THE IMPROVISATORY MUSIC of guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond, in 2014 album The Science of Snow, came as something of a revelation. Arising quite simply from a cancelled studio booking, the duo proceeded to use the time to create an enticing, spontaneous sequence of artistic impressions which had the ability to conjure visual imagery in a spacial and often affecting way.
For new release The Lightning Bell, Beresford and Hammond collaborate with classical, prog rock and improv pianist Carolyn Hume; and singer Judie Tzuke guests on two tracks, complementing Charlie Beresford’s own vocal contributions (Tzuke’s 1979 chart hit Stay With Me Till Dawn remains a spine tingler). Once again, this is original music which somehow transports mind and soul to another place, where the freedoms of improvisation are able to connect with the emotions so surprisingly. On the surface, these abstract soundscapes could be perceived as dark, sombre spaces – yet beneath lies bohemian beauty resulting from a meeting of creative spirits at one moment in time. The title is derived from an 18th Century device which demonstrated, albeit simply, the conversion of an electrical charge into mechanical energy – the movement of a clapper between two oppositely-charged bells to create sound.
The introduction of improvised, sung phrases into some of this album’s eight, expansive tracks brings a further instrumental dimension, rather than apparent, specific meaning. Beresford’s utterances in slowly drifting opener Call the Time add to a sultriness vaguely redolent of Gershwin’s Summertime, as he whispers across sustained cello, diminished piano elaborations and abstract guitar; and the addition of Judie Tzuke’s recognisable, mellow tones in Then the Cloud Comes contribute to a vivid, overcast landscape, with Hammond’s cello scratching the sky and Beresford’s persistent, wiry guitar tremblings accentuating Hume’s rainy piano.
As with the first release, the music here is often on a filmic scale – Feather War Cast’s openness and unpredictability, across almost ten minutes, allows the imagination to run free; a combination of melodic, pitch-bent guitar extemporisations across sustained, English contemporary classical piano and cello, interspersed with extraneous knocks and scrapes. The Heavy Branch is particularly indicative of deep bell clangs and chimes as Hammond’s sinuous cello harmonics meld effectively with Beresford’s clever, echoic guitar purrs – and Carolyn Hume’s Debussyian piano depth (à la The Sunken Cathedral) emphasises its humidity.
Fascinating, if a little disturbing, Laid Bare‘s darting guitar glissandi and slippery, whistling harmonic cello become clothed in delicate, skylit piano; and pastoral, melancholic As If All Was Within, with subtly chattering guitar strings on frets, is ornamented by the soft, folky words of Charlie Beresford. Judie Tzuke’s vocals provide In the Dark Hours with a more songlike feel, though its references to insomnia and nightmare bring a chill to the sparse instrumental weave; and The Last Port concludes – perhaps the darkest, most menacing film-score episode of the entire album.
These are deep expressions, yet the imagery and emotion triggered by the sincerity of such artistic improvisation can make this a compelling experience. Take a listen – video: Call the Time.
Charlie Beresford acoustic guitar, voice
Sonia Hammond cello
Carolyn Hume piano
Judie Tzuke voice (tracks 3, 7)
Sleeve images: Gaëna da Sylva
the52nd – 52NDCD002 (2016)