A sequel, of sorts, to Ward’s fine Glass Shelves and Floor, in which he refines his chamber-improv ascetic with three new works that emphasis the supple, protean nature of his compositions. Ward assembled a quintet made up of some of the most talented up and coming players on the experimental music landscape for that record, and, while the crew are still in place on this latest outing, he’s also added veteran drummer Steve Noble to the line-up. The full sextet are present and correct for the final piece here, Removal, a 40-minute exploration recorded at the Vortex in east London earlier this year. But before we get to that, Ward breaks the group into two trios, who each take charge of one of the remaining pieces.
Coming in at a relatively concise 12 minutes, Projected gathers puts Rachel Musson on tenor sax together with Noble and Ward himself on clarinet, for a freewheeling blowout. Bringing in Noble is an inspired decision, his loose-limbed-but-always-on-point polyrhythms adding a fantastically propulsive clatter to the other two’s full-throated trills and blasts. The opening salvo is all groovy alleycat shuffle, with Ward and Musson’s long, twirling lines dancing around each other like starlings on the wing. Ward has a nice section of Acker Bilk thrash at about 3:30, racing around like there’s no tomorrow, a well-shod foot stamping on a bowler hat in glorious abandon. Musson takes a solo after the halfway mark, condensing bunches of notes into a writhing ball then stretching out like a rubber band pulled to its breaking point. Despite a subdued coda after Ward comes back in, the trio’s energy here is about as well restrained as toddlers at the dinner table.
Noble’s back for the majestic Removal at the end of the album, where he’s joined by everyone else for a piece that’s just as hectic as the opener, but with the wider tonal palette you’d expect from having a cello (Olie Brice), double bass (Hannah Marshall) and electric guitar in play. The guitar fuzz is courtesy of Ward, who passes clarinet (and bass) duties to Tom Jackson. There’s plenty of big band swagger from the off, although the more pared back, free improv derived section that starts at about five minutes is a reflective and unexpectedly melodic highlight, even as Ward does his best to tear things into papery fragments. From then it’s a deep dive into collective improvisation, with everyone getting down to an abrasive free-for-all. There seem to be fewer compositional elements than other of Ward’s pieces for this group (although I might be wrong there) but it’s none the worse for it. All of the players seem to have adequate space – no one’s crowded out – and there are plenty of brassy rucks and elegant, woody thickets to get stuck into. Ward sounds like he’s in a Chic mood around 26 minutes with some nice choppy chords, before letting rip with some axe heroics as the others whine in horror behind him. It’s exhausting, invigorating stuff, and I wish I’d been in east London that night to catch the group in full flow.
Sandwiched between these two slices of bustle is the crepuscular inch of Entities, performed by a trio of Brice, Marshall and Jackson. It’s lovely, a shadowy, slow-moving piece that is meditative as it is melancholic. Jackson’s clarinet and Marshall’s cello cast cautious circles around each other, underpinned by a subdued bass drone from Brice, occasionally breaking out into playful tussles that threaten to lurch into slapstick, Tom & Jerry territory. There are some similarities here to Jackson’s trio with Benedict Taylor and Daniel Thompson, particularly Hunt at the Brook, although the Marshall-Brice combo makes for a more expressive lower-end than that recording. Marshall does, however, deploy some furious high register arcoing in the final third – sounding almost violin-like at some points –which complement Brice’s slower, atonal bow sweeps. The restless brain triumphs again.