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Dominic Lash / Alex Ward - Appliance Rating: 3-5 out of 5 These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level.

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward

“Appliance”

(Vector Sounds VS016)

The multi-instrumentalist Alex Ward has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages in recent years. This is largely due to his regular visits to the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, one of my regular jazz haunts and a venue that adopts an adventurous approach to contemporary improvised music.

Events at the ‘freer’ end of the jazz spectrum are co-ordinated by locally based saxophonist Lyndon Owen and leading practitioners of the genre including saxophonists Alan Wilkinson and Trevor Watts plus the international improv ‘super-group’ Tony Joe Bucklash have all played at the pub, the last named comprising of Tony Bevan on saxes, Joe Morris on guitar, Dominic Lash on double bass and Necks drummer Tony Buck on drum kit and all manner of percussion.


London based Ward is a truly remarkable instrumentalist exhibiting an astonishing degree of expertise on both the clarinet and the electric guitar. His music inhabits the hinterland where composed and fully improvised music meet, although he’s generally regarded as being a “free” player following an apprenticeship that included playing clarinet alongside the late, great guitar improviser Derek Bailey.

Ward started out as a clarinettist, only taking up the guitar in the year 2000 at the age of twenty six. Influenced by Bailey he is now an extremely accomplished guitarist and an inspired improviser who performs on his “second instrument” in groups such as his own Predicate and the powerhouse improvising trio N.E.W. which pits his guitar against the rhythmic “tag team” of drummer Steve Noble and double bassist John Edwards. Ward has recorded more frequently as a clarinettist but it’s as a guitarist that I know him best having witnessed two live performances by the Predicate quartet, featuring Lash, saxophonist Tim Hill, and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders, at the Queen’s Head in 2012 and 2014. 

I’ve since reviewed Predicate’s two albums, the eponymous 2012 début and its 2014 follow up “Nails”. I’ve also covered both albums by Ward’s other quartet, Forebrace, in which he plays clarinet, this time in the company of guitarist Roberto Sassi, electric bassist Santiago Horro and drummer Jem Doulton, the latter having previously collaborated with Ward in the duo Dead Days Beyond Help. Both of the Forebrace albums, 2014’s “Bad Folds” and 2016’s “Steeped”, inhabit similar musical territory to the Predicate recordings and, like their companions are highly recommended.

Much of Ward’s work involves totally free playing, some of which inhabits areas beyond my own personal musical comfort zone such as the 2016 release “Projected/Entities/Removal”, a wholly improvised collection featuring three extended improvisations by three different, but closely linked, line ups, the personnel including Noble, cellist Hannah Marshall, bassist Olie Brice, saxophonist Rachel Musson and clarinettist Tom Jackson.

Ward’s recorded output has been prolific and is too voluminous to elaborate further upon here. For full details of his musical activities please visit https://sites.google.com/site/alexwardmusician/biography

Ward’s latest visit to the Queen’s was as part of the duo Noon Ward, a collaboration with the American born, now London based drummer, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter Sean Noonan.
Originally from Boston MA and based for some time in New York Noonan has collaborated with many leading US improvisers as well as leading his own projects. His performance with Ward at Monmouth incorporated both written and improvised material with the drummer proving to be a highly theatrical presence behind the kit. The material included a number of songs featuring Noonan’s off the wall lyrics, his musical humour and general eccentricity sometimes reminiscent of the great Frank Zappa.

Like Predicate and Forebrace the Noon Ward duo proved to be an exciting, entertaining and thoroughly accessible proposition which was very well received by the good folk of Monmouth. The combination of musical virtuosity and surreal humour worked very well and I intend to take a look at Noonan’s latest solo album “ The Aqua Diva” at some point in the near future. In the meantime further details of Noonan’s career can be found on his website http://www.seannoonanmusic.com

Prior to the visit of Noon Ward I’d only ever seen Ward playing guitar as part of the Predicate group. Tonight he doubled on guitar and clarinet, and even sang at one point. Having heard his clarinet playing on disc it was great to hear him playing the instrument live for the first time and demonstrating his virtuosity and inventiveness on the instrument.

Following the Noon Ward show Alex was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of “Appliance”, a 2014 duo recording featuring Ward on clarinet and his Predicate bandmate Dominic Lash on double bass. This limited edition CD (250 copies) on the Spanish label Vector Sounds features seven pieces with two compositions each from Ward and Lash plus three that are jointly credited, and thus, presumably fully improvised. The Vector Sounds website talks of “improvisational composition” and “sonic collages” and once again it’s recording that explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation,  for me exactly the kind of territory in which both Ward and Lash produce their best work, although improv diehards may disagree with me.

Lash has also been a frequent visitor to Monmouth thanks to his work with Predicate, Tony Joe Bucklash,  the German saxophonist Axel Dorner and others. I’ve also been impressed by his recorded output, including his 2014 quartet recording “Opabinia” which featured Alexander Hawkins on piano, plus the Spanish musicians Javier Carmona on drums and percussion and Ricardo Tejero on tenor saxophone and clarinet.

Lash has also been part of another highly fruitful international alliance, the Convergence Quartet featuring Hawkins at the piano plus the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. This stellar Trans-Atlantic line up has recorded three excellent albums, two of them documented at live performances.

Like his companion Lash is a busy and fantastically prolific musician .who performs improvised music in a myriad of different contexts. Full details of his diverse musical career can be found at his website; http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk/

Turning now to the music of “Appliance” which commences with the Ward composed “Purchase”, a genuine conversation of equals as Ward’s clarinet swoops, soars and dives around the bass lines generated by Lash, both with or without the bow. Both musicians deploy elements of extended technique but do so judiciously, almost surreptitiously, and always in service of the music. The piece is pleasingly accessible and Ward’s clarinet positively dances at times while Lash’s bass figures are muscular, well articulated and clearly defined. The pair have developed a great rapport over the years in their frequent collaborations and they are totally on the same wavelength here. One can almost hear them listening to each other.

The Lash composition “Oat Roe” clocks in at over ten and a half minutes and is, by some distance, the lengthiest track on the album. I evolves slowly, emerging from a dialogue between Lash’s long, sombre bowed bass lines and the keening, higher register sounds of Ward’s clarinet. There’s a strange, dark beauty about this musical conversation in which the emphasis is very much on atmosphere and texture. Dark, grainy and evocative and with a strong pictorial quality the music conjures up images of deep forests or solitary, deserted, wind swept cornfields. Time evolves slowly, nothing is rushed and it’s not until half way through the piece that Lash temporarily puts down the bow, ushering in a second section that is more challenging and abrasive, the harshness emphasised by the intelligent and effective use of extended techniques.

“Whelm” is credited to both musicians and is presumably fully improvised. It’s a lively, spirited dialogue between Lash’s vigorously plucked double bass and Ward’s sparky, puckish clarinet. It’s another piece that demonstrates the terrific rapport between the musicians and as the music gathers intensity and momentum the virtuosity of the playing is little short of stunning. This is the sound of two highly attuned musicians having ‘serious fun’, including a coda that delves more deeply into the realms of the avant garde and extended technique, a trend that is continued on the following “Gruntwork”, another piece that is jointly credited.
Here the duo the duo press even further into ‘avant garde’ territory, with Ward embracing harmolodics and overblowing while Lash uses the bow to both strike and scrape the strings. The piece represents some of the most obviously ‘free playing’ on the album and may not be for the faint hearted. Nevertheless it still grabs the attention, with the buzz of Ward’s clarinet sometimes sounding like a swarm of angry wasps. And some of the techniques - and extended techniques- deployed are pretty stunning.

Lash’s “Three By Three” is more immediately accessible and features the sprightly sound of Ward’s clarinet cavorting around Lash’s similarly agile but still powerful bass lines. There’s a beguiling sense of playfulness about their vivacious exchanges, that spirit of “serious fun” in evidence once more.

The jointly credited title track is another sortie into the freely improvised avant garde with grainy bowed bass contrasting with the bird like twitter of Ward’s clarinet. It’s frenetic and unsettling with the improvised discussion eventually reaching peak energy before resolving itself by subsuming into an almost subliminal drone.

The album concludes with“ Subtext”, credited to Ward, which teams the composer’s clarinet with Lash’s bowed bass in a dialogue that develops out of the written intro into something that sounds more obviously improvised with Lash moving between pizzicato and arco techniques. Again the rapport between the musicians is obvious throughout with the conversation embracing a variety of styles, techniques and moods but becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses, culminating in a sudden and unexpected ending.

“Appliance” is an album that will only suit so many ears, but for admirers of improvised music there is much to enjoy. These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level. It’s very much a partnership of equals and the level of rapport is such that the listener, provided they approach the music with an open ear, is drawn irresistibly into the dialogue. It’s a little scary at times but no less absorbing for that.

With the mixture of written and improvised pieces the duo strike a good balance between structure and freedom and produce an astonishing array of sounds from just two instruments. Both musicians have produced more accessible work elsewhere, but also more challenging work too. “Appliance” isn’t the kind of album you’d necessarily want to listen to all the time but for adventurous listeners the soundworld of Lash and Ward is still an interesting, intriguing and often exhilarating place to visit.

The album is available from the artists’ individual websites or at their gigs. It can also be purchased at;
http://www.vectorsounds.com/products/556077-dominic-lash-alex-ward-appliance

 

Appliance

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward

Monday, March 26, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Appliance

These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level.

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward

“Appliance”

(Vector Sounds VS016)

The multi-instrumentalist Alex Ward has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages in recent years. This is largely due to his regular visits to the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, one of my regular jazz haunts and a venue that adopts an adventurous approach to contemporary improvised music.

Events at the ‘freer’ end of the jazz spectrum are co-ordinated by locally based saxophonist Lyndon Owen and leading practitioners of the genre including saxophonists Alan Wilkinson and Trevor Watts plus the international improv ‘super-group’ Tony Joe Bucklash have all played at the pub, the last named comprising of Tony Bevan on saxes, Joe Morris on guitar, Dominic Lash on double bass and Necks drummer Tony Buck on drum kit and all manner of percussion.


London based Ward is a truly remarkable instrumentalist exhibiting an astonishing degree of expertise on both the clarinet and the electric guitar. His music inhabits the hinterland where composed and fully improvised music meet, although he’s generally regarded as being a “free” player following an apprenticeship that included playing clarinet alongside the late, great guitar improviser Derek Bailey.

Ward started out as a clarinettist, only taking up the guitar in the year 2000 at the age of twenty six. Influenced by Bailey he is now an extremely accomplished guitarist and an inspired improviser who performs on his “second instrument” in groups such as his own Predicate and the powerhouse improvising trio N.E.W. which pits his guitar against the rhythmic “tag team” of drummer Steve Noble and double bassist John Edwards. Ward has recorded more frequently as a clarinettist but it’s as a guitarist that I know him best having witnessed two live performances by the Predicate quartet, featuring Lash, saxophonist Tim Hill, and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders, at the Queen’s Head in 2012 and 2014. 

I’ve since reviewed Predicate’s two albums, the eponymous 2012 début and its 2014 follow up “Nails”. I’ve also covered both albums by Ward’s other quartet, Forebrace, in which he plays clarinet, this time in the company of guitarist Roberto Sassi, electric bassist Santiago Horro and drummer Jem Doulton, the latter having previously collaborated with Ward in the duo Dead Days Beyond Help. Both of the Forebrace albums, 2014’s “Bad Folds” and 2016’s “Steeped”, inhabit similar musical territory to the Predicate recordings and, like their companions are highly recommended.

Much of Ward’s work involves totally free playing, some of which inhabits areas beyond my own personal musical comfort zone such as the 2016 release “Projected/Entities/Removal”, a wholly improvised collection featuring three extended improvisations by three different, but closely linked, line ups, the personnel including Noble, cellist Hannah Marshall, bassist Olie Brice, saxophonist Rachel Musson and clarinettist Tom Jackson.

Ward’s recorded output has been prolific and is too voluminous to elaborate further upon here. For full details of his musical activities please visit https://sites.google.com/site/alexwardmusician/biography

Ward’s latest visit to the Queen’s was as part of the duo Noon Ward, a collaboration with the American born, now London based drummer, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter Sean Noonan.
Originally from Boston MA and based for some time in New York Noonan has collaborated with many leading US improvisers as well as leading his own projects. His performance with Ward at Monmouth incorporated both written and improvised material with the drummer proving to be a highly theatrical presence behind the kit. The material included a number of songs featuring Noonan’s off the wall lyrics, his musical humour and general eccentricity sometimes reminiscent of the great Frank Zappa.

Like Predicate and Forebrace the Noon Ward duo proved to be an exciting, entertaining and thoroughly accessible proposition which was very well received by the good folk of Monmouth. The combination of musical virtuosity and surreal humour worked very well and I intend to take a look at Noonan’s latest solo album “ The Aqua Diva” at some point in the near future. In the meantime further details of Noonan’s career can be found on his website http://www.seannoonanmusic.com

Prior to the visit of Noon Ward I’d only ever seen Ward playing guitar as part of the Predicate group. Tonight he doubled on guitar and clarinet, and even sang at one point. Having heard his clarinet playing on disc it was great to hear him playing the instrument live for the first time and demonstrating his virtuosity and inventiveness on the instrument.

Following the Noon Ward show Alex was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of “Appliance”, a 2014 duo recording featuring Ward on clarinet and his Predicate bandmate Dominic Lash on double bass. This limited edition CD (250 copies) on the Spanish label Vector Sounds features seven pieces with two compositions each from Ward and Lash plus three that are jointly credited, and thus, presumably fully improvised. The Vector Sounds website talks of “improvisational composition” and “sonic collages” and once again it’s recording that explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation,  for me exactly the kind of territory in which both Ward and Lash produce their best work, although improv diehards may disagree with me.

Lash has also been a frequent visitor to Monmouth thanks to his work with Predicate, Tony Joe Bucklash,  the German saxophonist Axel Dorner and others. I’ve also been impressed by his recorded output, including his 2014 quartet recording “Opabinia” which featured Alexander Hawkins on piano, plus the Spanish musicians Javier Carmona on drums and percussion and Ricardo Tejero on tenor saxophone and clarinet.

Lash has also been part of another highly fruitful international alliance, the Convergence Quartet featuring Hawkins at the piano plus the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. This stellar Trans-Atlantic line up has recorded three excellent albums, two of them documented at live performances.

Like his companion Lash is a busy and fantastically prolific musician .who performs improvised music in a myriad of different contexts. Full details of his diverse musical career can be found at his website; http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk/

Turning now to the music of “Appliance” which commences with the Ward composed “Purchase”, a genuine conversation of equals as Ward’s clarinet swoops, soars and dives around the bass lines generated by Lash, both with or without the bow. Both musicians deploy elements of extended technique but do so judiciously, almost surreptitiously, and always in service of the music. The piece is pleasingly accessible and Ward’s clarinet positively dances at times while Lash’s bass figures are muscular, well articulated and clearly defined. The pair have developed a great rapport over the years in their frequent collaborations and they are totally on the same wavelength here. One can almost hear them listening to each other.

The Lash composition “Oat Roe” clocks in at over ten and a half minutes and is, by some distance, the lengthiest track on the album. I evolves slowly, emerging from a dialogue between Lash’s long, sombre bowed bass lines and the keening, higher register sounds of Ward’s clarinet. There’s a strange, dark beauty about this musical conversation in which the emphasis is very much on atmosphere and texture. Dark, grainy and evocative and with a strong pictorial quality the music conjures up images of deep forests or solitary, deserted, wind swept cornfields. Time evolves slowly, nothing is rushed and it’s not until half way through the piece that Lash temporarily puts down the bow, ushering in a second section that is more challenging and abrasive, the harshness emphasised by the intelligent and effective use of extended techniques.

“Whelm” is credited to both musicians and is presumably fully improvised. It’s a lively, spirited dialogue between Lash’s vigorously plucked double bass and Ward’s sparky, puckish clarinet. It’s another piece that demonstrates the terrific rapport between the musicians and as the music gathers intensity and momentum the virtuosity of the playing is little short of stunning. This is the sound of two highly attuned musicians having ‘serious fun’, including a coda that delves more deeply into the realms of the avant garde and extended technique, a trend that is continued on the following “Gruntwork”, another piece that is jointly credited.
Here the duo the duo press even further into ‘avant garde’ territory, with Ward embracing harmolodics and overblowing while Lash uses the bow to both strike and scrape the strings. The piece represents some of the most obviously ‘free playing’ on the album and may not be for the faint hearted. Nevertheless it still grabs the attention, with the buzz of Ward’s clarinet sometimes sounding like a swarm of angry wasps. And some of the techniques - and extended techniques- deployed are pretty stunning.

Lash’s “Three By Three” is more immediately accessible and features the sprightly sound of Ward’s clarinet cavorting around Lash’s similarly agile but still powerful bass lines. There’s a beguiling sense of playfulness about their vivacious exchanges, that spirit of “serious fun” in evidence once more.

The jointly credited title track is another sortie into the freely improvised avant garde with grainy bowed bass contrasting with the bird like twitter of Ward’s clarinet. It’s frenetic and unsettling with the improvised discussion eventually reaching peak energy before resolving itself by subsuming into an almost subliminal drone.

The album concludes with“ Subtext”, credited to Ward, which teams the composer’s clarinet with Lash’s bowed bass in a dialogue that develops out of the written intro into something that sounds more obviously improvised with Lash moving between pizzicato and arco techniques. Again the rapport between the musicians is obvious throughout with the conversation embracing a variety of styles, techniques and moods but becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses, culminating in a sudden and unexpected ending.

“Appliance” is an album that will only suit so many ears, but for admirers of improvised music there is much to enjoy. These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level. It’s very much a partnership of equals and the level of rapport is such that the listener, provided they approach the music with an open ear, is drawn irresistibly into the dialogue. It’s a little scary at times but no less absorbing for that.

With the mixture of written and improvised pieces the duo strike a good balance between structure and freedom and produce an astonishing array of sounds from just two instruments. Both musicians have produced more accessible work elsewhere, but also more challenging work too. “Appliance” isn’t the kind of album you’d necessarily want to listen to all the time but for adventurous listeners the soundworld of Lash and Ward is still an interesting, intriguing and often exhilarating place to visit.

The album is available from the artists’ individual websites or at their gigs. It can also be purchased at;
http://www.vectorsounds.com/products/556077-dominic-lash-alex-ward-appliance

 


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