Posts Tagged ‘Gateway’

The cover illustration of Queensland guitarist/composer Toby Wren’s new trio album Black Mountain at first seems an incongruous choice. An epic 1760 painting (de Louthenbourg’s ‘A Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast’)­, its mannered classicism seems at odds with the angular modernism of the music within.

But it is not the subject, nor the treatment, of this painting that fits; it is the colour palette. Wren’s compositions are rendered in these olives, aubergines and purple-blacks, with shots of mustard and saffron – and even a window of lilac/sky-blue here and there.

Toby Wren 2

His trio ­– Wren together with bassist Andrew Shaw and Chris Vale on ‘drum set’ ­– render all the complex colours of these unique compositions beautifully, considering the limited instrumental palette at hand.

Equally, Wren uses little on his guitar bar some mild dirt and amp colours. The tough ‘Bedroom for Improvement’ reminds of Larry Coryell’s musclular trio albums from a few years back, with their distortion and backbeat.

But in the main, Black Mountain brings up fond recollections of the great Abercrombie/Holland/DeJohnnette 1975 album Gateway. Which is not to say it is not its own animal; the good vibes between the players, the sense of adventure, and the push/pull between soloist and ground are what brought the comparison to mind. Toby Wren 1

Wren’s collection, though, has the added dimension of post-rock ­– something unthought of in ’75. ‘An Unbearable Weight’s recipe of flowing/floating arpeggios (with flashes of silvery harmonics), bowed bass and skittering drums takes Black Mountain out of the jazz ballpark. Just as with ‘Sevens’ and its sister piece ‘Sixes’ – both creating shimmering rhythmic lattices of the titular time-signatures which, as the pieces evolve, work against and within that rhythm.

Wren’s guitar approach – as with his compositions – draws on jazz, rock (pre- and post-), blues and anything else that his mill needs to grist (he is a student of the Carnatic music of India; check the multituplet clusters in ‘Guitargam’). There is the rolling blues of opener ‘An Epic Rock’; the pleasingly plump be-bop of ‘Black Mountain Resolve’ (and the minimal 34 second solo guitar haiku of its sister, the title track ‘Black Mountain’); the unhinged guitar solo of ‘Sirens’; and the lovely lullaby of album closer ‘Sentimental Old Thing’.

Black Mountain is a unique and rewarding listen; all the more for its sparseness of means: the invention demanded by, and apt interpretation of these pieces would test any group, but Wren and his men seem never to be anything but entirely at ease here.

Take a listen. It is great music – whatever its colour.

Advertisements

 

Tasmanian guitarist Julius Schwing has recorded a love letter to an isthmus.

The Neck is a narrow band of land on Bruny Island and Schwing has drawn on years of living with The Neck – and with all its moods ­­– to create edge2:isthmus as part of a collaboration with visual artists for MONA FOMA 2016.

He has absorbed the spirit and the magic of the Neck into his own body and released it as music using the sparest of means: the traditional jazz guitar trio of guitar, acoustic bass and drums. It needs nothing else to convey everything he needs to say.

Isthmus2Schwing writes: “When standing at the Neck I see/hear the environment along a pitch scale. Or a colour scale.”

As well as being about this unique formation specifically, edge2:isthmus seems to be about nature. It is also about man as part of nature, paradoxically fighting and hurting the thing he is has an inextricable link to.

‘From Within The Car Of A Comfortable Tourist’ bounces with a West African gait, almost comically depicting said Tourist, who I bet stays in his car, snapping away with his iPhone (great bass solo from Nick Haywood here).

‘They’re Gonna Seal The Road’ is a minor Spaghetti Western blues – an ‘agonised lament for the gravel road’, a weep for a small paradise, and its ‘prettiness’, paved over.

But, away from the anger, it is Schwing’s affirming pieces that make this album for me.

Opener ‘From Above’ ululates like wings, like a propeller as we rise into the sky and look down upon The Neck. ‘The Isthmus Exists’ is a statement of the nature of nature: change comes and goes, nature always is; The Isthmus Is.

‘Neck Nocturnal’ (based, it says here, on Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’) is Schwing painting The Neck after dark. It is lively – ‘I feel The Neck sleeps during the day and only comes alive at night’ – its guitar/bass/drums dance bringing to mind the great organic spark of John Abercrombie with Jack deJohnette and Dave Holland on ‘Gateway’ and other 70’s ECMs.Isthmus1

Last track ‘Quaternary Rage’ has the sound of anger – low growling guitar, squalling squealing bass, pulverised pulverising drums (drummer Alf Jackson, so sensitively intelligent on all other tracks, brutally storming here) – but it is not about anger, it is about natural power. It is the force of a roiling boiling storm blitzing The Neck from all sides – ‘the sand gets pushed around by all the elements’. This is nature grinding away, smashing and reshaping itself, with itself.

The most affecting piece on edge2:isthmus is ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’ – simply a restatement of the ‘Neck Nocturne’ theme played solo by Schwing. Solo, yet not solo – he is accompanied by the wind, and the soughing waves of The Neck itself. ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’ is recorded on the beach en plein air. It is a reminder that the wind of the Neck, the waves, the sand, the weeds, the millions of one-celled sand dwellers and the birds of the air are as much musical contributors to edge2:isthmus as are Schwing, Jackson and Haywood.

Listen and let The Neck surround and wash over you. You won’t hear anything like edge2:isthmus this year or any other past or future.

edge2:isthmus is available from Isthmus Music at www.isthmus-music.com