In the duo Spring Heel Jack
, electronicist Ashley Wales
experienced working with a range of top-flight saxophonists, including Tim Berne, John Butcher, Evan Parker, John Surman, John Tchicai and Alan Wilkinson. Saxophonist Tony Bevan
and Wales first crossed paths in the quintet Bruise alongside bassist John Edwards, drummer Mark Sanders and percussionist Orphy Robinson (the group name coming from their initials, BREWS = Bruise, geddit?) which recorded a live album with Derek Bailey in August 2004, one of the guitarist's last.
Recorded between 2018 and 2019, and utilising field recordings made by Wales in London, in 2004, and in Cornwall, in 2008, Newton
is a limited-edition LP comprising seven tracks, varying in length from just under two-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half minutes. While Bevan plays soprano, tenor and bass saxophone, he is also featured on alto flute and chromatic, octave & bass harmonicas. On most tracks he sticks to one instrument throughout, his choice of instrument radically affecting the soundscape and mood of a piece. Although Bevan is spotlighted on most tracks, this is a duo of equals, with Wales contributing just as much to the atmosphere of each track as Bevan does, his time in Spring Heel Jack and as occasional conductor of the London Improvisers Orchestra having prepared him well.
Side one is varied, but focuses on Bevan playing saxophones. The album opens to the sound of a typical Wales soundscape, with whistling wind combining with electronic hiss. The sound of Bevan's horn gradually emerges and fits into that environment in a natural, unforced way. The album's longest track, "Dark Journey," begins in a controlled, stately fashion, Bevan teasing a sax phrase repeatedly, with admirable breath control. The latter part of the track is kick-started by a resounding electric guitar chord which instantly raises the energy level, causing Bevan to take off on an animated solo, with Wales' accompanying backdrop framing it perfectly. The side is closed by "Treasure Island" on which Bevan plays bass sax; rather than going all out for power, he opts for control and restraint, only blowing flat out for a short period before again going for mood and atmosphere towards the end.
Side two opens with "Beachcomber," on which Bevan plays subdued harmonica which intermingles with Wales' accompaniment to good effect, creating an easy-going, relaxed ambience; it moves seamlessly into "Gaslight," a showcase for Bevan's solo flute which shares many of the characteristics of his sax playing, including the way he can unpick a phrase and reconstruct it. "Waterfront" is an atmospheric plaintive piece, coloured by Wales' soundscape, with Bevan's flute half submerged at times, a very effective combination. "Snowbound (For Huw)" brings the album to an affecting, subdued end, with controlled emotive sax backed by a simple spacious piano accompaniment.
It is by no means certain that admirers of Wales' and Bevan's past work would instantly recognise everything here as theirs. Nonetheless, from first to last, this album is captivating and we must hope this duo records together again soon.
Odd Man Out; Dark Journey; Treasure Island; Beachcomber; Gaslight; Waterfront; Snowbound (For Huw).
Tony Bevan: chromatic, octave & bass harmonics, alto flute, soprano, tenor and bass saxophones; Ashley Wales: GDJS, Samples, Electronics and field recordings.