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Album Review

Spring Heel Jack abandons their drum'n'bass and electronica origins completely on Masses, focusing instead on bleak improvisational jazz. The album is the first in a project called the Blue Series Continuum, which sees collaborations between the avant-garde musicians on the Thirsty Ear record label. Ashley Wales and John Coxon provided jazz improvisers pianist Matthew Shipp, saxophonist Tim Berne, trumpeter Roy Campbell, and a wealth of their peers with a sonic foundation of industrial scrapes, clangs, and etchings. The jazzmen then went to work in creating an accomplished cacophony of elaborate freakouts, harsh jams, and moody solos over the mix. Wales and Coxon then prodded the stew into various creepy and somber musical creations. The resulting music is often beautiful, frequently disturbing, and always adventurous and challenging. Standout creations include the mad saxophone chaos and throbbing beat that is "Chiraroscuro," the energetic bustle of drums and twinkling piano that is "Medusa's Head," and the post-apocalyptic chillout that is "Coda." Masses is a noisy, uneasy listen. Like all great improvisational albums, it rewards patient listeners willing to open their minds to new sounds. While it's hard to tell where the chief acclaim should be directed, it's clear that Spring Heel Jack has benefited a great deal from working with their labelmates. Masses is another superb collaboration from Thirsty Ear artists, and a bold, smart step for Spring Heel Jack into the world of musical innovation.


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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