Woven Entity is an augmented quartet – essentially, three percussionists and a bassist, plus guests – chasing a laid-back multikulti groove; a nice counterpoint to the more explosive volatility of their equally sui generis Babel Label bandmates, Black Top.
The core quartet comprises a bassist, Peter Marsh, and three rhythmists: percussionist Patrick Dawes; Lascelle Gordon, on percussion and electronics; and drummer Paul May. Marsh and May have shared history in various groups, including Fourth Page, Elvers and Sonnamble (the latter’s Blindlight, recorded before May joined, had Marsh primarily playing lap steel alongside Conor Curran on analogue synthesizer, and was one of my favourite albums of 2012.) Lascelle Gordon was a founder member of acid jazz band The Brand New Heavies, which group he left in 1995. Patrick Dawes has played percussion for both The Herbaliser and Groove Armada, subsequently working for a brief period with soulful American singer-songwriter Richie Havens.
Of Woven Entity’s guests on this album, Ben Cowen elsewhere plays keys and electronics in Snorkel, a group whose blend of groove and elements of improvisation is more sympathetic to the relaxed rhythmic vibe of Woven Entity’s music than any Acid Jazz flashback. The improv quotient is upped by Julie Kjaer (alto sax and flute) and Alan Wilkinson (alto sax): The latter is at his least stertorous, and featured only on one track.
“C358X” is a short introductory piece, with Cowen adding electronic touches to a collage of hand bells, small instruments, chimes and sundry other percussives. It’s playful but oddly subdued, as is much of the rest of the album. The group seem studiously determined, neither to succumb wholesale to the influences of Art Ensemble- or Arkestra-style ethnofuturism, nor to get carried away by any impulse to blustery improv machismo.
There are ten pieces here, only three of which extend over four minutes. “Naked Eye” is 07:16 of the core quartet, Marsh at his jazziest on contrabass, constructing a rhythmic trellis to support a profusion of percussion (claves, bongos, marimba, and kit drums). Someone (Kjaer isn’t credited) plays flute as the brew thickens, and Marsh soon establishes an insistent groove. On the next few pieces, they avoid anything quite so obvious
“Who’s Who” begins as little more than a looping steel drum sound with kit percussion embellishments, but warm electronics add a new layer to be studded by small percussive gestures. It’s arguably little more than a sketch, but the rhythmic combinations, and the finickity detailing of essential simplicity are seductive.
Birdsong precedes a contrabass intro to “This Day Will Come”, and continues amid mild agitation (noises off: the sound of sawing) and is picked up and translated into pressurised stridulations by Julie Kjaer. Someone else plays thin-toned harmonica, while Marsh and May firm up the skeleton rhythm.
“So Black Dada” matches subtle sci-fi electronics to jew’s harp, and infectiously rhythmic frame drumming to shakers. Then Alan Wilkinson is introduced to the mix. He plays a nicely concise solo, and then the piece ends, rather abruptly. “Hola” toys with similar elements, maintaining a low haze of electronics and saxophonics (probably Wilkinson again, though he’s uncredited).
“Trissh” is a little slice of folktronica, setting chirpy, looping glockenspiel over a field recording of children’s playtime, before Ben Cowen introduces a booming (in context) electronic pulse.
The album’s longest piece is the ten minute “Earth Crisis”, which starts with Julie Kjaer pecking away at another Marsh contrabass pulse (which reminds me of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”, or maybe The Thing’s version of the same), all washed by cymbal scrapes. It all firms up around that supple bass pulse, amplified by frame drum, as other percussives echo those initial saxophonic pecks. Meanwhile Kjaer blows more freely, and brief vocalisations are thrown into the mix and whipped up with percussion samples. But the pulse stays steady, and ultimately becomes motoric.
“Point Noir” is another substantial piece, an exotic nocturne, initially with Kjaer, on flute, playing against a backdrop of looping jazz-funk bass and bongo rhythm. It’s a track on which Woven Entity works up a little heat for once, and briefly shuck off an atmospheric backwash of electronic radiation to accentuate the leanness of their supple acoustic.
That leaves only “Moors And Orandas”, which firms up out of almost nothing, just cymbal washes and fingertip percussion yielding to the pulse of Marsh’s bass, only to ebb away from lack of any real impetus. It should be frustrating, but somehow …
Lascelle Gordon percussion and electronics; Patrick Dawes percussion; Paul May drums; Peter Marsh bass + guests: Ben Cowen keys and electronics; Julie Kjaer alto sax and flute; Alan Wilkinson alto saxophone.
Buy Woven Entity direct from Babel Label.