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Hugh Davies + Adam Bohman/Lee Patterson/Mark Wastell - Performances 1969-1977 / For Hugh Davies

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Artist: Hugh Davies + Adam Bohman/Lee Patterson/Mark Wastell

Album: Performances 1969-1977 / For Hugh Davies

Label: Another Timbre

Review date: Nov. 26, 2008

The loss of British multi-instrumentalist Hugh Davies in 2005 was a huge one. This superb archival release on the fine, fresh Another Timbre label collects some vintage Davies performances from 1969-1977, and it’s stunning how contemporary they sound, not just in the sense that they are non-idiomatic but in their genuine, unpretentious experimentalism. Davies was an inventor of instruments, but not in the Partchian sense as much as an antecedent of Voice Crack. Davies assembled fascinating sound worlds by amplifying springs, saws, kitchen implements, you name it (there’s a glorious piece here for egg- and vegetable-slicers – now that’s DIY punk rock improv right there).

The disc opens with two 1977 improvisations using two and three springs respectively. I just adore this sound, like metallic animals coming to life, protesting their condition with the sounds of whizzing and creaking with a marvelously warm analogue edge. A vivid solo performance from Ronnie Scott’s in 1975 is a 25-minute journey, filled with the sort of small scale deconstructed sounds that are de rigueur to many improv fans today. But even for the vibrant mid-1970s London scene this comes across as quite daring, especially the closing minutes, which sound like some kind of strange motorized vehicle starting in fits.

The quizzical plucking of the 1973 piece for bowed diaphragms doesn’t gel quite as well to my ears. The only duo on this disc, with Richard Orton from 1969, has the pair performing with a “shozyg,” an instrument placed inside an encyclopedia covering topics “SHO-ZYG.” Like the rest of this music, it’s quirky, singular, and a bit subversive. That’s Davies.

Cut to North London, January 2008. These same recordings (save the ones for “shozyg”) were appropriated by Adam Bohman (prepared balalaika and amplified objects), Lee Patterson (amplified objects), and cellist Mark Wastell, and incorporated into an idiom clearly informed and inspired by Davies without being bound by his contributions. Bohman in particular has made his own mark in this particular area of improvisation, and he helps convey a kind of grainy, industrial directness to the material. And Wastell’s small arco noises – I’m actually not used to hearing him play cello these days – blend nicely into this material.

Things sound slightly booming during parts of “3 Strings + 3,” even if balanced by scratchy retreats, but it comes off quite well. Things are most compelling with the swirling drones of “Invented Instruments + 2” (even if it made me wish for Wastell on tam-tam). The trio’s personality as a contemporary ensemble emerges even more prominently on the droning final track, where the Davies influence is not so much sublimated as absorbed thoroughly. This is fine stuff, but if forced to pick, it’s hard not to jump immediately for the Davies originals.

By Jason Bivins

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