88CD - Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS - Dream Feathers
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In this continuing series of releases with Ron, we seem to have arrived at an interesting place where an ostensibly straight jazz group playing melodic material is somehow unexpectedly pulled sideways into a strange alternative electroacoustic universe. We like this little clearing in the forest which we've found for Ron's music - and in many ways it continues the pioneering work of his early music with East Of Eden, all be it with technology which was not available to those musicians in those days.
Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones
Martin Archer – bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section
Laura Cole – acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium
Hervé Perez – field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing
Anton Hunter – guitar and electronics
Gus Garside – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums
Martin Archer has been oscillating between jazz and forms of electronica for years, sometimes cashiering his saxophones for lengthy periods. But jazz remains a fixed point in his vision and Dream Feathers continues an association with composer and fellow saxophonist Ron Caines that goes back to Archer's youthful infatuation with Caines's legendarily eclectic East Of Eden band.
The sound here combines Coltrane era ensembles (with Archer in the Dolphy role on bass clarinet rather than in his Hornweb guise) made out of regular piano, guitar, bass, drums elements.....but interspersed with field recordings and sound design by Hervé Perez. The results, like much of the Discus catalogue, are hard to locate generically but there's a growing sense that (relatively) straight jazz blowing - and Caines can blow relatively straight when he chooses - is back in uniform again.
The titles touch on Rothko and Uccello, and "Marcel" and "Nico" might be who we think they are, but there's no telling. Everything here has been, as they say themselves "unexpectedly pulled sideways into a strange alternative electroacoustic universe". A welcome return for The Axis, but almost more important, another celebration of Discus's unfettered aesthetic. - Brian Morton, THE WIRE
THE DEPTH OF ORIGINAL MUSIC, newly created by artists and then fathomed further by our own imagination, remains a never-fading fascination – an opportunity to hear sounds for the very first time, and then continue to appraise and interpret them in relation our own experiences and circumstances. The possibilities are limitless.
Dream Feathers, presented by Ron Caines / Martin Archer AXIS, beautifully exemplifies that fact in a nine-track soundscape led by veteran saxophonist Caines (“composer”) and Sheffield multi-instrumentalist Archer (“studio enabler and magician”) where a multiplicity of melodies, textures, rhythms and field recordings abound. And whilst entirely accessible, both the freedom and blend of scored and improvised music takes this septet’s output far beyond a sequence of ‘jazz tunes’ and into an hour-long realm where the mind might freely roam the unexpected, eliciting visual and even visceral responses on a personal level.
Completing the line-up, pianist Laura Cole, guitarist Anton Hunter, double bassist Gus Garside and drummer Johnny Hunter – also proven masters of invention – paint canvases of acoustic and electronic colour which are enhanced with great effect by Hervé Perez’s field recordings, electronics and processing.
Throughout, Caines’ clear saxophonic tone/vibrato and ‘off-piste’ perambulations are a joy. In memorable, cyclic African Violets, piano and horns create a Coltranesque foundation for him to stretch out across Johnny Hunter’s shimmering cymbals and solid drumming impetus; and his easy alto lyricism in broad Uccello / 1934 (incidentally, a significant year in British classical music) becomes echoed by the most delightfully sparse electronic drones and electric-piano chimes. Free improv is prominent in mischievous, angular Mazeep; in prickly, unpredictable Harmonix; and in darker, mini-maelstrom Nico. But just as effective, and certainly more immersive, are the outer eleven-minute ‘movements’ – Rothko Veil / Dream Feathers and Almazon / 1934 Reprise – whose gently-shifting strata of extemporisation and complementary field captures seep into mind and heart, ultimately carried away through a canopy of woodland birdsong.
Challenging categorisation, Dream Feathers is a three-dimensional, headphones-on exploration of beauty and openness. The grooves may become pleasingly familiar, each time you listen, but the improvisatory spirit also sustains interest to return again and again to discover more." - Adrian Pallant, AP Reviews
The album cover, an exquisitely painted iridescent bird against a black background; a visual clue to what happens here.
Dream Feathers arrives in January. Whilst too early to start writing about key recordings of 2020 I’d be surprised if this isn’t in my ‘crucial’ list at the end of the year. Rothko Veil/Dream Feathers blows in on electronics but immediately transfers to Ron Caines reeds. Windblown; a soundscape of song given an undertow of subtle percussion colouring off the electrics, curving the horn melody into place. It is impossible to draw the ears away from that evolving line.
On the short tune Mazeep the soprano sax performs speech patterns. Ron Caines, talking. I don’t know the storyline, I don’t need to, other than it feels so totally tonally ‘on’, opening up a brief piano affirmation. Spine chilling.
I could do a track by track description, much better to hear this wonderful recording for yourself. These are all Ron Caines tunes, yet the ensemble is everything. In places the Gus Garside/Johnny Hunter bass/drums team hang on it like Carter and Williams from the Miles Davis Quartet, such is their stealth. Laura Cole’s piano (acoustic & electric) structures the fix. Anton Hunter’s guitar, pithy, not over played. Archer’s multiple "hornweb" on African Violets, a gift. He and Hervé Perez provide all kinds of enhancing, yet nothing diverts from the Caines tenet.
By the time the ensemble reach the final track, Almazon/1934, they are essential. That hanging piano rings out a melody like bells from a high tower. Ron Caines, tenor purchasing another plangent melody squeezed by electrophopia. In the transfer from Almazon to 1934 the guitar is pushed through a gizmo, grinding the notes to audio dust accompanied by a field recording of bird song. And the horn, a lone deity left to flood the senses. Magnificent. - Steve Day, stevedaywordsandmusic
Ron Caines? The name evokes unspecified memories. A saxophonist ... Any Canterbury connection perhaps? This would at least fit the music on the album reviewed here to some extent. Some googling later I'm smarter. East Of Eden, then. Caines is originally from Bristol and was one of the founding members of the band with violinist Dave Arbus in 1967. On the band's first two albums he can be heard (see "Mercator Projected" and "Snafu", which I consider to be the best works of the band, and also as quite significant works of the British protoprog, especially the first. Caines left East Of Eden in the early 1970s, leaving little trace of rock history or on recordings. However, he remained very active in jazz circles, playing with Evan Parker, Keith Tippett and Steve Lacy, for example, and engaged extensively in painting.
At some point in the new millennium, Martin Archer must have run into him, because they both decided to start a joint project called AXIS. So far two albums have been released on Archer's label Discus: "Les Oiseaux De Matisse" (2018) and the review "Dream Feathers" (2019). The music from Caines was composed, while Archer and the other participants provided production and sound implementation. Archer and Caines, who also include the electronic craftsman Herve Perez.
All sorts of jazz-heavy sounds can be heard on "Dream Feathers", dominated by Caines' sax, but which is embedded in dense braids of further blows, electric guitar swarms and yells, various keyboard inserts, bass patterns (plucked or painted) and percussion. In addition, there are extended sound effects, some of tape (field recordings), various sound clouds and bulges, and many more electronic hisses, pipes and chirps. The result sounds rather free, sometimes driving jazz-rocking, sometimes impressionistic-sounding, but all in all comes quite rounded and airy. Comparisons could be drawn to the freer excursions of some Canterbury bands or musicians, or to the sound creations of Keith Tippett, already mentioned above. The electronics, combined with jazz and freer rock, certainly provide their own character.
"Dream Feathers" is a beautiful album for the jazz-savvy Avantprog or Canterbury fan, who has no aversions against electronic impurities. For example, anyone who appreciates some of the works of Markus Stauss reviewed on these pages should have no problems with Caines' music, who might be just as enthusiastic about it. This disc is also produced in a detailed manner. Each listening process opens up new sound facets. – Achim Breiling, Babyblaue Seiten (translated by Google)