New Atlantis Records CD, Bandcamp download
I first came across Colin Webster on Antennae, his finely detailed set of close-mic’d breaths and clicks, and his equally inquisitive, but no less captivating, brace of duets with turntable wrangler Graham Dunning, Estigate (on Linear Obsessional) and Invertebrata (on Webster’s own Raw Tonk label).
The restraint Webster shows in his playing, and his unstinting commitment to drilling down to an almost molecular level on these recordings gives them an intense rigour that makes for an enthralling listen. Dunning’s contributions to the duo albums are pretty great too, offering up a kind of barely repressed aggression as he bashes and scrapes his deck.
Webster and Dunning have another release out very soon, but in the meantime, this album from Webster’s ongoing dialogue with Led Bib drummer and bandleader Mark Holub shines a light onto a vastly different aspect of his practice. On Viscera, Webster replaces restraint and precision with emotion and power, emphasised by the surging fluidity of Holub’s drumming.
Webster has been working with Holub since 2010, and Viscera is their fourth collaboration together. Recorded in a single day at the Dropout Studios in London, it is a gnarly, bruising encounter, a strange ritual that is part dance, part battle. The opening track, Big Paws on a Puppy, is full of knotty tussles, hoarse parps that veer into lung-busting hollers as Holub rains down a heavy, rock-inflect storm.
Yet it’s a remarkably varied album, given that the Webster and Holub created nearly all the pieces – bar the final track, a version of Roscoe Mitchell’s Chant – with minimal preparation, banking instead on their own improvisatory chops and knowledge of each other’s musical mojo to lay down a wildly inventive set.
Both Oaxaca and Conkan turn away from full-throated bluster into sinuous melody. Oaxaca is almost Arabic in its swerving saxophone lines as Holub bustles and tinkers around the kit. The pair condense a helluva lot of ideas into its six minutes, the sparkling, searching opening section giving way to a furious squall, which then powers down almost completely, the drums laying out a shifting bed of sound as Webster plays languid, almost mewing motifs. And just when you think they’re running out of steam, a beautiful circling coda kicks in that brings the energy levels right back up again.
There are more twists and turns on the ten-minute Then There Was, a piece defined by Holub’s questing grooves, his bone shaking rattles careering all over the place but nevertheless laying down a firm backbone for Webster’s licks. There’s a nice breakdown in this piece too, but it’s jagged this time round, drums and saxophone snapping and snarling at each other in staccato chunks.
Holub’s work with Led Bib is characterised by a bustling complexity. Every space is seemingly filled with teeming detail from him and his quartet of compadres. While it is true Viscera doesn’t quite wield the dense punch of that group, it’s still a gutsy, complex record, full of vibrancy and raw lyricism.