written by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
The music for Flock was recorded all on one day, 27 August 2020, at The Fish Factory in London. It was the culmination of a project overseen by multi-instrumentalist Bex Burch, band leader of Vula Viel. She assembled a group of five musicians to respond to texts she had written as scores, as a basis for improvisation – or ‘murmuration’, as she described.
Her partners in the project were Sarathy Korwar (drums and tabla), Dan ‘Danalogue’ Leavers (fender rhodes, roland juno-60, upright piano and roland SH-09 bass synth) Al MacSween (prepared piano, piano, Moog sub37) and Tamar Osborn (bass clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone and EHX deluxe memory boy). Burch assigned herself a wide variety of instruments, credited for contributions on gyil, vibraphone, bass drum, shakers, bells, gong, snake drum and electronics.
What’s the music like?
Instinctive, to put it mildly – but fascinating, atmospheric and intense. The key here is that the improvisations are focused, especially the 13 minutes and 35 seconds of It’s Complicated, and even the slightly longer, hypnotic How many are one? The musical chemistry between the players is striking, and it says a lot that with a track such as Prepare to let go, led by Korwar on foreground percussion, there is still plenty of room for each line to make itself heard. This one in particular is led equally by him on tabla and percussion but also by the insistent, jagged groove at the lower end of proceedings, with some intriguing electronics going on up top. My resonance is another track where the ensemble gel seamlessly, the melodies colourfully distributed and developed.
The keyboards are economically used, and the dynamics are carefully managed, and the percussion detailed but providing much of the backbone. Tracks like Bold dream become rituals, with energetic and almost trancey figures in the half light. There is humour in this track, too, the performers laughing at the way it peters out – nicely caught in the recording.
The icing on the cake, however, are Tamar Osborn’s contributions on woodwind. The combination of bass clarinet and keyboards is wonderfully spooky as Sounds welcome takes shape, the atmospherics like a leftfield detective series. Gradually the track blossoms into a richer, mellow mid-range, where the mournful tones of the saxophone are complemented with percussion and keys.
The bass clarinet begins It’s complicated with an Eastern flavoured soliloquy, a fascinating solo that gradually climbs in pitch and volume as the other instruments join, rising to a tumult of percussion and a rush of noise. The storm quickly abates, the intensity sinking back to a held drone and more clarinet ruminations, before a minimal exchange of ideas takes hold.
Some of the timbres the group secure are fascinating. What purpose has a mellow flute and sedentary piano complementing each other, set against more spatial electronics,
Does it all work?
Yes. The results are electric at times as the players bounce off each other, and it is fascinating listening to a one-off experience, where things go in unexpected directions at times but where the changing colours and moods are compelling.
Is it recommended?
Enthusiastically. This is an improvised gathering of white hot intensity, and the results are consistently compelling. Even if such projects prove daunting to you musically, you are encouraged to listen to Flock, for they make extremely rewarding music.