Phil Minton Quartet: Slur (2007)
Phil Minton is virtually alone in blazing a trail for the male vocalist in freely improvised music and this is one of his very infrequent outings as a group leader. In his notes for the accompanying booklet he refers to having toyed with the idea of singing words on this disc. The fact that he could apparently see no point in doing so might just be the thing that makes this music so successful, as the intrusion of words might only have rendered earthbound music that occupies a far more nebulous, more intriguing place.
The subversion of the setting of vocalist with accompanying trio is also greatly significant, and to hear the likes of "A Bit More is to hear the work of a vocalist more attuned to the idea of being a part of a greater musical whole rather than one egotistical enough to command centre-stage. All the members of the quartet confirm here just how conversant and fluent they are in the language of free play, and the dynamics produced accordingly are nothing if not unique.
Anyone who welcomes the downright unexpected is similarly in for a treat on "Lower Down, where saxophonist John Butcher offers up ample evidence of just how much ground he's covered in his journey of sonic exploration and Roger Turner teases out the possibilities when a percussionist uses an augmented range of materials. The results are both evidence of an integrated group whole and, on a level equally fundamental, a meeting of minds.
"Far Off finds Minton coming as close as he ever does to verbal communication, but even here it's only in the form of single syllables, half-formed words or perhaps the sounds of some impromptu language he invented in the moment. With pianist Veryan Weston's contribution the devil would seem to be in the detail, not least because of the skill with which he teases out lines and sounds, sparing in the application of both where he could have been bombastic.
"Back is an exercise in contrast with much of the music on offer here, as it has about it an air of almost claustrophobic brooding. Minton explores his lower register and again the others prove just how skilled they are in an avoidance of the obvious that's far from studied. They produce small filigrees of sound and Minton, in the setting this evokes, again hints at known language at around the four-minute mark; his avoidance of it is more than welcome
It's probably no kind of aid at all to highlight just how far removed from the tried and trusted this music is. This does not however alter the fact that the practitioners of it have to be every bit as skilled in what they do as musicians working in any other field. This quartet is made up of four such practitioners, and their efforts result in music that's meat and drink for the adventurously minded.
Track Listing: Almost There; Lower Down; Higher; A Bit More; Far Off; Closer; Back; Length.
Personnel: Phil Minton: voice; John Butcher: soprano and tenor saxophones; Veryan Weston: piano; Roger Turner: percussion.