by Ian Mann
January 14, 2022
The rapport between these two like minded musicians is apparent throughout as they blend a variety of acoustic guitar sounds and techniques with the human voice.
Charlie Beresford – guitar, prepared guitar, voice
Christian Vasseur – guitar, prepared guitar, voice
“Beresford Vasseur” is a live recording featuring the British guitarist and improviser Charlie Beresford and his French counterpart Christian Vasseur. It was recorded shortly before the first Covid lockdown at a ‘house concert’ in February 2020 at the Brussels home of Veronique Gailly and Steve Gibbs and features twelve short improvised pieces that deploy a variety of conventional and extended guitar techniques plus the improvised vocals of both performers. The duo describe their music as “the instantaneous scenes of an imaginary road movie, from which sometimes emerges poems sung or spoken in English and French”.
The album appears on Beresford’s The 52nd imprint, named for Beresford’s alliance with Canadian photographer Gaena da Sylva, from Quebec, who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name The 52nd (as in parallel).
Beresford has appeared regularly on the Jazzmann web pages in a variety of contexts, firstly as a solo artist and later as a member of the improvising groups Fourth Page and Crystal Moth. A particularly successful collaboration has been his musical partnership with cellist Sonia Hammond and the pair have released an excellent series of albums in the duo format, among them “The Science of Snow” (2015), “Each Edge of the Field” (2017) and “Circle Inside the Folds” (2019), all of which appear on The 52nd, and all of which have been favourably reviewed by The Jazzmann.
In 2016 Beresford and Hammond teamed up with Fourth Page pianist Carolyn Hume to release the trio recording “The Lightning Bell”, an album that also featured a guest appearance by vocalist Judie Tzuke. This particular recording is reviewed here;
Beresford and Hammond are also members of the What? Quartet, a group that also includes trumpeter Gerry Gold and multi-instrumentalist Rod Paton and which released its début album on the 52nd in March 2020. Review here;
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. Review here;
Beresford has also worked extensively with bassist Tim Harries, who appears on Beresford’s highly personal 2009 solo album “Dark Transport”. The pair also collaborated on the 2020 duo recording, “Neutral Tones” credited to Beresford Harries. Review here; https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/beresford-harries-neutral-tones
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, folk singer June Tabor and performance poet Ian McMillan.
I have to admit to being previously unfamiliar with the work of Vasseur, a musician with roots in the classical tradition who plays both guitar and lute.
Vasseur has played renaissance music and has also experimented with oriental music and improvisation. He was written for the theatre and participated in other interdisciplinary events including photography, cinema and dance and also worked as a music educator.
Vasseur names fellow guitarists Robert Fripp and Derek Bailey as sources of inspiration, in addition to composers Heitor Villa-Lobos and John Cage. Describing himself as a ‘polymorphic musician’ he also plays a variety of multi-stringed instruments including eleven string alto guitar, archlute and mohan veena. As a leader or co-leader he has appeared on more than twenty albums.
Beresford and Vasseur have worked together before and there’s an easy intimacy and the sense of a shared purpose about these performances. It’s a recording that fits in neatly with Beresford’s catalogue as the duo approach their improvisations in the gentle, fragile, gauzy style that Beresford has very much made his own
On the beautiful opener “Prelude” the duo’s acoustic guitars combine to create a lustrous, shimmering sound that sometimes reminded me of Ralph Towner, there’s that same sense of space and purity.
“The Path” is initially more abstract and introduces the use of prepared guitar techniques. It also features the voice of Beresford, his improvised English language narrative part spoken, part sung evoking images of the Welsh Borders, the rugged but beautiful area of the UK in which he lives. Essentially “The Path” is an improvised song, the spontaneous nature of its creation rendering it no less effective.
The sound of bowed guitar features on the suitably atmospheric “Within the waning moon”, played by Beresford I’d guess, having seen him increasingly deploying this technique at live shows. It’s augmented by taut, Towner-esque acoustic guitar and eventually by an eerie, high pitched wordless vocal, again I’m surmising but I’d guess that this is Vasseur.
“Thousand and Thousand Thoughts” features the intertwined speaking voices of the two performers, one speaking in English, the other in French. It’s like eavesdropping on two separate conversations and the overall effect is unsettling. Guitar bodies are used as auxiliary percussion, supporting the twinkling, hammered on arpeggios that gently propel the piece.
The introduction to “Ce que j’ai dit avant de me taire” hints at Vasseur’s fascination with Middle Eastern and Oriental music. Despite the French title the lyric is delivered in English, with Beresford’s evocative words complemented by the music, which is dark and sombre. Economical plucking and chording is augmented by eerie bowed drones and Vasseur’s wordless vocalising, which is reminiscent of throat singing.
Prepared guitar techniques simulate the sounds of percussion on the instrumental “Smoky Whisky Ronde”, which combines the influence of minimalism with a kind of twisted Americana. Both Beresford and Vasseur share an affinity with the visual arts (hence the “imaginary road movie” quote) and much of their music, and this piece in particular, would be well suited to an art movie soundtrack, the brief but insistent “A Drill of Sunlight” being another case in point.
“A Drill of Sunlight” segues into the softer “L’hesitation du cerf a la lisiere du bois”, one of the duo’s most beautiful pieces, and again one possessed with a strong visual quality.
“Les grands animaux” features animal like noises generated by both voices and extended guitar techniques, these augmented by an insistent arpeggiated acoustic guitar shimmer. Vasseur’s vocal performance becomes increasingly unhinged as the piece progresses. Even by the standards of this duo this piece ranks as one of the album’s more esoteric offerings.
By way of contrast “5h45” begins prettily as a relatively conventional acoustic guitar duet. The piece takes its title from the opening line of Beresford’s monologue, “at 5h45 traffic builds in the square”. The “burning ship” that adorns the album cover also features in the lyrics.
“Feux follets dans la poussiere” features a mix of pointillist guitar picking and bowed and prepared sounds. It’s one of the most abstract and obviously freely improvised offerings on the disc, but is no less absorbing for that.
It segues almost seamlessly into the courtly “Postlude”, which neatly bookends the performance and the album.
With no item lasting for more than six minutes no single piece or idea is allowed to outstay its welcome. The duo’s style of improvisation is tightly focussed, distilling their ideas into readily digestible bites. Each individual piece is an entity in itself yet part of a broader overall concept. Each item is thoroughly absorbing and the rapport between these two like minded musicians is apparent throughout as they blend a variety of acoustic guitar sounds and techniques with the human voice, instinctively bringing a sense of structure to the spontaneous. Beresford’s approach to improvisation is so unique and personal that he has almost created a sub genre of his own.
Whilst covering this album it’s perhaps timely to note that Fourth Page have also released a new album, “Encore With Masks” on the 52nd imprint. Both the Fourth Page recording and “Beresford Vasseur” are available via the 52nd Bandcamp page.
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