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Steven Crow: liner notes

Liner notes for the album At The Cultural Home by Tom Jackson and Vid Drašler

What can be said about this album that hasn’t been said before? Everything. But as these are liner notes and not an album review, I’ll meander first.

Tom Jackson often likes to remind me of the first time we met. I was rude to him in a music library. Think of that! I have always been a little ashamed of that first meeting, as it didn’t show me in a very generous light. But looking at it on paper: I’m thrilled. We went on to set up a date to improvise together and in that session I put my instrument down and threw things at it from across the room. I thought I was being amusing and inventive, but really I just didn’t have the musical virtuosity to match Tom’s clarinet playing.

You must have heard the question: What do you buy for the person who has everything? My answer would be “something personal”. Improvising musicians face that dilemma, too. What do you play if you can play everything? This album is a way of answering that question. I’m listening to it now and writing down the nonsense that drifts into my brain.  

There’s a darkness and comfort here, but no safety. It’s personal, almost private music. Something between a manifesto and a confession. Tom’s clarinet pleads softly as an ocarina. Vid Drašler’s percussion sounds like a carpenter’s enchanted workshop, with all but the scent of the sawdust captured. Their mutual dexterity eases and oozes. Oh, there are some lovely deep things here, and hushed things. I get in trouble for looking forward to “good bits” in free-improv. You’re supposed to be in it for the journey, they say. But I’m not. I like good bits. I prefer destinations to journeys. This is like a road trip made out of luxury villas. Little chalets on wheels, made of pine (percussion) and with central heating (clarinet). Have you ever known a carpenter? Or a joiner? Or a cabinet maker? Think of their tools, strewn around the workshop, some hanging up, some in use. Very earthy and noble. This is what deft percussion feels like.

Here’s another question, since I’m posing quite a few of them here: what does listening sound like? Silly question. Imagine that you were urinating at the same speed as you were drinking. In perfect synchronicity. A one-in-one-out policy. Maybe pissing into your own mouth, and so drinking and pissing at the same time. I’m not trying to be disgusting, nor am I comparing music to piss. I’m trying to describe the process of improvisers who are both listening and playing at the same time, with one informing the other. An instantaneous feedback gyre. But somehow never repetitive. Tom and Vid’s music inspires these kinds of thoughts. Don’t blame me. 

I promise you I am not writing this while drunk, but at around 26 minutes into track one we swoop into an almost sacred territory of ancient, prophetic hymns. Shadows, wisdom and some kind of fucked-up ritual engulfs the sound before we are being ushered towards more skittish adventures again. They build, in their turn, with intensity. Back on the journey of destinations. More villas. More steam-powered chalets. Some have old cigarette vending machines on the porch. All have decent toilet facilities. One has a locked front door, but you can get in through the window if you shimmy up the drainpipe. 

Stephen Crow

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