Ear Duration
New Wave of Jazz nwo/0020

A live expression of languorous minimalism by a UK-Belgian quintet, Ear challenges the organ of Corti to follow the often faint and hushed proceedings. Evolved over three out-of-order sets, the allure of the project is akin to noting how the gradual erosion of a rock by the elements over time creates a new item of equal attention.

Overall, especially on the over 35-minute “Set 1”, which perversely in placed last on the CD, the improvisations’ mooring is supplied by the brief, repetative but distinctive patterning of Belgian pianist Martina Verhoeven. Much like John Tilbury’s program with AMM, these continuous motifs are the reassuring signposts for the puffs, scratches, strums and plops contributed by Britons, flutist/alto saxophonist Colin Webster, violist Benedict Taylor and Graham Dunning using a snare drum and objects plus Belgian Dirk Serries’ acoustic guitar and accordion,

Unless it involves a bout of spacious double stopping from Taylor as on “Set 2”, the darkened and distracted plucks and sweeps could come from any of the string players, including those inside Verhoeven’s piano. But this mystery adds to the spacious landscape being created. Sometimes in tandem with one or the other player’s exposition, Dunning’s lo-fi percussion often appears disconnected or distracted, as do Webster’s occasional reed echoes. However up until it’s conclusive guitar twangs, among its pauses, the summary “Set 3” allows for more individual expression. This includes choked saxophone split tones, objects-on-snare rubs, bounces, crackles and pops plus bent guitar string chording, pizzicato fiddle stops and even dyspeptic piano sequences.

Perhaps the reason “Set 1” is at the end is that its length allowed the quintet to establish its parameters, moving from a formalized and harmonic interchange to a more abstract narrative, prominently anchored by keyboard chords. The addition of accordion smears and flute swirls expands the track’s textures and subsequently double counterpoint involving each of those instruments and elaborating sweeps from Taylor widens the scope but don’t upset the narrative. Framed by the pianist’s strategy, flute trills, accordion jiggles and viola slides solidify into an unhurried mass which can then be deconstructed.

Following the twists, turns and detours of the intonation is the best way to appreciate these tracks. Putting aside a desire for speed and spectacle will allow a deeper appreciation of the quiet artistry displayed.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Set 2 2. Set 3 3. Set 1

Personnel: Colin Webster (alto saxophone and flute); Martina Verhoeven (piano); Dirk Serries (accordion and acoustic guitar); Benedict Taylor (viola) and Graham Dunning (snare drum and objects)