Badland: The Society of the Spectacle

John Eyles By

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Badland is an occasional trio which has now been recording for over a decade. The Society of the Spectacle, recorded in 2003, is the group's third album, the previous two having been released on Simon H. Fell's own Bruce's Fingers label.

Simon Rose provides the sleeve notes here, a series of pithy one-liners that sketch out the group ethos—for instance, "Sometimes improvisers with limited experience play poignant performances. Whether this is intended to refer to Rose himself is unclear; while Fell and Steve Noble are typical improvising musicians in that each is a member of a considerable number of occasional groups, Rose is far more elusive, seemingly only playing and recording as part of this trio. He can certainly play poignantly, as he demonstrates right from the first notes of the opener, "Kittiwake, on which his long, arching phrases dominate. By contrast, "Elka opens with all three players exchanging rapid-fire, staccato phrases but evolves into them playing close to the threshold of audibility. (This is interesting in the light of Emanem proprietor Martin Davidson's recent comments that "New London Silence —a five/six year-old description recently revived because of an article in The Wire—actually has its roots back in the '70s.)

Two versions of the title track are as close to free jazz as this trio gets. Fell and Rose could maybe lead you to believe it, with the saxophonist roaring at times like a man possessed. The dead giveaway is Noble; his drumming is improv (in your face, rock-tinged improv, at that), not the cymbal-driven pulse of the avant-garde. Yes, it is the 21st Century, not the '60s!

Another of Rose's one-liners best summarises the pleasure of listening to Badland at its best: "Some of the best contributions to improvised music have been made by people not playing. The threesome often display a sense of subtlety and restraint; there is no hint of them trying to outdo each other, of trumping each other's aces. Rather, they listen and respond appropriately. As often as not, the appropriate response is to do little or nothing, giving the music a refreshing openness and a welcome sense of space.

Track Listing: Kittiwake; Elka; Society of the Spectacle (part 2); Nissa; Society of the Spectacle (part 1); Mia; Snipe; Reeds in the Western World.

Personnel: Simon Rose: alto saxophone; Simon H. Fell: double bass; Steve Noble: percussion.

Title: The Society of the Spectacle | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Emanem


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