John Tilbury, John Lely, Dirar Kalash an - Seaside [Anothertimbre - 2016]This record - the one hundredth on Anothertimbre - brings together a strange set of circumstances for the recording of a series of composed and improvised pieces in the conservatory of AMM member and veteran British improviser John Tilbury. The first circumstance of note is the combination of players; Tilbury making his recorded debut on clavichord (he usually plays piano), John Lely on electronics and Palestinian improviser Dirar Kalash on oud. A most unusual trio!
Also of note is the natural limitation on volume that the quiet sound of the clavichord imposes on the other instruments as well as the occasional intrusion of sound from Tilbury's seaside recording environment onto the recordings themselves.
The sound is minimal to say the least, minimal in composition, minimal in execution. The first piece, Line, was composed by Lely especially for Tilbury's clavichord and is a short exploration of the timbres and unusual sound of this medieval instrument. With only the quiet somewhat bluesy pings of the clavichords strings for comfort this piece struggles to hold interest. However, on Biya'Adas and the other three improvisations (all named after Palestinian villages wiped out during the creation of the state of Israel) the three players combine their efforts. Kalash's oud has a deeper sound than the thinner, gangly tones of the clavichord. The two string instruments at time seem engaged in a delicately poised dance each throwing out subtly abstract shapes on their instruments against which the other responds. Biya'Adas includes a contribution from a seagull which can be heard calling from the distance around Tilbuy's Deal seaside home.
Lely's contribution here is hard to place. 'Electronics' can mean almost anything in the parlance of improvised music. Mostly it seems he is content to put down a fine layer of hazy sine waves or distorted samples, all of which are kept at such a low volume that it's difficult at time to discern whether it's actually him or another aircraft flying overhead outside. Saqiya sees the players coxing a wider variety of sounds from their instruments. The oud strings are scraped while Lely generates a hum of what could be radio static, which Tilbury occasionally punctuates with single clavichord notes.
For two pieces Tilbury has arranged music composed for him by Christian Wolff for piano, adapting it for the clavichord. Both pieces are a break into more structured conventional playing after the free playing of the improvised tracks. Tilbury 2 (1969) combines truncated scales and chords while Tilbury 4 (1970) is the livelier of the two with even slight almost parodic hints toward melody. It has a greater density thanks to an overdub which combines the parts for what would otherwise be two players.
The last piece is a duo version of the first Line but this time with Lely laying down some droning ambient noise behind the clavichord. The result is more uncanny counterpoint but not exactly a revelation. Indeed that could well be said for the entire set. It's an initially mysterious sounding trio but the deeper one get into the sound the less is returned.Duncan Simpson