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CD Feature/ Marc Hannaford: "The Garden of Forking Paths"

img  Tobias

There are two more or less explicit requests inherent to “The Garden of Forking Paths”. The first is to see the album as part of an effort to document the “status quo” of the Australian improvisational scene. This is hard for me to judge, as I never visited the country and have sadly missed out on the first two volumes of Extreme Music’s “antripodean” series, which tries to capture that very “down under” spirit in Jazz. Detecting the systematic component of this record with regards to its environment will therefore have to wait. I’ll gladly turn towards the second of Hannaford’s demands, though: “To listen to the music to hear what it is, rather than what it is not.”

In this particular case, that is the easier of the two routes. In one of his recent blog entries, Hannaford talks about the importance of context for the perception of music, asking probing questions as to whether it must be seen as a friend (because it enables us to find freshness in old patterns) or as a foe (because it automatically errects new borders, especially in less obviously structured music). His own music, however, mostly has itself as a point of reference. “Free Jazz” it is, with an ensemble of four equitable partners: Ken Edie on drums, Philip Rex on Double Bass, Scott Tinkler, who already released his contribution to “antripodean” last year and Marc on piano.

And then: A collection of seven concise tracks, charging between complete improvisations and events within the spectrum of parameters given by Hannaford (which could range from mere “pitch cells” to “fully-notated portions of music”) as well as the seventeen minute “G.E.B”, the conceptual core of the garden, a continuing process of aproximation, engagement and detachment, a stream filled with the thoughts, ideas and utterings of a quartet dancing on the wavelelengths of the same state of mind, flowing from mere drum brushes to a staccato of climaxes and a final of solitarily clustered chords. Each of the players stands in front of the others with his very essence bared: Edie thrusts his sticks manically in the quick-step passages and dialogues harmonically, rather than rhythmically in the slower ones, Rex’ bass is an aggressive, punctuated growl and Tinkler’s trumpet smooth and fluent, its lyrical and almost naive melodies holding the torn edges of the collective tissue together. But it is Hannaford who’s at the centre, throwing with loose notes, breaking harmonies apart into thousands of atoms, holding very still and then again exploding into a firework of dissonance.

This is restless music, a nervous nocturnal vibration, it is cigarette smoke rising to the ceiling in plumes and ice tingling in glasses of goldenly shimmering scotch. Being able to follow its path may take a while, learning its vocabulary is not something done overnight. Again: Context and the borders it builds. But the way in which these performers dive in headlong and without thinking twice makes you come back nonetheless. In its impulsive and infectious nature, “The Garden of Forking Paths” is also an irresistible invitation to make good on that first request: Once you’ve come to enjoy it, you’ll want find out how it fits into the picture of the Australian improvisational scene.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Marc Hannaford at MySpace
Homepage: Extreme Music Records

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