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Decoy - Vol. 1: Spirit / Vol. 2: The Deep

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Artist: Decoy

Album: Vol. 1: Spirit / Vol. 2: The Deep

Label: Bo'Weavil

Review date: Feb. 11, 2010

Decoy is the improvising trio of Alexander Hawkins on Hammond organ, John Edwards on bass and Steve Noble on drums. These two volumes, both studio-recorded in March 2009, are released simultaneously, Spirit on CD and The Deep as a vinyl limited edition. Both volumes are equally worthy of attention; they contain different material, and are both also available as downloads.

Despite its long and illustrious history in rock, blues and jazz, the Hammond organ has hardly been used in freely improvised music. However, with Supersilent’s use of three Hammonds on their latest album, 9, coupled with these Decoy albums we may be seeing the start of a trend. Freely improvising with a Hammond organ is a risky strategy that involves walking a fine line between switching off improv fans and alienating more traditional Hammond aficionados. Here, Decoy walks that tightrope effectively, so that the results should appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners.

Hawkins is a rising keyboard star, best known as a pianist in his own Ensemble, in Barkingside and working with Evan Parker. Decoy marks his debut on organ. Hawkins shows an awareness of the Hammond’s history, but he subverts or extends it as often as exploring it. Of course, the Hammond is extremely versatile as an improvising instrument, able to produce single tones, chords and a range of effects including the Doppler sound of the rotating Leslie speaker. Hawkins puts the organ through its paces, displaying its full range. On the opener, “Outside In,” it generates a swirling wall of sound that is far removed from conventional notions of the organ. Elsewhere, some of the single notes Hawkins plays with his right hand could be those produced by a tone generator, but when they combine with rich lower frequency chords, the sound could be from nothing but a Hammond.

Edwards and Noble are already a well-established and respected pairing, having worked with Alex Ward (in N.E.W.), Alan Wilkinson and Peter Brotzmann. In Decoy, they reinforce their reputation of balancing rhythm duties and solos. As they demonstrate on “Who’s Who,” they are capable of fulfilling the role of funky rhythm section by providing a driving pulse to underpin the down-and-dirty sound of the organ. On the track “Decoy,” they supply walking bass and rimshots as accompaniment, in the time-honoured fashion, but typical of their history, they soon switch roles and solo along with Hawkins, as all engage in a vibrant three-way exchange.

According to Anna Tjan who recorded the albums, the music was all recorded and mixed in a single day. That speed of production is reflected in the music; it sounds fresh and spontaneous throughout, bursting with the energy of discovery and the thrill of creativity.

By John Eyles

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