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John Edwards & Mark Sanders - Nisus Duets

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Artist: John Edwards & Mark Sanders

Album: Nisus Duets

Label: Emanem

Review date: Oct. 29, 2003

It’s not so difficult to imagine music abandoning its designation as a noun for the kinetic connotations associated with verbdom. At its most dynamic, music is about motion, action, the catalytic connection between cause and effect. Bassist John Edwards and percussionist Mark Sanders seem to recognize these closeted aspirations of their chosen profession. The track titles on Nisus Duets are all gerunds riffing on the consonant ‘P’. How far their individual assignments are away from arbitrary is open to conjecture, but the processural nature of the titles fits the improvised sounds perfectly.

Edwards and Sanders are far from the routine drum n’ bass duo. Together and apart they have backed some of the heaviest hitters in creative improvised music including Evan Parker, Veryan Weston and Frode Gjerstad to name a few. They’ve even helped supply lubricious engine grease for the London Improvisors Orchestra, a massive free improv juggernaut that involves upwards of thirty-five souls, on numerous occasions. This time out though, they have only each other as foils in the comfy confines of London’s Gateway Studios. The outcome, diced into seven point-of-entry tracks, finds them scouring every available sound-producing surface of their respective instruments.

Bass and drums traditionally comprise the backbone of the rhythm section. While these two players can hardly subscribe to such narrow job descriptions, they still hold strong ties to their instrument’s conventional sonorities. Despite the music being freely improvised, there are often very infectious rhythms being perpetrated here. Sanders’ drum kit isn’t hospitable to a 4/4 time signature, but complex pulse-driven patterns regularly dance from his sticks. Edwards emulates the ethnicities of the entire string family from violin, through viola, to cello and of course bass. He shears with bow and burrows with fingers in equal measure, punishing his instrument with the sort of masochistic love that only the masters can mete out. His Emory board-like rubbing on “Pointing” is so controlled and mercurial that it’s virtually possible to sense the rosin smoldering in the horsehair of his bow.

Both men bow, both men drum, their approaches sometimes overlapping in such a flurry that their individual contributions blur. “Painting” finds them smearing streaks of raw tonal color in broad strokes, only to daub in the details with intricately dappled ornamentations. The pizzicato and brushed groove of “Panting” sounds surprisingly like it could be the work of William Parker and Hamid Drake. The delicate, mathematical, almost Gamelan, interplay of “Peering” uncovers another side, one that later turns ornery and intense in the closing minutes. Among the most exciting attributes of the program is that the players perform entirely acoustic without the interference of amplification or electronics. Just the two men and their instruments talking shop.

So Edwards and Sanders aren’t your daddy’s drums and bass. Isn’t that all the more reason to drop an ear in on what they’re doing? I’ll take music as verb over music as noun any day.

By Derek Taylor

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