Somnambule - Writing About Music

The Electric Dr M and Spring Heel Jack

The Spitz, 11 October 2004

This is the first concert of a short tour by The Electric Dr M and Spring Heel Jack playing together as a single entity. Sadly there’s no sign of indulgent supergroup behaviour, but the pairing of The Electric Dr M’s millenial electric jazz and Spring Heel Jack’s recent focus on structured improv makes tonight’s concert an intriguing prospect. The twin guitars of John Coxon and Chris Sharkey gradually propel a rhythm out of an almost stationary prologue maintained by the other five players. As the tempo increases, Matthew Bourne batters the increasingly hypnotic beat with spiky note clusters that recall Miles Davis’s keyboard technique circa Agharta. Those clusters explode like stuka bombs as Bourne plays a Rhodes solo whose manic instability threatens to disintegrate the music it rides. The two drummers, Dave Black and Sam Hobbs, forcefully morph the group into a juggernaut whose brakes have failed and the abrasive sound of its extended impact hits the audience in a brutally drawn-out assault. Then the rhythm cuts out without warning and the music is suddenly becalmed again. That’s pretty much the template for the evening: quiet, floating passages alternate with a variety of propulsive rhythms strafed by Bourne and Ashley Wales. What marks this music out is its singular lack of release: the music doesn’t go anywhere. It rapidly builds up intensity, then continues that way until it stops. Picture the Borg’s cuboid spaceship as it moves implacably through space. Alternatively, think of the throbbing relentlessness of Joey Beltram’s techno classic, Energy Flash or the latest, bastard offspring of breakbeat: Grime’s pollarded form. This evening’s music is all about rhythm and its absence; rather than warp the structure, the seven musicians cling to their forward momentum like it’s the only liferaft on a very stormy sea. It feels like they’re mapping out new ground rife with landmines: challenging, provocative stuff with a sulphurous whiff of nihilism.
Colin Buttimer
Published by Jazzwise magazine