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Matthew Herbert, the London-based music visionary, has recorded under the monikers Wishmountain, Radio Boy, and Doctor Rockit. Here, as "Herbert," he offers the remarkable Bodily Functions, an album that at once exemplifies the new trend called "electro-acoustic" music and yet seems to occupy a genre all its own. Blending piano, woodwinds, strings, house-music beats, musique-concrete samples, and the sultry vocals of Dani Siciliano, Herbert doggedly observes Article One of his Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (PCCOM): "The use of sounds that exist already... is not allowed." (Only eight of the 14 tracks are composed in strict accordance with the Contract. Check out www.matthewherbert.com for complete text of the Contract, along with lots of other poetic, political, and often bleakly humorous copy.)
For straight-ahead jazzers, who tend to insist on the importance of tradition, of sounds that already exist, Herbert’s radical views are likely to be an irritant. In this regard one should note that the word preceding "contract" is "personal": this is what is important to Herbert, but it’s not necessarily an attempt to invalidate other kinds of music. (Article Three, however, is an implicit rebuke to the superficial hip-pop of Sean Combs and his ilk: "The sampling of other people’s music is strictly forbidden.") That said, Herbert is clearly a person of strong opinions, and very serious about getting his anti-mainstream message across.
Herbert’s songs (and they are rightly called songs) do inevitably make reference to sounds and grooves that have come before. But on a literal level he keeps his word, relentlessly editing and filtering his sources to birth new sonic worlds. Even on acoustic, jazz-oriented tunes like "I Know," "The Last Beat," and "On Reflection," there are novel things going on in terms of production, things you’d never hear on a straight jazz record. In addition to the live instruments and electronic beats, Herbert samples such tactile, real-world phenomena as human blood flow and digestive noise, laser eye surgery, a mouse trying to climb out of a garbage can, and the rustling contents of a handbag. This is what makes Herbert’s music refreshing and even thrilling: there’s really no way of anticipating what you’re about to hear.
Track Listing: 1. You
Personnel: Matthew Herbert, piano, Rhodes, bass guitar, violin, samples, arrangements; Dani Siciliano, vocals; Peter Wraight, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, trumpet, flute, arrangements; John Matthias, violin; Shingai Shoniwa, vocals, vocal samples; Phil Parnell, piano, Rhodes, piano samples; Dave Green, bass; Paul Clarvis, drums; Luca Santucci, vocals; Jim Mullen, guitar