Live at Ftarri review from weneednoswords

a2048475887_10“David Birchall, Sam Andraea and Otto Willberg are part of an emerging cohort of players working at interface of fire music and free improvisation, a bunch of cats who relish blurring those borders and the resulting messiness of approach. It’s the opposite of the rather studious air gap built up between those two disciplines in the 1970s and 80s by the post-SME generation of improvisers, with untrammelled hybridity taking the place of ideological purity. (If you need more names, check out Raw Tonk maestro Colin Webster, drummers Andrew Lisle and Andrew Cheetham, guitarists Anton Hunter and Dirk Serries, and reedspeople Dee Byrne and Cath Roberts.)

There’s no membership card for this crew, and it’s by no means a closed shop. But the fact remains that that every time you bring someone new into the mix you risk upsetting a delicate balance of understanding and challenge built up over innumerable exchanges. In this instance, however, the resilience and adaptability of Birchall, Andraea and Willberg means it’s a gamble worth taking. Thus the addition of no-input guru Toshimaru Nakamura to a trio of musicians whose discographies, gigs and approaches are so intertwined they have become like branches of an extended family has a pleasingly destabilizing effect. Nakamura doesn’t so much change the group dynamic on this date, recorded at Tokyo’s legendary Ftarri record shop-cum-venue back in April 2017, as much as subtly deform it. His bone-dry crackles and white-hot screeches are a lens through which his co-workers’ interactions are refracted, intensified and occasionally disrupted.

Andreae’s sax honks and parps are as grouchingly well-judged as ever, his vocabulary ranging from the clicks and scrapes of extended technique to mischievous twirls of abrasive melody. Every huff and blart create their own spaces within hectic sonic environs – check his joyful, elephantine wails on halfway through ‘Prism Dialect’ – or puncturing the emptiness with the perfect timing of a stand-up comic. Likewise, Birchall’s gluey idioms always find ways to make themselves heard, tiptoeing through the wire wool carnage of ‘Gathering Micron Glass’ with an insouciant wink, elbowing Nakamura’s analogue splatter aside even as he glides across Willberg’s low-end grumble. Oh, and if you were expecting Willberg to play anchorman to the jagged pirouettes of the other three? Forget it. Whether he’s laying out grating, Henry Grimes-style arcos, yobbo thumps or careful, ninja-style plucks, this guy gets involved. The result is a band that’s less like quartet and more like a gaggle of rowdy planets, continually in motion around an invisible sun.”



Opduvel on Live at Ftarri

a2048475887_10“Not long after the release of the fascinating Live in Beppu, the new English free sound artists Sam Andreae (saxophone), David Birchall (guitar) and Otto Willberg (bass) will release a new edition, this time at the London Raw Tonk label. This time the musicians from Manchester are joined by the Japanese Toshimaru Nakamura. His instrument is the no input mixing board, an electronic instrument that produces sound without any outside audio input.

The no input mixing board is an unpredictable instrument and that requires the mixer. According to Nakamura, an attitude of obedience and resignation is necessary in relation to the system and the sounds it produces. The instrument ensures a high degree of indeterminacy and surprise in music. It is therefore not surprising that the three English gentlemen, when they were in Japan, came into contact with Nakamura and started making music together.

The latter happened during the same tour in Japan as in which Live was recorded in Beppu, because the recording of Live at Ftarri took place four days earlier, on 13 April 2017. Ftarri is a shop and concert stage specialized in improvised and experimental music.

The four musicians have in common their open vision of what music is and can be. The game with sounds comes first, not so much as making rhythmic or melodic music. These musicians conduct research into sound, the possibilities of their instruments and how they fit into the sounds that the others produce. This can be done in a conventional, but certainly unconventional way. This leads to music that comes across as abstract, from which the joy of playing is dripping and which, as a listener, often leaves you astonished: what have I just heard?

The contribution of Nakamura ensures that the music gets a more expressive character in relation to the trio plate. Especially the beginning of opener ‘Sprung Forth Digressed’, in which all four musicians are very active, is lively. The sounds that come from four different sources do not enter into a covenant, but they do interact with each other, so that in some hectic, something of cohesion is suggested. After a little five minutes the storm will go. The unrest remains; these are impatient musicians who are much ‘eager’ to show their spontaneous finds. Andreae uses his saxophone as a wind and percussion instrument, Birch’s sounds are a-rhythmic and are also created with the help of objects, Willberg squeals and chops his bass and Nakamura thunders with sharp sounds all over. And then it’s only about a small part of what happens in the first part.

In the second piece, ‘Prism Dialect’, Andreae’s sax is a bit more prominent at first, fragmentary, staccato and sharp. However, it is the unpredictable sounds from that strange instrument of the Japanese who determine the musical direction. The three Englishmen seem to move around there, looking for the right way to relate audibly to those electronic sounds. Willberg makes his bass heavy, and Birchall searches it in the low register on his instrument. Outright noise is lurking, but does not reach full maturity because the musicians keep control over their instruments. After a little six minutes Willberg strikes his strings and Andreae taps on his sax. Birchall goes into battle with Nakamura, where it is sometimes difficult to determine which sounds come from the guitar and which from the mixing board.

‘Gathering Micron Glass’ opens with open guitar sounds from Birchall, while Nakamura squeaks, yells and creaks. Sometimes the electronic sounds are long, but usually they move uneasily and seemingly uncontrollable. Yet the Japanese manages to give guidance, even if it is in a free and unpredictable way. Also in this piece there is a lot of space for percussive sounds, even woodblocks and a basin seem to be involved. Halfway through, the noiseknop goes full and the sax is boxing up against a wall of sound from guitar and mixing board. The sounds are sometimes shrill, but Nakamura also produces loudly hissing noises. Birchall pricks and stimulates and Willberg slides quickly over the bass strings. The different techniques alternate rapidly.

In the last part of the album, ‘Fluent Still Spill Sealent’, is in the beginning an a-rhythmic pattern of Birchalls guitar which is most striking. Andreae sounds sharp and mean and Willberg’s bass growls and growls. Nakamura produces long sharp sounds, but also noise. He uses dynamic contrasts. It ends in a noisy climax around the fifth minute. Even now the game is mostly fragmentary and searching. Towards the end the Japanese knows how to create tension with threatening sounds.

The foregoing is no more than some sketches of what can be experienced at Live at Ftarri. Describing the music really is not feasible, for that reason simply happens too much in a short time. A well-defined context is lacking; it concerns four individuals with a whole arsenal of playing techniques and an enormous imagination in which musical research is paramount. This sometimes sounds noisy and chaotic, but it is precisely the turbulence in combination with the audible love for innovation in which the beauty of this music lies.”

Original Review in Dutch is here!

Avantscena review of Live at Ftarri

a2048475887_10“Live at Ftarri” is a new release of “Raw Tonk Records”. Album was recorded by four jazz masters – Sam Andreae (saxophone), David Birchall (guitar), Toshimaru Nakamura (no input mixing board) and Otto Willberg (double bass). All fourth musicians have interesting and evocative playing manner, they also are creative and famous members of contemporary avant-garde jazz scene. Sam Andreae is a great saxophonist. His improvisations are totally based on avant-garde jazz, free improvisation, musical experiments, spontaneous and vivacious solos and especially expressive playing manner. David Birchall is a guitarist. His improvisations are based on synthesis of avant-garde jazz, bebop, post-bop, hard-bop and various elements of rock styles. All these elements are gently combined together in one place. He tries out new and unusual ways of playing – original and inventive musical decisions effect whole sund of his improvisations. Toshimaru Nakamura is Japan improviser, who is active at avant-garde jazz and Japan onkyo scene. His music is based on organic synthesis of different music styles – rock, Japan traditional music, avant-garde jazz, various styles of contemporary Japan improvisation, electronics, computer sounds and many other elements are fused together. He also use a mixing board to create nusual and interesting sound, special effects and original timbres. Field recordings, imitations of nature sounds, computer and electronic devices sounds and many similar elements are used in his compositions. Musician is active at the scenes of various music styles – he plays along with rock, free-jazz, Japan onkyo and many other artists. Otto Wilberg is a double bassist. His music is based on sounds experiments, free improvisation, vivacious, dynamic and expressive playing manner and colorful changes of styles, musical expressions and other elements. He masterfully fuses together avant-garde and modern jazz, bebop and free-jazz, hard-bop, fusion, the intonations of contemporary jazz and other elements.

The music of this album has evocative and innovative sound. The musicians are trying out different ways of playing – by using dozens of different extended playing techniques they create huge variety of strange and weird timbres. The musical pattern is rich, bright, modern and expressive. It’s based on Japan and Western Europe rhythms, classical and Asian music harmonies and chords, remarkable and interesting melodies and innovative special effects. The musicians are full of modern ideas and trying inventive and creative musical decisions. Their improvising is free and spontaneous, based on colorful and unexpected musical decisions. Saxophone melodies bring expressive, loud, sharp and effective sound. The melodies are full of remarkable and marvelous solos, virtuosic and wild rapid arpeggios and passages, dynamic rhythmic, sharp, loud, powerful and turbulent blow outs, free and spontaneous solos amd unusual timbres. Different moods are fused together – after vivacious, joyful, playful and lengthy solos there comes rigorous, sharp and aggressive blow outs, shrieky solos or silent and peaceful improvisations. Guitar melodies have contrasting and expressive sound. It’s also has bright and rich sound – expressive solos, weird timbres, colorful stylistic waves, synthesis between avant-garde jazz and modern jazz, especially bebop and hard-bop, bring loud, innovative and interesting sound to this compositions. The intonations of various rock styles also are heard here from time to time, but it’s soft and mild. Guitar solos are based on free improvisation, spontaneous solos and basic elements of avant-garde jazz for the most of the time. Double bass melodies are evocative and expressive. Passionate solos, deep, rigorous or silent and soft repetitive tones, colorful pizzicatto, expressive and virtuosic solos, improvisations in the spot, dynamic and constantly changing rhythmic – all these elements interesting and vivacious sound and keep a solid and marvelous rhythmic section. Special effects by electronics and no input mixing board is the main coloristic element of the compositions. It’s highly effects whole sound of the compositions. Synthetic sounds of computer devices, special effects, sonic system experiments are highly contrasting with natural, soft and warm acoustics and create effective, interesting and colorful background. The timbres of various instruments are recorded and modified – unusual, strange, weird and interesting sounds effect whole sound of the improvisations. The music of this album has expressive, dynamic, innovative and remarkable sound.”

Plastic Kneecap


So this is an LP made up of the remaining two cuts that were recorded with the quartet made up of myself, Otto Willberg, Colin Webster and Andrew Cheetham in December of 2015 at what was a mega session in 4A Studio, Stockport with Sam Weaver at the helm. The CD that also came out on Raw Tonk Plastic Knuckle also came out these sessions as well as some huge group stuff of Sam’s some duo recordings with Andrew that are also in the archive somewhere.

I’m going to have copies of it with me at gigs in March so:

4th March duo with Nina Whiteman @ Peerhat, Manchester

14th March MCR NYC improv Congress featuring (Kate Armitage: voice/guitar, David Birchall: guitar, Jason Blackkat: bass, Craig Flanagin: guitar, Fredrik Haake: drums, Richard Harrison: drums, Kelly Jayne Jones: flute, Ecka Mordecai: cello, Jer Reid: guitar,
Alexa Kruger: bass clarinet, Normandy Sherwood: vox & electronix & Matt Wand: electronics
Manchester) @ Klondyke Club, Levenshulme, Manchester

17th March w/ Colin Webster @ Bråk, London

29th March w/ Andrew Cheetham & Alan Wilkinson @ Cafe Oto Project, London

You can also get it direct from Colin::

There has been some interest in reviews already which is always really nice. The first from Stewart Smith in his column in The Quietus I want to quote the overall intro at length as I enjoyed it so much!

“The music’s liberatory potential points to a better, more radical Britain, distinct from the rainy fascist hellscape of the Daily Mail and the 1997-forever banality of the centrist dads. From Stormzy’s Brit Awards excoriation of Theresa May to the widespread solidarity shown towards the university pensions strike, there’s a genuine sense that the old order is falling. In culture, grime is leading the charge, but jazz and improv are right in there too, suggesting new ways of engaging with art and life.”


:::and the review itself:::

“Raw Tonk, the label run by London saxophone wrangler Colin Webster, is a key node in the UK-Lowlands underground improv axis. Its latest release – their first on vinyl – documents a December 2015 studio session from Webster and his Manchester comrades David Birchall (guitar), Andrew Cheetham (drums), and Otto Willberg (double bass). As with much of Raw Tonk’s output, there’s a punky energy to Plastic Kneecap, but it’s much too weird and agitated to be a blunt exercise in macho blurt.

There’s plenty of rasp, fidget and clatter, but it’s brought together with a keen sense of form.
Early on, Webster brings the set into focus with sing-song alto phrases in the key of Ornette, encouraging his bandmates to mould their abstract scrabble into some kind of wonky, fragmented groove, as if Prime Time had come up through the post-punk DIY scene. From there, it gradually breaks down into a quieter, more atmospheric section, with tremolo sax tones and growling bass drones slowly surveying a landscape of pattering toms and spiky, creaking guitar. It all builds up to a ragged climax, with Webster’s alto reinforcing this music’s odd relationship with free jazz.

‘Split Halfway’ opens with plenty of squawk and squibble. In contrast to the fuller low-end tones of the previous track, Cheetham goes for higher, less resonant drum timbres, rapping his sticks against the frame and hitting the snare at its tightest spot. Webster comes in with some relatively tuneful alto licks, upping the energy until the group achieve a kinetic intensity that’s almost free jazz, but for Birchall’s glue-huffing biker fuzz riffage. It all breaks down into wonky guitar chimes and buzzing baritone sax, becoming increasingly agitated as they canter towards the finishing line.”

Another review straight outta google translate from the fine people over at Opduvel in The Netherlands

Birchall/Cheetham/Webster/Willberg – Plastic Kneecap

“Plastic Kneecap is the thirty-first edition of the British Raw Tonk label, specialized in free improvisation, free jazz and noise, but it is only the first on vinyl. The previous thirty releases were CDs, CDs and a single cassette. Label boss Colin Webster has chosen for this first album a studio recording of the quartet that consists of David Birchall (guitar), Andrew Cheetham (drums) and Otto Willberg (bass).

At the end of 2016 the CD of Plastic Knuckle was released from the same foursome on the same label and a year earlier a cassette was released from the quartet on Tombed Visions, entitled Night Streets Of Madness. The new album consists of two pieces that were recorded on December 13, 2015 in The Room at the 4A Studio in Stockport in the English county of Greater Manchester.

Anyone familiar with the Raw Tonk label knows that the label stands for raw improvisations. Polishing is not done; it is about the pure reproduction of the moment, of the unadorned version of the music as it sounded on the spot. Of course there is mixed and mastered, but not to smooth things, but to achieve the most honest possible reproduction. The vinyl edition sounds great, almost as if you are in the studio as a listener.

The English foursome does not do the introduction or a careful start. All four musicians apply directly at the start of ‘Plastic Kneecap’. Webster plays alto sax and his tone is light. Birchall is the most crude of the musicians here, not playing clean notes, but playing raw and contrarian. The rhythm section is not a rhythm section in the traditional sense of the word, but consists of two free spirits with a sense of musical color shades. Cheetham is often continually busy with rhythmic and a-rhythmic patterns, loose strokes and exciting work on the cymbals. Willberg shows his skills in a short plucked solo, accompanied by Cheetham. The quartet feels each other perfectly. Robust play is replaced in an instant by more subdued sounds and the players also know when to stop for a moment to give room to one or more other musicians. Webster’s sax and Birchall’s guitar are tuned equally hard, which makes the musicians that sing through each other very well. In any case, it is a quartet that has played through each other to a true art.

Very nice is the part in which Cheetham uses his mallets and puts a clear rhythm. Webster initially plays long notes over that, but gradually becomes more active. Birchall’s game is very experimental and Willberg plays a few ironed notes. The part turns into a subdued piece that sings from (restrained) tension. With vibrating long sounds of the saxophone, a new part is slowly being worked on. Birchall produces high tones and a drone further on. The drummer uses low toms and the bass sings over it. The intensity increases, until suddenly gas is taken back and side A is quietly and briefly sounded.

Willberg opens side B (‘Split Halfway’) with an abrasive bass solo and he is joined by the shivering alto sax of Webster and the Cheetham on small cymbals and snare drums. Birchall plays his inimitable free game and gets plenty of opportunity to display that game because Webster keeps quiet. Style characteristics can not be relinquished on the guitarist, who quickly follows his ideas. Webster chants later with his coarse-grained style, while Willberg plays bass lines. The four musicians find each other again in a wonderfully chaotic part. Because that is where the greatest power of the English lies: the interplay. Every musician seems to be exploring his own possibilities for expression, but in the meantime the gentlemen feel each other perfectly.

A duet by Birchall and Willberg follows, in which the high notes of the bassist parry the transverse guitar playing perfectly. Webster is now switched to baritone sax, with which he brings his typical sputtering notes. Cheetham uses his hi-hat and taps on the edges of drums. Webster’s game remains reasonably constant, but gradually he lets his sax vult more. The other three musicians circle around it with their free play. The volume and the activity of all four musicians increase towards the end of the piece, not because consciously a climax is worked on, but simply because the ensemble determines that the music goes in that direction.

Over Plastic Knuckle wrote Opufvel at the time that the music of Birchall, Cheetham, Webster and Willberg is full of musical inventiveness, intensity and fun. Exactly the same can be said about Plastic Kneecap. The previous paragraphs concern an inadequate description of what the album has to offer, because there is simply too much at the same time to be able to describe it properly. That also means that the music guarantees many spins of listening pleasure. This is a fantastic LP for those who love unpolished free improvisation.”

AND another review this time in Polish via goooogletrans from Andrzej Nowak over at Spontaneous Music Tribune who has become a real supporter and follower of improvised music in the UK as well as in Spain and other parts of the world.

“Birchall! Cheetham! Webster! Willberg! Plastic Kneecap! Young Empire Strikes Again!

If you’ve read a fairly large, long Tonk on Tribune! Mission Possible! with understanding and due diligence, if the saxophonist Colin Webster is already a recognizable musician for you, it is a sign that the following review does not require any introduction.

If during the reading of the text referred to in the first sentence, you’ve come across the Plastic Knuckle album, realized by a quartet of young wolves British improvisation, then you are definitely already at home.

The same session – committed on December 13, 2015, in a place called The Room at 4A Studio, in Stockport – which gave three improvisations included on the above disk, today brings another two, this time provided by Raw Tonk Records in the form of black vinyl, under the twin, but not identical title of Plastic Kneecap.

The payroll is as follows: David Birchall – guitar, Andrew Cheetham – drums, Colin Webster – alto and baritone saxophone, and Otto Willberg – double bass. Two sides of the disc bring us less than 36 minutes of music. We’re looking inside!

Side 1. From the first moment, the narration is sewn with a dense stitch, with dynamic double bass walking, agile percussion, guitar and saxophone flowing in a very free, fast stream. Birchall and his plugged-in chord, which tastes good noise rock, it seems that they make the most of the wind here. Anyway, the whole story is soaked in the old, lover-loving post punk! In the quartet, we note very good communication, because the musicians are perfectly familiar with many improvisations and nothing is a surprise for them in such dramatic circumstances. 5 minutes brings a very jazz exhibition of Willberg, which is supported by Cheetham’s competent drumming. At the same time, the guitar sculpts, while the saxophone is remarkably … silent. The sound of the quartet is dirty, without acoustic fireworks (punk’s not dead!). The musicians play close to each other and rub their elbows against each other. In the 8th minute they give us a bloody, collective escalation. Bravo! Right after it, they are perfectly fast at a slower pace and are stalking autodhorpressive stories. A bit of oneiric guitar chants the meta ballad for bad children. The mantra percussion refers to the narrative path, and the rest of the instruments flows where their imagination will be. In the 13th minute the musicians decided to go down to the level of silence. Kings of slow sonore! The saxophone sends drones, the guitar is a deep ambient, like the fuzzy instrument of Dirk Serries, he also does not avoid flashes. A simply charming improvisation with a hint of remarkable psychedelia, a truly liberated trance!

Side 2. Double bass with a stuck, stuck between the strings, burrows the burrow in the ground. The saxophone snorts, the guitar polishes the strings, the plates resonate from wall to wall. Warm up on high C! Agile interactions – today’s question, today’s answer! Musicians catch a dynamic dribble without unnecessary delay. Maybe only a drummer does it with a slight delay. 5 minutes – Birchalla’s exposure to a rock note, and Webster’s viola, vigorous, with a brilliantly dirty sound, in an explicit commentary. Like a punk narrative, with a synoptic sewn into the spinal cord! Intriguing! The immediately escalated escalation that followed has, in terms of genre, completely eradicated formula. It is dynamic, ragged and indeed noisy. Bravo! The stop, after a short time, is attached to the guitar loop and double bass in the stage of trembling walk. The saxophone comes in as a counterpoint! There must be bread from this flour! As if David and Colin mutated the sound of their instruments at the same time. This story has a few threads, instrumentally smells of noise. A section of a delicate acoustic game. What a fantastic dissonance! The saxophone loop puts a stamp of excellence on this recording! Technical glitter on the final straight is also a guitarist’s part!

Tomorrow the premiere of this CD! We are on time!”