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The Spontaneous Music Ensemble lineup of drummer/cornetist John Stevens and soprano saxophonist Trevor Watts can, for countless reasons, serve as the template against which many another freely improvising duo can be gauged. That's an especially pertinent point with Reduced, as multi-instrumentalists Sylvia Hallett and Mike Adcock have fashioned a dialog every bit as rarefied as the one that Stevens and Watts created. Not even the highly residual influence of late period John Coltranethat was, by a stretch of the imagination, detectable in that ensemble's workcomes through here. The results are extraordinary.
The presence of the accordion underlines that point, in no small part. The cryptically titled "Strange Power! I trust they might" finds the instrument rearing out of a swell of noisenot so much white as mid-greysimultaneously soothing yet shot through with palpable unease. If this was music of the sea, then the water would be teeming with marine life beyond imagining.
"Notched like harps" is music for a story yet to be written, but this duo's imagination is such that they'll probably write it sooner or later. Adcock's guitar playing has a kind of folksy edge, which inspires thoughts of country folk enthralled to age-old customs, the like of which have no longer have a place in the "civilized" world, while Hallett conjures approximations of whale songs from her violin.
"Try turning it upside down" might well be very practical advice, but in music like this practicality is probably the last thing needed. Again, there's a folksy quality, this time via Hallett's violin, but as much as anything else this is not music so easily nailed. Being quite unlike anything elseeven some of the rest of the programensures that the music has to be dealt with on its own terms, and that could involve a considerable mental workout in itself.
"We drank in great houses" is as private as anything, music the likes of which might seem almost voyeuristic. That privilege, however, yields singular dividends in the approximate forms of clangorous strings and dead sounds. As ever, the resulting dialog is animatedits motives veiledwith the close of the piece coming arbitrarily.
"Shudder to think" doesn't so much close things out as offer a last thought before the closing of figurative doors. The next chapterif indeed there is onecan only be something else again.
Track Listing: Gewgaws; Leaning on a lamprey; From across the tracks; Strange Power! I trust thy might; Only tulle; Notched like harps; Betty Martin; Silent is the house; Try turning it upside down; We drank in great houses; Shudder to think.
Personnel: Sylvia Hallett: violin, saw, bicycle wheel, lentils, FX pedals, voice. Mike Adcock: accordion, guitar, autoharp, marble chute, percussion.
Year Released: 2010
| Record Label: The Orchestra Pit Recording Company
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.