SZUN WAVES - New Hymn To Freedom
The Leaf Label: Bay 111CD
Luke Abbott: synths; Laurence Pike: drums; Jake Wyllie: saxophone.
Recorded 2016 by James Holden at Sacred Walls, and 2017 by David Pye at Fish Factory.
Released last Autumn, this CD featured in several ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year. It is no surprise that this was so well received. The title ‘New hymn to freedom’ can be deconstructed to define the novelty of the music being made here, the approach to improvisation , and the serenity of the hymn-like beauty of each piece. Tazelaar Stevenson’s intriguing art work on the CD cover, reminiscent of Eastern calligraphy, reinforces the zen-like calmness of stretches of the music here. This is reinforced with titles like ‘Constellation’, ‘Moon runes’, or ‘Fall into water’.
Wyllie (familiar to me from Portico Quartet) paints across the ambient experiments of Abbott’s synths and Pike’s percussion pulls the pieces into a richly textured sound-scape. That the pieces are improvised can almost be lost on the listener on first encountering them; there is so much detail and richness of ideas that it feels as if the music has been carefully composed and honed prior the musicians picking it up. The reality is that the six pieces are improvised entirely live, with “no edits or overdubs”. Each piece arises from the explorations of three musicians who have developed their own musical idiolect. As Abbott says, in the liner notes, “It still feels to me like a mystical adventure when we play, but there’s a musical language developing between us, we’re starting to make more sense together.” As this is their second recording (following their eponymous debut a couple of years ago), you can appreciate why Abbott is suggesting that they are making ‘more sense together’ – but I’d challenge his choice of the word ‘starting’ as theirs is already a fully-fledged sound that is unique in current improvised jazz. This is music that has the depth and complexity of well-made ambient-electronica, the shifting tonal and rhythmic palettes of jazz and world music, drifting into patches of pulsating energy and back into eddies of calm. The improvised nature of the sound keeps the music on that knife-edge between chaotic (with building drum crescendos) and tentative (with long synth chords sounding like church organs). What the trio have proven adept at doing is keeping one step ahead of the music as it unfurls, watching its flow and movement, and then reeling it back s before releasing it again. This, to me, has an attitude that owes as much to rave culture and the building of tension in dance tunes, as it does to jazz and electronic music – not so much in tunes intended to stir the feet, but rather in their ability to create a deep sense of spiritual movement – real soul music (as in music for the soul).
Reviewed by Chris Baber