Andrew Lisle/Alex Ward: Doors


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A frenetic, detailed set from this duo of London-based improvisers. Both players have talent to burn, as evidenced from their crowded diaries and the varied collaborations and explorations they leave in their wake. Ward’s a restless polymath, fitting stints with the reformed This Heat in between regular appearances at the venerable Boat-ting improv night, not to mention his forays into composition on such works as 2015’s  ‘Glass Shelves and Floor’.

Lisle is part of an upcoming generation of improvisers who combine extreme technical ability with non-stop creativity. His work with players such as Rodrigo Amado and Colin Webster has established him as one to watch (he’s on blistering form on the recent Kodian Trio record on Trost, and his duo cassette with Webster is also comes highly recommended). You might put him in the Steve Noble school if you were into family trees – both share a mode if instantaneous decision making that allows them to open multiple pathways with each sonic gesture and steer a path through them in a manner that seems effortless. But where Noble is fluid, Lisle is controlled, as if trying to marry the precise grids of electronic music onto the protean openness of improvisation.

With four tracks clocking in at between 15-20 minutes each, ‘Doors’ has the flavour of a bunch of live sets, which the fizz and vendor of the playing does nothing to allay.  There’s little time for niceties, the pair laying down fire from the opening seconds of ‘Front’, Ward’s squeaky clarinet honks echoed by a fusillade of snapping snare and hi-hat, before things escalate into a pressure cooker exchange of overheated lords and jabs.

Ward does a good job of excising any blue notes from his horn, alternating high, pained flutters with scarred swoops and hoots. Even when he summons jazz back into the picture in ‘Open’, the restless spirit of Acker Bilk stays confined to bowler hatted purgatory, as the playing skitters every which way, pushing out elasticated streams of sound in proper silly string style.

He switches to guitar for ‘Back’, and ‘Closed’ and, despite the moody reverb of the former’s opening seconds, doesn’t let a change of instrument hold up the pace. On ‘Back’ he spews out a hurricane of jazz-noise shredding, driving Lisle into a ritualistic fervour of tom-thumping guaranteed to blow the minds of any Amon Düül  casualties within earshot. There’s a lovely burst of hyperactive funk toward the end too, the duo’s on-point rhythms and percussive picking coming on like Gabba-style Earth Wind & Fire.

In contrast, ‘Closed’ is a stuttering, tangled mass. Lisle grabs the brushes for the opening sequence, their lightness of touch allowing for a torrent of pattering syncopation whose ever-changing stream resembles some morphing algorave clatter. Even better is when the tempo slows around halfway through, Ward using the volume control to draw puddles of feedback and abstract coos from his guitar. Lisle’s absence in this section makes his re-entry, on a wave of clattering cymbal and rimshot, all the more forceful. This tin-pan gamelan is a suitably octopoid accompaniment to the fuzzy frenzy and together they provide a suitably energised push over the finish line.



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