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The Geographers by Clive Bell & Sylvia Hallett

I know nothing about the principals on this disc, so we’ll cut to the chase. The Geographers is a disc of pure improvisation from the UK label specializing in same, namely Emanem (who were Emanem long before that other fellow was). Emanem has released many discs of jazz-based free improv - musicians like Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, and Steve Lacy, who developed the craft in jazz before they embraced "free" improvising...and some of their discs defy a handy "tag." This is one such.

It’s a hit-or-miss, an affair like this - with the "right" players at the "right" time (both very relative concepts) relating to each other, free improv can be transcendent. Other times, for whatever reason (like the musicians are too wrapped up in themselves), it can be tedious as watching mold form on a piece of cheese. Bell & Hallett, happily, pull this session of marvelously. This isn’t jazz-based improvising - though no doubt free jazz influenced these folks. The only other music I can compare it to - aside from some Art Ensemble of Chicago - is the world music/free jazz amalgam of pianist/saxophonist/etc. Kali Z. Fasteau, especially the album she recorded with her (now late) husband Rafael Donald Garrett (bassist and, like Kali, a multi-instrumentalist; played w/ John Coltrane), We Move Together (ESP-Disk) and ECM artist Stephan Micus. Elements and fragments of folk music from Asia, Africa, Greece, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim work their way into these improvisations. At times, either of these humans can sound like someone from centuries ago who found s/he could make "cool sounds" by blowing through or striking something. This is not in-your-face/free-for-all improvisation - without succumbing to any New Age-y blandness, the overall ambiance is meditative. Bell & Hallett listen to and respond to each other on a rare level - some might even hesitate to call this "music," but as the late writer Lester Bangs said, "To me, music is any sound made by one human to move another." (Not an exact quote, but very close.) If you subscribe to or sympathize with that dictum, or you really enjoy the music of John Cage and/or the Grateful Dead when engaging in the "free improv" section of their concerts (lovingly referred to by their fans as "Space"), The Geographers is, quite simply, a disc of rare, mysterious beauty.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Clive Bell & Sylvia Hallett
  • CD Title: The Geographers
  • Genre: Ambient Jazz
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Emanem
  • Tracks: Birthmarks; Tantamount; Notes to the Milkman; Love For Shale; six others.
  • Musicians: C. Bell: Cretan pipes, harmonica, saw, etc.; S. Hallett: bicycle wheel, electronics, mbira, violin, viola, voice, etc. Recorded July 2004, Gateway Studios, London, UK.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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