SIGNAL to NOISE review of News from the Shed

John Russell - Radu Malfatti - Paul Lovens - Phil Durrant - John Butcher

It's always intriguing to revisit recordings that provided seminal listening experiences when they were first released. Seventeen years back, this meeting between John Butcher, Phil Durrant, John Russell, Paul Lovens and Radu Malfatti caught a group of improvisers at the crux of change. Russell, Butcher and Durrant had been performing as a trio for three years at that point, and were already pushing at the edges of the London Improv tradition charted by musicians like Parker, Bailey and Phil Wachsmann. (Their debut trio album on Acta and follow up on Random Acoustics are long overdue for reissue.)

With the addition of Malfatti and Lovens, one can hear strategies beginning to emerge which have, themselves, become part of a newer London Improv tradition; the sibilant hissing of reeds and brass, the muted scrapes and scratches of strings, shimmering percussion textures and electronic treatments. Now, of course, these things have been fully absorbed into the vocabulary of countless players. But on this recording, there is an audible tension as the improvisations push and pull between action-filled gestural improvisations and an approach built around ultra-nuanced micro-textures and gossamer traces of sound.

While Butcher, Durrant and particularly Malfatti have gone on to radically rethink the relationship of silence and space in their playing, in this set, the timbral density and velocity of conversational interaction is still a strong underpinning element to the series of short improvisations. Yet sections start to open up to a multiphonic austerity, particularly pieces like "Everything stops for Tea", "Whisstrionics", or the previously unissued "Coracle" where use of overtones, harmonics and electronics are a harbinger of the direction these musicians would start to move toward.

In John Butcher's liner notes, he quotes Mark Sinker's review of the original LP in the Wire, describing the music as "microscopic, minimal, dirty Abstract Expressionism" which does a damm fine job of encapsulating this work. As usual for Emanem releases, the original tapes were dug up, cleaned up, and almost 30 minutes of additional music were added. It's great to have this one in print again. Even with so much time elapsed since its original release, News form the Shed proves equally as revelatory now as back in 1989.

© Michael Rosenstein - Signal to Noise.