Spring Heel Jack: Live

Farrell Lowe By

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From the opening salvo of distorted electric guitar, there is little doubt that the latest release from Spring Heel Jack will be nothing short of a wild bundle of scabrous love. While this album consists of only two live pieces, both over thirty-five minutes long, this notorious group of individuals cover a vast emotional and musical terrain.

This is the third release from Spring Heel Jack (John Coxon and Ashley Wales) on the Thirsty Ear label. After meeting with great success in jungle and electronica in the mid-'90s, they embarked into a new area of interest with their Thirsty Ear material. In 2001 they released a studio album called Masses, which featured American free jazzers improvising along with a startling mish-mash of electronic sound. In 2002 they went back into the studio with European jazz improvisers and worked along similar lines. Again, the fascinating results of pushing free jazz, pop, rock, and electronica genres into an unholy marriage gave a record bubbling over with fresh ideas. Recently, many of the improvisers that appeared on the two albums mentioned above came crashing together with the two members of Spring Heel Jack for a live tour; is the garrulous document of that tour. The results are incendiary!

First, the personnel on this outing. Han Bennink and Evan Parker are well-known and well-worn European improvisers of the first order. Bennink is probably as well-known for his antics in relation to the drum kit as much as he is known for his expression on the surly instrument, but on this recording his playing is what truly shines; he rarely misses a beat and his playing seems genuinely inspired. Parker is known for his impressive otherworldly circular breathing and the continuous flow of music and ideas that result from such breathing techniques, but on this album he reaches back into his bag of memories and pulls out some of the ideas he explored in the '70s with the Globe Unity Orchestra. This is a good thing, adding a contiguous element to the music presented here.

William Parker and Matthew Shipp are both deep in the American side of free improvisation, and both of them continue to redefine their relationship to making music in this context. Shipp chose to play the Fender Rhodes to great effect on this production, and it's a joy to hear how he tackles the often noisy, brackish environment these players introduce. Parker is stalwart as ever, serving as an essential foil to Bennink's rumbling onslaught; without him this ensemble could easily lose direction, but with him they are able to plow along with playful verve.

As guitarists J Spaceman and John Coxon explore the frontiers laid out by the likes of Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, and Sonny Sharrock; Jason Pierce adds layers of textured sound via electronic means. The guitarists often use extended techniques to define and shape the contour of the ensemble.

This music is raw, ballsy, and tons of fun. Every player seems inspired and very happy to be a part of the proceedings. This quality brings a visceral edge to what's happening here. If, on the other hand, you are looking for heads and solos based on harmonic changes, forget it. This ensemble is the bastard child of full-force old school Euro "shut up and drink your beer" improvisation, the more abstract, spacious improvisational forms put forth by the AACM in the '60s, the electronic explorations put forth in the "intuitive" music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the Pete Cosey-era electric bands of Miles Davis. Not a bad kid if you ask me.

This record will challenge your conceptions of what's good and bad, of what's improvisation and what's not, of what's legitimate musical form and what's unacceptable, and—if you're lucky—may just blow yer frickin' mind!

Track Listing: Part 1; Part 2.

Personnel: Han Bennink: drums; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; William Parker: bass; Matthew Shipp: Fender rhodes; J Spaceman: guitar; Spring Heel Jack (John Coxon and Ashley Wales): all other instruments and electronics.

Title: Live | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings


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