Spring Heel Jack


by Andrew Johnson


John Coxon and Ashley Wales, the duo who are Spring Heel Jack, an outfit most closely associated with a drum’n'bass sound, have anchored their new release, Disappeared around two relatively out jazz pieces. “Disappeared 1” begins by casting in electronic armor the mouthpiece experiments of many a reed player before drifting off into moody atmospherics matched by the clarinet’s chocolate tones. “Disappeared 2” takes more of minimalist approach with the clarinet locked into a repeating figure that creates a musical baseline/bass line for some abstract noodling that manages to create the kind of tense, edgy soundscape one might drop into a late night mix for friends.

This mixing of organic sounds, such as clarinet, piano, trumpet, voice and guitar, with inorganic sounds of looped keyboards, beats and electronic washes gives Disappeared dimensions that should also give it some legs with listeners. It is not that organic sounds are somehow less strictly fashionable or ephemeral, but rather that they give this release a greater variety of sounds. Of course this is essential: because the focus here is on the low end, it is subtlety of sound, of contrasting notes, chords and timbres that holds the interest.

cover art

Spring Heel Jack


(Thirsty Ear)

It is also Spring Heel Jack’s willingness to tackle an impressive array of styles that also holds the listener’s interest. From the Cuban rhythms of “Rachel” to difficult listening hour art-electronica stylings of “Mit Wut” to the fuzzed-out barrelhouse beats of “Bane” through to the dubby “To Die a Little”, Spring Heel Jack make sure that no listener could criticize Disappeared for sameness of sound.

The only time I found myself being irritated by what I was listening to came halfway through Disappeared when “Galina” and “Trouble & Luck” come along. Aside from overly aggressive beats that made me think only of amphetamines, I didn’t find a whole lot in “Galina” very engaging, which is a problem with a track that weighs in at over seven minutes. When we imagine that relief has come courtesy of a thoroughgoing funk workout, which is promised in the opening of “Trouble & Luck”, the whole thing grinds to a halt with the introduction of Ian R. Watson’s trumpet motif, which could not possibly be squarer than it is. What we want is Memphis Horns, but what we get is something akin to superimposed smooth jazz.

Thankfully things right themselves quickly on the final four tracks, most notably on the finale “Wolfing” when they definitely get the funk down, allowing Disappeared to go out strong and smart. And it is the smartness of this release, the fact that the music makes intelligent uses of established genres while taking advantage of the ability to incorporate, loop, fracture and sample sound, that makes Disappeared interesting.

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