Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"After two successful group improv albums - one with American avant gardists and the other with their British counterparts - and a brilliant live album uniting the two, Spring Heel Jack offers creative music fans The Sweetness of the Water, the group's fourth on Matthew Shipp's eclectic Blue Series imprint at Thirsty Ear.
The latest release from IDM-cum-free jazz duo Spring Heel Jack brings esteemed trumpeter and vanguard composer Wadada Leo Smith to the mix, along with reedsman and longtime Spring Heel collaborator Evan Parker , fellow Brit John Edwards on bass, and drummer Mark Sanders .
The Sweetness of the Water is a strong offering from John Coxon and Ashley Wales (the masterminds behind Spring Heel Jack), with a more intimate, live feel than the group's previous electro-heavy efforts. This intimacy is no doubt a product of the group's exciting trips out of the studio and on the road for a UK tour in 2003.
Parker returns to the Spring Heel mix after contributing to the pair's records since 2000, with his bellowing, screaming sax juxtaposed perfectly by Smith's Miles-ish trumpet. Smith, hands down one of the most under-recognized voices in jazz's last thirty years, is rightfully showcased to the fullest extent on Sweetness.
With its gospelized, droning organ and Parker's testified cries, "Lata" seems ripped from J. Spaceman's Spiritualized songbook - no wonder that Mr. Spaceman is a friend and collaborator to the Spring Heel lot. This selection is followed by "Duo," a doodling drum and guitar duet that signifies why this album just isn't for everyone.
Over an eerie and echoing piano line, Parker and Smith engage in beautiful dialogue on "Track One" - at times they're screaming at one another, at other times gently whispering, interjecting or offering guidance to each other's improvisational explorations. This tune is simply wonderful, emphasizing that under-recognized adjective attributed to Mr. Smith above.
While not SHJ's best work on the Blue Series (that would be 2000'sMasses ), The Sweetness of the Water is no less exciting or provocative. This electro-acoustic jazz offering should please most fans of creative improvisation but leave the followers of Matthew Shipp's funk-friendly free jazz looking for somewhere else to jam." -AllAboutJazz
"John Coxon and Ashley Wales (together known as Spring Heel Jack ) have stirred the stimulus of several musicians, their bed of bass and drums and electronics being the take-off point. They do so once more with their fourth outing in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, this time with the indelibly persuasive presence of Wadada Leo Smith and regular cohort Evan Parker .
The music here is completely improvised, a perfect setup for some provocative twists and turns, as it evolves in the sphere of freedom and settles very comfortably in a structured realm as well. Inventiveness casts its spell within these two ambits.
One of the most stunning tracks comes in the radiance of "Autumn." The rich hues of Coxon's hymnal organ set the tone, and then Smith delves into it, long lustrous lines that shimmer in their intensity before they curl and beckon Wales, who provides a thick, velvet drape for the trumpet to bounce off. Change is shaded and in that subtlety a magical resonance is created. "Track One" offers a sparser landscape. In its quiet permutations, the unhurried piano makes good use of space to lay down notes while Coxon exudes calm with his laid back harmonica. Smith hammers at that fabric with flinty shards, triggering dramatic impulses that give the tune a fulsome body.
Smith is the one who often creates interesting pathways. His trumpet is the herald and the diviner. But Parker must be given his due. His soprano floats with a lovely delicacy on "Inlet," the meditative feel abetted by the arco of John Edwards. And then as he builds tension slowly but surely on "Quintet "; the others, particularly Mark Sanders , who makes adept use of the brushes and cymbals, reach in and play off each other to intense effect." -AllAboutJazz
"Spring Heel Jack is the brainchild of British musicians John Coxon and Ashley Wales, who have collaborated with jazz musicians to create a new fusion of free jazz and electronica. On The Sweetness Of The Water , Coxon and Wales merge their keyboards, guitars, and sound sculptures with the acoustic quartet of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith , saxophonist Evan Parker , bassist John Edwards, and drummer Mark Sanders . The resulting music is often meditative, frequently thoughtful, and always majestic and masterful.
As good as Spring Heel Jack's previous efforts were, at times the electronics would either stand outside the acoustic music, or they would overwhelm the acoustic players. But this time the electronics are integrated remarkably well into the band sound, an instrument fully participating in the ensemble. For example, on "Track One," layered electronics create a series of drones under a repeated piano figure as Smith and Parker improvise remarkably cohesive lines. On "Lata," Coxon's vibes provide harmonic and rhythmic movement while Parker swirls microtones around the vibes and some bubbling electronic textures.
The rhythms of this music are often rubato and very gentle. Sanders' drumming on "Track Two" makes subtle flamenco or funk gestures until the band eases into a swaying, lightly swinging waltz to bring the music home. In a sense, however, The Sweetness Of The Water belongs to Wadada Leo Smith, a major trumpet voice who has yet to receive proper recognition. Smith's trumpet improvisations here are often lyrical, sometimes assertive, always unpredictable. He is absolutely splendid. Likewise, Evan Parker plays very well, and his warm tenor tone on "Track One" catches the listener's ear. The Sweetness Of The Water is electro-acoustic jazz at its finest." -AllAboutJazz
Magnet (p.118) - "[T]he players real-time responses to each other are exquisite."
Down Beat (p.67) - 3 stars out of 5 - "Smith gives THE SWEETNESS OF WATER its center of gravity. His use of space is one of his strengths, and perhaps his greatest debt to Davis."
Spring Heel Jack: Ashley Wales (acoustic guitar, trumpet, congas, samples, electronics); John Coxon (guitar, organ, harmonica, vibraphone, samples, electronics).
Additional personnel: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Evan Parker (soprano & tenor saxophones, piano); John Edwards (bass); Mark Sanders (drums, timpani).
Spring Heel Jack: John Coxon, Ashley Wales.
Personnel: Ashley Wales (guitar, acoustic guitar, trumpet, piano, congas, electronics, sampler); John Coxon (guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, organ, vibraphone, bass drum, cymbals, electronics, sampler); Evan Parker (saxophone, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano); Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); John Edwards (double bass, upright bass, drums); Mark Sanders (drums, timpani).
Additional personnel: Evan Parker, John Edwards , Mark Sanders , Wadada Leo Smith.
Audio Mixer: Guy Massey.
Recording information: Gateway Studios, Kingston, Jamaica.
The British duo of John Coxon and Ashley Wales have come a long way since their drum-and-bass beginnings in the mid-1990s. Back then Spring Heel Jack was an electronic-oriented project that put a new slant on the IDM sounds of the day. Around the time they signed to Thirsty Ear at the century's turn, they began expanding their sound in an infinite number of directions, ultimately becoming a largely acoustic-oriented, avant-garde free-jazz/modern-improv project. The version of the band that inhabits THE SWEETNESS OF THE WATER ventures even further in the aforementioned experimental direction.
Coxon and Wales had been working with saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist John Edwards (among other free jazzers) for a while, but here they crucially add legendary trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, who brings both grace and grit to the frequently stark, severe electro-acoustic settings. Space and time are suspended as Smith's trumpet and Parker's sax jab and tug at the abstract, rubato framework provided by the rhythm section. In the thick of it all, Coxon and Wales--mostly contributing guitars, keyboards, and extremely organic electronics--dab painterly touches in a highly impressionistic manner, skirting the lines between jazz, New Music, and ambient electronica with considerable prowess.