Assumed Possibilities

Confront / FRONT05

Chris Burn (piano), Rhodri Davies (harp), Phil Durrant (violin), Mark Wastell (cello)

There’s little point in picking out individual contributions on a session like this; it seems that the whole purpose of this group is to create an ensemble sound, not a series of solos or duos. Although one player may emerge into prominence, it rarely lasts long and all four are much more interested in where the quartet can take the music than in making personal statements. That’s a huge strength, because this very rarefied kind of music-making can easily get hijacked by musicians with too much ego or just an insufficient understanding of the genre.

While one can clearly hear the different musicians’ approaches coming through in the music, then, the most characteristic and successful moments are those which make the ear forget it’s hearing four different instruments. The group’s composition, and the strategies which each member employs within it, foster this effect and it’s obviously intentional. The sound is of bowed, struck and plucked strings, all three techniques and a hundred others being employed by all four musicians as if their instrumemts were just four different flavours of the same basic object, or even four corners of one enormous machine. Take “Ysbeiliais rifed’r ser” (Davies almost always manages to get some Welsh track titles into his projects), with its volcanic opening; “nobody solos, everybody solos” doesn’t even come close.

Just because it involves improvisation, this kind of group tend to get lumped together with free jazz. One might as well compare Bismillah Khan with David S Ware; the differences could hardly be more striking. Once and for all: this disc, like many others in the free improv school, has nothing whatsoever to do with jazz. Simply because it lacks a consensual label doesn’t mean that “chamber improv” or whatever you like to call it is simply a spin-off from something else. This kind of music is an entity in itself.

These are intricate, complicated improvisations which demand your undivided attention. Put them on as background music and they’re pretty meaningless; sit with them and give them your time and each piece starts to make its own kind of sense. They’re numbered editions in a limited pressing of 100, so get ’em while they’re hot. Richard Cochrane