by Ian Mann
July 16, 2019
Beresford Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation, once again producing an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.
“Circle Inside the Folds”
(the 52nd 52NDCD005)
Charlie Beresford – guitar, voice, piano
Sonia Hammond – cello
“Circle Inside the Folds” represents the third album release by the improvising duo Beresford Hammond.
It is actually the fourth album to feature this now well established partnership. Based in the Welsh Borders the pair made their recorded début in 2015 with the album “The Science of Snow” which found them bringing a genuine beauty to the art of free improvisation.
For “The Lightning Bell” (2016) they expanded the group to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume, one of Beresford’s collaborators in the group Fourth Page. The album also included an unexpected, but surprisingly successful, guest contribution from vocalist Judie Tzuke.
“Each Edge of the Field” (2017) saw a return to basics with the core duo delivering a set of entirely instrumental music that I described as; “a sound that is melancholy and sometimes unsettling, but is undeniably atmospheric and possessed of a dark beauty that is all its own”.
I first became aware of Beresford’s music in 2009 with the release of his highly personal solo album “Dark Transport”. He combines solo projects with membership of the improvising quartet Fourth Page alongside Hume, bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. This quartet’s album releases include 2011’s “Blind Horizons” and 2018’s “The Forest From Above”, both of which appear on Leo Records. Meanwhile “Along The Weak Rope” (2011) and the live recording “Ticks and Moans” (2012) were issued by the London based independent For/wind.
Beresford, Hume, Marsh and May are also part of the quintet Crystal Moth, which also features the percussionist Patrick Dawes. This line up, augmented by a number of guest musicians, released their eponymous début album in 2016.
Beresford has also played with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo. Others with whom he has collaborated include the Russian free jazz saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, French guitarist Christian Vasseur, and Brits bassist Tim Harries, folk singer June Tabor and performance poet Ian McMillan.
Beresford co-ordinates the Radnor Improvisers, a collective of improvising musicians from around the Welsh Borders and also has a parallel career as a visual artist and photographer. Further information on his numerous activities can be found on his website http://www.charlieberesford.com
Also a member of the Radnor Improvisers the classically trained Hammond (nee Oakes) studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia and the St. Woolos Sinfonia (acting as principal cellist for both) plus the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach.
However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr, Philip Kane and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui.
More recent collaborations have included a duo with jazz/folk guitarist Adrian Crick resulting in the albums “Something Beginning With…” (2016) and “More (off the beaten) Tracks” (2017).
Hammond has also been working with the high powered blues/rock guitarist/vocalist Troy Redfern, on the face of it an unlikely pairing. Having also covered Redfern’s music on this site I’d be highly intrigued to hear the results of this!
Living in the same geographical area as Beresford and Hammond I’ve been fortunate enough to see both musicians performing live in nearby locations. Fourth Page visited my home town of Leominster in 2012 while in 2018 the aptly named aggregation Borderless came to the town, a quartet featuring both Beresford and Hammond plus Camilla Cancantata (previously Saunders) on piano, trombone and vocals and the Baghdad born Ahmed Mukhtar on oud.
In May 2019 the Beresford Hammond duo performed at The Globe in Hay-on-Wye as part of the ongoing Nawr (Welsh for ‘now’) series of experimental music evenings. Usually based in Swansea but occasionally making forays out to Hay the Nawr events typically feature short-ish sets from four different and very varied acts, a kind of avant-garde music review that I like to liken to a live version of Late Junction.
The Beresford Hammond set was particularly enjoyable and it was good to see the core duo performing together live for the first time. Beresford told me afterwards that everything that they had played had been entirely improvised, even the lyrics that featured in the occasional vocal episodes. It’s an approach that the duo have been honing since 2014, a kind of ‘instantaneous composition’ that puts the focus on mood, texture and narrative rather than technique or extended technique, although both are essential components of their work. Instead of the noise and bluster of most free improv the emphasis here is on beauty, albeit one of an often melancholic kind. It’s a highly distinctive approach that also informs the music of associated acts such as Fourth Page and Crystal Moth.
“Circle Inside the Folds” finds the duo further refining their unique method of music making. The title references the album packaging which features the CD (the circle) within an origami style sleeve (the folds), which in turn features black and white images photographed by Beresford. It appears as a limited edition of 100 (or 300 depending on who you listen to). Previous releases have featured beautiful graphic designs, these created by Canadian photographer Gaena da Sylva , from Quebec, who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name the52nd (as in parallel). See www.the52nd.bandcamp.com
I also suspect that the album title might be a reference to the ancient Mitchells Fold Stone Circle, which is located in the South Shropshire Hills, near to where Beresford lives. The duo’s music has always been influenced by the Border landscape, which can range from the beautiful and bucolic to the rugged and savage.
And so to this latest album recording which features seven brand new improvisations from the duo. Opener “Homage to Opus 8” is a perfect encapsulation of the duo’s delicate strengths, building from Hammond’s introductory cello scrapings and building slowly and organically with the introduction of acoustic guitar to embrace a kind of wide-screen magnificence, reflecting the beauty, drama and wildness of the landscape within which the duo live and work. This may be improvised music but it sounds natural and logical, almost written, with elements of folk and contemporary classical music in the mix. It rarely sounds like typical free jazz.
Hammond’s cello inevitably lends much of the music a melancholy edge and her bowing combines effectively with Beresford’s dramatic, almost flamenco like acoustic guitar picking on the following “Submerged”.
At three and a half minutes in length “Apparat Waltz” represents the shortest piece on the record and sounds almost pre-composed as cello and guitar dance around each other in almost courtly fashion. Once again there’s a narrative quality about the piece that sets Beresford Hammond’s unique brand of ‘chamber improvisation’ apart from the rest of the free jazz field.
“Mosquito Machinery” takes its title from the other worldly ‘buzzing’ sounds that introduce the piece, these perhaps produced by Beresford sliding objects across, or up and down, the guitar strings. Although a wholly acoustic player Beresford augments his sound via the use of an array of devices, these sometimes attached to, or wedged under, the strings. His use of these objects, among them a tea spoon, has sometimes been compared to prepared piano techniques and in recent years he has made increasing use of a bow on the strings. Hammond, too, is not averse to deploying extended techniques on the cello, plucking and striking the strings and generally pushing the sonic boundaries of her chosen instrument. This piece, perhaps the most abstract, impressionistic and unsettling so far sees some of these techniques being put to effective use.
The music of Fourth Page, Borderless and Beresford Hammond Hume has featured Beresford’s unique vocalising. The track “Adjust the File” represents the first occasion that he’s brought this aspect of his talent to the Beresford Hammond duo - at least on disc, he sang at the recent Globe live performance. Fourth Page like to describe their music as “spontaneously composed songs” and Beresford’s lyrics are improvised in the moment to match the feel of the music. He’s been compared to John Martyn, David Sylvian and Robert Wyatt and there’s certainly something of Martyn’s slurred brilliance and Wyatt’s fragile plaintiveness in his vocalising for Fourth Page. Often his vocalising is almost subliminal and uses exhalations and vocal tics as well as words. It often sounds deceptively simple but I would imagine that it is actually a very difficult skill to master.
“Adjust the File” finds the guitarist making extensive use of extended instrumental techniques as well as delivering an atmospheric and unsettling semi-spoken vocal, these qualities also reflected in the music with its guitar generated percussive effects and eerily bowed cello.
“Something Against The Hull” features Beresford on piano, deploying prepared piano techniques and dampening the strings as he duets with Hammond’s wispy, but increasingly assertive cello. Again the atmosphere is abstract, dark and unsettling and it’s tempting to view “Mosquito Machinery”, “Adjust the File” and this piece as some kind of crepescular trilogy.
The album concludes with “Order of Odonata”, a more pastoral piece featuring bright, cleanly picked guitar contrasted with deep, dark, grainy cello sonorities, reminiscent perhaps of the bucolic Border landscape under a lowering sky, the threat of a storm hanging in the air. It’s typical of the gritty beauty of this remarkable duo’s improvised music.
It still astonishes me that Beresford Hammond are able to conjure these seemingly fully formed pieces out of thin air. I’m not sure how much editing there was prior to release, but that performance at The Globe in Hay served to prove just how finely attuned to one another’s musical sensibilities the duo have become during their five years of existence. Their level of rapport is truly remarkable and this latest release is arguably their most melodic and accessible album to date, even allowing for its darker episodes. Beresford and Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation and once again have produced an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.blog comments powered by Disqus