brand/beresford/edwards/sanders – all will be said, all to do again
(Regardless R03 CD review by AJ Dehany)
Samuel Beckett, the last modernist, curmudgeon and revered Irish poet, novelist and playwright, damned to fame by the ambivalent chalice of the Nobel Prize for Literature, whose distinctive rictus grin vision of a fallen world driven by grinding stoicism, could be the patron saint of the jobbing improvising musician.
Trombonist Sarah Gail Brand’s quartet album all will be said, all to do again takes its title and all its track names from Beckett, and appeals to an abiding Beckettian sensibility. It is the first-ever recorded release of a particular grouping of musicians who have worked together over two decades in differing configurations as embattled veterans of free improvisation.
Originally conceived as part of Sarah Brand’s PhD, and recorded by Alex Bonney at iklectik art lab in January 2018 for an invited audience, Brand features on all selections, a sequence of freely improvised quartets, trios and duos. The group is by turns arch, enervated, amused, bemused, richly humorous. The players plumb restless depths led by a solid bond of fellowship: Beckettian overcoming music by hapless souls damned to wander and suffer to bring us back this life-rewarding connection, this odd music we call free, that continually expands and confounds our conception of what art is and can be.
In the three quartet pieces, the four players together give an almost music box quality – Pandora’s music box, opened and writhing. The improvisations flare with the vivid colours and striking visual sense of a Terry Gilliam film, the stark unflinchingness of Beckett reimagined in garish Technicolor, the impression of a museum haunted by screaming popes.
The album is distinguished by its tactile quality. When you can only hear and not see them, Steve Beresford’s tabletop of toys becomes quite inscrutable, pleasingly weird whistles and whirs and stoppages. Mark Sanders’ textural approach to the drums makes you see each touch, tap and scrape of the kit and extended percussion. John Edwards’ double bass somehow seems to withstand him whacking and attacking it night after night.
Brand’s extended techniques on the trombone run the gamut of sound and sensibility, at times forlorn, then whimsical, laconic, then coruscating, sarcastic, ironic. Her playing is drily humorous and sardonically Beckettian (you don’t take up the trombone without having some serious sense of humour).
On this one, a duo for trombone and electronics, Steve Beresford plays percussively, picking at toys and blowing into plastic flutes while Brand’s trombone eructates and streams notes, sarcastically nodding to trite melodic jazz playing and throwing some deep shade. The duo of Brand and Edwards, let’s do something while we have the chance may be the least surefooted of the selections, finding them both both tending to solo simultaneously, before gliding into an almost Purcell-like stateliness.
The first trio with Edwards on bass, ever tried, is fiercer and more pained. To expand fancifully on Beckettian analogies, if the album’s energetic opening quartet, a constant quantity, presents the pitiless bare tree horizon of Waiting for Godot, this is like Endgame, where parallax has been overcome by a harsh plangent interiority. The trio’s lugubrious abstraction crosshatches vertical strokes of harmonic uncertainty upon horizontal strokes of rhythmic agitation. A second trio, for reasons unknown, recalls the bleaker, desolate utterance of the later short play Rockaby. Scratchy, faltering, halting. Bright spots of silence. More.
The final quartet, let’s go, continues these discontinuities and concludes with a resignedly unresigned sense of enervated existential rumbling, movingly ending the album resolutely on a note of irresolution. Waiting For Godot’s closing lines are familiar, but indelible:
ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go?
VLADIMIR: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Categories: CD review