‘Each Edge of the Field’ – Beresford Hammond

BH_Each Edge

HOW IS IT that spontaneous, wholly improvised music can find a fascinating, sometimes emotional connection between its creators and the listening ear?

In the case of guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond, apart from their previous releases (The Science of Snow and The Lightning Bell), there is little preconception of the specific timbres they come together to generate for each new recording. No musical form or structure, no recognisable theme nor tried-and-tested formulae, and only occasional clues from their titles. But yet again, with latest release Each Edge of the Field, their assured presentation of abstractness draws heart and mind into the landscapes they inhabit. Indeed, there is something instinctively interactive and responsive about these raw, acoustic and often filmic expressions, their space allowing you to become involved, to visualise imagery, to feel like you’re participating.

As before, Beresford and Hammond seem to draw inspiration from the rural beauty and climatic capriciousness of their Welsh home patch around both Kington and Knighton, Powys; and their nine tracks here display percussive torment, lyrical fragility, but also a characteristically bohemian warmth. Heralded by school bell and field recordings of raven calls, Calling the Corvids‘ stark, brooding darkness is formed by sustained, billowing piano clouds and searing cello harmonics, with a palpable sense of evolving exploration between these two, creatively open minds. Given Sonia Hammond’s strong involvement with the classical repertoire, there’s no denying that her approach can evoke the British cello concertos of, say, Elgar or Moeran (both of whom are associated with this general locality), and such intensity is evident in both At the Moment it Broke and the title track.

The duo’s ability to summon unusual textures from their three instruments is remarkable. A hurdy-gurdy-like prepared guitar vividly pictorialises Wire Fence, full of repetitive, scratchy motion which somehow imagines a Philip Glass-scored movie thriller; and Campanulae‘s calmer but thinly-veiled tension unsettles with rattling, discordant chimes. Motorised arco guitar in Vyallt becomes so closely intertwined with chattering cello that distinctions are unclear, save for Beresford’s elegant, solo-line improvisations; and their screeching, nails-on-blackboard harmonics grab the attention at high volume. A medieval naivety permeates the chordal guitar elements of The Weathering Yard as it clashes with contemporary classical themes – double-stopped cello marcati here are a joy, as is the intuitive, contrapuntal invention of both players. Hammond’s prepared instrument in jarring Oracle of Strangeness combines with Beresford’s inner-piano percussiveness to alarming effect; and completing the circle, as well as perhaps pointing the way to future collaborations, Crow‘s melodic guitar delicacy connects high cello harmonics and hollow depths back out into the sylvan surroundings.

Each Edge of the Field requires a certain quiet solitude to appreciate and three-dimensionalise its fluctuating nuances of sound and restraint. But you’ll know when you’re ‘in’.

Released on 1 July 2017 and available as digital download or limited edition CD from Bandcamp.

 

Charlie Beresford acoustic guitar, piano
Sonia Hammond cello, school bell

beresfordhammond.com
the52nd.com

Sleeve images: Gaëna da Sylva

the52nd – 52NDCD004 (2017)

 

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‘The Science of Snow’ – Beresford Hammond

TheScienceofSnow

I’VE BEEN studying science. To be more precise, The Science of Snow…… a free improvisation release which, like some delicately efflorescent ice crystal, has securely grabbed and held my attention. “Free improvisation?”, you may ask. “Abstract self-indulgence?”, you might inquire. Well, the beauty of this experience entirely depends on both your musical standpoint and your aesthetic receptivity.

Charlie Beresford is an acoustic guitarist, pianist and visual artist based in Radnorshire, in the Welsh Marches (twixt the Shropshire Hills in the North and the Brecon Beacons in the South). Classically-trained cellist Sonia Hammond, too, resides in this beautiful rural oasis – and both are founding members of the Radnor Improvisers. A cancelled studio booking led the musicians (already established in their respective musical careers) to maximise the opportunity by opening up an improvisational session; and what ensued was this spontaneous, imaginative blend of sound, drawing on contemporary classical, jazz and rustic folk.

Those who have witnessed the charm of Knighton, Presteigne, Kington, Hergest Ridge and surrounding areas cannot fail to have been affected, either creatively or spiritually, by their unquestionable splendour (alluded to in this album’s evocative, ECM-like sleeve photography). And here, Beresford and Hammond appear to reflect their impressions of those landscapes, and the changing seasons’ effect on them, in this engaging 45-minute dialogue of highly unpredictable artistry.

Winter is implied in the title track, as Beresford’s thinly-timbred guitar picking is tempered by Hammond’s sustained, Tavener-like cello phrases – a vivid pictorialisation of watercolour sunrise melting night’s icicle sculptures; and Marking the Hillside‘s hollow, gamelan-style chimes underpin searing, misty harmonics and fascinatingly abrasive strings and percussive slaps. The eight-minute panorama of Headless Bluebell may seem disquieting, yet the multicoloured hues of piano and cello (suggesting Glass, and even glimpses of Elgar’s later-life chamber works) summon images of the Borders’ mercurial climate, as if viewed from steep mountain tops.

Snow Blindness possesses a frail beauty, its wide-openness easily conjuring the more melancholic character of Peter Warlock (The Curlew) or E J Moeran (the string quartets) – both of whom resided in these Welsh borderlands; and Beresford’s mellower, folksy guitar provides some warmth in an otherwise bleak soundscape. The dissonant undercurrent of Scratching the Sky, achieved through close, fluctuating cello and guitar intervals, is shot through with the Finzi-like intensity of Hammond’s attack, as well as muted prog-rock guitar ostinato.

In contrast, searing heat is imagined in Gecko as Beresford’s Steve Reich-fashioned rhythms, amidst disembodied clatters, are impressively traversed by sinewy, writhing cello; and the relative cello serenity of Inside and Outside the Head is curiously threatened by persistent, percussive bows and scrapes from Beresford’s guitar. To close, The Path, the Bridge, and the Otherside might hint at folksong, as cantabile cello finds greater harmony with its captivatingly intricate guitar accompaniment.

Free improvisation might well be perceived as challenging – but, once ‘inside’ this deeply-created music, and listened to as closely as possible, it can create a powerful, personal response. For me, the experiences of discovery in this album continue.

The Science of Snow is available in CD and download formats at Bandcamp (videos to view here).

 

Charlie Beresford acoustic guitar, piano
Sonia Hammond cello

beresfordhammond.com

the52nd – 52NDCD001 (2014)