bears-ish faux folk lines as the obtuse Diratz voice narrates, somewhere between Peter Blegvad’s surrealism and Finlay Quaye’s deadpan delivery.

Yet the centrepoint of the album for me is ’30 Degrees of Freedom’ where an engulfing piano intro, underpinned by fuzz bass and cymbals, descends into a piano theme almost from ‘Rivmic Melodies’. The sounds that cut across that are so elephantine you feel they must be played by a trombone (in fact they are from the guitar of Mark Stanley) one of many highlights for this track alone.

It’s no mistake that I’ve written more for this album than any other single release here – it’s a very fine album whose depths extend right through to the final piece ‘That Awful Sky’ whose disquieting ambience, composed but not performed on by Newhouse closes things out. This is a very fine album, grab whilst you can as I believe it’s almost sold out!

 

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Moon Men represents another facet of Dave Newhouse’s prolific output, this time on a more equal footing with 3 other musicians (Hart, Wim Jungwirth, Jerry King) and often delving into much darker places in a seismic romp through 13 short tracks. From the Materialesque funk of ‘Phat Caravan’, all heavy bass and starkly focussed drumming, ‘Moon Men Luv’ I believe may be a reference to Hugh Hopper’s classic ‘1984’ piece ‘’, certainly it has the same stripped down dissonant sax groove that will have you, as with so many other tracks on this album, tapping a foot or wiggling a hip in appreciation, another case in point being the sleazy ‘Kai Ching Tai Ching’. Other tracks are deliberately not so light on their feet. The accordion-based ‘Anti Matter Handshake’ appears to deliberately point towards Skeleton Crew (with whom Newhouse guested in the Eighties) with its obtuse percussive effects, whilst elsewhere Newhouse in particular is keen to release his inner Zeuhl: ‘Dark They Were’  ‘Billzilla 94’ , and in particular ‘Pulsar’ with its moody, slowly building keyboards.

Whilst things loosen up even further towards the end of the album with some much freer riffing, apparently more in tune with the band’s first release (which I haven’t heard) the overall feeling of ‘Uncomfortable Space Probe’ is one of tremendous fun, powered throughout by a particularly monstrous bass sound, plucking effects and unexpected instrumentation into the mix at will.

http://www.mannamirage.com/

https://bhhstuff.bandcamp.com/album/moon-men-ii-uncomfortable-space-probe-digital

Droog5: While Waiting (Relatives Records 218 10 06)

promo while waiting.jpgWillemJan Droog is a Dutch keyboard player with a long association with Phil Miller, the most recent evidence of which was with the Relatives, the band which also featured Jack Monck (of Delivery) and Marc Hadley. The band recorded ‘Virtually’, reviewed here, the last recorded work committed to disc by Phil.

At the recent Phil Miller commemorative gig in London, Jack and Marc appeared on stage as part of the various denominations performing Phil’s music, whilst I was lucky enough to be sat next to WillemJan watching events unfold. He told me about his involvement with the Miller/Baker duo who he accompanied during Dutch gigs in the Nineties. Meanwhile, his band Droog5 have just released their  album ‘While Waiting’, and frankly, it’s a delight.

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‘While Waiting’ is an album of intricate acoustic jazz featuring drums, standup bass, soprano sax or bass clarinet, and cello (plus occasional violin) alongside the piano of the bandleader. Whilst styles flit from Cuban jazz (on ‘Luv Bossa’) to Celtic influenced jaunts to a more Balkan feel elsewhere, interspersed with more straightforward ballads, these changes serve only to convey a rich ongoing narrative – in calling on compositions from four of its members it simply opens up a range of opportunities for the band to show a really natural cohesion to back up some wonderful inventive compositions, performed with zest. Case in point is ‘Dinant’, where an undulating folk melody written by Angelique Boel and etched out by soprano saxophone would steal the show were it not for the sonorous tones of piano, bass and Boel’s cello underpinning it so heartbreakingly. Those familiar with the Relatives’ album ‘Virtually’ will recognise the track WillemJan wrote for it, ‘Stately Waltz’, and it benefits from the more organic instrumentation here.  Other highlights are ‘Last Tango’, an Twenties-style romp which unexpectedly changes tack into Latin jazz half way through, and ‘For Charles’, where author Stan Stolk’s jarring double bass line eventually gives way to  wonderfully serpentine soprano sax work from Hans Rikken.

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‘While Waiting’ is uniformly excellent, mixing memorable compositions with fine musicianship. Well worth checking out at http://www.relativesrecords.com  Incidentally  a bonus track, ‘Duo for Tarzan’ featuring guest violinist Erik Koning, is a piece co-authored by Droog and Jack Monck, presumably another track dating back to Relatives days.

Visit http://www.relativesrecords.com which includes a band history, and a CD shop including various collaborations by Relatives band members with Phil Miller, Pip Pyle and Laurie Allan.

Andy Bole: The Glorious Event; Of Blue Splendour; Bonfire Radicals; Rainbow Crow

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Andy Bole: photo Harry Collison

A couple of times I’ve come away from Kozfest, that beautifully anachronistic ‘psychedelic dream festival’ in the West Country with Andy Bole’s low-key performances being amongst the highlights. I was somewhat off the scene when his name started appearing on the Planet Gong website in the Noughties as a frequent support act to Gong, and in fact his relationship to Daevid Allen goes back as far as the mid-Seventies. Each time I’ve seen him I’ve marvelled at his dronish, looped soundscapes based around guitar and bouzouki, as things of rare beauty, and many aspects of a complex musical identity are represented by the four albums listed here.

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‘The Glorious Event’, released in 2014, is a collection of 6 tracks taken from live performances including one of the Gong Uncons (which I’m still kicking myself for missing) and mixes tracks of pure atmospherics with those of gentle beats. The opener ‘Echolands’ is a dronish piece extending to almost 24 minutes with Hillage-esque licks on a piece which is almost an extension of ‘A Sprinkling of Clouds. This really comes into its own with some wonderful glissando work. ‘Mother Earth’ adds unexpected folk vocals, well versed but slightly incongruous in the overall mix, whilst tracks 3 and 4 return to more familiar bouzouki territory, the first  a short beaty piece backed by bass and drums and wailed background vocals, the second ‘Solanum’, a superb lengthier, more reflective piece based initially solely around one instrument but backed by sitarrish sounds.  ‘The Cry of the Swan’ continues the subtle plucking at your heart strings, this time on guitar. The album is rounded off by the superb title track where mournful strings are increasingly underpinned by a steady bass line and minimal drum.

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‘Of Blue Splendour’ has a more coherent feel, probably as a result of its conception rather it being limited to one style. Shorter purely acoustic pieces such as ‘Hold to my Unchanging Hand’, ‘9/8 Thing’ and ‘Fradley Junction’ or even the crooned campfire closer ‘Flags’ do not compromise an extremely assured identity. The chief element however is a set of extended pieces such as the contemplative opener featuring rich sonorous viola and the glissando of Daevid Allen. The stripped down bouzouki no 3 on ‘As Splendid as the Moon’, which appears as though it could extend through the entire piece eventually melds into gentle beat-backed hypnosis featuring multiple sliding guitars and constitutes the album’s first major highlight. The well-named ‘Gem Palace’, initially building on ethereal gliss work from Andy, extends out into a lovely keyboard loop and eventually the eloquent saxophone of Gong’s of Ian East. The only pricking of the bubble is the strident, angular, almost Miller-esque guitar of ‘Turn Six Degrees’ where top notes cut through a menacing backdrop of guitars and effects, nevertheless a fine moment.

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Bonfire Radicals are an entirely different kettle of fish. In blending double bass, whistle, clarinet , fiddle and three female voices in a predominantly acoustic mix this is upbeat rousing music undoubtedly seen at its finest in a packed pub room or festival tent. Along the way it combines elements of Celtic jiggery and Balkan buffoonery, alongside folky balladeering such as ‘Lucy Hampton’s Wedding Day’ . Best here is ‘Fizzle Sticker’, with its brooding bowed bass before extending out into a fine jig. Author as on many tracks is Trevor Lines, who may be familiar to Facelift readers as bandleader of various jazz outfits in the Midlands. Andy Bole’s role within the band is on 12 string guitar and he also composes ‘Malo’ an almost mediaevallish romp, but overall this is very much a different string to his bow. Well worth catching live, I suspect.

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Finally, ‘Rainbow Crow’ was the album I picked up in the aftermath of that Kozfest performance and probably remains my favourite, as it’s closely aligned to the tone of both Andy Bole performances I’ve seen. These are solo, often multi-layered pieces of length and depth – to say they are drones (a la Daevid Allen) is perhaps a one-dimensional description as they contain beautiful soloing as well as a backdrop of a meditative, hypnotic intensity whether using electric guitar, glissando or bouzouki to set out their main themes. Each colour of the rainbow is represented by a ‘crow’, best of which is ‘Green Crow’, a sublime 14-minute opus.  I struggle to fully analyse why this album (and indeed Andy Bole’s music in general) is so evocatively beautiful, but ultimately I’m not sure I want to – perhaps it’s best to just pull up a chair and enjoy.

https://andybole.bandcamp.com/

http://www.andybole.co.uk

Andy’s latest album Inner Temple, featuring Brian Abbott of the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, and violinist Sally Minchin, is available here https://andybole.bandcamp.com/album/inner-temple