Somnambule - Writing About Music

Jah Wobble, Philip Jeck and Jaki Liebezeit ~ Live In Leuven

A fairly recent addition to the venerable tradition of the instrumental trio comes in the form of bass, drums and turntables. And Live In Leuven proves to be a fascinating example at that. Whether Jah Wobble or Jaki Liebezeit need any introduction is moot. Suffice to say that bass player Wobble’s post-PIL career has been a fascinating and remarkably varied affair, while drummer Liebezeit’s work with Can and in numerous collaborations with the likes of Bill Laswell and Burnt Friedman is inestimable. Philip Jeck is the relative newcomer with a career that dates back a mere decade, but in that time he’s established himself as one of the premiere names in the burgeoning area of turntable experimentation alongside the likes of David Shea and Christian Marclay.

This live recording comprises four long tracks that stretch between 13 and 17 minutes in length. Each is named with a perfunctoriness (one, two, three and... four) that’s mirrored in the sleevenotes that accompany the release: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is repeated until it fills up all the available space. The first six minutes of One are devoted to Jeck’s ambient sampling whilst in the remaining eight minutes he’s joined by Wobble and Liebezeit who mark out a persistent rhythm until the close of the piece. The rest of the recording shuffles these spare elements around without adding anything further. On the face of it, the simplicity of the concept may sound unattractive, but flesh in some details and the picture changes significantly.

Jeck’s performance begins with a gorgeous descending motif adrift in swirling atmospheres which are at once hymnal, magisterial and densely overdriven. His samples – snatches of choral recordings, symphonic bursts, church bells, cries of torment and ecstacy – conjure the impression of tuning into history using a shortwave radio, memories transfigured into sonic scraps of cloth caught on barbed wire fences. The scratches and surface noise of Jeck’s vinyl further emphasise this notion. In this role, as with his solo work, he’s a miner of sonic archaeologies, a metaphysician of the past’s eddies, currents and whirlpools. Jah Wobble’s bass playing is alternately lugubrious, maniacally methodical and well-nigh intimidating in its persistence. He speaks for endurance, the will to continue whatever the cost. Jaki Liebezeit plays skittish tattoos that ring out like an endless succession of rifle shots. In tandem with Jeck and Wobble his performance proffers a darkly poetic logic, a metaphor for history's tragic catalyst.

At times the trio’s sound is reminiscent of Techno Animal’s 1995 album Re-Entry, however Live In Leuven is easier to relate to because the music’s live performance imparts a distinct sense of humanity that its programmed predecessor lacks. This music may not be for everyone, it’s stolid persistence may infuriate, but if the listener can surrender herself to the atmospheres, percussive shots and bass vibrations there is the potential of ample reward.
Colin Buttimer
January 2005
Published by the BBC