Still on a Colin Webster jag after my immersion in his recent work a few weeks ago, I leapt into this fired up duo recording with drummer Andrew Lisle, a frenetic and abrasive workout that rushes full tilt into joyous abandon, sparking off all sorts of endorphin rushes as it does so.
Like many of the drummers Webster has worked with over the years, Lisle is fierce and uncompromising, letting rip with dense, polyrhythmic clusters that venture all over the map. The influence of Steve Noble looms large in his in restless, precise attack. But the thing I like about Lisle is the way in which he eschews the sinuous flow that characterises Noble’s percussive flurries. Lisle is deliberately rigid, with each tom strike, cymbal smash and rim shot perfectly delineated from each other. It’s almost robotic, yet the improvisatory urge that pushes him into ever-evolving combinations and recombinations of licks is definitely, defiantly human.
I wonder if it’s a generational thing? Perhaps Lisle is young enough to have grown up seeing the benefits that drum machines can bring to music, those sparse grids of Detroit techno, the jazzy clusters of jungle and the cyborg fluidity of Aphex Twin (for example), and so is trying to bring some of that precision-tooled focus to his technique. Or maybe it’s just the result of intense, heroic concentration, of the entire focus of mind and body poured into each individual moment. In any case, it’s devastatingly effective.
Firehouse Tapes was laid down straight to cassette at The Old Fire Station, London, and is released on Webster’s Raw Tonk label. The tape format is a first, I think, for the label, although Webster does a nice job of replicating the distinctively earthy aesthetic with a yummy recycled cardboard tape case and line-print artwork. And, although the Raw Tonk Bandcamp cuts the session into six chunks, it probably works better as a pair of long-ish improvisations, mirroring the cassette listening experience better too.
Side A starts slowly, with deep sax rasps punctuated by disjointed tom-tom hits and bowed cymbals. It’s a dissonant chorus of agonized creaks and groans, the death throes of a spear-skewered woolly mammoth as anachronistic humans in fur bikinis dance around in joy. They’ll have food to last the whole long winter after this. Lisle soon brings us back to reality, skittling around his kit with cymbal crashes and drum thwacks, prompting Webster to blast out a gobful of reedy honks and hollers. Come on then let’s be ‘avin you. Yet by the end of this side (or track AIII if you’re listening digitally), the duo seem to have shrunk the scale somewhat, from gargantuan dinosaur tussles to miniscule rodent clutters. Lisle indulges in a bit of hi-hat and rimshot abandon, and Webster unfurls frantic ribbons of notes, at one point breaking into what sounds like a vibrato-heavy, Ethio-jazz -style refrain.
There’s no letup on side B, although the jams do feel slightly groovier, nodding more to the ecstasies of free jazz than previously. A glorious overture fades into a thrilling, clompy solo Lisle workout, before Webster comes screaming back in with a terrifying, screaming lick. There’s a calmer section about halfway through this side (BII for digital fans), in which Lisle accompanies Webster’s lugubrious hoots and honks with a strange, muffled moan that floats, almost inaudible, in the background. It’s a spacey, melancholy interlude in a feverish set. The drums keep going in proper Maxwell’s Demon style after this and the horn takes the bait, roaring out in baleful fury, with a few mouthed snaps to show just how sharp those teeth are.
And in a final screechfest, all those fire music elements are jettisoned altogether as the duo dives headlong into atonality, Webster’s tormented overblowing matched by Lisle’s nails-down-the-blackboard scrapes. No chance of them bowing out gently, then.