Of Thunderstorms, Rivers and Emptiness

If only silence was round,
Albert Newton  (Shrike Records)
Water Drips Clear, Sue Lynch (Scatter Archive)
Tongue of Fire / Eyes of Light, N. O. Moore (Scatter Archive)

For those unfamiliar with their work, Albert Newton is a trio comprising of Pat Thomas (keyboards), John Edwards (double bass) and Charles Hayward (drums). They’ve been around for a long time, starting out as a quartet with the trumpeter, Harry Beckett, who died in 2010. They achieve the no mean feat of making music that is at once accessible and uncompromising. This album, If only silence was round, was recorded last year at Lewisham Arthouse.

Thomas started playing jazz in his teens. In the past, he’s collaborated with Tony Oxley, Lol Coxhill and Derek Bailey. He cites Sun Ra as a huge influence. Edwards, in common with the other members of the band, defies classification. He’s played with a wide variety of musicians including Bailey, Peter Brötzmann and Marshall Allen (who led the Sun Ra Arkestra after Sun Ra’s death). It’s hard not to be drawn in by the raw energy of the music, propelled along, as it is, by Hayward’s mesmeric drumming. Interviewed by Gary Gomes and Jason Gross in Perfect Sound Magazine, Hayward said ‘ I remember that one night, there was a thunderstorm when I was about 7 or 8 and without thinking about it, I just played with the thunderstorm on the piano. I just really connected. I was in this room but somehow I felt that I just connected everywhere. I’ve carried that with me for a long time’. Not only does it still show, but it ties in nicely with things Thomas has said about the keyboard and the challenge of trying to make an instrument that can only produce chromatic notes sound as if it’s producing noise.

I’d suggest you can think of that problem in two ways: both as using notes not for their harmonic implications but simply as sounds (that happen to be pitched) and as building up dense clusters of pitches. In Thomas’ playing, chords blur into clusters which blur into noise. He expands his sound-world, too, with a whole range of synth sounds, often with a retro-SF feel. It’s a world freighted with associations. As Mark Fisher wrote, talking about hauntology, ‘the electronic sounds produced between the 1950s and the 1990s remain sonic signifiers of the future – and, as such, they are signs that the anticipated future never actually arrived’. Afrofuturism and hauntology are two sides of the same phenomenon. The ghost of Sun Ra – that name again – is never far away; and it’s a welcome ghost: the music never descends into mere imitation. Albert Newton is the real thing.

The saxophonist Sue Lynch has worked with a wide range of other improvising musicians, including Steve Beresford, N.O. Moore and Eddie Prevost. She has played at many British and European venues and performed as part of Tarek Atoui’s Reverse Collection at The Tate Modern. She is one of the musicians behind The Horse Improvised Music Club in South London and, in 2016, set up Paradise Yard, an electro-acoustic ensemble featuring women improvisers.

The tracks on this album, Water Drips Clear, were recorded at various venues over the last few years. It’s a solo album. In the final, title track, Lynch’s tenor sax playing is augmented with a number of field recordings made by her at a number of locations in London. In the album-notes she says how the titles of the tracks ‘are inspired by the urban environment I live in and the ever present fight of the new against the consistent flow of the tides of The River Thames coming and going’.

The album runs to about half an hour. Anyone who feels daunted when faced with the prospect of solo albums of music for single-line melody instruments should have no worries here, though. Lynch’s imaginative stream-of-musical-consciousness is quite enthralling and manages to be so without ever being self-consciously virtuosic or ‘busy’. In the album-notes, she emphasises her relationship with the sound of the tenor sax and the different players who’ve influenced her. Some music presents us with a sonic narrative that can be easily transferred from one instrument to another, other music doesn’t, being deeply rooted in the sound of the instrument it’s made on. Sue Lynch’s performances fall very definitely into the latter category.

N. O. Moore is an improvising electric guitarist who also explores electronics in his work. He has worked with many other improvisers including Sue Lynch, Eddie Prevost, and Steve Beresford.   When he talks and writes about music, he says things which I suspect will seem very familiar to anyone who has every tried, seriously, to make improvised or experimental music. He’s interested in the relationship between energy and form. He doesn’t provide us with answers or formulae, but explores the possibilities through the music. As he says, ‘improvised music proves that something always remains unprovable’.

The tracks on this album, Tongue of Fire / Eyes of Light, are not unedited improvisations. They involve overdubs, which Moore says are made ‘spontaneously and intuitively’ – something, again, which I’m sure many improvising musicians can relate to. I’ve certainly had the experience of creating electronic manipulations and editing material in the same, open, intuitive state of mind I try to bring to improvisation, which leads me to conclude that improvisation isn’t something you just do in time, ‘from left to right’ (as one might say of written music).

From the very beginning of the first track, ‘The Withholding Power’, you realise this is music that moves slowly. The title is apt, as Moore is exercising the power to withhold, to let time elapse between one musical statement and the next. The sounds have an intensity that draws you in: the explosive guitar sounds in the next track, ‘Deodand’, feel like heavy metal in slow motion. The evolving drones of the third, ‘The Overview Effect’, create the impression that you’re gazing into the depths of something you can’t quite visualise. It’s an impression that’s carried over into the last, ‘Astronomos’, where you get the feeling – at least I do – that that something might be something quite disturbing, if irresistible. Moore says in the album notes that it was ‘made under conditions of lockdown (yeah, another one)’. He has also written about his childhood and how he used to listen to the sound of the wind in trees and how it ‘induced a feeling of deep dread and emptiness in me but, as I lay there, the sound became enveloping and comforting. That’s the first time I can remember experiencing the absence inside of what exists … and gladly that sound still reaches me today.’ All of which which might go some way to explain my impressions.




Dominic Rivron

If only silence was round: https://shrikerecords.bandcamp.com/album/if-only-silence-was-round
Water Drips Clear: https://scatterarchive.bandcamp.com/album/water-drips-clear
Tongue of Fire / Eyes of Light: https://scatterarchive.bandcamp.com/album/tongue-of-fire-eyes-of-light
Sue Lynch’s website: https://suelynch.wordpress.com/biog/
N.O. Moore at 15 Questions: https://www.15questions.net/interview/no-moore-about-improvisation/page-1/
Pat Thomas, interviewed in UK Vibe: https://ukvibe.org/revibe/interviews/2014-interviews/pat-thomas-2014/
John Edwards, interviewed in Something Else: https://somethingelsereviews.com/2014/03/15/something-else-interview-double-bassist-john-edwards-finds-inspiration-everywhere/
Charles Hayward, interviewed in Perfect Sound Forever: https://www.furious.com/perfect/charleshayward.html






This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.