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
Never mind the mystically beautiful cover art of Susan Caines, of a bird in the darkness of night, the music on this particular album is not only intoxicating but dances in your head during, after, and again, if you dare give more auditions. With a collection of musicians such as this, brought together as if more brilliance should occur, the listener expects miracles. Indeed, your wish is their command on 'Dream Feathers'.
A reference I found for 'dream feathers' is what are used in making the Native Indian dreamcatcher. In the study of dreams, feathers also mean to travel freely. The nature of this album does bring about such a powerful spell and the existence of open travel. Whatever the theme, there is certainly magic here. The undertaking serves to demonstrate a fine tuned ensemble that can work a new way to make music, can easily move to the conclusion, then work backwards to create illumination and uncover yet more euphoric art, in raw exploration, not just exercise of chart reading. Former East of Eden member (a 1970's proto-progressive rock group) and then working in important jazz circles with people like Keith Tippets, Ron Caines presents challenging compositions to a collection of artists who can create as a community that facilitates more than the original substance given to them. The Martin Archer Axis is alive and well here. Archer handles the band and studio arrangements superbly as well as an immaculate production job. On this album are Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/ Martin Archer – bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section/ Laura Cole – acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium/ Herve Perez – field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing/ Anton Hunter – guitar and electronics/ Gus Garside – double bass/ and Johnny Hunter – drums. Now one can see the scope that the music can manifest itself in. The capable headroom of the musicians is overwhelming. Almost terrifying by their level of skill.
Nine compositions, no overplaying, just full compass navigation by everyone, and deep listening, an equal partaking by all, cordial interplay, and respectful mingling of sparse mature ripe fruit just perfect for the picking. There is passion, yet subdued professional impetus. The outward reveal is exotic in character, but the interior feels blood deep in expert selection and inner circle communication, in a way only these artists can do. Sometimes imposing, but never overtly so, mostly noble in keeping a balance and spontaneous feel aflame in each measure of the music.
There is just a bit of references to many of the more abstract experimental bands such as Third Ear Band, but melody and a sombre gracefulness quickly call your attention to a more toasty atmosphere, smooth and inviting. Some free style jazz arises at times as well. The smooth sax, playful piano, exotic percussion, all quietly explorative and meditative air throughout, gives relaxation and mellow liberation to the listener. Only a spare amount of tension or chaos is introduced, to keep you alert and aware of possibilities. Incredible performance by everyone. The experience is like being in a cool wet dark jungle, where you are lost but safe, or so it seems. It is a trial of survival by acutely listening and using all your senses to survive.
With music such as this, it could have fallen way short with lesser musicians, but the dedication of each person involved keeps zero weakness. The work is elevated to say the least. With a delicate edge to each composition, each minute is fine tuned, analyzed by all, and famously made a masterpiece. Compact disc is in Martin Archer Discus fashion, a glossy 6 panel digipak, with thick plastic inner sleeve on disc, and overall gorgeous package. RECOMMENDED. - Lee Henderson, BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE
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
.....another album has appeared, Dream Feathers, this time another collaboration with Ron Caines, in the wake of 2018’s Les Oiseaux De Matisse and sweeping up a whole host of outstanding players into an subtle seven-piece, including Laura Cole on piano and Johnny Hunter on drums, that sits back and allows Ron’s compositions to unfold under their watchful eyes.
The album is bookended by two long tracks, and these allow the assorted players plenty of space to assert themselves. On the whole, Ron’s pieces have a kind of nebulous, romantic air that leans away from the sort of improv I was half expecting, and instead contains a kind of smoky sensuality that emits from the speakers like a flutter of feathers. That smooth smokiness, when allied to Laura’s deep-tracking piano, lends a dusky atmosphere made all the more mysterious by the sounds of shadow and stealth that Hervé Perez and Anton Hunter draw from electronic sources. The sax moves in a slight daze, as if its attention is wandering, and the subtle textures can drop in and out of focus when you are least expecting them. The other players use these opportunities to proffer a little abstraction, a kind of kaleidoscope of visions in which the sax dances, undulating in the scant twilight.
There is much attention played to the sax, but you can’t help escaping into the background at times; the rolling drums on “African Violets” highlighting the sweetness of the sax in this modern setting. The sawing double bass of Gus Garside that appears on “Marcel” is a welcome lip-smacking addition to the flickering drums as the players feel each other out, watching the movements in candlelight reflected across the room. The textures on “Uccello/1934” are irresistible, and the reverb lays like wreaths of smoke around Ron’s head. Even the follow-through of his breath is caught by the crystalline production and almost puts you in the room with them. The repetitive, circulating piano motif and soft bass find you drifting through patterns of light and shade, with the infusion of electronics nudging at Ron’s closed eyes as the rest of the players watch rapt.
The measured use of electronic textures lend an air of external influence to the pieces, and at times shake us from the dreamlike air that envelopes the sax. But there are opportunities for things to be stripped right down to a more familiar jazz-based sound as on the delightful piano and sax duet of “Nico” and the barely accompanied shoreline sax meandering of “Scratch Line” with the sound of seagulls and trickle of water putting you right there in the open. The piano is extraordinarily resonant on the final track “Almazon/1934 reprise”, and acts almost as a kind of warning to the carefree sax — but a warning against what? The guitar casts eerie spectres, and the slap and clatter of the drums is urgent. It feels as though they are playing in the open air, but close to an airport, the rush of take-off murmuring in the distance and when that has passed, feats of birds appear in a close-by copse, attracted by the unfolding soundscape drifting from the instruments, painting a picture of harmony and tension captured by players at the height of their game." - Mr Olivetti, FREQ
There’s a clear division of labour at work in this particular axis: Ron Caines, erstwhile member of UK psych-prog originals East of Eden, writes the tunes, while Martin Archer, Discus label head honcho, arranges them for interpretation by a hand-picked ensemble of top UK improvisers. On this follow-up to their 2018 debut, Les Oiseaux De Matisse, Archer brings studio effects into clearer focus, encouraging a rich electroacoustic stew. Opening track ‘Rothko Veil/Dream Feathers’, for instance, stacks up bright electronic flickers and flutters to create a chirruping environment from which Caines’ alto sings out an aching, unadorned refrain that seems subliminally to echo Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman.’ It’s not the only seeming incongruity at play. On pieces like ‘Mazeep,’ a tumbling, circular riff strains against Johnny Hunter’s turbulent free drum churn before the whole thing latches onto a snippy rim-shot rhythm. Caines has made it abundantly clear that he harbours little love for the jazz-rock his previous band were known for, while Archer is an avowed fan of Soft Machine – a creative tension that manifests in curious ways: on ‘African Violets,’ Archer overdubs a queasily modulated, Canterbury-esque one-man horn section while, on ‘Almazon/1934 reprise,’ Laura Cole’s electric piano and Anton Hunter’s soaring electric guitar propose a kind of roiling free-Prog. - Daniel Spicer, JAZZWISE
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)
Their collaboration continues and grows. A new recording has been recently released by Discus Music: ‘Dream Feathers’. Again with the assistance of more or less the same crew: 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). Ron Caines plays soprano, alto & tenor saxophones and Martin Archer plays bass clarinet, organ and electronics. All material is composed by Caines, with arrangements by Archer. His compositions are very open and melodic. Leaving room for the listener to fill the gaps. Still, his music is very cohesive and moving like a slowly meandering river somewhere between jazz and ambient soundscapes. Some of the titles, like ‘Marcel’, seem free improvised and are more dynamic. The title piece has effective use of field recordings, whereas, in other compositions, gestures by electronic means are added. It is a joy to listen to Caines’ warm sound and lyrical style. I like their slightly psychedelic and accessible music more than from their first effort. And it is above all fantastic to witness the blossoming up of Caines’ musical vision after so many years. - Dorf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY
I was surprised to learn, and not in a good way, that a year has passed since I last reviewed an album by these artists, but the surprise was more than compensated by the fact that this second album is now with us.
If a third arrives at the same time next year then the surprise will take on a depth of positive pleasure, for what we have here is musical business of an order than can’t realistically be incorporated within the increasingly heavily populated modern mainstream, while the reactions it provokes equally fall well outside of the usual epithets. Harmonix has about it a restless air, though not of the order which suggests nothing other than musicians striving for effect and (at best) achieving only a small measure of it.
I don’t know if Nico is dedicated to the still deeply enigmatic chanteuse, but whether it is or not is irrelevant as it documents Caines at his most animated on alto sax. In that earlier review I did make the point that there was some overlap between Caines and the late Arthur Blythe, so it’s no bad thing to make it known that here the debt is even less pronounced. We have music that makes few if any concessions to mainstream taste, and inevitably makes demands of the listener that, in recorded terms at least, are far from common in this era.
Scratch Line makes that point with interest, while the concluding Almazon / 1934 Reprise is “far out” enough to evoke Marion Brown’s inscrutable soundscaping for the Impulse and ECM labels. In short, and in common with that element of that past master’s output, here there’s music that offers ample rewards for those cussed enough to get to grips with it. – Nic Jones. JAZZ JOURNAL
The "AXIS" of UK saxophonist Ron Caines and multi-reedist Martin Archer, also on organ and electronics, in a subtle septet with outstanding players including Laura Cole on piano and Johnny Hunter on drums, in a set of dream-like and lyrically beautiful improvisations, merging electronics and horns over a powerfully solid rhythm section that create warm textural cycles. - SQUIDCO
I am slowly working my way through shelves of vinyl and milk crates of CD’s, listening to many discs that I’ve never or rarely heard. As I organize one section at a time, I listen to records which help me to see & hear a bigger picture the many types of music that cherish. I have been on a binge of mostly UK-based psych/prog/jazz-rock from 1967 through the early seventies and there is quite a bit of this to marvel at. A British band that I have returned to recently is called East of Eden (from Bristol, UK), who made eight albums between 1969 & 1978. I just listened to their first album, ‘Mercator Projected’ (1969) the other night and marveled at its quirky, distinctive blend. The main saxist on this record is Ron Caines, who left after that first album and returned for a reunion version of the band in 1989.
Not sure what else Mr. Caines has done through his long musical life but now he co-leads a band with Martin Archer called AXIS and this is their second disc as far as I can tell. Over the past few months, Mr. Archer, who runs this, the Discus label, sent me a half dozen discs out of the blue, each one engaging in different ways. Mr. Caines wrote all of the music on this disc while Mr. Archer did the arrangements & production. All of the musicians here are part of Mr. Archers’ ever-growing team, appearing on most of the Discus discs in different combinations, as leaders or as collaborators. The opening two part piece “Rothko Veil/Dream Feathers”, goes through some hypnotic swerves for mostly soprano sax (Archer), keyboards (Ms. Cole) & relaxed rhythm team cushion. “African Violets” has a strong Trane-like vibe, super-fine toned sax from Mr. Caines, over a swell South African gospelish melody, simmering electronics and background horn section colors. It is the piano playing by Laura Cole that is most enchanting and dream-like at times which weaves its way through all of the pieces here. Ms. Cole also has a recent 2 CD set on Discus that I haven’t gotten to yet but will soon. Mr. Caines sounds great on soprano sax snaking his way through “Marcel”, sailing high over a solid bass clarinet, guitar, electronics, acoustic bass & drums fronted unit. On several occasions Mr. Archer’s bass clarinet plays the role of Benny Maupin for the ‘Bitches Brew’ sessions. There is a haunting, ghostlike vibe at center here. Another notch for the ever-growing Discus catalogue. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Equally refined is the Axis project, where Martin Archer joined forces with legendary saxophonist Ron Caines. The backbone of their new album Dream Feathersis three 11-minute songs with relatively melodic material and a seemingly "classical" jazz band and Ron has the role of soloist. Everything here unfolds naturally smoothly, but Archer's arrangements always carry some sneakiness, plus there is a kind of gray eminence of Hervé Perez, who took care of field recordings, electronics and overall sound design. Caines's compositions follow his ancient work, but only now, thanks to the current studio conditions, does he have the opportunity to make his ideas stand out in full force. The opening Rothko Veil/Dream Feathers sounds romantic, but sometimes there's something scratchy and the finale with the chirping of birdies sounds magical. An avant-garde-inched listener may not even see the oddities and finesse (hence he won't get mad) and the connoiss drinker will slap (and he will understand that it's ok with the same niceness). The centerpiece of Ucello / 1934 is in an ambient mood, but the individual instruments here are definitely not intertwined into a monotonous monolith. Especially pronounced here is laura cole's piano The final double Almazon / 1934 Reprise is already more interwoven with various unidentifiable noises and drums, and in the reprise the lead role is taken by anton hunter guitar, who is another electro-healer. And at the very end, the magic birds come back again. In the other, there are shorter songs in a more straight jazz spirit, where rhythms performed by bassist Gus Garside and drummer Johnny Hunter are great. A special chapter, however, is a piece called Harmonix, where the electronic roundworms are more than a bit full of misrepresentation, eching, etc. even if they take place as if in the background. Moreover, at one point there will be an amazing craziness, and again it will turn into a peaceful passage with a wave of a twig. That's a real master.' And once again, the whole work proves Archer's ability to make the most of it without having to be flamboyant or eye-watering. - Petr Slaby, HisVoice
Saxophonist Ron Caines of pioneering ‘60s progressive-jazzers East Of Eden meets Discus head Martin Archer (clarinet, organ, electronics) in uptown Sheffield, armed with a formidable team of Laura Cole on pianos and harmonium, Hervé Perez with his field recordings and sound design, Anton Hunter on electric guitar, Gus Garside on double bass and Johnny Hunter on drums. Archer and Perez, as I recall, were involved in the trio Inclusion Principle that put out an album out on Discus a couple of years back. That’s a hip line-up right there, so I’m excited even before I press ‘play’ on the cd player. This disc follows hot on the heels of Ron’s album Les Oiseaux de Matisse from last year also on Discus, and features almost the same line-up of musicians; guitarist Graham Clark being absent on Dream Feathers. I really like the way the material on this album seamlessly veers from melodic to free-form in interesting and unexpected ways. I suspect all the players have been chosen for their ability to take on both worlds with enthusiasm, creativity and aplomb. Martin Archer puts it thusly: “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…” As promised, the music shifts like desert sand dunes, changing almost imperceptibly from traditional references through free-playing and progressive forms. Like Les Oiseaux… before it, Caines turns unexpected corners and expresses something new.
“African Violets” has fantastic guitar feedback sounds like iron bridges collapsing in the distance. “Marcel”’s wind and double bass interplay is given a lift by sudden echo on the saxophone. Nice little touches of experimentalism; nothing that slaps you around the face, just subtle and, here’s that word again, unexpected. “Nico” – the title possibly referencing the influential female Teutonic titan of the weird – features very nice tremolo guitar. And in the closing piece, “Almazon 1934 reprise”, there’s even some tasty dub-style echoes breaking up Anton Hunter’s fuzz-laden guitar excursions. I’m bound to assume it is Martin Archer who is responsible for these nifty little ideas, as it is he who is credited as producer. If it’s not, then it could be David Watts at Chairworks Studio, or more likely the group themselves…
Ron’s wife Susan, a professional artist, provides the mysterious paintings for the sleeve artwork. I like the way label head Martin Archer always puts the cd in its own poly sleeve inside the high quality heavy card stock full colour digipack sleeves he uses for all his Discus releases. It’s like he genuinely wants to ensure his product arrives in the best possible condition and he wants it to stay that way; you can tell he really cares. All in all, not as wild and out-there as Les Oiseaux de Matisse, but impressive nonetheless. - Paul Khimasia Morgan, SOUND PROJECTOR