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Tim Owen looks at two freely improvised albums on Evan Parker’s psi label


by Tim Owen

April 05, 2009

psi have come up trumps with these recordings, by two of the most well-honed ?voices? on the London jazz circuit.

John Edwards


psi 08.09

Ray Warleigh

Rue Victor Mass?

psi 08.08

psi have come up trumps with these recordings, by two of the most well-honed ?voices? on the London jazz circuit. 

Rue Victor Mass? is Ray Warleigh?s first album ? if you ignore the joint billing with Tommy Chase on 1979?s One Way ? since the self-descriptive Ray Warleigh?s First Album ten years earlier. He?s not been idle in the intervening four decades, keeping busy and building an impressive CD as a session player with everyone from Dusty Springfield to Soft Machine, Gavin Bryars and Kenny Wheeler. For the new title, on which he plays both alto saxophone and flute, he?s aided and abetted rather superbly by Tony Marsh.

It?s easy to imagine that Warleigh?s professional selflessness as a session player has instilled in him an intuitive grasp of what makes music of all genres connect most effectively. This recording is valuable for reminding us that there are possibilities for sax/drums duets closer to terra-firma than Interstellar Space, yet Warleigh makes no quotations, cops no licks from pop songs, and makes no concessions. His music is deeply personal but apparently free of turmoil. There?s no anger here, no discernible politics; he plays like a man with nothing to prove and the music is all the more richly satisfying for it. The tracks on which he plays flute are particularly free of clich?, and lend the disc another level of richness. On both instruments, his phrasing is consistently supple and lucid. Underneath him Marsh is constantly surging forward, laying down percussive terrain for Warleigh to explore. 

These straight-to-two-tracks, one-point mic recordings initially sound a bit rough, but soon win you over with their warmth and sheer lack of pretension. Evan Parker, billing himself “Producer Manqu?”, explains that “relatively lavish” studio recordings were canned in favour of these takes which “had the spirit that Ray wanted regardless, or perhaps because, of the absolutely basic way in which it was recorded”. Equally telling is Warleigh?s statement that what?s played is “absolutely unpremeditated? But I like melody very much, and I?ve thought about it a lot.” One listen is enough to bear that out. Few improvising musicians take such clear satisfaction in favouring spontaneous melodic development over technique-stretching displays of prowess and textural overkill.

On Volume, John Edwards shows how the latter approach can be done right. The range of techniques could be breathtaking if you stopped to think about it, but you?ll be too busy listening for that. The first track, Matter, has almost too much detail to discuss, with its taps, scrabbling, and short, harsh bowing punctuated sharply by fingernail raps on the body of the bass. Others are focused explorations of discrete ideas: the rapid, tightly focused clusters of pointillist taps and tweaks on Saddles; the mournful arco piece From the Depths. 

For an appreciation of Edwards? keen ear for the melodic, try Sprung, in which slow-paced and relatively conventional strumming gains in intensity as Edwards murmurs away to himself; but then he pauses before setting out to re-examine the same ideas more rhythmically and more concisely. Or check out Pin Drop, in which soft scurrying is punctuated by silence, and interpolated passages of harsh bowing and rapid, rippling plucking that evokes the Arabic sintir or three-stringed lute, as heard in Moroccan Gnawa music.

Elsewhere, Tunnel features creaky bowing that seems to give off static, sustained and increasingly pressurised; Half Full has a highly melodic and straightforward pizzicato opening passage followed by a coda of quiet, rapid rustling; Battery evokes the sound of a spindle whirring, its speed diminishing, before freely riffing on the effect; and Meshes alternates pizzicato and arco techniques, focusing on the fretboard. 

Volume is far more satisfying than any such, necessarily partial summary might suggest. Yes, Edwards demonstrates that he knows more ways around his instrument than most bassists could even imagine, but he approaches these fascinating, inspired improvisations with the same individualist?s sense of the melodic as does Ray Warleigh on Rue Victor Mass?.

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