Life of the Automobile
unleashing David Manson’s Beast
Up until this week my favourite icon of driving had been a 1950s Decca LP cover of Giuseppe di Stefano at the wheel of his Ferrari (steering wheels were so thin in those days!), with his faithful dog. Di Stefano belts out Neapolitan popular songs like no other, and in a pocket of my psyche labelled ‘twilight zone’ I dream of Enrico Rava and Cecil Taylor performing twisted free jazz loops on ‘Torna a Surriento’.

With my thirty-second birthday fast approaching, and the likelihood of the above meeting fading, and yet to pass my driving test, I’ve been playing David Manson’s new album of chance encounters with his trombone, Beast. This particular beast box follows on the success of his Fluid Motion CD, by a group featuring none other than Sam Rivers, and reviewed in these pages last year. Working in more experimental vein, and pushing the boundaries of trombone virtuosity into unexpected directions, Manson has filled this release with a variety of settings for his instrument.

The first track, ’Mambo Vinko’ (composed forVinko Globokar), brings us back to the life of the automobile, and a nightmare B movie account of a Mexican diesel truck journey accompanied by screeching mambo sounds on the radio. Inspired by the composer Javier Alvarez’s experience of a pounding ride with an adrenaline-fuelled Mexican driver and his Perez Prado fixation for company, the piece has a jagged sense of speed and danger. Musically, it presents the trombone with exciting expressive possibilities, delivering a highly charged rasp alongside stabs of intrusive mambo rhythms. The journey is saturated with nocturnal foreboding, putting me in mind of Yves Montand in the Celine-esque The Wages of Fear by Clouzot, transporting nitroglycerine across inhospitable terrain in a Latin American state. For now, the piece has usurped Di Stefano from my chart of motoring images, and it has a fantastic sequence of Mexican radio channel-hopping worthy of the opening of Dexys’ Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.

The album’s subtitle ‘electro-acoustic works for trombone’ is reflected in the permutations which accompany trombone sounds elsewhere. The other lengthy piece, ‘Confessions of a Virtue Addict’, veers off into synthesizer and percussion explorations. The maddening loops of acoustic and artificial sounds at times recall Walter Carlos, with beat-box backing which thickens the brew. Composed in Japan in 1997 by the multi-talented Eric Lyon, there’s a Japanese sense of playful electronic hysteria at work which would not be out of place on a recent Momus album, or on Howard Devoto’s own experimental dark electronica Beast Box under the guise of Luxuria.
Around those longer adventures, the remaining pieces are equally affirmative and at times hallucinatory. ‘RE: DAVID’ is of course composed with Manson in mind, and has a kinetic energy which should root you to the spot. Proving that the trombone has affinities with all manner of modern sounds, found or compounded, the piece blends clean-blown ’bone with percussive interjections by piano and other instruments.

The album’s final track, ‘Freund’, is a Manson composition which offers a plaintive trombone solo which is then splintered and repeated through a laptop. Elegiac in feel, it perfectly captures the sense of mourning in the piece’s dedication. Achieving a warmth of feeling with minimal brush strokes, it shows what technology, harnessed to sensitivity, can achieve. It adds to the sense that the album is suffused with a tenderness which belies the bestial overtones of much of its subject matter.

Yet the animal ferocity which the album plumbs is magnificent, for all its ultimate calm resolution. I love the high-pitched caterwauling of the second track, ‘All Clear Now’, which continues the din and high-octane feel of the opener ‘Mambo Vinko’. All Clear. As in the road ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari this season. To my ears, Manson’s use of the processed sound of the radung (Tibetan horn), clashing with pyrotechnic guitar sounds, conjures up more motorised mayhem. Here Davey Williams is composer and guitarist, and is responsible for some tightly-strung guitar etchings worthy of Derek Bailey. It’s refreshingly freewheeling and not at all self-regarding. I wish I could hear this blaring in an English town centre on a Saturday afternoon, giving a caffeine kick to consumers on a mundane tour of shopping duty.

Enough Situationist fancies. Suffice to say the trombone is alive and well, and conspiring with other renegade spirits to form a bestiary of intriguing and kaleidoscopic sound collages.

David Manson’s Beast, released by Isospin Labs, is available now from (10% discount for multiple orders)

© 2004 Marino Guida