CD review: Philip Clemo

(All Colours Arts ACACDS002)

Clemo is a composer and film-maker who approaches music in a very different way from a lot of musicians, constructing his art in a way more familiar to contemporary visual or conceptual artists, perhaps.

It means that, as with those conceptual artists, it’s useful to have a bit of background.

So, this album is the latest in a remarkably regular output from Clemo – Ambiguous Dialogues came out in 2004, The Rooms came out in 2008, and, gosh, it’s 2012 so it must be time for another.

Clemo began its protracted gestation by recording a series of piano improvisations over the course of a year. He then gave them to another pianist, Kevin Pollard, to “interpret and expand”.

There were then 13 more musicians who contributed to what we hear, and they range from Oren Marshall on tuba and Byron Wallen on trumpet to BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar,  and various other woodwind, string and percussion players, plus, crucially, Thomas Bloch, who has worked with Radiohead and contributes here on glass harmonica, ondes martenot and cristal baschet – and if you click on those last two you’ll find out exactly what Wikipedia has to say about them.

There are also location sound recordings forming a backdrop to the pieces and these are all taken from places of significance for Clemo, from his first school in Scotland to a zen buddhist monastery in France. He also uses choirs of his own voice, and another vital participant is engineer Phill Brown.

So what does all this sound like. Well, at first listen, it’s all very gentle, meditational, spacey and there doesn’t seem to be much happening. The piano improvs are often slight and inconclusive.

Philip Clemo

But then, they aren’t really the point, just as no specific instrument is really the point. What Clemo is interested in is detail and texture and a kind of multi-layered designed audio construct – it’s sound sculpture, if you like. And all those sounds are used with great taste and restraint – there is room to move around in within this music.

It would be unfair to single any of the 13 tracks out, but Suspension is a good one to home in on for a taste.

It is the kind of music that naturally appeals to me because it is “leaning towards” music – it invites the listener to approach it rather than rushing out to meet him or her, and possibly beat them about the ears. Having said that, it probably sounds amazing in headphones, though I haven’t yet tried. Gorgeous cover art, too.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t jazz, even though there may be improvisation involved and some musicians usually associated with jazz are playing (and these are my excuses for including this review on this blog). What it is is an absorbing and increasingly intriguing away-day from all that stuff with a regular beat and swing and guys playing modes on saxophones and pianists finding new ways to crunch blues chords.

Mesmer is released on Monday. Do give it a go.

Categories: CD review

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