Ben Neill: Night Science (2009)
Miles Davis certainly smiled on musical innovations. Years ago, to keep up with the latest, all that was required was to check out what the late trumpeter was investigating. With Miles gone, the hunt maybe a bit more difficult, but then again Peter Gordon's Thirsty Ear label, under the creative direction of pianist Matthew Shipp, has been a leader in bringing innovation and ingenuity into an intersection with the jazz world.
Enter trumpeter Ben Neill. Actually, reenter Ben Neill. He hasn't been heard from since his album of music commissioned by Volkswagen, Automotive (Six Degrees, 2002). His return should be celebrated along with the reemergence of trumpeter Jon Hassell; the two artists having spawned the trumpet and electronics experimentations of Arve Henriksen, Erik Truffaz, and Nils Petter Molvaer.
A veteran of the ambient, illbient, and drum 'n' bass scenes, Neill has been making music for film, television, stage, galleries and museums. Night Science showcases his updated mutantrumpet, a hybrid trumpet/electronic device he first introduced in 1984. He is able to generate percussion and synthesizer textures on this multi-bell horn. The remarkable creation, refined in 2004 at STEIM studios in Amsterdam, allows for greater expression and control by Neill.
His entry point here is the music phenomenon of dubstep, a bass-heavy dub reggae that was invented in the UK, but has taken on a new life in the New York electronic scene. Neill's version meshes beats with his talent for ambient soundscapes and of course that trumpet sound. The nighttime eeriness of "afterimage" is juxtaposed with the blips and beats of Neill's drum machine, but it's impossible to escape the sinister nature of his narrative. Likewise, "Outlands" is heard over a rainfall backdrop and some heavy Bill Laswell-inspired bass. The effect is dense and honest without losing its subtlety. The dub in dubstep, heard on "Alpha Dub" and "Monochromatic," emphasizes echoes and reverb as the dialogue. But deeper listening reveals an underlying narrative and Neill's a serious storyteller.
If he were around today, Miles would unequivocally be picking up on what Ben Neill's is laying down.
Track Listing: Futura; Afterimage; Gaugear; Outlands; Menace Ultimo; Hearthrob; Monochromatic; Alpha Dub; Booster; Hudsonic.
Personnel: Ben Neill: mutantrumpet.