Posts Tagged ‘Dub’

23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Reaks’ relentless release schedule continues apace with the arrival of Track Marks, his eleventh album. Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, it’s characterised by off-kilter experimentations in dub and socio-political commentary. But whereas jazz provided the core influence on 2015’s Growth Spurts, it’s spectacularly spacious prog-rock wizardry that arrives fresh on Track Marks to bring the all-important new, unexpected and so-incongruous-it-shouldn’t-work-but-somehow-does feature of the material.

‘Stale Mate’ opens the album with a suitably eclectic mix of ingredients, with the blippy electronica of the opening bars immediately being submerged by one of the wandering basslines that define Reaks’ output regardless of what he’s doing. Somehow it moves from here to ultimately culminate in a knowingly gratuitous guitar solo.

‘I’ll Take My Pilgrimage’ is seemingly about as much a yearning to find faith as a criticism of religion per se, and melds a stormy, rolling drum to another phat bassline and some progtastic guitars and synths, while packing in some jazzy sax too. The jazz direction, which came to the fore on previous album, Growth Spurts, becomes increasingly dominant as Track Marks progresses. ‘Exposing Fiona’ gets pretty wild in its horn-parping intensity.

‘Stick Thin Worms’ pitches a stomping rhythm beneath some more abstract lyrical content, while poet and bluesman Paul Middleton (who hails from Reaks’ hometown of Harrogate) provides spoken word on ‘Tank From Grimsby’, which continues the extending thread of collaborative efforts which have become stablished as a feature of Reaks’ receny output. It’s actually a piece about some musicians, and marks a departure into mellow flamenco guitar.

If it all sounds like overload, it’s credit to Reaks that somehow, it all hangs together with a remarkable cohesion. It’s not immediate: one has to first surrender to the strangeness, the otherworldliness that Reaks creates. But there are some – many – undeniably great musical moments here. They’re not preoccupied with hooks or choruses, but there’s a certain atmosphere that envelops Track Marks – an album where the darker second meaning is (wisely) left unhinted at in the cover art. And once again, it’s Reaks’ refusal to pursue any obvious avenue which is the key to his success as an artist. Whether it’s a detriment to him in commercial terms, well, who knows? But that’s not what he’s about, and precisely why he deserves respect and attention.

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6th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Some reviews are seemingly fated. This is one such review: I was slow to get started, and then, having spent several evenings working on a detailed critical analysis, exploring the album’s wild eclectism on a more or less track-by-track basis in a discourse of some eight hundred words, my laptop crashed and most of the work was lost, with the only available version being a collection of notes which were days old. How it happened, when my word processor is set to autosave every five minutes, I have no idea. Thanks Microsoft.

Still, this is an Ashley Reaks album, and a man who can produce three albums in a year – and continue to produce art, and to gig relentlessly, under difficult personal circumstances – deserves the same kind of unbowing attitude from a reviewer.

Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, anything can happen. And it will. And it does. Following on from Reaks’ ‘punk album’ This is Planet Grot (and a remarkable credible and impressive punk album at that), Growth Spurts, on the one hand, could be considered a return to more familiar territories. But then, on the other, it could justifiably be tagged his ‘jazz album’. The familiar elements of reggae and post-punk inspired dub are present and correct, but this collaboration-based collection of tunes also brings in some wild jazz stylings. The collaborative element is also key here, not only to appreciating Growth Spurts, but to understanding Reaks as an artist, at least as much as it’s possible to grasp such an idiosyncratic and singular individual.

Like his collage artwork, his music is a mish-mash of elements drawn from here, there and everywhere, often bolted together at weird angles and demonstrating incompatible proportions and lines of perspective. He has very much his own slant on things, and his approach is also very much his own: Reaks is one of the few artists who consistently produces work which has the capacity to surprise, to confound, and, occasionally, confuse – which is a healthy response to something which is so staunchly unconventional. You get the impression that Reaks’ raison d’être is to produce art which surprises and confounds himself, as much as any notional audience. His mindset appears to be that if it’s not fresh, unexpected, and if it’s not sincere, then it’s worthless. Collaboration, when done right, yields an output which is greater than the sum of its parts, and draws out facets of each contributor which may not otherwise be known.

As such, Growth Spurts is a world away from his previous collaborative effort, Cultural Thrift (2015) with poet Joe Hakim, on which Reaks stepped toward the rear portion of the stage to provide a background accompaniment (which in itself was a departure given Reaks’ propensity for dizzying soundclashes). Five of the ten pieces – it would be wrong to refer to this as a collection of songs, given that they feature spoken word and poetry – feature writers and poets from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. They’re disparate characters, as varied as Reaks’ own sources of input, hand-picked to contribute to the album.

The result is dizzying, a rollercoaster journey through a vast swathe of cultural terrain. Each of the collaborative pieces is distinct and different, and finds Reaks attentive to the style of the different speakers. And as the strange, strangles vocal cacophony which introduces the album’s first track, the oddly ominous prog-dub drum‘n’bass neoclassical jazz mixup that is ‘Divorced from the Body’ shows, he’s digging deep to locate new and unexpected hybrids. And yet, amidst the chaos, he still whips up some killer hooks – something so many experimental / genre-smashing artists completely overlook in their quest to innovate, to dazzle with their imagination and technical prowess.

‘The Gentle Art of Ignoring’ with Sylvie Hill is the most outright jazz track on the album, and her sassy vocal delivery and confident Canadian accent brings another sharp dimension to an album which displays almost infinite dimensions, but there’s just so much to take in. But if you need a pointer for where to start, start with the basslines. The crashing jazz-influenced drum ‘n’ bass drumming, the wild brass, the myriad perspectives of the different vocalists all slot into place over those low-down basslines that stroll and groove and leap and boogie. Get on down.

 

Ashley Reaks - Growth Spurts

It’s sad that in 2016 there should be a need for a York Stand Up To Racism benefit gig. But, as one of the speakers noted, periods of austerity tend to bring division, and invariably, race-blame is one of the ways in which frustration at social deprivation and disparity manifests itself. And so, as war rages in the Middle East and we bear witness to the biggest mass displacement of people since WW2, there’s a disconcerting negativity toward asylum seekers, continually referred to in the media and beyond as ‘migrants’ (like it’s a dirty word, and somehow associated with vagrants), with a particular antagonism towards Muslims (as if all Muslims are extremists, and that’s before we consider Christian extremism, which has seemingly been acceptable since the Crusades).

But we’re all here – and yes, it’s a more than respectable turnout – for a mix of speakers and music-makers, disparate in style but united in the opposition to racism, to social division, to stigmatism, to segregation.

It is, necessarily, a mixed bag, and some of the speakers are more compelling than others: Pinar Aksu spoke lucidly of her experience of life in the UK since arriving as an 8-year-old asylum seeker from Turkey in 2001 and living in Glasgow, and Labour MP for York, Rachael Maskell was passionate and rousing during her succinct and well-paced speech. Some of the other speakers seemed less confident, less organised and less cogent, undermining the importance of their messages. But it would be wrong to criticise their contributions: this is about inclusivity. Not everyone can be a great public speaker, but that doesn’t diminish their societal contribution. If anything, tonight’s event highlights the way in which the current right-wing government, and the equally right-wing mainstream media are exerting their control by means of slick manipulation of the mainstream media channels. Tonight is not about spin, but the voices of real people, who have experienced the traumas of racism, of war, being heard.

Of the bands, Low Key Catastrophe and Orlando Ferguson proved to be the night’s real standouts: the former, on early, and making their debut appearance had an infectious energy that infused throughout the audience. Their brand of punky / post-punk tinged dub reggae has something of an anarcho vibe to it, and while the band as a whole are busy working out some chilled grooves overlayed with some tetchy, angular guitars, front man Jim Osman is a real live wire – a charismatic performer, he’s got the kind of passion you can’t fake and is and utterly compelling.

Low Key

Low Key Catastrophe

In contrast, Orlando Ferguson – duo John Tuffen and Ash Sagar – push hard on their avant-garde credentials and are all about the drone. Summ O))) without the power chords or distortion, ‘Earth 2’ reimagined without the gut-churning metal grind, their set, sculpted with duelling bass / guitar feedback and essentially nothing else is the droniest of drone. And it’s ace. There’s no overt political message here, but it’s clear that these guys are on the side of good.

Orlando Ferguson

Orlando Ferguson

The running order changed a few times, and things were running spectacularly late, which meant that after a long day at work after a 4am start, I wasn’t up for watching ZiZ (and I’m prey hardcore about staying it out to the end of a gig). Irked as I was at times by the apparent lack of organisation, and the conversation over performers (Nick Hall, offering his own brand of Folk Rock / Americana had a particularly tough battle against the endless babble), it was a landmark night that brought people together, and that’s what matters.