Birchall/Cheetham/Webster/Willberg – Plastic Knuckle
“Colin Webster’s Raw Tonk label celebrates its fifth birthday with a ragin’ all-dayer at London’s And Hundred Years Gallery in March. In the mean time, why not catch up on their releases, all of which can be checked out on their Bandcamp page Plastic Knuckle is the label’s 22nd release and brings the London-based saxophonist together with three key players from Manchester’s vibrant jazz and improv underground: guitarist Dave Birchall, drummer Andrew Cheetham and bassist Otto Willberg, all three of whom play in freeform psych outfit Desmadrados Soldados de Ventura.
Like many operating at the noisier end of free jazz, Webster and his collaborators are looking to escape the dead end of boring macho blare. Their approach is lean and agitated, as the players attempt to contain their ecstatic urges on the fidgety title track, and negotiate an uneasy calm on ‘Ghost Dance’. The latter sounds like an occult gamelan ritual, with Webster’s baritone sax prowling around the resonant chimes of Cheetham’s cymbals and Birchall’s behind-the-neck guitar. Rather than build to an obvious freak-out, the piece develops in a more rhythmic direction, with Cheetham moving in concentric circles around his cymbals. Willberg’s bass walks ‘Low Level Curlew’ back to the jazz citadel, but its progress is harried by razor wire guitar traps and saxophone strafes.
Birchall/Smal/Webster – Drop Out
Webster and Birchall hook up with Dutch drummer Rogier Smal on Drop Out, the latest tape from Austin’s Astral Spirits. The nervy skronk of the first side has Webster spitting out staccato phrases, while Birchall switches between high-end slide squall reminiscent of Borbetomagus’s Donald Miller, and lunging stoner riffage. Smal ramps it all up by hammering at his snare like a speed-addled carpenter, before dialling things back for a twitchy and atmospheric passage that ultimately takes off like peppercorns on a hot skillet. Side two sees the trio in a more contemplative mood, with Webster laying sustained tones over Smal’s pygmy percussion. The underlying tension explodes in the second half, with Birchall scrabbling around the fretboard as Webster’s sax stutters and jabs.”