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Spring Heel Jack – The Sweetness of the Water

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Every so often I think about what it would be like if the emotions people experience were automatically displayed as little floating neon signs. We wouldn’t have any control over this…it’d just happen. You walk by a woman you’ve known (and secretly admired) for years and:

    If only we had…

We all know life’s complicated enough, so this little Fellini thought experiment probably shouldn’t be wished for. Angry or otherwise tense situations would only be magnified (and perhaps pushed into darkness) by the neon eruptions of aggressive and spontaneous thoughts.

For some people, this type of thing does happen when listening to music. The odd structures, rhythms and juxtapositions of textures can evoke seemingly random bits of emotion and memories. At other times, the effect is less clear (and maybe even a little unsettling). More familiar sounds may bring thoughts of clich&#233d film scenes: the echoey click of castanets can make a person think of a shadowy, wet street scene from a detective movie.

But what happens when a circular saxophone figure (from Evan Parker!) is in the room with a guitar pick being roughly scraped across the strings? Are you annoyed? Intrigued? Upset?

Thirsty Ear‘s Blues Series has presented the world’s eardrums with a fine assortment of aural treats. Spring Heel Jack’s The Sweetness of the Water should make some neon thought generators work overtime.

Let’s see…

“Track Four”. In the right channel, reverby guitar arpeggios and artificial harmonics ring out, while the left channel is home to eerie guitar string scrapes and ‘elephant noises’. It’s ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’…on acid. Nervous percussion, trumpet and bass follow, building the mood. The thought?

    Is this really happening to me?

“Quintet”. Shards of dissonant chords fall off John Coxon’s fingers. Percussion, soprano sax and trumpet circle slowly around the guitar structure in a kind of group improvisation ritual.

    We’ll work together…

“Duo”. Clattering percussion and extended guitar techniques give way to psychotic call and response (of sorts) passages between the two instruments.

    …perfect for each other

“Track One”. The piano chords are used as support structure for a slowly morphing group improvisation.

    Cold Morning Fog

“Inlet”. A Braxton-meets-Lounge Lizards improv with droplets of percussion , staccato trumpet, bowed bass and sax.

    Confused

“Autumn”. For some reason, this reminds me of Ornette’s Prime Time. A soaring three-chord (sampled?) figure is fleshed out with layers of improvised sounds. Harmolodic? Maybe. Thought-provoking? Definiteley.

    This just might work out

What’s interesting about this ‘generated thought’ phenomenon is that, like other arts, the result is different for everybody. The listener brings as much to the experience as the musician.

Does that mean that some music is too ‘difficult’, making it impossible to ‘get’? Not at all. There are as many elements to perceive in music as there are reasons for its creation. Heck, a lot of music has no meaning beyond the ideas followed by the musician. One idea spawns another just because it made musical sense at the time.

I’ve gotta give the guys in Spring Heel Jack extra points for their ‘big ears’. The collective improvisations manage to be both introspective and and inclusive, not an easy thing to get right.

The Sweetness of the Water will be released on June 8th, 2004.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Funny, Mark, I’ve had this for more than a month and couldn’t get into it. Last night I put it in the CD player and loved it. Then today I find your review. Do we think alike or what?

    Your review is about the best assessment I could give this album – it’s very hard to put into words. The thing that mesmerized me last night was the production – the instruments sound so alive and clean, but not processed. It’s as close to “in the room with you” as stereo can get. Impressive.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    thanks tom.

    the production reminds me of that Mingus tribute “Weird Nightmare”

  • Stately Wayne Manor

    Mark, Where are these guys from ?

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    edinburgh and london (for the duo of Coxon and Wales)

    i think Evan Parker’s british as well.

  • Stately Wayne Manor

    Thanks man.I figured they were Brits but
    wanted to be sure.