Pip Pyle has an illustrious history in that subset of British pop and jazz fusion called the Canterbury Scene. He was the drummer for both Hatfield and the North and National Health, two ‘70s groups that were defined by clever writing, virtuoso musicianship, strong chemistry and more than a little sense of humour. In recent times he has been visible as the drummer in ex-Hatfield/Health guitarist Phil Miller’s group, In Cahoots, as well as leading his own group, Equip’ Out, and the collaborative Short Wave. In all cases the same basic ingredients continued to manifest themselves, so when word of his latest group, Pip Pyle’s Bash, began to hit the streets, there was certainly cause for eager anticipation.
And why not? To flesh out his new group Pyle enlisted bassist Fred T. Baker, another alumni of In Cahoots; Frenchman Patrice Meyer, who has contributed some fine fusion guitar work to the various groups of ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper; and keyboardist Alex Maguire, last heard gracing some of saxophonist Elton Dean’s more recent work. It seemed as though all the ingredients were there.
Unfortunately gathering a group of fine musicians is not enough. Bash’s début effort, Belle Illusion , suffers from weak writing and a general lack of focus; as strong as the players are, there is nothing for them to sink their musical teeth into. The result is an album of riff-based pieces over which everyone gets ample solo time; all style and no substance.
And it’s a damn shame. As good as each musician is things just never seem to gel. It might be presumptuous to say that they are merely going through the motions; clearly, based on the fact that the group is more than a one-off affair, they feel they have something worth continuing; but the fact of the matter is that Pyle’s writing is simply not good enough. Odd meters abound, skewed harmonies dance every which way, and everyone seems intent on lighting a fire; but they seem to be out of lighter fluid. There is little in the way of memorable melody—form seems to be nothing more than a vehicle to allow the players to get to the solos. But without interesting foundations, the tunes merely meander along with little sense of drama; or humour; or anything resembling emotion.
Pyle cannot be held completely to blame. Each of the other members contribute a composition to the nine-song set; none of them seem to able to inspire anything other than casual interest. Even Maguire’s “John’s Fragment,” with its irregular-metered riff and ascending pattern that grooved along so nicely on Elton Dean’s album, Moorsong , plods along; Pyle and Meyer try to heat things up with some flashy chops; but alas too little, too late. Belle Illusion is nothing if not proof positive that collecting together a crew of individually talented players does not a group make.