by Ian Mann
October 24, 2017
Evocative music with a strongly atmospheric and highly cinematic quality. Their use of electronic effects is both subtle and inventive.
(Eyebrow Music EMB05)
Eyebrow is a Bristol based duo featuring trumpeter Pete Judge and drummer Paul Wigens.
Formed in 2009 theirs has been a particularly productive alliance with the recently released “Strata” representing their fifth album, following in the wake of “Desire Lines” (2009), “Elemental” (2010), “Still and Still Moving” (2012) and the acclaimed “Garden City” (2014).
I was forwarded a copy of this latest recording by Judge after we met at a recent performance by the Bristolian quintet Dakhla Brass, of which the trumpeter is a member. However Judge is probably best known as one quarter of the cult Bristol band Get The Blessing, a group with national reputation and, in jazz terms at least, a large following. He is also a member of the multi-instrumental trio Three Cane Whale and a prolific session and studio musician who has worked with Noel Gallagher, Super Furry Animals and the folk artist Jim Moray among others.
Wigens is a similarly versatile musician with a busy session career whose credits include work with The Blue Aeroplanes and with former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki among numerous others. He has also acted as a ‘dep’ for regular drummer Clive Deamer in Get The Blessing.
Eyebrow’s music is rather more varied and substantial than the basic instrumentation of trumpet and drums might suggest. Both of its members are adept at incorporating electronics into their music making and on “Strata” Wigens is also credited with playing violin and bowed guitar. Much of their music is richly atmospheric, ambient even, and suggests the influence of Nordic trumpeters/soundscapers Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer.
But Eyebrow’s sound is far from bloodless, some of the more vibrant, rhythmically based pieces have something of the energy, snap and clatter of Judge’s other band, Get The Blessing, and his inventive use of electronics is also reminiscent of his sonic experimentations as part of GTB.
Eyebrow’s music has a strong cinematic quality about it and the duo have worked extensively, both together and as individuals, with a wide range of film makers, choreographers and theatre groups.
The music of Judge and Wigens is rooted in improvisation with the duo later re-assembling their spontaneous musical exchanges into more structured pieces with a strong narrative arc and a cinematic feel.
Opener “Gravity Waves” commences with eerie, atmospheric sounds that feel as if they’re coming from deep space with looped shimmers sounding like they may have been initially generated by violin or bowed guitar. Judge’s solemn, breathy, slow motion trumpet brings a humanising element to the proceedings that also suggests the influence of yet another Norwegian, the extraordinary tuba player and composer Daniel Herskedal. The trumpeter also makes effective use of loops and other electronics on a piece that depicts Eyebrow at their most ambient and atmospheric.
The lengthy “Anthracite”, the first of several pieces with a geologically themed title, is altogether more rhythmic as Wigens sets up an implacable, motorik style groove as the backdrop for Judge’s warm and melodic trumpet extemporisations. There’s still an ambient, spacey feel about the music as the duo again make effective use of electronica, giving the piece a Blade Runner like atmosphere that becomes increasingly unsettling as the music progresses.
“Soapstone” recalls electric era Miles Davis filtered through more modern influences including Henriksen, Molvaer and Christian Scott as Wigens’ percussion provides a varying rhythmic backdrop, often drawing upon the patterns of contemporary electronica and dance music. Again there’s a very filmic quality about the music.
“Overpass” commences with eerie, echoed trumpet which continues to whisper and gently reverberate above Wigens’ imaginative brushed drum patterns as the percussionist delivers some of his most obviously jazz influenced playing of the set.
Guest guitarist Chris Vine provides additional texture on “Scree”, which is paced by Wigens’ skittering but insistent grooves, these providing the impetus for Judge’s vocalised trumpet explorations and ambient electronica.
The duo embrace electronica full on with the intro to “Tormentil” with its threatening washes of processed sound and clattering quasi-industrial drum grooves. Again it’s the melancholic ring of Judge’s trumpet that provides the vital humanising element on a piece that is perhaps most reminiscent of his work with Get The Blessing.
“Lunar Friction” begins with a trumpet chorale, subsequently accompanied by the rustle of percussion. As the piece develops it metamorphoses into something more closely resembling old school free jazz and is the most obviously ‘improvised’ piece on the record thus far - albeit with a modern edge thanks to the looped trumpet phrase that runs throughout the piece, providing the anchor as Wigens roams his kit with great energy and vigour.
“Sediment” also tips it hat to free jazz but this time in a more ambient and atmospheric manner with electronics playing a prominent role in the improvisatory process. This eerily atmospheric piece features the whisper of vocalised trumpet, the sound of cymbal scrapes and the rustle of other percussion plus the gentle but unsettling sound of bow on violin, all this underpinned by an ambient electronic drone. Eventually Wigens picks up his sticks to provide an insistent, odd meter percussive groove that provides the impetus for Judge’s trumpet incantations. Eventually the piece resolves itself by returning to a rhythm-less ambient electronic drone.
The album concludes with “Overpass Coda”, a brief but more ambient reprise of the earlier track.
“Strata” represents an impressive statement from Judge and Wigens. Its synthesis of jazz and electronica won’t suit everybody’s ears but, for me, this is evocative music with a strongly atmospheric and highly cinematic quality. One can quite easily imagine these pieces providing the soundtrack for an appropriately noirish film.
Although rooted in collective improvisation the individual pieces, and the album as a whole, have been assembled with great care, suggesting that the duo are their own best editors. The variety of sounds that they manage to generate from their two core instruments is impressive and their use of electronic effects is both subtle and inventive. One senses that it would be a very rewarding experience to see Eyebrow performing their music in a live setting where their imaginative and colourful use of electronics could be witnessed first hand. I’d also like to hear some of the album tracks being played on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” programme, for which they’d be a perfect fit.
I’m indebted to Pete Judge for also providing me with a copy of the earlier “Garden City” which exhibits very similar virtues and includes guest contributions from Get The Blessing’s Jim Barr on both guitar and bass.
All of Eyebrow’s albums can be purchased at;