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Ex-Wise Heads: Celestial Disclosure

img  Tobias Fischer

Can you define something by explaining what it isn't? Let's see: Even though Ex-Wise Heads Geoff Leigh and Colin Edwin got together through a chance meeting at a specialist ethnic instrument shop in Brighton, they're not a specialist ethnic band. Neither does their collaboration qualify as World Music, despite the inclusion of „exotic“ instruments such as the Moroccan guimbri  and jaws harp. Their third full-length relies heavily on improvisation, yet it has nothing to do with Jazz. You don't have to study ethnology to understand where this music is coming from and you don't need to know about Eastern polyrhthms to appreciate it - even though it helps. Celestial Disclosure involves samples, programmed beats and atmospheric synth pads, but it sure isn't Electronica. It's groovy, but not danceable. Psychedelic, but not Psychedelia. It's far too intense to be Chill-Out, too rhythmical to make sense as Ambient, too carefully arranged to be filed under Kraut and too progressive to be appreciated by most fans of Progressive Rock. Edwin and Leigh are probably best known through their involvements with two renowned bands respectively, but telling you which they are will not increase your insight into this album one bit. Can you define something by summing up what it isn't it? It doesn't seem likely in this case.

Taking a route of descriptive negations is particularly ill suited to Celestial Disclosure, the band's third full-length effort, which, despite its occasional moments of mystery and gloom as well as its generally darkly glowing ambiance, constitutes a decidedly uplifting effort. The opening sections of both „Heliosphere“ and „Solar mass“ may be made up of deep, brooding swells, foreboding harmonies, eerie micronoises and hallucinatory cluster-chords. But as opaque shapes are transformed into concrete forms, abstract allusions replaced by physical palpitations and embryonic ideas nurtured into fully developed themes, their pent-up suspense is gradually released, resolved and sublimated into pure energy - above all, these are exercises in building and holding musical tension until it becomes unbearable and the cue of the drums, suddenly connecting loose hihat  figures into an irresistible beat, is greeted as a promise of deliverance. These pieces are essentially the product of single thoughts stretched to twenty-minute-epics, their creative cells constantly twitching, shifting and changing positions to arrive at new constellations and patterns, like a musical rubik's cube being discretely manipulated at the hands of its creator.

Even more distinctly, however, the album is the result of the interaction between two musicians who have very much arrived at a personal voice. Edward's Bass is dynamic, direct and playful, searching for delicate variations in simple motives and painstakingly avoiding cliches. You can hear how much the asceticism and purity of Dub have become an integral aspect of his technique, how elements of Rock, Funk and Jazz have percolated into his vocabulary. And yet, what results from this fusion is something completely his own. On „Solar Mass“, his approach can be described as a method of sonic teasing, his lines remaining in the upper and middle range of his instrument for extensive sequences before finally taking the plunge into the deep and revelling in concentrically expanding circles of subsonic resonance. His licks are never mere harmonic grounding or rhythmic propulsion but an emancipated compositional tool and Leigh congenially responds to this confidence by entering into challenging dialogues and countering his musical partner's majestic retention with sprawling fountains of neverending melodies. Short inventions serve as springboards for extended, jaggedly shaped passages, harmonic schemes are continually broken apart and reconstructed, simple repetitions turn out to be mere openings for larger-scale structures. And yet, quicksilver fluidity and lyricism always top his list of  concerns, as his lines spray from his flutes and saxophones like crystal-clear streams of water from a fountain of youth.

In a fortuitous concurrence, both Edwin and Leigh build their pieces on the strength of ideas and motivic variation. Even though they have factually solidified as a studio project, their origins as a live formation still shine through in their passionate defiance against using technology to cover up creative deficiencies (if there are any, that is). Not only does this mean arrangements are breathing rather than being cluttered and packed with myriads of events. More importantly, it allows the musicians to draw all attention to the unfolding of their musical arches, to the process of their interaction and to all but imperceptibly plays with time and arrangements to create subtle yet highly effective transitions in the listener's mind. On „Solar Mass“, Leigh's first solo is of a mesmerising simplicity and purity, almost played as if in a trance and in a state between waking and dreaming. Increasingly, however, his tone turns more raw, carefully transitioning into oriental scales and tapping into its harmonic well as a new reservoir for themes, tones and timbres. Edwin quickly follows suite, expanding his at first one-note emanations into strings of vibrating frequencies and then entering into a slow-burning groove. And so it goes for minutes on end, each performer speaking and responding, leading and following and propelling the narrative forward.

The Eastern tendencies are intensified on closer „Maninkarnika“, which has been added to the original two tracks as a bonus on the occasion of the CD-re-issue. Here, Indian guitarist Rajan Spolia opens the proceedings with beguiling barrages of bent, bowed and broken themes and a recurring Leitmotif. It should only seem appropriate that Celestial Disclosure should end with this trio session after Edwin and Leigh have gradually taken their own capacity of transcending their borders to the limit. After all, this is what it is: A manifestation of the pure will to create and to express oneself as immediately as possible by working with everything and everyone one holds dear.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ex-Wise Heads
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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