If only they'd play this stuff live.
Chris Jones 2008-07-08
Robert Fripp's excursions into the land of what is reductively called 'ambient' have now been worming their way through the ether for over 30 years ever since he sat down with Brian Eno accompanied only by two tape recorders in 1972. I say 'reductively' because, over and over again, the results of his serial extemporising with and without fellow travellers have always had an edge that renders them far more than floating tones for coffee table living. His 'Frippertronics' - all achieved with guitar - can often tumble into vast disturbing places where the soul is most definitely not at rest. His recent reunion with Eno (on The Equatorial Stars and last year's Beyond Even) could seamlessly veer from beatific to beastly. The results obviously tend to vary depending on the co-conspirator. Here, with Theo Travis, it's a gentler ride.
Thread was created in one improvised sitting, one day in 2007. Fripp, having already guested on one track on Travis' album, Double Talk, joined forces with the saxophonist and flautist best known for his work on the boundaries of Canterbury axis in bands like Gong and Soft Machine Legacy. Travis' mainly sticks to flute here, adding the requisite eastern scales to perforate Fripp's more amorphous washes of sound. If anything it most closely resembles Nik Turner's undervalued experiment in ambient work, Xitintoday (a comparison which, one suspects, Fripp would hate and Travis would love). On The Silence Beneath Travis' alto saxophone interjects like a gull's cries over the sea swell of RF's orchestral loops. Only on the looped jazz of The Unspoken or the finale, Pastorale, do we get to hear anything that sounds like strings being plucked.
As stated, the whole is far from mere Elysian dreaming. Before Then, for instance, toys with dissonance and swirling chaos before settling again into calm contemplation at its coda. Always at the edge of Fripp's contributions is a questioning, needling unresolvedness that never lets the whole become too self-satisfied or stray near what the uneducated would call 'whale music'. And unlike his recent work with Eno, the midi tones of Fripp's guitar rarely deploy anything straining too hard to be another instrument. Instead he sticks to tones that are pure and perfectly match Travis' lovely wind playing. Now, if only they'd do this stuff live...