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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring Heel Jack - Songs & Themes (Thirsty Ear, 2008) ****½

The British duo of sampler Ashley Wales and multi-instrumentalist John Coxon, better known as Spring Heel Jack, continue their search for new sounds and musical sculptures, combining electronics with the expressive openness of free jazz. And true to their former releases on the Matthew Shipp's Thirsty Ear label, the musicians performing here are of the highest calibre : Roy Campbell on trumpet, John Tchicai on sax and bass clarinet, John Edwards on bass and Tony Marsh on drums, with guests Orphy Robinson on vibraphone, J Spaceman on electric guitar and Mark Sanders and Rupert Clervaux on drums. This is possibly their lightest and most accessible release to date, with slow moving atmospheric pieces, over which Campbell and Tchicai weave their often melancholy solos, with some exceptions. On "1000 years", J Spaceman builds a wall of guitar noise, and on the beautiful "Folk Players", Edward's arco bass, accentuated with vibes and percussion, produces some heartrending sounds. Another highlight is "For Paul Rutherford", a subdued homage by Campbell, accompanied by one lonely drum, for the trombonist who died last year. True, the editing takes away a lot of the spontaneity and emotional expressivenes we expect from jazz, but on the other hand, Coxon and Wales do it with so much respect for the material, with so much eye for subtlety, and with a great coherence, looking for new musical avenues, that the end result is really great.

Listen and download from iTunes.