URBAN MYTH & STEVE BERESFORD Live At The Friends Meeting House
Reviewed by Colin Buttimer (the music factory)
This recording documents an evening of what sounds like freely improvised music in Brighton in early January of last year. The music was played by Urban Myth whose members are Jim Black (guitar), Adam Bushell (vibraphone), Henry Collins (laptop) and Kirsten Elliott (flutes, melodica) and their guest Steve Beresford (piano and electronics). Beresford is the name party here: he has played with all manner of people, from African Head Charge to Flying Lizards, from The Slits to Jah Wobble.
However this may not be the best starting point for Beresford novices as the music proves to be rather unremarkable, particularly when compared to classic recorded examples of free improvisation such as AMM, Derek Bailey’s now discontinued Company Weeks and Spontaneous Music Ensemble. To be fair, the lack of engagement may be attributed to the very nature of recorded free improvisation. Even at the best of times this form of music is much more interesting when heard in situ, where the shared concentration of listeners and performers plays a key part in the level of engagement with what is often difficult and challenging music. The small size of audiences and venues contributes to this absorption: my own best memories relate to Saturday morning sessions organised by Derek Bailey and various guests at a tiny wine bar in Hackney where the audience would sometimes fail to swell to double figures.
Urban Myth’s signature sound comprises spacey vibes and keening tones, laced through with breathy flute, a lot of struck guitar and very little regular rhythm. Unfortunately these elements predominantly fail to gather enough momentum to cohere into anything more than a rather amorphous string of separate incidents. There are promising passages of reflective ambience but they’re too often intruded upon by elements which sound inappropriate – such as what sounds like an out of tune melodica and piano. It is tempting to attribute this to a lack of the aforementioned close listening necessary to successful free improv. Additionally, the recording sounds like it was captured on a single microphone located in the audience and the resulting quality doesn’t help matters any. Unfortunately Urban Myth too often sound unconsciously like a free improv version of The Portsmouth Sinfonia and I'm afraid, that can't be offered as a recommendation.
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