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Spoonhunt's First CD Releases

John Eyles By

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Like the notorious London buses, with musician-run independent record labels, you wait ages for one to arrive and then two come along together. Just as punters were welcoming N.O. Moore's new dx/dy label, along comes the first batch of releases on bassist Dominic Lash's charmingly-named Spoonhunt label. To be fair, Spoonhunt is not totally new. Since April 2015, it has been issuing downloadable recordings via Bandcamp. The label's first three CD releases were recorded live at London's Café Oto. Spoonhunt and dx/dy both have impressive, eye-catching cover art. So far, each label's proprietor appears on all of their releases in a variety of settings.

All of which raises the question, what would happen if Moore and Lash ever recorded together as a duo?

Dominic Lash Quartet
Limulus
Spoonhunt
2021

Spoonhunt's CD catalog kicks off in fine style with a January 2019 recording featuring Lash's long-running Anglo-Spanish quartet with alto saxophonist Ricardo Tejero and drummer Javier Carmona joining Lash on bass and Alex Ward on electric guitar. The four were heard together on Extremophile (Iluso, 2017), a live 2016 recording from Bristol University. Unlike that album, all compositions and arrangements on Limulus are credited to Lash. The six tracks display the variety and eclecticism of the bassist's compositions, none more so than the opening two. The rock-inflected "Alexithymia" provides ample opportunities for solos fully exploited by both Ward and Tejero. On the far mellower "Cylindrical," all four players meander together with their contributions fitting like pieces of a jigsaw.

"From a Theme by F.S." borrows from Schubert's Piano Sonata in A Major (D.959) while "Isthmus" reworks the Lash composition that opened the quartet's first album, Opabinia (Babel, 2013). The closing "Improvisation/Structures," the gig's encore, sounds largely improvised.

Although such diversity might suggest a disjointed album, the music stays coherent in the hands of this quartet. As onetime member Alexander Hawkins says in his eloquent sleeve notes, "Dominic Lash has no 'usual' musical terrain, and this fact is entirely compatible with an unequivocal, clear and honest musical vision, s Limulus fully attests."

Consorts
Distinctions
Spoonhunt
2021

In contrast to the other releases on Spoonhunt, Distinctions comprises one 46-minute realization of Lash's title piece performed by the 20-member ensemble Consorts. Lash formed Consorts on January 13, 2020, to mark his fortieth birthday, making it the largest group he had assembled at the time. Although Consorts or smaller subsets have made occasional live appearances, this is the ensemble's first album release. The instrumentation leans towards reeds and strings with piano, harmonium, synths and electronics but no kit drummer. Amusingly, Seth Cooke is credited with playing steel sink and metal detector.

As always with large ensembles of improvising musicians, the primary objective is to avoid clutter or chaos while including all ensemble members. As well as ticking all those boxes, Lash's composition stands up well to repeated plays. With the leader's bass, two cellos, three bass clarinets and two baritone saxophones in the ranks, it is no surprise that Consorts' playing tends towards the low end and sustained notes, creating a dense, subtly evolving foundation for its soundscape. The evolving nature of the music can be a mixed blessing. On the plus side, there is never a dull moment, and the music stays fresh throughout its duration. On the debit side, every so often Consorts produces a tantalizing phrase that promises to lead somewhere exciting but gets left behind as the music evolves: a beautiful tease. As Consorts' first album, this is very successful.

Butcher / Lash /Russell / Sanders
Discernment
Spoonhunt
2021

Recorded on the same night as Distinctions, Discernment includes guitarist John Russell, who passed away in January 2021. By January 2020, Russell knew that cancer would eventually kill him. Sadly, Covid-19 and the pandemic lockdown meant that he did not get to play much in front of live audiences in his final year, instead appearing electronically, notably in his monthly Mopomoso program. That makes this album one of Russell's last live concert appearances.

Fortunately, he was in the company of saxophonist John Butcher (with whom he first collaborated in the mid '80s) as well as the impressive duo of Lash on bass and Mark Sanders on drums—a well-balanced and mutually compatible quartet. Across the album's 40 minutes, all four display the individual styles that make them instantly recognizable and skills as improvisers that make the foursome greater than the sum of its parts. The result is first-rate group improvisation.

Spoonhunt's first three CDs auger well for the label's future.

Tracks and Personnel

Limulus

Tracks: Alexithymia; Cylindrical; Dactyloscopy; From a Theme by F.S.; Isthmus; Improvisation/Structures.

Personnel: Javier Carmona: drums, percussion; Dominic Lash: double bass; Ricardo Tejero: alto saxophone; Alex Ward: electric guitar.

Distinctions

Tracks: Distinctions.

Personnel: Douglas Benford: harmonium, percussion; Steve Beresford: electronics; Marjolaine Charbin: piano; Chris Cundy: bass clarinet; Seth Cooke: steel sink, metal detector; Angharad Davies: viola; Phil Durrant: modular synth; Matthew Grigg: guitar, amplifier; Bruno Guastalla: cello; Martin Hackett: Korg MS10; Tim Hill: baritone saxophone; Tina Hitchens: flute; Sarah Hughes: zither; Mark Langford: bass clarinet; Dominic Lash: double bass; Yvonna Magda: violin; Hannah Marshall: cello; Helen Papaioannou: baritone saxophone; Yoni Silver: bass clarinet; Alex Ward: clarinet, amplifier.

Discernment

Tracks: Discerning 1; Discerning 2; Discerning 3; Discerned.

Personnel: John Butcher: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Dominic Lash: double bass; John Russell: guitar; Mark Sanders: drums, percussion.

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