Tag Archives: Robin Blick

November 2019 – three Tuesdays of (mostly) femmetronica in London – Alice Hubble, Blick Trio and Merlin Nova (5th November), Carla dal Forno and Cucina Povera (12th November), Rachel K. Collier (19th November)

2 Nov

Following (and overlapping) the recent/current set of female poptronic gigs in London (with Caroline Polachek, Imogen Heap, Yeule and others), here are some more.

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Alice Hubble + Blick Trio + Merlin Nova, 5th November 2019

Alice Hubble (best known as half of tweetronic duo Arthur & Martha) has been striking out on her own this year and is playing at Servant Jazz Quarters on the 5th. Her debut album ‘Polarlichter’, driven by iPad workings on long journeys and transformed at home via Mellotrons and analogue synths, apparently stems from wistful envisionings of faraway places (including Ruby Falls in Chatanooga, USA, Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and Dubai’s Atlantis Palm hotel) plus “a desire to work on a project without constraints, to move away from the traditional song writing process and to experiment with the form. Inspired by the ’70s recordings by Tangerine Dream, Ashra and even Mike Oldfield, Alice wanted to take a more delicate approach; a distinctly feminine take on (an) often pompous ’70s progressive synth sound. Other inspirations include Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Lee Hazlewood’s Swedish recordings and 80’s American synth pop band The Book of Love.”

A good set of reference points, although if you are going to snark about the pomposity of your male predecessors it’s best if you’ve built something startlingly different. Much of Alice’s work still cleaves rather closely to those familiar silvery Germanic/kosmische synth tropes, the cautiousness of several generations of post-Tangerine Dream acolytes, albeit with twists of post-punk melancholy and Stereolab-ilk avant-pop.

As for the femininity, it’s present mostly in the preoccupations of Alice’s lyrics, such as the stern reflections on male gaze and pedestal-placing on ‘Goddess’ (“a man idolising a woman to the point that he doesn’t see her as a person. His ‘love’ is all consuming and the focus of his affection is seen merely as an object. As a result he consumes her and takes from her until she has little left, but thankfully she finds the inner strength to walk away.”). All well and good to state; but, given that the song’s mostly concerned with climbing inside its misguided protagonist in order to critique him from within, leaving the woman in question almost as enigmatic, idealised and unexamined as he did, I’m not altogether convinced. But perhaps I’m snarking now – either way, I can’t help but feel that there’s better to come. Alice has a quiet, determined voice: maybe, at the gig, we’ll find out what else it has to say.


 
Support comes in two parts, one being from jazztronic array Blick Trio, made up of veteran polymathic brass-and-wind-player Robin Blick (from the sprawling Blick/Blake musical dynasty that also includes Mediaeval Baebes’ Katherine Blake), drummer Andrew Moran (who’s put in time in groups including The Violets and Not Cool) and bass player/synth programmer James Weaver (who already plays with Robin in Gyratory System). Prior to Gyratory System, Robin was also in Blowpipe; with both these and the Trio, he’s been building jazz/clubtronic/kosmiche meldings for a good couple of decades. The Trio, however, lean more towards “post-punk rhythms and straight jazz melodies” than the club beats and electrofuzz racket of the previous acts; with Robin’s musicality and wide genre-savviness in particular calling up aural and harmonic/melodic imagery from riffling snake-charmer music to pithead brass band melancholia.


 
The other support act is Merlin Nova, who vigorously straddles the space between musician and sound artist. Too tuneful to work consistently in the latter mode, and too flat-out sonically ambitious and diverse to be restrained by the former, she instead works both of them to the bone. She creates, records and broadcasts whatever comes to her mind, whether it’s surreal foley-bolstered persona narratives, soundscaped poetry or unorthodox fragmented songs across a vocal range from femme-baritone to skyscraping whistle register.

Merlin’s most recent pair of Soundcloud offerings illustrate her restlessness. Just Calling is one of her most straightforward works (a vocal and reverbscape’d love-song of faith, degrees of separation, faith and independence), while To The Sun is a drone-strings-and-vocalise solar prayer half an hour long, equal parts Alquimia and Sofia Gubaidulina. There’s plenty more to find there, evidence of an ambitious sound creator who’s tapping at the heels of multiple precursors… Ursula Dudziak, Cathy Berberian, outer-limits Björk, Maja Ratkje…

 
* * * * * * * *

Carla Dal Forno + Cucina Povera, 12th November 2019On the 12th, left-field synthpop writer Carla Dal Forno comes to Electrowerks trailing her newest album ‘Look Sharp’, in which “the small-town dreams and inertia that preoccupied (her) first album have dissolved into the chaotic city, its shifting identities, far-flung surroundings and blank faces”, thanks to her wanderings from her Melbourne origins to London via Berlin, telling “the story of this life in flux, longing for intimacy, falling short and embracing the unfamiliar.”

Sonically it’s frowning post-punk basslines and pearly sheens around subtle hollows; occasional touches of plainsong; arrangements stroked into shape by psychedelic-via-radiophonic synthesizer bends, swoops and flutters – a big step up from the queasy lo-fi wobble of her debut. As with Alice Hubble, Carla rarely changes tone vocally, etching momentary stories of subtle revenges, covert assignations and bleak reflectiveness with the same abbreviated unruffled whispercroon; delivering songs with the crisp, faux-reticent undertones and hardnosed observation of a finishing-school ace who’s opted to spend the rest of her life speaking softly but carrying a sharp hatpin. Simultaneously minimalist and expansive, sensual and austere, revealing and forbidding, the songs of ‘Look Sharp’ are measured diary entries enclosed in dove-grey leather, giving away little but hinting at much more. It’s as if one of the early versions of the Cure had agreed to back Jean Rhys during a venture into confessional songcraft, with Delia Derbyshire adding sonic filigrees.


 
The whole record sounds attractively antiquated. Not in terms of its harking back to early ‘80s proto-Goth, but in the way it feels as if it’s been written for (and in) a monochrome London of the 1930s: sparser crowds, the hiss of steam trains and the rattle of heels in empty housing courts. In fact, ‘Look Sharp’ functions best when Carla relinquishes the more obvious darkwave thrumbles, loses the bass and trusts to her electrophonic textures and spaces. This lends the instrumentals a touch of 5am light, an air of sneaking out into an unfamiliar town while it’s still slumbering unguarded, with a dream-frown shadowing its features. For songs such as Don’t Follow Me (with its deepening undertone of sexual threat), it allows a more sophisticated atmosphere to build, sound becoming character in the way that scenery and lighting do in film.


 
In support, there’s electronicist, live-looper and spatial explorer Maria Rossi – a.k.a Cucina Povera. As anyone who’s covered Maria before will tell you, “cucina povera” translates as “poor kitchen” – like “poor theatre”, a way of making the most of minimal ingredients and lean times: indeed, of making a virtue of the enforced simplicity, to the point of deliberately choosing it. Maria’s most recent project – ‘Zoom’, released back in January – had her strip back her already-minimal gear choices to just voice and loop pedal plus the digital recorder which gave the record its name: bar the very occasional bit of huffed or clinked bottlework, or synth bloop, that was it.

Last year’s ‘Hilja’ album applied the Cucina Povera methodology to a gaseous, beatless, haunting form of ambient art pop. It was full of folk-ghosts in the machine, bringing along hints of the ecclesiastic, of children’s songs and of traditional song fragments, much of it pillowed on vaporous keyboard textures and meticulous arrangements. In contrast, the Zoom pieces were recorded in “intimate spaces full of acoustic or ideological intrigue” and were a set of impromptu, improvised rituals-for-their-own-sake. Sometimes gabbled, frequently hymnal and monastic, blurring between established language and glossolalia, they build on the mysteriousness of ‘Hilja’ while venturing into more musically naked areas, taking from the previous album’s most cut-down moments without falling back on its cloudy synth-padded comforts or its pleasing banks of harmony.

Whether these pieces can be transported, translated and performed afresh in other locations is not so clear. Perhaps, for Electrowerks, Maria will improvise a new set in honour of the Slimelight’s fallen ghosts.



 
Also stirred into the evening’s menu will be a DJ set from darker techno/DIY/industrial specialist Kenny White of the Low Company record store.

 
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At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a splash of raucous female colour. Riding the momentum from the release of her debut album last month (if you’re a budding remixer or mash-upper, Bandcamp has it complete with sample and stem packs), Rachel K. Collier plays the Grand in Highbury in mid-November, with live percussion and interactive visuals augmenting her storm of sequencers, keyboards and Abletoning. Her house-inspired, undulating electronic club pop has been evolving over six years or so now, including bold intrusions into the world of adverts, collaborations with garage/house stars Wookie, Mat Zo and Ray Foxx, and more recently her current fearless-sounding solo work.

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

It’s a powerfully assured and complete pop sound, fusing full dancefloor momentum with righteous girl-power; although one that’s been achieved in the face of considerable bullying, scorn and condescension along the way from male musicians. (If the fuck-you beat and withering dismissal in her Dinosaur single is anything to go by. You can’t say that she didn’t get her own back. Success is the best revenge.)




 
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Dates:

Parallel Lines presents:
Alice Hubble + Blick Trio & Merlin Nova
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Upset The Rhythm presents:
Carla dal Forno + Cucina Povera
Electrowerkz @ The Islington Metal Works, 1st Floor, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Rachel K Collier
The Grace, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Tuesday 19th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

March 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – More News From Nowhere ambient/noise/jazz/post-everything alldayer (30th March)

20 Mar

More News From Nowhere presents:
MNFN Good Friday All-Dayer (featuring Kodian Trio + Warren Schoenbright + V Ä L V E + Marlo Eggplant + Minus Pilots + Ow Te + Blick | Trio + Grave Threat + Red Team)
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Friday 30th March 2018, 3.00pm
– information here and here

More News From Nowhere All-Dayer, 30th March 2018Walthamstow experimental evening More News From Nowhere hops the Lea again for another stint at the New River Studios in Harringay: this time an all-dayer.

A number of improvising threesomes are on hand. Kodian Trio (tagged as “meticulously disjointed free improv” by ‘Cyberinsekt’) unites saxophonist and Raw Tonk label head Colin Webster (who played at MNFN’s February event), Belgian dronetronic guitarist Dirk Serries (better known as Vidna Obmana or Fear Falls Burning) and Shatner’s Bassoon drummer Andrew Lisle. A more directly ambient-jazz approach is offered by Blick | Trio (comprising Blowpipe/Gyratory System veteran Robin Blick on assorted wind and brass, Andrew Moran on drums and James Weaver on bass, synth and programming). It’s a bit of a competition, but probably the least formal of the lot are Stoke-on-Trent-based “math-jazz wizards” Ow Te (featuring members of Stokie punks Amateur Assassins and Bong Idle, and citing a love of Karate, Codeine and The For Carnation, among others).




 

Another trio is being brought in by reedswoman and experimentalist Chlöe Herington: her increasingly industrious V Ä L V E project continues to build on its beginnings (synaesthesic graphic scores created and realised by Chlöe, bound in with specific memories and events) while simultaneously evolving into a R.I.O./Raincoats-friendly three-woman exploration vehicle via reeds, bass, concert harp and voices. Further female input into the all-dayer is provided by Marlo Eggplant (the Corpus Callosum label head, onetime Olympia punk and lead figure in the “Ladyz In Noyz” initiative), whose own dense drone improvisations are built with processed autoharp and contact mics.


 
As regards duos, there’s an appearance from Minus Pilots (percussionist Matt Pittori and bassist Adam Barringer, who “weave sparse textures, crumbling atmospheres and fractured drones with currents of gentle crackle”) and from slithering, thickety London drums-and-electronics pairing Warren Schoenbright (Daniel McClennan and Matthew Pastkewicz) who craft lengthy, ambitious and luminous experiments from poised near-silence to hammering viciousness.



 
A collaboration between two other projects (the “hard Brexit/funeral electronics” of Ashcircle and the effects-chain noise of MNFN’s own Tim Cowlishaw as Violence) was scheduled to lead to Cruciform Passage Grave: something slanting towards the New Weird Britain end of sinister occult soundcraft. In the event, this needed more rehearsal than time allowed; so instead, Tim’s bringing in Cowboy Flying Saucer drummer Dave Bamford to open up the evening with a reunion of their “kraut-psych-improv-noise” duo Red Team (while Ashcircle’s Tom Macarte and Ciaran Mackle reformat themselves as the siren-in-a-washing-machine screech of Grave Threat).

 

March 2018 – upcoming experimental music gigs in London – Tehran electronic music showcase with Hadi Bastani and Pouya Ehsaei (14th March)

7 Mar

IKLECTIK and Kate Carr present:
Hadi Bastani + Pouya Ehsaei
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Wednesday 14th March 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Hadi Bastani + Pouya Ehsaei, 14th March 2018For this event, London-based sound artist Kate Carr curates a showcase of Iranian experimental electronic music, centring on artists from Tehran: a scene mapped and logged by by sound artist and anthropologist Hadi Bastani (via the Digital Arts and Experimental Music Scene of Iran Facebook page from his own base in the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast).

For all of the focus on Tehran, everyone involved in the concert (from Kate on down) seems to be a diasporan: Hadi living and working in Belfast, gigmate Pouya Ehsaei based in London, and even Kate’s an emigre from Australia. As for originally scheduled third act and “chaotic worlds” envisioners 9T Antiope, in spite of their Iranian origins they’re actually based as nearby as France… and can’t make it as planned, since it seems that even pre-Brexit, visas can be as hard to get in Paris as they might be in Tehran. It all adds a slightly mournful sheen to the occasion. Tehran may have been the original testing ground, but it’s not sending any immediate representatives; and leaving it doesn’t always seem to have made things easier.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs too much. The scheduled appearances by Hadi and Pouya are still on track. In addition to his own sonic contributions, Hadi will be providing an introduction to (and discussion of) the Tehran scene; while Pouya (already a veteran collaborator with dancers, performers and filmmakers as well as other experimental musicians) will be displaying his mixture of “found sounds and folkloric music… focusing on their aesthetics and cultural significance and how these can be applied in modern experimental compositions”. Meanwhile, if you’re curious about what you’re missing due to the absence of 9T Antiope, see below:

 

May 1998 – album reviews – Blowpipe’s ‘Pendulum’ (“half given over to Blowpipe’s previous grace, half to a new and more aggressive club attack”)

18 May

Blowpipe: 'Pendulum'

Blowpipe: ‘Pendulum’

In jazz, things move on, and Blowpipe are no exception to this. Father-and-son brass-and-reed players Robin and Andrew Blick joined forces last year, making a mark for themselves last year at the point between hips and heads for their own spin on jazz-meets-clubland, sliding in alongside acid jazz with something a little more sophisticated and challenging.

The enthralling ‘First Circle‘ was the outcome: a rich and rewarding chill-out-and-expand intertwining of busily-bubbling electronica with old-school jazz conversation. Alongside guitarist Paul Reeson and the remarkable electronic sound-weaver Stephen Watkins, the Blicks set up a heartfelt and fertile union of jazz expression and latter-day dance-floor pulse, a tapestry of burbling intelligent techno, deft horn dialogue and fluent electro-acoustic textures. It was a joy to listen to, and its success has been recognised in one direction, at least.

‘Pendulum’ (a hot-on-the-heels follow up to ‘First Circle’) comes after Blowpipe’s deeper welcome into the ongoing club revolution – they’ve played on the new album by drum’n’bass pioneer Grooverider – and a big line-up shake-up. Whether burnt, inquisitive or disillusioned, the Blicks have opted to change the band’s instrumental chemistry. Blowpipe’s armoury of blowables (which already featured the Blicks’ trumpets, saxes, assorted horns and abused pipework) has been expanded by the addition of Nick Reynolds’ harmonica; they’ve also added a steady bass player in Tom Harrison; and there are frequent guest appearances (and stronger links to the jazz world) from saxophonist/flautist John Burgess of the Harry Beckett band and the Tom Bancroft Orchestra. But most crucially, both Reeson and Watkins are now out of the picture (apparently, halfway through recording). Consequently, while half of ‘Pendulum’ is given over to Blowpipe’s previous acoustic/ambient/electronica grace, the other half is shaped by a new and more aggressive club attack.

Of the old school stuff, Airport Woman is the most graceful: a mass of beat-free, blurring big spaces: back-and-forth cello loops, rainy-night muted trumpets, glows of soprano sax and a brief return from Paul Reeson. The Spell is Broken is wrapped in a backwards bassy ostinato (padded up by Tycho Andrews’ wah-guitar) like an orchestra in a North Sea fog, thick hazy air through which Andrew Blick’s trumpet clarion cuts like a lone lighthouse beam. Muting down and vague-ening in the heavy atmosphere, it gently illuminates (above the clanking guitar rhythm and the creak-crunching sonics).

However, this album’s signature is definitely made by the harder breed of Blowpipe pieces, by the post-Grooverider drum’n’bass influences. This could have been a good thing, given that music’s ferociously intelligent, toppy rhythmic attack: the bebop of the club scene. But in practice? Um… maybe not.

The main problem is a loss of that crucial Blowpipe balance. Neither of Stephen Watkins’ on/off successors (Patrick Mosley and Mike Servent) possess any of his subtlety, meaning that the detailed electronic textures of ‘Full Circle’ have been overturned in favour of synth washes and more blatant beats. And while the Blicks remain as eloquent as ever, Nick Reynolds’ harmonica virtuosity is of the tinny, bullying breed: a soulless Mark Feltham cop. Sometimes the new marriage is a happy one, as on Avanti’s drowsy harmonica patina and cloudy brass blankets, mixing it up with breakbeats, Harrison’s Bootsy bass, and Andrew’s cold trumpet motif. But when it’s at its worst, the Blicks seem sidelined within their own project, locked down in the cages of snare drum.

The analogue gut gurgles and video games blippery of Usurper work quite well, as Reynolds’ sharp harmonica riffs mingle with fluent fluttering sax and muted trumpet. But Unravel’s tight fast rattle and saurian bass quakes are overcome by the belting raucous harmonica and brass. Robin Blick’s soprano scribbles too frantically, Andrew’s echoed trumpet sounds busy and sour. The raw power of Scorched Earth’s distorted breakbeat and Harrison Wobble-y bassline can’t make up for the yammering, overbearing harmonica overkill: Reynolds blowing flatulently all over the Blicks’ bitty chips of sax and trumpet and Katherine Blake’s skidding tremolo violin. And School Disco (working title or what?) is just clodhopping: a flatfooted stomp which sounds like it was recorded in an underpass. John Burgess’ guesting flute fights to keep grace going against the dirty swathes of distorted harmonica.

When Reynolds is kept on a tighter leash, things work out much better. On the climactic Phoenix, for example, where Burgess’ bass clarinet and Andrew’s dawning trumpet lines repeatedly criss-cross each other over didgeridoo droning and Robin’s sax hangings. Or on Pendulum itself, which uses power without clumsiness. Rising off a big Bonham-y stomp with overdriven trumpet and giant floppy bass, Robin laces in some ascending saxes and curtains of brass. There’s a guest tenor scrawl from John Burgess: then, amid the whale-song trumpets, an incongruous Scott Walker sample pops up to breathe in bluer air. “The little clocks stop ticking now…” Everything does stop ticking. Everything kicks off again. Marvellously perverse, and a particular highlight on an album which sometimes fails to live up to Blowpipe’s initial promise, reminding us of how good they can be once they’re back in focus.

Blowpipe: ‘Pendulum’
Robot Records, ROB 001 (5019148617297)
CD-only album
Released:
15th May 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand, or streamed.
Blowpipe online:
MySpace Amazon Music
Additional notes: Robin Blick now leads Blick Trio; Andrew Blick leads Gyratory System.
 

May 1997 – album reviews – Blowpipe’s ‘First Circle’ (“the first impression of “cool-school jazz for acid housers” is too simplistic….breath-driven futurism”)

30 May

Blowpipe: 'First Circle'

Blowpipe: ‘First Circle’

The saxophone is the ultimate instrument, offering a unmatched degree of control. Mind you, that was a direct quote from a jazzer who had an unmistakeable sax slung round his neck. So perhaps it wasn’t an objective opinion. Nonetheless, he had a point – drawing most directly on the breath which embodies a person’s voice, the saxophone does have that extra human quality. If you want to score a thoughtful film noir tableau, you’re not gonna use a mandolin, are you?). I digress (and you could, but anyway…)

Robin Blick plays saxophone (as well as dabbling in orchestral horns, trumpets, flugelhorns and even the possibilities of industrial piping). His son Andrew Blick plays trumpet and manipulates sound treatments. Both are jazzers at heart. Both are also the heart of the disarmingly-named Blowpipe, an attempt to marry instrumental jazz to the electronic humanism of club culture dancefloors. Yes, yes, sounds familiar. But this isn’t just a case of glueing jazz horns down to a club beat; neither is it one of producing music to validate your own cappuccino-classiness to.

‘First Circle’ (on which the Blicks are teamed with sequencer whiz Stephen Watkins and guitarist Paul Reeson) is a sort of ‘Kind of Blue’ for the chillout room. This is what acid jazz could’ve been if it had been motivated by jazz rather than a deep desire to appear in liqueur adverts. Warm layers of Watkins’ quilted and deceptively digestible electronica interacting with the Blicks’ horns: bopping and undulating along in fine fashion, free as the air. It’s as if Gil Evans had met the Aphex Twin; if ‘In a Silent Way’ had been remodelled by Goldie; or if Squarepusher had been given an enforced Prozac overdose to turn down the heat on his flashy, glistening jazz fusion leanings.

Certainly it’s unmistakeably jazz-rooted, and not merely the product of jazz listeners. The amnesiac guitar shimmer, skittering boogie bass and toppy forebeat of Conc provide the base for Andrew’s sustained trumpet and Robin’s muted, sleepy soprano sax to weave fine brass threads around each other, and to pay homage along the way to Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Chet Baker. Prop blazes immediately into mariachi-funk action with an irrepressible verve: massed and chortling wah-wah trumpets, Robin’s reproving jazzy alto, and Reeson’s clotted McLaughlin-y solo and stratospheric guitar washes. On Chixalub the guitar and beats chop out a skinny, tight funk (with the occasional drum’n’bass echo trap), while the ranging trumpet is wah-ed and flanged to buggery. Only the sax is untreated here, dropping in late in the day with witty bebop twiddles; and long notes of flute hang in the background like Aztec decoration.

But Blowpipe are more than lite-jazzers squeezing themselves into clubbers’ catsuits. And the first impression of “cool-school jazz for acid housers” is too simplistic. Blowpipe might not be up for pugnacious, aggressively twisted modern jazz along the lines of Charles Mingus or Julius Hemphill, and they do aim at accessible melodies. But they’re still more than ready to explore outside the usual margins, in the tradition of true jazz mavericks.

The title track of ‘First Circle’ follows in the footsteps of Wynton Marsalis, Django Bates and Mark Anthony Turnage: a fascinating collision between modern jazz and contemporary classical. Beneath the randomly precise interjections of guitar and sax, and the corkscrewing Philip Glass runs of trumpets, trapped snippets of rock bass drum pin down the restless rhythm. Shredding violins teeter up the scale on high-wire atonality, wobbling higher, higher… and lurching out. On Toba, a modal tenor explores over electronic metallophone, Reeson’s tart Fripp-coloured sustained guitar swells, and a cymbals and high toms beat. Suddenly, there’s a crunch of hurricane-blast guitar noise before it all drops away into echoing, perturbed ambience: dead strings, echoing growls of trumpet, a few sparks of brass in the darkness.

It’s also sure that Blowpipe have an ear pressed against the connecting wall, listening to the electronic dabblings of that obsessive-looking teenager in the next flat. Why else the twinkly, computer noise/soft industry dub opening Trench, before the beautiful trumpet lines, minimalist string arpeggios and birdsong sax drift in like a warm front? On a moodier tip, the ascending brass duets of Kucou are wrapped in the same sort of ambience David Sylvian used in order to coax Kenny Wheeler, Percy Jones or David Torn into the arms of his misty balladry: a thoughtful snare beat, forest textures, Durutti Column guitar points and a minimal, thrumphing, clay-spattered bass sound. Even with the last minutes hijacked by quacking-duck cartoon trumpet, ambient sophisti-pop still leaves its mark.

Unkindness takes things the furthest, into more hostile atmosphere. A broody frown of menacing sound for openers, with sparse, warping antique sequencers and distant electronic booms. Arid knuckle-tapping hand drums, trumpet decorations fluttering down like flaking gold plaster, quiet robotic emissions from the tenor sax all hanging inside a vast bleak whoosh of ambience. It’s like being an ant trapped inside an enormous high altitude jet engine at cruising power, miles and miles above the earth: everything around you is far too big for you to comprehend, or to destroy you, but it can and does cause a profound sense of dislocation and discomfort. True, the jazz does win through when the ambience drops out to make way for trumpet, sax and conga, but it’s not long before things are back to the Moog-warping sounds of the intro. This is what you’d get if Labradford or Biosphere took up a residency at Birdland.

When they’re stretching themselves, or letting their sense of history shake hands with their zest for technology, Blowpipe are grasping at music far beyond simple genre; inhaling air and transmuting it via both electronics and manual valves into something new. You could call it all post-rock-jazz if that wasn’t such a stupid name. “Encryption fusion” might be a better way of putting it. ‘First Circle’ is certainly one to put up on the phuture-jazz shelf with Guru’s ‘Jazzmatazz’, Courtney Pine’s work with DJ Pogo, and Us3’s ‘Hand On the Torch’. This is breath-driven futurism: at their best, Blowpipe aim and – puff – hit the mark.

Blowpipe: ‘First Circle’
Needlework Records, STITCH6CD/LP (5 034061 000629)
CD/vinyl album
Released:
26th May 1997
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand or streamed.
Blowpipe online:
MySpace Amazon Music
Additional notes: Robin Blick now leads Blick Trio; Andrew Blick leads Gyratory System.
 

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