114CD - Alex Ward - Gated - CD plus download

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Description

Conceived and realised over an 8-month period of intense solitary work, "GATED" is Alex Ward's most ambitious musical statement to date. The ten pieces employ all of Alex's instrumental resources as a performer, featuring clarinets, saxophones, guitars, keyboards, electric bass and assorted software instruments; and furthermore they draw on everything he has learned during his three-decades-plus of activity as a free improviser, composer/bandleader and sideman. The result is a dense and multi-layered array of detailed compositional structures, headlong improvisational flights and deft studio manipulation.

As the conception of the album progressed and Alex resolved to let his ideas develop in a manner unfettered by anything other than his own aspirations and abilities, he strove to create a work which would inhabit a wide-open stylistic and sonic terrain without succumbing to the pitfalls of pastiche. The range of instrumentation and attack deployed throughout the album might at various points suggest any number of strands of avant/experimental rock, AACM-and-beyond traditions of creative music, or post-Darmstadtian chamber rigour; but rather than generic signifiers being employed as decoration or even tribute, in "GATED" every musical element is mined for the most fertile and least standardised possibilities it can yield. Despite the album's startling diversity of sound and atmosphere, a consistent set of compositional and aesthetic principles underlies its entire contents.

This album is dedicated to Simon H. Fell (1959-2020).

Reviews

Like a Hitchcock soundtrack for the 21st century - Neil Nixon, STRANGE FRUIT

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Another sonic adventure from Discus finds Alex Ward‘s abilities on the various instruments used here being stretched to their limits. He plays everything here, and that covers guitar, bass, drums, woodwind, keyboards and various dizzying noisemakers. Not only is it an instrumental tour de force, but the musical styles that the album encompasses are varied in the extreme, bursting through: free jazz, metal, math rock and ambient drone, often with them all in one piece. Gated is a fairly breathless listen with little opportunity for respite, and I find myself trying to picture the process of Alex recording the pieces section by section, playing over himself, over and over, pushing ever further as the tempo increases and the solos spiral out of control, speakers rattling. Spread across ten tracks, the shortest of which is two minutes, the longest eighteen, you don’t really know what to expect apart from a sensory overload. I am reminded of Jesus Lizard in places, but to some unexpected extreme; and then you may find yourself tripping down a psychedelic woodwind blowout next. It is quite something. The two-minute opener “Heat Patch” is the ultimate jerk out of complacency; the woodwind flutters like a crazed moth as the drums push and parry, the guitar a brief explosion. It feels like a supremely compressed box full of elastic bands just waiting to burst or somebody gritting their teeth until they crack. It is that sort of intensity. The bass playing throughout is clean and concise, but twists and turns, trying to lose the drums that at times come on like a machine gun. Just when you think you might have the measure, a track like “Let” appears with its slightly atonal horns. It is soft-ish and a little hesitant in its atmosphere, the drums mellow and the cymbal wash surprisingly welcoming. There is a little metal in the ingredients on the album, with the staccato drumming of “Buyout” definitely of the speed variety; they have the power of a waterfall, and with the churning bass and eccentric guitar, there is no space whatsoever to even breathe, each second stuffed with sound. There is a little more room on “Hewn”, but then it is just over eighteen minutes long. The shimmer of the cymbals is deeply affecting here, but it is impossible to relax because you just don’t know what will happen next. One abstract section of industrial noise reminded me of a particular Don Caballero track, the one where it feels as if you have inadvertently wandered into a sawmill. I think there are some vibes on “Stilled” and they hang in the air, circling ever higher, just out of reach, as if picking the right moment to swoop; while “Cushioned” is a free combo of cheery piano and clarinet. It is full and vibrant, and even has a touch of Hammond, which adds some drama, and the whole piece is exhilarating and desperate in equal measure. It is part of the joy of the album, seeing what instruments will be gathered together on each track. Alex also loves that sense of hypnotic repetition that comes from hammering a single chord and not relenting, as if trying to overload the listener or see how much they can take. It reminds me a little of that Human Impact album that was released recently, but with so many more tributaries flowing into the raging torrent.  Gated is one of those records that gives up so much more every time you listen and that special feeling never grows old. You kind of have to take a deep breath and force yourself to relax once the album ends; and we all need that once in a while. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ http://freq.org.uk/

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There are enough ideas in the first couple of numbers to fill a whole album, with wailing sax and clarinet and lightning propelled guitar in the brief opener ‘Heat Patch’- think Zappa- then Fripp in ‘The Celebration Restriction’. It’s a whirlwind, visceral listen with the free spirit of experimental jazz and the nous of heavy rock. But it is odd to speak of ‘Gated’ in terms of individual numbers, as the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and it works as a continuous piece of music as ‘Let’, the third number, heads off into chamber music. ‘Hewn’ is the longest piece, just over eighteen minutes, and carries on the frantic, unsettling expressionism of its predecessor, releasing the fury, fire and anger in a stormy cacophonous depiction of what, in my fevered imagination, was a war machine. Guitar, bass, drums predominate, in avant-rock mode. ‘Cushioned’ is a fourteen minute number, returning to chamber-style with mazy bass and sax runs, tremulous piano, organ and percussive interjections. ‘Brow’ is back to the grinding Frippian guitar chords with Grand Prix speed guitar and sax soling, juxtaposed with short reflective passages of play. ‘Gated’ was conceived and recorded over an intensive eight-month period and, while a difficult listen at times is compositionally sound, virtuosic and unforgettable. It’s a pity that Ward did not split up the longer numbers and that he does not reveal the thinking behind ‘Gated’ but that just adds to the intrigue- a boundary-breaking release from the relentlessly adventurous Discus label. - Phil Jackson, ACID DRAGON

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