Veryan Weston/Hannah Marshall/Mark Sanders

Crossings
Hi4Head HHHCD027

More of an evolution than a departure for Veryan Weston, Crossings is an experiment using the keystation alongside tones from cellist Hannah Marshall) and drummer Mark Sanders. Using this MIDI controller designed to sequence music on a computer played by virtual instruments is a change for the pianist known for his acoustic improvising with fellow London-based improvisers like Phil Minton and Trevor Watts,. But it isn’t the first time Weston’s tried out keyboards beyond the standard. He already recorded one CD using a Luthéal piano and another on tracker action organs. However this is his premiere foray into electronic processing.

Essentially he triggers certain sounds from the keystation and then all three musicians improvise around the revealed so-called sketches. It means that at various times guitar, thumb-piano, electric organ, mandolin, calliope slide-whistle and other textures are suggested. The challenge is to avoid cheesier noises from the machine and integrate others into a satisfactory blend. Throughout Sanders, who usually plays less standard rhythms, sticks to shuffles and backbeats for an inclusive swing feeling, while Marshall’s string techniques amplify or harmonize with the Weston's virtual output.

When this strategy works, as it does superbly on “Crossing Out” and “Kalimba Setting”, the result is like listening to a clever electro-acoustic performance. Marshall’s low-pitched staccato runs intersect with guitar-like picking from Weston on “Crossing Out”, with theme variations stretched out with more keyboard-like pulses and clips as well as strums, twangs and sul tasto cello thrusts that confirm the tune’s initial shape. On the giveaway titled “Kalimba Setting”, Sanders’ solid back beat steadies the narrative as doubled cello sweeps move the theme forward from tough to gentle just as Weston’s tinkling plunks provide clattering decorations, until all join for a descriptive ending. Elsewhere it’s Marshall’s pressurized bowing that provides the connective ostinato or challenges with contrapuntal stops, so that overbearing keyboard shudders won’t overpower other tracks. Sanders press rolls and Marshall’s string pacing save from tackiness “I'll Be Baka In”, when tremolo organ intimations threatened to enter cocktail lounge or roller-rink territory. Still the concluding “Extinction” which features the cellist’s muffled warbling Yeats’ poetry could profitably have been left off the disc.

Adding to Weston’s – and the others’ – yearning to attempt novel musical ideas, Crossings is a notable first effort. But really adapting this technique to memorable improvisation may be better realized next time out.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Kafka's Escape 2. Young Elephant 3. Slow Blackwell 4. Crossing Out 5. Folk Themes 6. Kalimba Setting 7. I'll Be Baka In 5 8. Tap Dancers 9. Extinction

Personnel: Veryan Weston (keystation); Hannah Marshall (cello and voice) and Mark Sanders (drums)