Sampling The Samplers
Branches and Routes : A FatCat Compilation (FATCD23)
The Blue Series Sampler : The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Thirsty Ear. THI 57138. 2)

Compilations are almost always the subject of further sub-compilations. You go through them and abstract the bits that you like, as opposed to those the record company thought you might enjoy. Or whatever their motives are for putting these things together in the first place.

The first of the Fat Cat double has Mice Parade and David Grubb who are mildly interesting. Then there is Set Fire To Flames, in this case from their 'Signs Reign Rebuilder' cd. 'Steal Compass/Drive North/Disappear' hints at the intriguing whole and will maybe entice someone else to go out and discover what a nugget of haunting beauty it was/is.

And there is HiM, extracted from their recent 'Many In High Places Are Not Well'. It isn't the most arresting track on there but it has its moments. I'd have chosen several others myself. But, on the other hand, they have included Bjork Mit Funkstorung. This is a track I have never heard and is a haunting mix of electronic samples pitched against her spacious multi-tracked vocals. I'd include it in my compilation. As I probably would want to have Duplo Remote, though they may have a shorter shelf life.

One of the temptations is to include a few 'unreleased' tracks to gull the gullible. But whether or not you know of or like Sigur Ros this inoffensively ambient fragment may persuade you to see what else they do. Beware, it almost always sounds like this but sometimes there are words too, sung in a language of their own making, if I recall correctly. It's pleasant enough but becomes a bit samey.

By contrast, Xinlisupreme have allowed a chunk of their 'Murder License' ep, the title track in fact, to escape and infiltrate the sedate air created by Sigur Ros. This is a little slice of sonic assault and battery, without compromise, which briefly creates its own small, violent universe. Fellow countryman and electronic artist, Com.A seems to exist in a parallel one where the machines are winning. His choppy, fractured electronica is intriguing when so much of that genre isn't.

The universe of Crescent is a considerably calmer place and they employ acoustic guitars and mellow organ with crisp percussion out of which a voice that resembles a man who has lost his way in a fog arises. At times I felt like I was listening to the mutant ghosts of Jim Morrison and Nick Drake grafted into one and singing out across the void.

I suppose my final two favourites must be The Dylan Group, whose 'Avila' is a kind of gamelan meets lo-fi bass and drums, and the last track of the double cd, from Sylvain Chauveau. A pianist whose cd, 'Un Autre Decembre', was beguilingly minimalist , he offers this extract, 'Mineral' which barely brushes the ears, notes falling soft and ephemeral into silence.

Thirsty Ear have been actively sampling on many of their recent Blue Series releases and with some interesting results. I don't know if the title is a correct prediction or not but in the here and now they are taking some aspects of jazz and mixing them with other forms, such as turntable sampling, and bringing us the strange world of DJ Wally.

He takes his inspiration from jazz and James Brown and uses the work of Matthew Shipp, David S Ware, William Parker and others as source material to be re-shaped. The piece included here is fairly representative, mingling flute, dark sax motifs and relentless beats. Another DJ, this time Spooky, is featured in the company of Lee Perry and Mad Professor. His work is equally beat-driven and laden with samples but owes less allegiance to jazz and more to electronica.

More jazz orientated, Matthew Shipp's 'Cohesion' gives prominence to the supple bass of William Parker, Khan Jamal's vibes and his own piano. Together they create a tension which is sometimes released by lighter lyrical flashes. There is some programming here too but it is integrated into the whole rather than driving it. Parker and Shipp lend their considerable clout and talent to the GoodandEvil Sessions along with some heavyweight horns. Again jazz is the dominant style though filtered through the mix of GoodandEvil.

Jazz is definitely where Tim Berne and co are coming from. His lithe alto sax locks in fierce interaction with electric guitarist, Marc Ducret and drummer Tom Rainey. This is very much a live set and also features dense keyboard sounds from Craig Taborn who even plays 'virtual organ'. From a similar jazz corner, the Kidd Jordan/Fred Anderson Quartet are more visceral, the two saxes raw and raucous, digging a primal groove around the intense bass of Parker (who else?) and magnificent drummer Hamid Drake. This masterful duo also join manic violinist Billy Bang for 'Scrapbook' from the deceptively delicate sounding William Parker Violin Trio. Of course, intensity is the keyword again and this is truly a power trio at work on the edges of free and composed jazz.

Several veterans of the English and European free jazz/improv scene are gathered here too. Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Kenny Wheeler and Han Bennink are part of the Spring Heel Jack conglomeration whose cd 'Amassed' was released to critical acclaim. An example of the Thirsty Ear policy of forging new fusions, the track here is mainly memorable for the pure and elegiac tone of Wheeler's trumpet which moves over a gliding, almost hymnal backdrop of muted vibes and strings. It is one of those pieces on a compilation that stops you where you stand and you find yourself putting it on repeat play. Then you buy the album, which is what I am going to do.

So, all of these would be in my personal compilation, though the track featuring Antipop Consortium might get left out. Strange really, since it features most of the Thirsty Ear 'house band', for want of a better expression, but the Antipop vocals/words don't add up to much. Still in every sampler there's something you want to skip, isn't there, and only one out of twelve makes this taster a huge success for me.

© 2003Paul Donnelly