I write a lot about Miles Davis in these E-pages, even though we mostly review new Jazz and new artists here (which is as it should be); I suppose one reason of many is, given how my Dad turned me on to Jazz and, to my surprise was even into some of the rough stuff like Coltrane and free playing - in 1970 I brought home Soft Machine's THIRD and Dad was nicking off this and that influence verbally while I was listening to it ("Jesus, for a lot of 23-year-old Brits, these guys can play...")! - still it took a very long time for him to 'get' Miles. "Sounds too dry to me," he'd say. "Something in there just rubs be the wrong way." He finally claimed he 'got it' when STAR PEOPLE came out in 1982 (Miles' last great album, for my money), but were he still around to hear Phil Clemo's hot, searching, funky, changeling AMBIGUOUS DIALOGUES, I think he would have approved further.
Because AMBIGUOUS shows what can be done with a musical attitude (some call it the 'jam band' ethic, some call it just tale spinning, weaving the magic carpet while you are already in the air... oh, yeah, it's me who calls it that) left behind by someone with large footprints. Yes, something huge has been by and pushed aside quite a bit of vegetation. What shall we find? Clemo, keyboard whiz and designer of highly literate techno-ambient soundscapes, fills the foreground with more lush vegetation and big-eyed animals than you would find in a Rousseau painting. And Lawd-a-mustache, is it equal parts brainy and earthy. Try the dancing, ethereal funk of "Texture," driven as powerfully as anyone could ask for by drummer Mark Sanders, one of Brit Jazz' grand masters, in which Tom Chant's magisterial soprano sax knots deep into the carpet of flutes and talking drums. And if you do not think funk can be ethereal, why go find a copy of Herbie Hancock's MWANDISHI (anybody remember "You'll Know When You Get There"?). Clemo will pull out some stops and do some hot E-piano with that gamelan sound we recall from SELIM SIVAD LIVE - EVIL (read that backwards) now and again, but for the most part he chooses to paint the sky over this Martian delta, emptying into dream and vision. Phil Slater essays some open-horn, neutral-drive Miles-isms here and there, such as during "Temperature"'s rainforest arabesques, but he plays in arcs and ellipses as opposed to Davis' early '70s dabs, stabs and exclamation points. Nice touch. For a change of pace Clemo assembles a crack string quartet of bassist John Edwards (another of Brit Jazz' steady beacons), violist Maritza Bulcock, violinist Martin Reed, and cellist Simon Wagland and backs them with lush screens of shifting pedal points during the Pachelbel - esque "Altitude" and the sadly lilting box step "Time" (appropriate somehow...). Free elements spice up "Place," "Scale" affords us a sort of rising-suspension dreamtime, and "Form" lands us in a magnificent downpour I have wished would never end, no matter how wet I got.
We have heard others wittily extend the Miles way of doing things circa BITCHES BREW and beyond, such as Terje Rypdal, Masabumi Kikuchi, Pepo Mtoto Julian Priester or the estimable Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser's YO MILES! recordings on Shanachie and Cuneiform Records: I suppose Clemo has chosen here to codify and expand as opposed to head further along the jungle path. Clemo builds the jungle in your head with a view of strange landscapes beyond. Bring a change of clothes, you may want to stay a while.
by Kenneth Egbert
Back to Contents Page
Jazz Now Interactive
Copyright Jazz Now, July 2005 edition, all rights reserved