REVIEW: ‘What?’ – What?

FOR AN IMPROVISATORY PROJECT, the title What? perhaps poses the ultimate open-ended question. In earlier recordings on The 52nd imprint – including The Science of Snow, The Lightning Bell and Each Edge of the Field – guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond proved adept in summoning musical vibrations from the rural landscapes of the Welsh Marches in which they dwell, inviting us, the audience, to creatively interact.

Though again recorded in their familiar surroundings of Hammond’s old schoolhouse in Radnorshire, this time the possibilities are significantly expanded with the trumpet/flugelhorn of Gerry Gold and various instrumentation from Rod Paton – primarily piano and French horn.

There’s a perennial wonder in the way that, across genres, composers painstakingly craft classic works which stay with us all our lives. But fascinating, too, is the ability of improvising musicians to begin and develop a ‘conversation’ which, moments earlier, had not existed. Somehow, too, the freshness of discovery in listening remains, influenced by our environment or mood – interpretation is certainly a personal, sometimes involuntarily emotional experience.

Heard at Eastertide (around the time of the album’s release), What? can tangibly express both torment and hope; in the dead of night, there’s a different feel, with every nuance more sharply focused; under springtime-azure skies, animation and whimsy unfold. Whatever you find, thanks to the perception and musicality within this quartet, there’s a profound connectedness which never falters.

Just five tracks across almost an hour echo the expanses of Stow Hill’s ‘trig point’ location seen in the monochrome sleeve imagery, and the combinations of timbres can be teasingly ambiguous. De-liberation’s cagey chitchat between horns, guitar and cello evolves into a playful, if tentative discussion, while the midway piano entry paints pointillistic splashes as well as providing romantic sustenance and structure. Fragile wooden-flute murmurs and chinking percussion in Hill suggest folkloric mystery, belying the rumbustious dances to follow; and Paton’s piano again brings a more tonal stability. Over twenty minutes or so, Wolf’s winding, sprawling route is waymarked with beauty – howling French horn, jangling ‘prepared’ strings, reeling piano and cello; and here, the quartet’s intuition feels particularly strong. There’s even a charming, homey coda reminiscent of the early output of once (relatively) nearby resident Mike Oldfield – tender and pretty.

Horn yelps, angular melodica and percussive guitar and cello in Is imply inhospitable weather, accentuated by droplet piano and dramatic ostinati before gathering a rhythmic, Kurt Weillian jauntiness (amidst so many other acoustically-achieved effects). To close, Beresford’s elegant guitar improv in Ask Me Now is complemented by shadowy, elongated voice and cello phrases, culminating in ‘symphonic’ torrents as the piano’s precipitation gently ceases.

Improvisation such as this requires a listener’s total participation… which I find endlessly mind-expanding and rewarding. Music of pure imagination to ‘take us outside’, What? feels like this label’s most absorbing collaboration to date.

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as digital download or limited edition CD at Bandcamp.


Charlie Beresford
 acoustic guitar
Gerry Gold trumpet, flugelhorn
Sonia Hammond cello
Rod Paton piano, French horn, melodica, voice

the52nd.com
beresfordhammond.com

The 52nd – 52NDCD007 (2020)

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REVIEW: ‘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)

 

‘The Lightning Bell’ – Beresford Hammond Hume

BeresfordHammondHume

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.

Released on 12 June 2016, The Lightning Bell is available from the52ndshop and Amazon.

 

Charlie Beresford acoustic guitar, voice
Sonia Hammond cello
Carolyn Hume piano
with
Judie Tzuke voice (tracks 3, 7)

Sleeve images: Gaëna da Sylva

the52nd.com

the52nd – 52NDCD002 (2016)