Monday 11 January 2010

Three On Mutable

TOM HAMILTON – Local Customs

When it comes to finding new relations and correspondences between the world’s regular occurrences and a musical idea, Tom Hamilton is unquestionably among the most inquisitive minds around. After having composed works based on the index of stock and gold markets, this time he relied on his “electronic harmony generator” and a small ensemble comprising Jacqueline Martelle (flute), Richard Cohen (clarinets), James Martin (trombone), Terry Kippenberger (contrabass) and Rich O’Donnell (percussion) to concoct five pieces whose basic structures derive from “coding and recoding various readings, investigations and experiences during a summer residency in Italy”. The result is somewhat strange, although definitely refreshing. The contiguity of sumptuous acoustic timbres with the clearly (voluntarily?) “plastic” quality of the electronic presets is at times difficult to swallow, to the point that one thinks that the combination was so conceived to add a pinch of irony to the composition. In a couple of instances I was slightly reminded of Andrew Poppy’s The Beating Of Wings, but don’t consider this quote as a parallelism. What strikes positively – and ultimately wins the game – is the enthralment generated by the contrapuntal redemption which the different instruments elicit, often unexpectedly; music where the balance of mild heteromorphism and utter transparency is nearly perfect, offering repeated chances to the listener to react sympathetically to something that is felt as familiar and bizarre at once.


Italy is again heavily involved in this superb set featuring bionic-fingered Bergman (77 this year…) and a violinist from Genoa, a big surprise for yours truly who never met him previously. Pastor’s style is a cross of sorts between Stephane Grappelli and Don “Sugarcane” Harris, born from an extensive period of experimentation culminated in the adoption of hard-tension electric guitar strings on the violin, thus obtaining a hoarse kind of sound which recalls those wind instruments from which Stefano was principally influenced during the formative years. This doesn’t detract from the astonishing poignancy that those lines evoke, chains of call-and-response jewels with Bergman literally touching the soul’s deepest depths. The pianist is obviously his usual extraordinary self, the legendary independence of the hands generating coordinated movement halfway through a Nancarrow piano roll and the purest poetry that the human ear can listen to. He seems to wander carelessly along the keyboard at supersonic speed then, all of a sudden, lets us realize that an eye had been left open, masterfully returning to the tune’s foundation with supreme nonchalance sprayed with unequalled technical elevation. A welcome extra presence in the recording is the local bell tower, whose tolling appears several times to add further magic to the duo’s exchanges. Ultimately, it’s the strong logic of insightful personal research shared by the couple that allows this music to shine, placing Live At Tortona at the inner edges of an elite neighbourhood.


Floyd defines himself as “pianist, composer, improviser”, this album ideally representing a showcase of all three characters fused into a sole entity. In Crossing The Busy Street is practically conceived like two mini LPs in a single CD, the first with baritone Thomas Buckner, the second with drummer George Marsh. The basic materials are the pieces with the former, duos for piano and voice whose lyrical content derives from a poem by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore. This is the place where I personally prefer to stay, the singer’s unique delivery characterizing the ravishing chord inversions spelled by Floyd’s hands over the course of eight mainly magnificent tracks. The music’s temperament is at the same time tenderly melancholic and intellectually bright, each part characterized by a peculiar solution which inserts an element of slight discordance – still extremely digestible – in an otherwise completely fluid harmonic itinerary. There are repeated moments of poignancy here, and the overall feel is one of total gratification at the end. The duets with Marsh, which originate from improvisations and variations on some of the existing chapters, are certainly gifted with style and poise, yet they lack a bit of the emotional intensity of the exchanges with Buckner. Piano and drums gel quite well, but the jazzier vibe appearing every once in a while renders the whole a little more “normal” to these ears, deprived of the enchantment that the sung verses had generated. However, this remains a fascinating document of refined musicianship. But if there’s a reason behind the necessity of owning this disc, it surely resides in the original material.