RON CAINES/MARTIN ARCHER AXIS
(2020 - Discus Music - UK)
Never mind the mystically beautiful cover art of Susan Caines, of a bird in the darkness of night, the music on this particular album is not only intoxicating but dances in your head during, after, and again, if you dare give more auditions. With a collection of musicians such as this, brought together as if more brilliance should occur, the listener expects miracles. Indeed, your wish is their command on 'Dream Feathers'.
A reference I found for 'dream feathers' is what are used in making the Native Indian dreamcatcher. In the study of dreams, feathers also mean to travel freely. The nature of this album does bring about such a powerful spell and the existence of open travel. Whatever the theme, there is certainly magic here. The undertaking serves to demonstrate a fine tuned ensemble that can work a new way to make music, can easily move to the conclusion, then work backwards to create illumination and uncover yet more euphoric art, in raw exploration, not just exercise of chart reading. Former East of Eden member (a 1970's proto-progressive rock group) and then working in important jazz circles with people like Keith Tippets, Ron Caines presents challenging compositions to a collection of artists who can create as a community that facilitates more than the original substance given to them. The Martin Archer Axis is alive and well here. Archer handles the band and studio arrangements superbly as well as an immaculate production job. On this album are Ron Caines – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/ Martin Archer – bass clarinet, organ, electronics, horn section/ Laura Cole – acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium/ Herve Perez – field recordings, electronics, sound design/processing/ Anton Hunter – guitar and electronics/ Gus Garside – double bass/ and Johnny Hunter – drums. Now one can see the scope that the music can manifest itself in. The capable headroom of the musicians is overwhelming. Almost terrifying by their level of skill.
Nine compositions, no overplaying, just full compass navigation by everyone, and deep listening, an equal partaking by all, cordial interplay, and respectful mingling of sparse mature ripe fruit just perfect for the picking. There is passion, yet subdued professional impetus. The outward reveal is exotic in character, but the interior feels blood deep in expert selection and inner circle communication, in a way only these artists can do. Sometimes imposing, but never overtly so, mostly noble in keeping a balance and spontaneous feel aflame in each measure of the music.
There is just a bit of references to many of the more abstract experimental bands such as Third Ear Band, but melody and a sombre gracefulness quickly call your attention to a more toasty atmosphere, smooth and inviting. Some free style jazz arises at times as well. The smooth sax, playful piano, exotic percussion, all quietly explorative and meditative air throughout, gives relaxation and mellow liberation to the listener. Only a spare amount of tension or chaos is introduced, to keep you alert and aware of possibilities. Incredible performance by everyone. The experience is like being in a cool wet dark jungle, where you are lost but safe, or so it seems. It is a trial of survival by acutely listening and using all your senses to survive.
With music such as this, it could have fallen way short with lesser musicians, but the dedication of each person involved keeps zero weakness. The work is elevated to say the least. With a delicate edge to each composition, each minute is fine tuned, analyzed by all, and famously made a masterpiece. Compact disc is in Martin Archer Discus fashion, a glossy 6 panel digipak, with thick plastic inner sleeve on disc, and overall gorgeous package. RECOMMENDED.
©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 2 - 18 - 2020