Saturday Night Frakture
An Evening of Improvisations from Swung Dash and Paul Dunmall/Paul Rogers/Phil Gibbs

This Saturday night in Liverpool the place to be should have been the Bluecoat Arts Centre for a night of improvised and electronic music. Here two exciting exponents of the genre were gathered to offer a taster of the Frakture Festival 2002, a festival of local and national improvisers which starts on 3rd October. Local quartet Swung Dash and the probably better known trio of Dunmall, Rogers & Gibb promised a session of risk-taking, exploration and thoroughly enjoyable music. And they delivered it. But where were the audience ? They must have given themselves the night off. Less than twenty souls graced the hard chairs of the Sandon Room which might have been dispiriting for the musicians. However, it didn't sound that way.

Swung Dash are Phil Lucking (trumpets etc), Phil Morton (guitar and treatments), Budgie (drums) and Adam Webster (bass/cello). Their instruments are fairly conventional but the sounds they produce are not. They enjoyed exploring the notion of 'frakture', of breaking down the components and seeing what happens when they all come back together.

Morton's battered electro-acoustic was a versatile vehicle from which to launch splintered chords, whilst tapping a partially destroyed sculpture against it. Webster's bass joined the percussive exploration while Budgie hand-drummed around his conventional kit. Phil Lucking tapped a plastic water bottle, clapped his hands, extracted growls from his flugelbone and ripped jagged sheets of sound from the trumpet. In the interval he told me he wont play shit with anyone, he'll play on the street rather than play something he doesn't believe in. I believe him.

Their set comprised two pieces and at various points Morton introduced a seemingly random supply of 'toys' to enhance the sound of the quartet. Bowling balls rumbled across the bare wooden floors, one was dropped, leaving a deep, satisfying resonance in the air. Among these 'toys' were guitar effects and one of the many highlights occurred when a sustained guitar loop met with Lucking's piercing Turkish oboe. The result was one of the most arresting combinations I've heard in improvised music. A real chance meeting or the result of many hours listening to each other ? It doesn't matter. It was all part of the general surprise and life-enhancing quality of their set.

The Dunmall trio set started and ended with the saxophonist jingling small bells while Rogers attacked his elegant six-string double bass with the bow. I know that in these ensembles no one player ought to stand out but this bass man did. He caressed , hugged, wrestled with and seemed a part of the instrument. At times I'd swear both he and it hovered inches above the ground as he strummed and extracted waves of dark notes and bowed chords. He looked like someone inspired, the bass and player becoming one. When he soloed you could have heard the dust motes settling around the room.

Dunmall produced lyrically assertive runs from the soprano sax, sitting with eyes closed, before taking up a small double panpipe to counterpoint the energetic bass. He also spat jagged soprano flurries, as terse as Roger's acerbic bowing. When he switched to bagpipes he extracted distressed ululations, both harsh and raw whilst remaining fluent and exciting. It was easy to hear the jazz influences as well as folk musics from the UK and elsewhere. At one point a Balkan melody seemed to emerge at others a ghostly pibroch.

At times Gibbs' electric guitar seemed overshadowed by the sheer energy generated by the other two players. He played it on his lap, plucking and scraping, and at one point it sounded more like a thumb piano than a six string guitar. He picked and pressed the strings to add strands of colour and texture but often it sounded thin, especially when Rogers was at his most ebullient and inspired. Towards the end of the set he coaxed melodic overtones alongside Dunmall's little bells while the audience held its collective breath. I couldn't quite believe it was over and Keith Tippett's assertion about music suspending chronological time came to mind.

Those who were there will no doubt remember this as a high point of the festival, enthralling and challenging music delivered with authority and even a bit of humour. I hope there are more people at the rest of the events. (

© 2002 Paul Donnelly