Dusted Reviews

Spring Heel Jack - Spring Heel Jack Live

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Spring Heel Jack

Album: Spring Heel Jack Live

Label: Thirsty Ear

Review date: Aug. 11, 2003

Blue Series Blockbuster

My housemates and I have a pretty good working relationship with our upstairs neighbors; we’re loud, they’re loud, it’s cool. On a recent morning I started to worry that I was pressing this understanding a bit. Spring Heel Jack Live was on the stereo at volumes a bit louder than necessary and, as the sonic mayhem that erupts midway through the first track of the album tweaked my over-caffeinated nerves, I wondered once or twice how far I could push the folks upstairs before things got ugly. Fortunately things didn’t escalate into any sort of confrontation but had they, Matthew Shipp would not have been surprised.

In an interview with Fred Jung for the All About Jazz website, Shipp, the curator and producer of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series and collaborator on the label’s three Spring Heel Jack albums, says: “The only way to move forward is to piss people off. You piss people off because of their preconceptions and their preconceptions keep an idea stagnant. There is no other way to move forward than to piss people off.” The only thing that I could see pissing a reasonable person off about Spring Heel Jack Live is the preponderance of albums out there that aren’t nearly this good, but then there are plenty of unreasonable people.

Matthew Shipp was introduced to Thirsty Ear Records, purveyor of talent including John Fahey, Throbbing Gristle, Brian Eno and DJ Spooky, through Henry Rollins, who also has albums on the label. In 2000 he became the producer and curator of the label’s Blue Series that, under his guidance, has mined the richness at the confluence of the new jazz and DJ/electronic worlds. The series has released a number of Shipp’s own recordings as well as releases by Tim Berne, Roy Campbell, Craig Taborn, Mat Maneri and, with the release of this Live album, three by London’s dub/jungle/house duo Spring Heel Jack.

Ashley Wales, a classical composer, met John Coxon, a landscaper by trade, when Coxon was DJing in London’s East End. The two released their first album as Spring Heel Jack in 1995 (the name comes from a ghost seen around Barnes Common which had been dubbed “Spring Heel Jack” by locals.) Since then they have recorded seven albums, moved from dub to jungle, collaborated with Everything But the Girl, reworked songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook and, on 2001’s Masses, 2002’s Amassed and 2003’s Spring Heel Jack Live, collaborated with some of the leaders of the contemporary New York and European free- and avant-jazz scenes.

Masses and Amassed, both studio albums, had Coxon and Wales building sonic structures for various instrumentalists to improvise over. SHJ would step back in and further expand and enhance the recordings in post-production. This resulted in a number of sublime moments on both albums. Masses features collaborations with U.S. musicians including Shipp, Mat Maneri, William Parker, Tim Berne, Daniel Carter and Guillermo Brown as well as Evan Parker, one of the guiding lights of European free improv. The follow up to Masses, Amassed, involved more musicians from the other side of the pond, engaging Evan Parker and Shipp again and adding Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Han Bennink and Spiritualized front man J Spaceman (Jason Pierce).

It is difficult to relate an adequate representation of the music on the Spring Heel Jack Live album. Each minute contains such a great deal of creation and, largely because the improvisation is not based on any theme and the ensemble is leaderless, often these improvisations are moving in numerous directions at once. At times it attains the collective fervor of Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz – Evan Parker carries Coltrane’s essence deep into the free realm, Shipp on Fender Rhodes is reminiscent of Miles’ early fusion recordings. Although these and other relations are useful as points of reference, the album doesn’t ever feel nostalgic.

The constantly shifting textures of the two tracks reveal moments of intense insanity moving into quiet beauty, Coxon and Wales deliver bursts of what sounds mostly like highly amplified crinkling plastic and then hurl Evan Parker’s sampled and modulated sax back at him. The part that I keep returning to is the drum and bass free-for-all between Bennink and Parker that opens the second track. While the drums spiral maddeningly outwards, the bass is in lock step, swinging, walking, chording right along with Bennink’s bombast. About eight and a half minutes into this, the full ensemble attacks, and the power of what ensues is truly frightening. In fact, I just had to turn the volume down so the neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. And I think Matthew Shipp would like that.

By Bruce Wallace

Other Reviews of Spring Heel Jack

Songs and Themes

Read More

View all articles by Bruce Wallace

Find out more about Thirsty Ear

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.