3rd May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Sagar is a man with his finger in manifold musical pies, spanning the semi-ambient droning improv of Orlando Ferguson to the thumping Krautrock grooves of The Wharf Street Galaxy Band. It’s Sagar’s willingness to experiment, and to try anything once that’s a significant factor in his interest as a musician. What’s important for anyone engaging in experimentalism is the acceptance that degrees of success and failure may vary along the way, and it’s with no embarrassment that I recall sharing a stage with him and Namke Communications’ John Tuffen for a hastily-assembled improv set built around a sort of sequence and structure that was actually ok, but not what any of us had really anticipated.

Anyway, under lockdown and unable to play his distinctive wandering basslines live with any of the eighteen or so bands he performs with, Sagar has delivered his second solo album of the year, in the form of the soft ambient work that is Beyond Life, which comprises a single track with a twenty-six minute running time.

It begins with slowly rhythmic vibraphone tones that reverberate softly into a warm atmosphere. Immediately I begin to question this: is it a vibraphone? I’m not strong when it comes to mallet percussion instruments, or synthesised emulations thereof. Equally, I can’t trust that my perception of a ‘warm atmosphere’ isn’t coloured strongly by the unseasonably warm and sunny weather paired with the unusual quietness outside on such a balmy evening, where I’d ordinarily likely be at a gig and the street and back gardens would be chocka with people between pubs and stoking early bank holiday barbecues.

As my thoughts drift, so does the music, and although it doesn’t grab my full focus, is does very much permeate my reflections as I go inside myself, recalling a life before all of this, a life when life was actually life, when, however much going out and being among people may have been a cause of anxiety, it was an option, and live shows provided the opportunity to be among likeminded individuals coming together to escape into sonic domains.

And so here we are, all isolated together, supposedly, in a state beyond life. Sagar provides a subtly-structured soundscape to ease these contemplations along, quietly shifting from one tone and texture to another, from light and airy to low and sombre, piano notes ringing out into the emptiness.

The streets are empty. The pubs, hotels, gyms, shops are empty. The sky is empty. The world is empty. We are all empty. And Beyond Life is beautiful.

AA

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