Max Nagl The Evil Garden Review

BBC Review

It's an attractive brew, enlivened by Noel Akchote's fractured, bluesy jazz/not-jazz...

Peter Marsh 2002

Saxophonist Max Nagl embarks on a song cycle based around the verse of Edward Gorey, whose surreal, sinister tales of living vegetation, kidnapped children and strange visitations recall a darker Lewis Carrol. Michael Mantler set Gorey's texts to music on 1976's 'The Hapless Child' with Robert Wyatt, Terje Rypdal and Jack de Johnette, but Nagls' approach avoids Mantler's dense prog-rock atmospherics, opting for skeletal, airy settings underpinning Lol Coxhill's lugubrious narration and Julie Tippets' rich singing. (Gorey gave the project his blessing, having heard Nagl's music, but died abefore the album was finished). It's an attractive brew, enlivened by Noel Akchote's fractured, bluesy jazz/not-jazz guitar and Nagl's and Coxhill's dry, acerbic horns. Both saxophonists are on fine form, shadowing each other in duet or turning out brief solo statements (Nagle turns out a lovely, detailed alto solo on the Ornette-ish "Hiccup"), The absence of a bass gives the music an airy, distinctive quality.

The dark, dark tale of the title track is a gem; Tippets and Coxhill in vocal duet on a sombre yet pretty melody over spare guitar chords, faint gurgling electronics and chattering percussives. Drummer Patrice Heral is definitely a name to watch; throughout the record he displays great textural diversity and inventiveness. Interspersed with the five songs are seven brief, stylistically diverse instrumentals, all marked by an admirable restraint and astringent lyricism even in the freer passages. Nagl's writing has a folkish simplicity (again echoes of Ornette), alluding sometimes to tango, the blues or European folk forms but without descending into pastiche. The gorgeous "Saragashum" is worth the price of the disc alone, Satie-esque piano and yearning alto submerged beneath a welter of bubbling synthetics. "Epipletic" (sic) morphs from gorgeous, arcing melodic lines from the two sopranos to episodic bursts of free improv with Akchote doing a convincing Derek Bailey impression. An odd, quietly affecting record.

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