This abrasive free improv session from saxophonist Webster and drummer Lisle with Ward on guitar, was convened to capitalise on the offer of some free studio time at Sam Thredder’s Cro’s Nest in Croydon. The result, released on Webster’s own Raw Tonk records, is as austere and doomy as the label’s previous outing, a violin and objects hoedown from Benedict Taylor and Anton Mobin, was subversive, playful and fidgety.
Red Kite is styled as a single piece divided into four long movements and there’s a lot going on, with sharp-elbowed tussles and frenetic flurries opening out into wide, depthless spaces. For my money, however, the best bits are when the trio moves away from traditional free improv practice to explore danker territories.
At times, the trio makes a noise like an ancient battleship being raised from the deep, an immensely corroded sound, moving slowly, yet hinting at a vast mass gradually gaining momentum. It’s not monolithic exactly, more like several discrete yet interconnected blocks, scraping and rubbing against each other, emitting wheezing cries of pain as they do so.
Part I kicks things off in this vein, with Lisle’s cymbal scrapes and Webster’s saw toothed horn drone setting the scene of rusting abrasion, before Ward’s guitar arrives in a cloud of seething, sullen fury. Then we’re into fidgety, high-speed free improv as the trio career around in a slapstick dash. Familiar stuff, but executed with a full-blooded abandon, like a particularly hectic Tom & Jerry chase scene. At around 12 minutes, Webster delivers a series of sustained, pure tones, evoking images of a Viking elegy blown from the top of a mountain in front of a funeral pyre, ushering in a final section of subdued malevolence.
There’s more like this as section II starts off, with huge serrated yawns from Webster’s sax, crying like an iron elephant as the other two creak and scrape testily behind him, as if waking from a night of uneasy slumbers. It gets tetchier as it goes on, gaining momentum without increasing velocity.
Things get a bit more elegant in part III. Ward’s guitar sprays out broken chord shavings, as if prodding Webster’s horn as it casts elegant curlicues in the air. As this part progresses, Ward’s guitar seems to retreat into own pocket universe, winding around itself and seemingly impervious to the loose groove that Webster and Lisle conjure up around him. This musicality is knocked sideways at around six minutes, when Ward bursts free, coming on strong with a kicking and screeching guitar outburst.
By the time part IV starts, the trio seem to have regained their momentum. Lisle’s galloping snare bursts give this section a propulsive feel, and Ward’s tightly coiled guitar is almost funky. The first half of this piece is jocular, but then the energy seems to leak out like air from a slow puncture and it morphs into a fatigued drift. There is a final, hopeful burst before the ensemble folds in on itself in an act of collapse, or hibernation.
Listening to Red Kite, you wouldn’t think it was the first time that Webster, Ward and Lisle had recorded together. Achieving such a cohesive and distinctive set on only their first release is nothing to be sniffed at. Red Kite is an assured debut, one that promises much for future outings.