Spring Heel Jack: Live (2003)
Spring Heel Jack, in the persona of John Coxon and Ashley Wales, has found the right formula in marrying billowing electronics to traditional musical instruments. The equation has changed in terms of musicians from last year's Amassed , but the results have not been watered down. Gone are Kenny Wheeler and Paul Rutherford, and George Trebar has made way for William Parker.
The tracks run over 35 minutes and 39 minutes respectively, which makes for easier assimilation in a live setting than a recorded one. But give it to the band: there is nary a moment that these players let slip by as they keep communication going through shifts of mood and tempo and a clever sense of aural shading.
The buildup is gradual on “Part I,” a sense of dynamics pervading the atmosphere as the guitar melds into the strains of the Fender Rhodes, and then electronics, percussion, drums pave the avenue for the tenor sax, which gradually but surely navigates the open spaces in coiling lines. Parker brings in a broad sweltering tone on the saxophone, the setting just right for the stout ministrations that are his hallmark. The din swelters and erupts, but even as it does in the heated animation of the instruments and of the machines, the weave that does not dangle any loose strands. If there is one particular passage that elevates the whole, it is the mating of the tenor and the creation of the sound of a shehnai, the two singing in mesmerising tandem. And there is as well a beautiful moment of calm that floats across on the gentle strains of a flute.
Bennink shows the percussive side of his considerable skills as a drummer when he opens “Part II” and then locks in with Parker on the bass in a most exhilarating dialogue. The explosion comes around the 8:30 mark in a welter of electronics and the tenor, but the mood changes quickly as Parker begins to swing, taking Bennink and William Parker along for the jaunt over and across the electronic squeals that form the backdrop. The tune breaks around the halfway mark and resumes in a more pronounced and deliberate movement. Music and sound evolve and revolve around each other, the integration of the elements a smooth clasp. Clash and clang, hot grooves and cool, dissonance and structure, swing and vibrant textures all add up to an intriguing experience.
Track Listing: Part I; Part II
Personnel: Han Bennink