Weeping Idols //

Album label: 
Release date: 
Recording location: 
Recorded J&J Studios, Bristol, 2012
Recording date: 
Saturday, January 1, 2000
Trevor Taylor
  • 1. 4 Souls, 8 Eyes (20:48)
  • 2. Bhutan (12:00)
  • 3. Better Than Words (10:33)
  • 4. Weeping Idols (04:18)

Paul Dunmall - tenor saxophone
Mark Hanslip - tenor saxophone
Philip Gibbs - guitar
Ed Ricart - guitar

“Not an album for the faint hearted but there is much here to engage the improv inclined listener.”
This album was forwarded to me directly by Mark Hanslip, one of two tenor saxophonists in an unusual instrumental line up of two tenors (Hanslip and Paul Dunmall) and two guitars (Philip Gibbs and Ed Ricard). It’s a totally improvised set recorded in Bristol in 2012.

Hanslip’s blog http://www.markhanslip.blogspot.com explains that the recording session marked his first meeting with the two guitarists and his first time in the recording studio with Dunmall. The latter is one of the UK’s foremost improvisers, a musician who has acquired a huge respect through an extensive body of work over many years . Gibbs is one of Dunmall’s regular improvising partners, Ricard was visiting from the USA where he runs his own New Atlantis record label.

In correspondence with me Hanslip warned that the music was “definitely at the extreme end of the spectrum” and although it’s by no means an easy listen the music isn’t quite as aggressive and full on as the line up might suggest. The expected tear up doesn’t, in fact, come until the end of the album and the title track.

Instead the music is largely concerned with colour and texture, as with all the best improv the protagonists paint a picture in sound, the music constantly evolving and gradually drawing in the listener. As I observed in my review of Hanslip’s improvised duo album with drummer/percussionist Javier Carmona (“Dosados, Babel Records, 2011) the saxophonist’s background in more conventional forms of jazz has ensured that he’s always maintained a strong sense of melody and this quality frequently manifests itself here too.
The album begins with the constantly shifting twenty minute odyssey that is “4 Souls, 8 Eyes”, the self referential title perhaps a comment on the rapport established by the four musicians. It’s not easy to distinguish between the players and the album cover offers little by way of explanation. However as the title suggests this is music born out of collaborative improvisation, interlocking horn and guitar lines, with textures derived from both conventional and extended techniques and the occasional but tasteful use of electronics by the guitarists. Often the mood is contemplative but there are frequent passages of spikier, scratchier, more confrontational music as the piece ebbs and flows. It reminds me of a river journey, swirls and eddies, shallows and rapids, but always flowing and constantly evolving - and never the same way twice.

At just under twelve minutes “Bhutan” opens with some remarkable guitar effects, percussive sounds that evoke images of bells and singing bowls, hence, perhaps, the title. There are further extraordinary noises generated by extended guitar techniques, these supplemented by the buzz of the two reeds. However this is essentially a guitar item with the players also generating some extraordinary bass lines during the course of the piece.
The ten minute"Better Than Words” begins with a lengthy, involving, and increasingly animated dialogue between the two tenors. The piece later becomes an often uncompromising four way exchange with the introduction of spidery, needling, pointillist guitars.
The four minute title track represents the expected burn up with its visceral squall of high octane guitars. Shades here at last of The Ex Guitars (Terrie Ex and Andy Moor of Dutch punk/noise pioneers The Ex) and their collaboration with Chicagoan sax and clarinet improviser Ken Vandermark.
As Hanslip intimated this is not an album for the faint hearted but having said that there is much here to engage the improv inclined listener .The lack of bass and drums is never an issue as this quartet are capable of producing an impressive array of sounds and textures from the instruments involved.

Ian Mann