Moving back into the present after yesterday’s Seasonal Affective Disorder-influenced bloggage blather around 2014’s Birchall-Smal duo cassette finds us enjoying this all-too-brief flurry of sax-guitar-drums improv fury, recorded in Manchester during the Tubers MiniFestival in May
This tape may be a mere ten minutes long, but it’s as full of fierce invention as many other albums three times its length. Adding Cath Heyden’s saxophone to the Birchall-Smal double act broadens things out, giving the trio’s music a looser, questing feel that pushes out to the margins rather than burrowing inwards.
Not that there’s any time to mess about. The trio is in and out in a flash, flooding the place like a monsoon storm, with a squall of horn blarts, drum thunders and metallic string clangs, before disappearing without trace.
Birchall’s guitar has a racy twang this time round, Hank Marvin after a run in with the hungry freaks, occasionally letting rip with a fusillade of angular chords. Smal’s on healthy form too, with his usual ever-revolving attack keeping energy levels up and maintaining a forward momentum. His toms sound particularly cavernous and the way he rolls around his kit gives the impression of him having four arms rather than the regulation two.
Heyden, meanwhile, weaves through the noise, sometimes adding gusts of righteous honking to the thrall, other times wrapping the other two up in silvery threads of circular breathing. It’s an impressive feat to maintain subtlety while avoiding being swamped, but she marks out a clear sonic space without being too sharp elbowed about it. Having played with Rogier Smal plenty of times probably helps create a little bit of telepathy too.
Although this is a lively tape, ten measly minutes isn’t really enough to get a true flavour of the trio’s playing. It’s like watching the final act of a film you hadn’t realised was on TV until you came across it while channel surfing with a nice cup of tea. As an appetizer, however, it’s not half bad, and there’s definitely enough to warrant further investigation. More of the same, please – only longer next time.