Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Spring Heel Jack Live is a result to SHJ's venture in the world of avant-jazz and improvised music. It all started with Masses, an album that was first in a project called "Blue Series Continuum," where avant musicians from the Thirsty Ear record label went to collaborate together. This duo has made a name for itself in the world of drum'n'bass and dance music and their decision to join another group of free jazz musicians (Evan Parker , Mathew Shepp, Tim Berne , Roy Campbell, George Trebar, etc.) resulted in almost total abandoning of their electronica origins to pursue new directions and challenges in the domain of free jazz. The outcome was music that went beyond anyones expectations and was often unrafined, noisy, free but beautiful. But this was not a collective improvisation as it was usually done in jazz music.
This is actually a collage of those players' improvisations over the digital effects and processing provided by the Spring Heel Jack. The samples, loops as well as the found noises meant that they have surrendered the drum'n'bass works and were attempting a new kind of fusion, between studio manipulation and improvisation. Masses was then followed by Amassed and this time beside Mathew Shipp and Evan Parker they were accompanied by guests J. Spaceman aka Jason Pierce from Spiritualized on guitar (John Coxlon is a former member of Spiritualized) as well as Han Bennik on drums, Paul Rutherford on trombone, John Edwards on bass and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet. This time the adventure in the world of improvised music went even further and it seems that they have succedeed to top their best work in the genre that they invented.
Live finds these musicians ambitiosly pursuing into a territory that is neither completely free-jazz nor free-improv but instead it took some of the best moments from both worlds. It explores a vast soundworld of scratches and noises, frantic but focused and rhythmically tight playing. It is a collective improvisation but compared to other simmilar efforts this one actually is headed somewhere, it has a direction. Equally impressing as the others is J. Spaceman, who adds a trashy and unattamed noisey guitar typical for the Spiritualized sound. Although with different background compared to others he is no stranger to collective improv sessions as Spiritualized synthesizes the same free-improv approach into their own compositions (best seen at their live gigs) and they just turn into a beast where anything is possible. The same happens in here. Spirits lurk here and the ghost of Miles Davis (the electrified one circa 1974) can be seen somewhere around as the first track starts with the "...In A Silent Way" intro where J. Spaceman plays the Mclaughlin opening and then it bursts into a collective jam. John Coltrane can be also be heard here as Evan Parker's tenor sax resembles Coltrane's sound rather than his own. There are even moments when the collective sounds just like the Master Musicans Of Jajouka who have been doing this type of collective jams for the last 4000 years.
The second track starts with solo drum sounds i.e. it turns the drums into a symphony of sounds as drummer Bennik literally tries to squeeze all kinds of sounds from the drums. The intro on the drums lasts for about 8 minutes and later the band would join in a collective madness. The most impressive part is the middle section where forms would emerge and then would slowly dissolve, with intense passages interrupted by silences of irregular length. The piano chords near the end do resemble some of Spiritualized moments. In a way it reminds me of early Can collective improvisational efforts where the band functioned as one mind.
Live explores a vast landscape of moods, colors, styles and it features fierce, heavyweight performaces which even though joyful they are certainly cathartic. But for most part the music is adventurous, intriguing, challenging but demanding, which in the end will reward any patient listener with an open mind for new things." -AllAboutJazz
The Wire (7/03, p.71) - "...LIVE features two kaleidoscopic workouts, where each player gradually pushes forward only to be sucked back and repositioned somewhere else inside the group's evolving composition..."
Spring Heel Jack: John Coxon, Ashley Wales (various instruments).
Additional personnel: Jason "J Spaceman" Pierce (guitar); Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (Fender Rhodes piano); William Parker (bass); Han Bennink (drums).
Recorded live at The Corn Exchange, Brighton, England and The Michael Tippett Center, Bath, England on January 22 & 23, 2003.
This is part of Thirsty Ear Records "Blue" series.
Personnel: Spring Heel Jack (electronics); J. Spaceman (guitar); Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (Fender Rhodes piano); Han Bennink (drums).
Audio Mixer: Mads Bjerke.
Recording information: Corn Exchange, Brighton (01/22/2003-01/25/2003); Michael Tippett Centre, Newton Park College, Bath, Some (01/22/2003-01/25/2003).
Photographer: Jason Evans.
John Coxon and Ashley Wales -- aka Spring Heel Jack -- have been mucking about melding their progressive electronic drum'n'bass experiments with jazz and improvising musicians from the United States and Europe. Two recordings, Masses and Amassed, were released in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series; a third focuses on a live presentation of their ambitious sonic inquiries, where electronic meets organic and blurs the seams to create something entirely different. Performing with Matthew Shipp playing an electric Fender Rhodes piano, bassist William Parker, British sax king Evan Parker, drummer Han Bennink, and Spiritualized guitarist and frontman J. Spaceman, Coxon and Wales (himself a classical composer some years ago) have seemingly done the impossible, taking what is made on the spot and treating, warping, spindling, and manipulating it into a creature that may not resemble itself, but does indeed feel like something that lives, breathes, pulses, whispers, bleats, shouts, cries, and whimpers. Something wholly other that is neither jazz nor pure improv nor electronica, this attains the goal of live music itself -- as a thoroughly engaging experience for musicians and audience alike.
Quotes from great jazz masterpieces like "In a Silent Way" and "Naima" are touched upon, as are forgotten pop hits such as "Little Green Apples," morphing from one individual's voice to another's seamlessly and without communicative strain. Dynamics occur naturally, as do changes in pace, tempo, and harmonic architecture. Given that there are two different pieces here, each over half an hour in length, this pace and focus are hard to keep, but the way Spring Heel Jack treats its collaborators' improvising schemes and mirrors them back, stretching them out against time and pulling them forward, allows for more space, more room for rhythm to assert itself. Bennink and William Parker do this with a vengeance on the extended opening to "Part Two," going on for over eight minutes before the rest of the band comes in. It's not just a dialogue they develop between the bass, drums, and ambience, but language itself. Before they are halfway done, they begin to speak with one voice as a rhythmic solo. When the rest of the band enters, it's fast and furious before breaking down into smaller parts of singles and pairs to meet the language previously created and engage it in dialogue, even while quoting from earlier sources -- "A Love Supreme" is one, a boogie-woogie version of "Harlem Nocturne" is another, while "Lennie's Pennies" is still another. This is fascinating stuff to say the least, and devastatingly original at its best. Highly recommended. ~ Thom Jurek