With a simple but ambitious premise the Jazz Outreach Project, a concept financed by the Arts Council England, commissioned by the Brighton Jazz Club, and given a vehicle for release by Antony Durrant and Nick Belcher of UK's Symbol Records, solicited some of the UK's most forward-reaching musicians to create works that would incorporate current technology into a jazz context. The resulting album, Digital Directions , is as diverse as one would expect, yet it manages to maintain a focus throughout nine richly varied compositions. A host of artists, well-known to jazz fans in the UK, contribute distinctly personal takes on how to use the latest innovations in sound processing in a more improvisation-based context. Compilations are often a hit-and-miss affair, and while some tracks work better than others, the entire disc is surprisingly successful.
Take Partisan's "Thing," led by saxophonist Julian Siegel. Starting with a free section that shimmers with sampled sounds while drummer Gene Calderazzo solos feverishly over a simple, periodically repeated motif, Siegel soon enters with a rapid bass clarinet figure that signals the emergence of a rhythmic pattern that brings to mind some of Steve Coleman's M-Base material and, in particular, the American group Lost Tribe. While the piece remains largely structured, there is plenty of room for Siegel to blend solos along with guitarist Phil Robson.
Saxophonist Iain Ballamy's contribution, "Varkla," is, not surprisingly, one of the most creatively intriguing pieces on the disc, coming from a player who has evolved over the past twenty years into one of the most advanced musical thinkers in Britain. With its Indian inflection, Ballamy layers tenor and soprano saxophones, also creating percussion by hitting the pads of the horn and a remarkable facsimile of a thumb piano by using the springs. That every sound on this hypnotic, trance-like piece is created solely on saxophone is astonishing.
The rest of the programme is equally broad. Drummer Martin France's Spin Marvel begins "Cyclorama" with ambient noise and electronic drums; the piece evolves into a dark and brooding piece with John Paricelli's tremolo guitar lending an off-kilter Western texture. Baritone saxophonist Tony Kofi, on the other hand, uses "Calling Miss Baugh" to fashion a hip-hop-meets-Jimmy Smith piece of soul jazz. Gary Husband, with an eye to electric Miles, creates a dark funk, with layers of synthesizers establishing the groove, building layers of textural colour and creating forward solo motion. Julian Arguelles' "Cactus Jam" opens in a contemplative fashion, with layers of saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and recorder ultimately building into an outgoing, free-flowing improvisation that finishes the record on a more liberated note.
While artists including Nils Petter Molvaer, Eivind Aarset and Bugge Wesseltoft define their distinctly Norwegian take on the integration of technology, it's interesting to see what other locales have to offer. Less "techno" and more imbued with the spirit of the jazz tradition, Digital Directions is, nevertheless, a project with forward motion, asserting that technology can be integrated into jazz in a natural, organic way.
Track Listing: Thing; Varkala; Cyclorama; Calling Miss Baugh; Triptych; Sulley; The Devil Sings; Convocation; Cactus Jam
Personnel: On "Thing": Julian Siegel (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, live sampling), Phil Robson (guitar), Thaddeus Kelly (electric bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums) On "Varkala": Iain Ballamy (tenor and soprano saxophones) On "Cyclorama": Martin France (drums, electronic drums, programming, sequencing), Tim Harries (bass), John Paricelli (guitar), Terje Evensen (additional programming and sequencing) On "Calling Miss Baugh": Toni Kofi (baritone saxophone), Anders Olinder (Hammond organ) On "Triptych (3 accidents after Francis Bacon)": Ed Jones (soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, piano, drum loops, field recordings, samples) On Sulley (for Jack)": Gary Husband (Korg Trinity V3 pro workstation, drums, samples) On "The Devil Sings (Again and Again, in the Jungle)": Gilad Atzmon (soprano saxophone), Frank Harrison (keyboards), Oli Hayhurst (double-bass), Asaf Sirkis (drums), Brian Neil (guitar), Joe de Jesus (trumpet), Kobi Israelite (remixing) On "Convocation": Byron Wallen (trumpet, keyboards, samples, beat programming), Richard Ajileye (percussion) On "Cactus Jam": Julian Arguelles (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, recorders), Thad Kelly (electric bass, electronics, Gene Calderazzo (drums)