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Somersaults: Numerology Of Birdsong

John Sharpe By

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Without fanfare, the rhythm section of bassist Olie Brice and drummer Mark Sanders has become one of the UK's premier engine-rooms for free improvisation. That's borne out by association with not only the great reedman Tobias Delius, perhaps best known for his tenure in the ICP Orchestra, but also players as diverse as Polish reedman Mikolaj Trzaska and British saxophonist Rachel Musson. Both Brice and Sanders enjoy an almost telepathic communication, which enables handbrake turns and smooth accelerations, juxtaposed with juddering halts and sudden silences, all in the spark of a synapse.

That vivacious quality also typifies Delius, which results in a particularly fluid and empathetic threesome. For their second release, under the banner of Somersaults, following on from the eponymous debut (Two Rivers Records, 2015), they have selected five conversational collective navigations from a concert recorded at London's Iklectik in June 2018.

With his oddly askew phrasing, delivered with speech like inflections, supplemented by vocal grunts and explosions, Delius sounds like no-one else. His train of thought is subject to constant modulation, giving rise to curious tangents and unpursued asides. At times he projects a sensuous breathiness, as if Ben Webster had decided to take up improv. He avoids gratuitous overblowing, preferring instead muffled tones, false fingering and sparing multiphonics. His chirruping clarinet, heard on the opening "Seek Stillness In Movement" makes the bird-themed titles seem all the more apposite.

Delius' checks and pauses produce lots of space, engendering a transparent and rounded group identity. Brice in particular benefits, showcasing incisive counterpoint and rhythmic acumen along with timbral imagination, manifest especially in the way he incorporates both angular bowed playing and sinewy pizzicato into his lines. His unhurried playing is one of the distinctive hallmarks of this trio. Sanders provides another. One of the fixtures of the London scene, he juggles meter and tone color in daredevil fashion.

The album contains so many passages of wonderful synchronicity that it seems unfair to highlight just one. But when Brice's churning arco, Sanders' bowed cymbals and Delius' frayed tenor saxophone splutterings all deliciously oscillate around the same pitch at the close of "Thisteltuige," it creates a spine tingling moment. Happily there are many more to be found across this disc crammed full of quicksilver expression and natural, breathing lines.

Track Listing: Seek Stillness In Movement; Numerology Of Birdsong; Turdidae; Thisteltuige; A Probable Warbler.

Personnel: Olie Brice: double bass; Tobias Delius: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mark Sanders: drums.

Title: Numerology Of Birdsong | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: West Hill Records

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