(Nerve Technologies, 1998)
Phil Morton (guitar, treatments) and Phil Hargreaves (saxophones, flute) make a joyfully gritty noise on Click, their first release from Liverpool-based Nerve Technologies label. The two of them have been working together for some time, and you can tell; they bounce off each other well, allowing ideas to flit between them and fearlessly pushing the music forward.
Hargreaves is a free jazzer with a wide range of high-volume squeaks and squeals in his arsenal, but he doesn't rely on them to do all the work for him. Playing more conventionally than many in this kind of free improv, he clearly enjoys using patterns of notes in his music as well as abstract sounds.
If the occasional crack between these two approaches is noticable, it's because he gets it right so often. Perhaps this is down to the fact that his imagination is so febrile and hyperactive, never wanting to stay in one place for long, with an absolute antipathy to aimless noodling. The pair have a nice knack of changing the music's direction quickly and with apparent ease, cutting a loud passage to a whisper, or allowing a drone-based section to become suddenly pointillistic. These changes always feel logical, which make the seven pieces on this release very varied and very listenable indeed.
Morton uses preparations extensively. Since it's almost impossible to come up with anything really new in terms of prepared guitar sounds any more, his playing can hardly be accused of gimmickry. Going with the prepared-piano sounds which come from wedging things between or under the strings, Morton proceeds to play these preparations rather than just let them speak for themselves, manipulating the sound of each note without resorting to electronic over-processing. Although he's very much in the accompanying role for much of this disc, he fills that role admirably and contributes a great many ideas of his own. It's nice to hear him stretch out (as on "Mortal," for instance) but his less up-front role shouldn't be percieved as a less crucial one.
Where the full-on quality which some of this playing has can be hectic in some musicians' hands, it isn't here. The reason is that everything fits together so well. The reason us lazy journalists haven't picked up on Morton and Hargreaves before is probably that they're not based in London. That kind of parochialism just isn't sustainable; it risks ignoring too many fine players. This is a very promising start for Nerve Technologies, and a release from two musicians to watch out for in the future.