by Ian Mann
February 03, 2017
“The Lightning Bell” sees Beresford Hammond Hume continuing to hone their craft as they carve out an increasingly distinctive niche in the world of improvised music.
Beresford Hammond Hume
“The Lightning Bell”
I first became aware of the music of the guitarist, pianist, vocalist and producer Charlie Beresford in 2009 with the release of his highly personal solo album “Dark Transport”. He combines solo projects with membership of the improvising group Fourth Page alongside pianist Carolyn Hume, bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. He has also played with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emmerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo. 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.brightfieldproductions.co.uk or at http://charlieberesford.tumblr.com/
In 2015 Beresford collaborated with the cellist Sonia Hammond, also a member of the Radnor Improvisers, on “The Science of Snow”, a frequently beautiful series of improvised duets that featured Beresford playing both guitar and piano. The classically trained Hammond studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia (for whom she is principal cellist) and 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 and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui.
Released in June 2016 “The Lightning Bell” has been lurking in the “to do” file for far too long but with Beresford Hammond Hume due to perform live in my home town later in the year now seems like a good time to take a look at it. Effectively the follow up to the successful “The Science of Snow” it sees Fourth Page pianist Carolyn Hume joining the group to create a trio. Two pieces also feature the singing of guest vocalist Judie Tzuke. Like its predecessor the album artwork features the striking black and white imagery of the Canadian photographer and film maker Gaena da Sylva from Quebec who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name The 52nd (as in parallel). See http://www.the52nd.com
Besides her ongoing membership of Fourth Page Carolyn Hume has also recorded as a solo pianist and as part as along running duo with percussionist Paul May. In 2008 she released the trio album “Gravity and Grace” which featured cellist Oliver Coates and vocalist Sonja Galsworthy. Hume has also written music for a number of short art-house films. More recently she has become part of the new quintet Crystal Moth which features all the members of Fourth Page plus percussionist Patrick Dawes from another related group, Woven Entity.
Fourth Page describe their output as “spontaneously composed songs” and it’s a summation that’s also particularly apposite to “Call the Time”, the opening piece here which features Beresford’s distinctive semi-sung, semi-spoken vocals alongside Hammond’s mournful cello and Hume’s thoughtful and exact piano. Bersford’s singing has 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.
The lengthy “Feather War Cast” is closer in spirit to the music of the all instrumental “The Science of Snow” but this time round we have a three way musical exchange. Hammond produces a wide range of sounds on the cello, deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques. Beresford’s distinctive acoustic guitar playing, which deploys methods that have been compared to prepared piano techniques, is also much in evidence while Hume’s pensive and lyrical piano acts as a stabilising presence, holding the music together. As their previous works have demonstrated these are musicians who are capable of bringing genuine beauty to the world of fully improvised music. This gentle but rigorous, and always absorbing, musical conversation offers further evidence of this. Like Fourth Page much of the trio’s output is reflective, sombre even, and they are more concerned with mood building and developing a narrative arc rather than in displays of bluff and bluster or overt demonstrations of skill, virtuosity or extended technique.
The vocalist and songwriter Judie Tzuke lives in the same geographical area as Hume and enjoyed some mainstream pop success in the late 70s and early 80s, particularly with the 1979 hit single “Stay With Me Till Dawn”. Apparently Tzuke approached Hume and told her that she wanted to “try something different” and this project is certainly that. The first piece on which Tzuke appears is “Then The Cloud Comes” which emerges out of a lengthy improvised instrumental passage featuring limpid piano contrasted with scratchy cello and guitar. When Tzuke’s vocals finally arrive the mood becomes reflective, fragile, nostalgic and melancholy, the lyrics making use of weather metaphors on what is essentially a love song – of sorts. Tzuke’s semi-spoken singing style recalls Beresford’s and the two vocalists subsequently combine as the piece progresses. Credited to all four musicians the piece was obviously freely improvised and represents an excellent example of a “spontaneously composed song”.
The mood darkens perceptibly with “The Heavy Branch” with its grainy textures and unsettling timbres. However it’s still highly atmospheric and evocative and not without its own kind of stark beauty - “The Science of Snow” also possesses moments like this. Beresford’s whispered, almost subliminal vocals add to the already uncomfortable atmosphere.
“Laid Bare” features some of the most radical playing of the set with Beresford’s guitar glissandi combining with Hammond’s eerie, almost impossibly high register cello. Hammond later adopts a more conventional cello sound but an inevitable air of fragile melancholy remains. Hume’s lightness of touch at the piano again forms an effective contrast to these darker textures, her playing again cool and limpid, almost glacial. The piece also features delicate bell like sounds, a little akin to those of a glockenspiel, but I wouldn’t care to hazard a guess as to their provenance.
“As if All was Within” continues the mood of fragile, melancholic introspection and features Beresford’s voice at its most Sylvian like, part sung, part whispered and thoroughly in keeping with the sombre mood created by cello, piano and gently shimmering acoustic guitar.
Tzuke’s vocals speak of nightmares and insomnia on the appropriately titled “In The Dark Hours” which begins in freely structured, improvisatory fashion but takes on more of a song like narrative as the piece progresses.
The album concludes with the chilly atmospherics of “The Last Port” with its grainy, melancholic cello textures, slowly rumbling low end piano sonorities and Beresford’s unique guitar stylings. He rarely plays in an orthodox manner, instead preferring to strike the strings, deploy glissando techniques and occasionally deploy the body of the instrument as a form of auxiliary percussion. Like much of the album “The Last Port” has something of a filmic quality about it, albeit more “Blair Witch Project” than Hollywood epic.
“The Lightning Bell” sees Beresford Hammond Hume continuing to hone their craft as they carve out an increasingly distinctive niche in the world of improvised music. With a greater reliance on vocals the album is closer in spirit to Fourth Page and Crystal Moth than it is to its precursor “The Science of Snow”. I can appreciate why Beresford and Hammond have made the decision to involve other musicians, they are creative artists who do not wish to repeat themselves, and “The Lightning Bell” is a considerable success on its own terms. But from a personal point of view I will always prefer the simpler, more intimate beauties of the duo set “The Science of Snow”
The Beresford Hammond Hume trio will be playing at The Lion Ballroom, Leominster, Herefordshire on the 8th April 2017 playing music on the theme of “The Lightning Bell” and will be joined by ‘The Peregrine String Quartet’ who will be performing Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’.
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