RHYS CHATHAM – Outdoor Spell

Northern Spy

For sure a composer like Chatham is not hindered by external influences or commercial needs when deciding to issue his music, therefore the choice of exploiting models related to trodden paths in Outdoor Spell appears a little perplexing. It all starts with the title track’s consonant stillness, superimposed vocal overtones soon joined by the leader’s trumpet playing sympathetic notes in a beautiful evocation of spiritual serenity that in any case doesn’t say anything particularly new. Large chunks of the record’s central bulk (“Crossing The Sword Bridge” and “Corn Maiden’s Rite”, the latter featuring Beatriz Rojas’ cajon) are heavily – and I mean heavily – reminiscent of Jon Hassell’s work circa Dream Theory In Malaya (much more than Earthquake Island, to which the press release directly refers). Harmonized lines moving around unchanging tonal centres, loops of various kinds of blow-and-fart noises attributing a somewhat uneven pulse to the whole, a gradual descent into freeform improvisation always informed by the fixity of a basis consisting of reiterations of held tones. Obviously well conceived – and, at times, seriously entrancing – but, again, not following an actual logic of artistic novelty despite the progressively complex twists and turns of the intertwining figurations. “The Magician” throws a handful of rebellion seeds, enhanced by guitarist Jean-Marc Montera and drummer Kevin Shea’s semi-sparkling donations to Chatham’s free-thinking design. The show is thus closed with bursts of different energy which – regardless of the sonic diversity from the preceding pieces – appear as a rather logical option to end this slightly mystifying record.

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