Reviewing saxophonist Mark Hanslip’s 2012 duo album with percussionist Javier Carmona (Dosados, Babel Label), I remarked on the urbane intelligence and humour implicit in theat exchange. This session, for which he’s paired with guitarist Ed Ricart in a double duo with frequent partners Paul Dunmall and Philip Gibbs, is quite different: “Weeping Idols” is, well, not severe exactly, but tightly-coiled and pretty intense for all the lack of any rhythm section’s density and momentum-generation.
Recorded in a studio in Bristol in 2012, Weeping Idols (FMR) documents a single 50-minute session, presented here almost entire.
The first 20:47, titled “4 Souls, 8 Eyes”, has, as that naming implies, all four players in an evenly democratic exchange. Now I don’t know for sure who plays what, on this piece or any other, so what follows is my best guesswork. Of the two guitarists, both playing electric, I’d say it’s Gibbs who essays agile, stippled lines with clean articulation, while Ricart plays more abrasively, with modulated distortion. I’m assuming it’s Ricart who produces the charged, wispy abstractions that sound more like turntablism than regular guitar playing (before one particularly gritty, one-off twist of FX’d distortion, which clearly indicates amplification, I wondered if it might be one of the saxophonists; could be). Of the latter, with both playing tenor, probably Dunmall plays the brusquer, more brawny lines, while Hanslip is more experimental with multiphonics and wotnot. Towards the conclusion of the piece all four play increasingly ‘straight’, and it’s hard any longer to differentiate inputs: all four lines follow the same fluid trajectory, and all carrying the same liquid melody.
The guitarists can be told apart again on “Bhutan” (11:57), which they dominate, one playing with a semi-acoustic tone in rapid, muted jazz arpeggios, the other focusing on extended techniques with a thin metallic sound. Once the first sax enters about three minutes in, the latter essays occasional percussive taps and chimes. Dunmall is heard on soprano sax, playing in a rarefied higher register amid the guitarist’s spiny weave, warily but with rapidity. The tenor sax by contrast, which must be Hanslip, shadows and comments on the guitar playing. The piece ends with the tenor and one of the guitars, sounding very taut and wiry, in a rapid, knotty dialogue.
The saxophonists, both back on tenor, take the lead on “Better Than Words”, launching at the start into a vigorous exchange of fast, circular variations on a songlike melodic notion. This time it’s the first guitar that enters just over three minutes in, and it’s soon insinuated into the conversation. The pace drops, but there’s a palpable increase in tension as the discourse grows more discursive, and more combative. Since everyone studiously avoids sustain, the session takes on an agitated, pointillist quality which threatens to mither, so it’s timely relief when one of the guitarists peals off a fuller melodic line with a hint of restorative vibrato, from which the others momentarily withdraw into silence. The quartet then come back together for a brief coda of considered reflection.
There are no saxophones on “Weeping Idols”, just the two guitars, off the leash for a brief (4:18) burnout. Actually they peak in intensity halfway, then pull apart with Gibbs quickly needling and Ricart using the whammy to produce blanketing sustains: just the sort of sound production that’s previously been so pointedly avoided.
This is a distinctive and vividly original recording. I’d like to hear a reunion; one with Dunmall on bagpipes could be interesting.
Paul Dunmall tenor and soprano sax; Mark Hanslip tenor sax; Philip Gibbs guitar; Ed Ricart guitar.