Birchall/Smal/Webster: Drop Out


Astral Spirits cassette and download

I’ve heard Birchall and Smal, and Webster and Birchall, but until now I’ve not experienced the explosive synergies resulting from this whole trio of top-notch improvisers assemble. This is communal music making to blow the roof off, the trio letting rip with a rackety drive that’s as infectious as it is abrasive, the open-endedness of free improvisation driven forward by a rocket fuel bootlegged from free jazz’s volcanic wellspring. It is, of course, relatively easy to make a big noise with this palette, and most people who do that waste their opportunity in directionless burst-vein bluster. This lot, however, achieve something different. Drop Out’s locked-on blasts have an elasticity and intuition that enables constant invention and reinvention, with each member’s playing focused tightly both on itself and the overall progress of the group. The result is something resembling a shoal of fish making their way through an ocean’s deep zones: intuitive shifts and collective action combining with individual decision-making without hierarchy or leadership.

There’s good craic to be had early on. Drop sees David Birchall unleashing doomy bass string runs from his guitar about three minutes in, his whang bar bending his notes into squidgy baritone moans, his intervals reminiscent of some bedroom black metal shredder. Rogier Smal, having given his toms a preternatural battering, brings maracas into play while still clattering cymbals, snare and kick drum in splattered polyrhythms. Colin Webster, meanwhile, isn’t going to go quietly, spitting out high clusters of notes and lower, brassier parps from his horn like a snake trying to find its way through a concrete jungle. He comes into his own 10 or so minutes later, blowing out long, abrasive licks that seem to split and buckle into squealing overtones, Smal urging him on with jolting paradiddles and Birchall wrenching gluey webs of fuzz from his instrument.

Out starts off quieter. Smal’s metallic tinkering ushers in abstract, scrunchy mutters from Birchall and a cloud of querulous toots from Webster. It morphs into a kind of planar cosmic drift after that, with wistful gust of saxophone, carefully-modulate feedback and washes of mellow cymbal coalescing into soft waves. Webster almost drops into some Coltrane-y modal shifts here, his high keening intervals haunted by ghosts of flamenco jams past. It’s great, but it can’t last, and before you can say Olé, the trio cuts loose in a freeform freakout that brings us back to delirium that started all of this. No need for a rewind. We’re right here.



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