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Spring Heel Jack: Live

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Album Review

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.


Formed: 1993 in London, England

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The recordings of John Coxon and Ashley Wales as Spring Heel Jack were some of the earliest and best applications of hard-edged drum'n'bass to the full-length LP concept with no lack of energy, similar in result to Orbital's living-room/danceclub fusion of techno. A pop producer who had worked with Betty Boo, Marc Almond, and Spiritualized, Coxon met up with classical composer Wales while working as a soul DJ in London's East End. The duo soon began recording breakbeat jungle, initially with inclinations...
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Spring Heel Jack: Live, Spring Heel Jack
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