Julian Arguelles As Above So Below Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

British saxophonist adds a string ensemble to his customary octet line-up for his...

Martin Longley 2004

This long-awaited new album from Arguelles is the saxophonist's sixth, and his second for Provocateur. The Loose Tubes veteran made his debut for the label with Escapade, and is also a member of its owner Colin Towns's Mask Orchestra.

As Above, So Below finds Julian in a calmer mood than the usualgalloping momentum of his octet line-up. He has always been open to the pastoral moment, but this project finds Arguelles more classically aware than ever before. He's still operating within an eight-piece framework, but its members have changed and its orientation has mellowed, secluded within an introspective chamber.

Stan Sulzmann and Iain Dixon complete the reed front-line, with Henry Lowther peppering beside them on trumpet and flugelhorn. The remaining members are Jim Rattigan (French horn), Mike Walker (guitar), Steve Watts (bass) and Martin France (drums). Nearly half of the pieces were commissioned by Fenland District Council and Jazz East, written for the twenty-piece Trinity College Of Music String Ensemble, and premiered in St. Wendreda's Church in the East Anglian town of March. Arguelles, like so many of his contemporaries, is concerned with the relationship between improvisation and composition.

His opening piece establishes a tone of upright, delicate preening, the "Upward Rush Of Wings" coming from a strutting peacock rather than a ravenous barn owl. Quaint Englishness pervades, pizzicato strings tiptoe-ing a touch too politely, with "Since Then" soon prompting suspicions of a Gavin Bryars influence, its strings seeping and swelling with graceful dignity.

Then, the jazzers enter, Mike Walker's guitar gently plucked like a harp as Arguelles darts above the billowing string arrangements. Perversely, the massed violins, violas and cellos can sometimes sound uncannily like a lone synthesiser. On "Chuckie Pend", Arguelles sets his soprano rippling freely against Martin France's thundering drums, invoking a vivid John Surman image.

Some of the pieces, "Wendreda's Way" in particular, can sound like music for television advertisments: too slushy and bland. The tendency is towards shorter works, where expectations with this particular instrumentation would be for greater development over a longer stretch.

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