Swim This

(Punos Music)

During the forty years of its existence (give or take one year, of course) - i.e., since the day it started perceiving itself as different and separate from the kind of improvisation that was an integral part of (so-called) Free Jazz - improvised music has mutated into many different streams, and a whole series of approaches, that quite often make it hard for one to classify everything under one "umbrella name", or "genre", except by negation: i.e., for what it's not.

Even when taking into consideration all the different backgrounds that are often brought into light, be it "jazz" or (as it's increasingly been the case with the passing of time) "contemporary-classical", I believe that the two turbo engines largely responsible for the fast changing rate of this music have been the possibility to record it and the existence of affordable computers: while the former has made it possible for players to listen (ex post) to the music "from an outside point of view", the latter has made it possible to bring into the writing of the software itself those improvising strategies derived from logic system that are able to originate (if one so wishes) even chance results (the most widely known example, I think, being George Lewis's Voyager).

Keeping in mind that the signal/noise ratio of a CD is a lot more favorable to serene listening than that of the old vinyl, which sometimes was also manufactured on the cheap, I have to admit that with the passing of time I've tended to gravitate more and more towards albums where a more "teleological" approach - in the meaning referred to by Evan Parker (see those albums released under the name Electro-Acoustic Ensemble) was being adopted; while I've always tried to attend as many concerts of "improvised music" as I could, some of them - for instance, one performed last year by Looper & John Tilbury - being incredibly good.

But what should one expect from a live CD by Nick Didkovsky, Gerry Hemingway and Michael Lytle? Didkovsky is obviously known as the composer, guitar player and first among equals of the US line-up Doctor Nerve, of which Lytle is the excellent clarinet player; while most people remember Hemingway for the time he spent playing drums in the fantastic Anthony Braxton quartet in the 80s, he has a long and varied discography of very high quality.

Swim This was recorded live on March, 19, 2006. Here we have an impeccable recorded sound, which makes it possible for us to appreciate some hyper-realistic moments such as the trebly cymbals that on track 2 follow the guitar part (at 5'35") which in the course of my listening sessions I started referring to as "the Pinball Wizard moment" (!).

The album is split in two parts, of approximately equal length, for a total duration of about 67'. The second part is quite similar to what I (not consciously) expected this record to be, with extroverted drums and clarinet on track 6, the guitar and the trio fireworks on track 7, and a certain "cool" elegance on the part of the clarinet on track 8. Instead, the CD turned out to be a source of endless surprises, so that two weeks after the moment I had broken the shrink wrap I still found new things I had not noticed before. It goes without saying that the whole is quite layered (this doesn't mean that the whole is cloudy!). It's that to the expected drums, clarinets and tabletop guitar we have to add Lytle's pre-recorded tapes and Didkovsky's homebrew software. And these make all the difference.

In a quite specific sense, we could define the CD's second part as being the very elegant "resolution" (where sources are quite often easy to locate, and the development more easily accessible) of a first part that's very often inscrutable, though transparent to one's ears, where quite often no sound we hear is easily attributable to a specific instrument, while sometimes we hear two clarinets playing at the same time.

There are a lot of dimensions one could investigate here. One is "density". Another one is "surprise". Everything has "maturity" as their antecedent (consider how many options were discarded!). I think it can be said that Swim This an album that shows a depth of thinking that's nowadays not at all common. Just a caveat for those who are always in a hurry: "don't come near".

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007

CloudsandClocks.net | Mar. 12, 2007