Dense, exhilarating stuff which contrives to sound utterly alien and familiar all at...
Peter Marsh 2002
This is a stunning record, and one that comes totally from left field. Spring Heel Jack (aka Ashley Wales and John Coxon) have been most closely associated with the 90's drum n' bass scene, though their remit was always much wider. Elements of free jazz squall were surfacing on early 12"s like Casino, while last year's underrated Disappeared saw the duo placing John Surman's horn playing over sandblasted ambient electronica as well as fashioning a tribute to the late Lester Bowie.
However, nothing there signalled the quantum leap forwards (or even sideways) that is Masses; Wales and Coxon have hooked up with some of the cream of the New York free jazz scene (William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter) as well as the ubiquitous Evan Parker, to create a mix of impassioned free jazz and electronics that is utterly seamless.
From the opening "Chorale" where Shipp's bittersweet piano picks its way gingerly through dirty swathes of guitar noise and a beautiful sampled trumpet figure, Masses seeks to confound expectations and head deep into uncharted territory. Daniel Carter's alto winds through a sampled doublebass/handclap figure; Roy Cambell's luminous harmon muted trumpet etches out parched, lyrical lines over a choir of bowed basses. "Salt" is a monstrous looped groove which features Parker's patented bubble n' squeak soprano, while Berne is on blistering form on "Red Worm", his baritone blurting and screaming over a repeated guitar drone. There are many moments of unearthly beauty; Carter's flute and Berne's alto duet over Parker's resonant bass and unearthly electroacoustic creaks on "Interlude 2", while the closing "Coda" loops steam driven synth chords under Campbell's cackling foghorn trumpet and a cracked gypsy violin.
Despite occasional obvious electronic manipulations the feel is live and almost lo-fi, with SHJ doing for free jazz what Teo Macero did for electric Miles Davis. It's dense, exhilarating stuff which contrives to sound utterly alien and familiar all at once. If you want to know where jazz's cutting edge is, you need this record.