CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Ron Caines/Martin Archer Axis – Les Oiseaux De Matisse

Ron Caines / Martin Archer Axis – Les Oiseaux De Matisse
(Discus 72CD. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Veteran saxophonist Ron Caines makes a very welcome return with this fascinating and inspiring collection of themes and improvisations, ably joined by Martin Archer and others from the Discus Music stable.

The first line of Caines’ CV is usually that he was a founder member of East of Eden, best known for their 1971 hit single Jig A Jig featuring the violin of Dave Arbus. East of Eden were so much more than this novelty record – an eclectic powerhouse performing music influenced by rock, jazz, folk, Bartok, ska, Dada and more, contemporaries of Captain Beefheart and early Soft Machine. Go back and listen to Jig A Jig today and you will hear a building intensity quite at odds with the jaunty tune, giving tension and uncertainty. It seems clear that this hit record was the beginning of the end for East of Eden; the label wanted more in the same vein, at odds with the band’s aims.

A better start to Caines’ CV might mention that he has spent much of his life as an artist and painter, studying with abstract artist Paul Feiler, teaching life drawing at Bristol Polytechnic and gaining critical recognition. A part of the Bristol music world in the 1970s and 1980s, he worked with Keith Tippett and also led Parker’s Mood, a quartet dedicated to the music of Charlie Parker. Hearing them was awe-inspiring – Caines had the ability to take an old standard like Lover Man and then play it on alto sax as if he’d just that moment thought of it. Moving to Brighton in 1995, he continued to paint and gave up performing following a tendon injury.

In recent years, however, Caines has begun to perform again – initially with the Brighton Safehouse Collective. Now 78, he teams up with fellow saxophonist Martin Archer, with both contributing tunes and themes, as well as some highly effective tracks resulting from improvisations in the studio with live sound processing from Hervé Perez, recombined and edited somewhat in the manner of Teo Macero’s work. The violin of Graham Clark plays a prominent role, rather reconnecting us with Ron Caines’ roots in East Of Eden.

Caines himself contributes five compositions including Various & Diverse, a theme he composed for a joint project with Keith Tippett in 1983. His tunes have a majestic quality, a strength which allows considerable scope for the accompanists to spread out. Laura Cole’s piano is never less than sympathetic, rippling effectively and spaciously on both Haptic Space tracks. The double bass of Gus Garside stomps aggressively into Labyrinth, a tune which brings echoes of dark European folk dances into hard-hitting unison passages with sax and violin.

Martin Archer bring three of his own contributions to the disc including the title track with its bird-song and sax textures and Nymphzuruck, which borrows its format ‘shamelessly’ from East of Eden’s Nymphenberger and combines another huge theme with plentiful free-flowing soloing. Caines and Archer share joint credit for The News From Nowhere/Mazeep, a 15-minute journey which brings together all the various elements of this talented ensemble into a thrilling climax.

While this album might appear to be based on some rather ‘retro’ elements (rock influence, free-ish improv, electric violin, stereo split saxes, studio sound processing), it actually adds up to an impressive and original collection – one of the most worthwhile CDs I’ve heard this year. In the sleeve notes Caines thanks Archer for giving him this opportunity for his voice to be heard. It’s a voice that is well worth your attention. Listen to Labyrinth on the Discus Records website and hear for yourself (link below). And while you’re there, consider buying a copy of Keith Tippett’s The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon CD (link to Patrick Hadfield’s LJN review below) – all proceeds are going directly to Keith Tippett as he recovers from serious illness.

LINKS: Les Oiseaux De Matisse on Discus Records (preview) 

Patrick Hadfield’s LJN review of Keith Tippett Octet The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon 

Categories: CD reviews

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