Spring Heel Jack: Live (2003)
John Coxon and Ashley Wales, aka Spring Heel Jack, extend their Thirsty Ear tenure into a trilogy with the release of Live. Their heady blend of wild electronica and free jazz collided with American improvisers on Massed, and their European counterparts on Amassed. Members from each project join forces to form the live group with genre killing results. There’s a taste of prog rock, particularly Soft Machine, and for sheer density electric Miles Davis circa 1974.
But don’t file under “retro,” especially with the likes of Evan Parker, Han Bennink, William Parker, and Matthew Shipp along for the mission, even with the latter playing Fender Rhodes. Over the course of two tracks clocked past 35 minutes each, they rage, rave, and whisper. Leaving no sonic stone unturned, everyone gets plenty of room to make their point.
Beginning with fuzz-toned guitar that would make the Electric Prunes envious, the ensemble raises its respective voices as Han Bennink and William Parker build momentum. Evan Parker creates melody through the haze of ambient electronics and noise guitar until they reach a fierce pitch. When the dust clears, Parker and Bennink continue their rapid renegade rhythms as Spiritualized’s J. Spaceman plays some cool clear guitar. They drop down to Shipp’s tangy Rhodes and a quiet flute solo. Bennink and Shipp pick the pace back up for an extended Evan Parker tenor solo, with another player (Wm Parker?) blowing a double reed instrument of Eastern origin. Swinging back to the yin, Parker’s sax plays a gentle interlude with the effervescent rhythm section eventually nudging him to medium tempo, wrapped in sizzling electric effects.
Like the rise and fall of waves, the music gracefully rolls and changes. William Parker bows evocatively, along with a simple figure on acoustic piano, and warm introspective work by Evan Parker. The piece ends peacefully with Bennink, W. Parker, and Shipp drifting into the night.
The second track, “Pt.2,” which was recorded the night before “Pt.1,” starts with Bennink’s crackling rim work. W.Parker joins the chase on bass and after about eight minutes of their playful workout, the ensemble returns with pin-you-to-the-wall intensity. The tempo eases but the shredding electronics prevail. Shipp’s trademark compressed minor chords set the stage for E.Parker’s tenor meditation, with synths and guitars slipping in and out like cricket song. W.Parker and Bennink set a medium tempo jazz groove in motion, Shipp contributes sparser chords, and E.Parker runs through a landscape framed by jagged sonic bursts and scratches. About halfway through the 38-minute track these players settle into the simple contemplative sequence that caps the piece. E.Parker and the guitars relentlessly improvise fields of sound while W.Parker’s melodic inventions wear up and down the neck of his instrument
Despite the many comparisons, there’s really nothing quite like the work of this marauding touring unit. If only Rocco could book them for a night...
Track Listing: Pt.1; Pt.2
Personnel: Han Bennink, drums; Evan Parker, tenor saxophone; William Parker, bass; Matthew Shipp, Fender Rhodes piano; J. Spaceman, guitar; John Coxon and Ashley Wales (Spring Heel Jack), all other instruments.