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At the turn of this new century the duo of John Coxon and Ashley Wales, know as Spring Heel Jack took the words to heart of Jeffrey Lebowski, commonly known as "the dude" when he proclaimed, "this aggression will not stand, man!" The pair turned from their hyper-programmed drum 'n' bass origins to a ground breaking free jazz-meets-ambient style. With Songs And Themes their reputation as master organizers is articulated to near perfection.
While they have taken up instruments; Coxon the guitar, violin and bass and Wales has played various horns and guitars on previous albums, these two act more as producers or as a co-movie directors. On the previous Masses (2001), Amassed (2002), Live (2003), and The Sweetness Of The Water (2004) they collaborated with the jazz and free improvisation superstars, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, William Parker, Tim Berne, and Paul Rutherford, to name a just a few. These combinations could never have been realized without the vision of the progressive label Thirsty Ear's chiefs Peter Gordon and Matthew Shipp, whose mission is to steer jazz back into conversation with today's musical happenings.
Their music is a combination of Teo Macero meets Brian Eno and Tetsu Inoue's house. The story revealed is Coxon and Wales' combinations of players. They pair the majestic saxophonist John Tchicai to play over waves of string washes on the track "Dereks" and devise a soundscape (reminiscent of Eno's ambient 1970's work) on "With Out Words" in which John Edwards' bass and the breath of Roy Campbell's trumpet sound more overtly human powered than they might in a strictly acoustic setting.
The dreaminess of their production includes a chamber flute recital, "Eupen," a shreddy guitar visit by J. Spaceman, "1,000 Yards," the luxurious "At Long Last," complete with sampled harp and some lurking bass clarinet by Tchicai, plus some added radio interference. No grand gestures here (i.e. aggression) except for maybe the closing track "Garlands," that features Roy Campbell's trumpet in a sort of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti scored prelude to a shootout, complete with some whistling sounds.
What is admirable is the patience displayed here, the lack of onslaught, and the sounds of master improvising into the ether.
Track Listing: Church Music; Dereks; With Out Words; Eupen; For Paul Rutherford; Folk Players; Silvertone; Claraa; 1,000 Yards; Antiphon; At Long Last; Garlands.
Personnel: Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, flute; John Coxon: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, sampler, violin, glockenspiel; John Edwards: double bass; Tony Marsh: drums; Orphy Robinson: vibraphone; John Tchicai: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Ashley Wales: samples; J. Spaceman:
electric guitar; Rupert Clervaux: drums; Mark Sanders: drums.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.