Melancholy Babes

1 Nov, Common Room
By Michael Hawksworth

“That’s all you need to know.”

The clarinet reimagined as a hollow pipe. Wintry bass. A bicycle bell. Something teetering collapses. A receding tom returning as a cymbal, drumming laid down as texture. A modulated rumble. Bass as percussion, a scramble into its cavernous interior.

A hollow pipe resolves into something like a clarinet, but Egyptian.

Shivering tension. An ultrafast multi-note continuum that turns into a long sustained single car alarm to shatter into a stuttering vibrato. Flurries, gusts of toneless plosives. A wooden ball clattering down the stairs.

A big old bass sax looks like a steampunk blunderbuss with a blast like Gabriel’s horn. A squall of somehow-still-melodic shrapnel. Bass and drums now re-amalgamating, melding, winding up to become a juggernaut of industrial intensity not far from (New York group) Swans. The sax is now a didgeridoo. If at moments danceable, then by pre-Christian cultists with magical foreknowledge of Krautrock. Superquick moth flutter music, every instrument rippling.

“We’re gonna have an intermission. The second half will be different. Or it will be exactly the same.”

Either, thanks.

The bass’s massive body played as much as its strings, a total instrument.

The bass bowed to materialise icy tones, metallic surfaces, between which yawn otherworldly spaces.  And from this musique concrete, a swerve into something almost like jazz, but with impossibly backtracked cymbals from a xylophone-like array, and toms registering an invisible mettle from base-course to rubble to slip.

The word ‘improvisation’ is quite often too sloppily applied to music that faffs around prettily 2 feet above a safety net. Why did the cantina band in the first Star Wars film play such off-the-rack cocktail nonsense? Surely aliens with instruments bio-engineered into their faces would play at the outer limits of our understanding – freaky cosmic shit. A total instrument. Hyper sense/nerve activity. Melancholy Babes. What kind of name is that?

Jeff Henderson – saxophones and clarinet. Anthony Donaldson – drums. Tom Callwood – upright bass.

Everything seeming able to transform at will into something other than it is. Drums as stringed instrument, sax as percussion, bass as Theremin. A concentrated force, a total music, corners turning corners, always tense, always urgent, never relaxing into um.

Completely now and complete.

That’s all you need to know.




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