After two successful group improv albums—one with American avant gardists and the other with their British counterparts—and a brilliant live album uniting the two, Spring Heel Jack offers creative music fans The Sweetness of the Water,
the group's fourth on Matthew Shipp’s eclectic Blue Series imprint at Thirsty Ear.
The latest release from IDM-cum-free jazz duo Spring Heel Jack brings esteemed trumpeter and vanguard composer Wadada Leo Smith to the mix, along with reedsman and longtime Spring Heel collaborator Evan Parker, fellow Brit John Edwards on bass, and drummer Mark Sanders. The Sweetness of the Water
is a strong offering from John Coxon and Ashley Wales (the masterminds behind Spring Heel Jack), with a more intimate, live feel than the group’s previous electro-heavy efforts. This intimacy is no doubt a product of the group’s exciting trips out of the studio and on the road for a UK tour in 2003.
Parker returns to the Spring Heel mix after contributing to the pair's records since 2000, with his bellowing, screaming sax juxtaposed perfectly by Smith’s Miles-ish trumpet. Smith, hands down one of the most under-recognized voices in jazz’s last thirty years, is rightfully showcased to the fullest extent on Sweetness.
With its gospelized, droning organ and Parker’s testified cries, “Lata” seems ripped from J. Spaceman’s Spiritualized songbook—no wonder that Mr. Spaceman is a friend and collaborator to the Spring Heel lot. This selection is followed by “Duo,” a doodling drum and guitar duet that signifies why this album just isn’t for everyone.
Over an eerie and echoing piano line, Parker and Smith engage in beautiful dialogue on “Track One”—at times they’re screaming at one another, at other times gently whispering, interjecting or offering guidance to each other's improvisational explorations. This tune is simply wonderful, emphasizing that under-recognized adjective attributed to Mr. Smith above.
While not SHJ's best work on the Blue Series (that would be 2000’s Masses
), The Sweetness of the Water
is no less exciting or provocative. This electro-acoustic jazz offering should please most fans of creative improvisation but leave the followers of Matthew Shipp’s funk-friendly free jazz looking for somewhere else to jam.