The Society Of The Spectacle BADLAND The Society Of The Spectacle

[full press reviews]


"Badland play a sequence of extended improvisations ranging from controlled passages to full-blown, goddam uncontrollable music where the single elements fuse in lawless blasts of extracurricular instrumental possibilities. Adjectives like "elegant" or "subliminal" are pretty much banned from Badland's idiom; Rose exhalts harmonics and ferocious intentions through his howling phrasing, which often has the flavour of conscious desperation; in his thoroughly detached seriousness, Fell is nevertheless able to bomb our chest with low-end grenades, showing his most radical face while never losing composure. Noble's surprising figurations gain muscle thanks to a precise choice of colours from his set, which he uses like a super-glue to individuate transitions and solo spots as parts of a giant mosaic whose nuances come from the artists' essence more than their instruments. This is difficult, fervent music that burns quickly." Massimo Ricci TOUCHING EXTREMES

"After a brief dearth of new releases to savor, one of Britain's most uncompromising musicians and original thinkers, bassist/composer Simon H. Fell, is presently the centerpiece of a wealth of several noteworthy aural documents. Not only has his large ensemble work, like his massive "fourth stream" project Composition No. 62, seen the light of day, as well as work with the London Improvisers Orchestra, but also other interesting groups, such as a cooperative quartet with clarinetist Alex Ward, keyboardist Luke Barlow, and percussionist Steve Noble (Help Point) and the last installment with Fell's spellbinding quartet (Four Compositions), have kept interested ears busy. With The Society of the Spectacle Badland move slightly away from the heady racketeering of their previous releases and toward a balance that includes a focus on sound shaping/abstract terrains. Don't worry, though, there is plenty of fire-breathing, should that be your desire. The opening track Kittiwake is a perfect intro to the group's more introspective approach, with ghostly worlds coaxed by Noble and Fell's scrapings and Rose's fluttering alto as the reserved intensity simmers. Next, Elka is a percussive intro that yields to windswept whispers, a terrain also explored on the dark spaciousness of Nissa. As for the ripping shockwaves this trio is capable of producing, the two parts of The Society Of The Spectacle provide plenty of rough-hewn quasi-anarchy, with the rush of Noble's drums and, most potently, Fell's dancing pizzicato work. It is Fell that inspires the trio's most frenzied work, particularly Rose's sound ribbons and overblown fire. Neither track is to be missed. The final three cuts also follow in the path of their textural predecessors with an inspired righteousness. Mia, for example, follows up on the rush of the Society pieces, with Fell's powerful bass and Noble's bombastic tom work inspiring Rose's raspy sound torrents; and Snipe is another over the top performance that concludes interestingly with creative soundworks. Finally, Rose makes Reeds In The Western World his own with a more than four-minute solo performance that highlights his technical range as his partners join in for a final sound salvo that touches briefly on swing (!). Filled with plenty of full-tilt improv as well as the potency (and beauty) of restraint, Badland is proving to be a hell of a trio. This is arguably the group's strongest work yet and surely a calling card for its members' seamless intercommunicative abilities." Jay Collins ONE FINAL NOTE

"Steve Reich fashioned a composition out of the proverbial aphorism, "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life". Badland put the axiom into public practice, evoking an entire connectivity of histories with a single gesture that is itself only a fragment of a monstrously diverse unfolding. The trio's newest offering is concentrated and expansive, tipping the nod to multiple influences with a series of microhistorical moments that still exude unified individuality. No proof is necessary beyond the opening moments of Part One of the title track, sequenced, Boulez style, after Part Two. The "classical" connection is appropriate, as the patterns with which percussionist Steve Noble opens the proceedings are focused, loosely proportional and juxtaposed with authoritative silences in the manner of Varese or even of Zappa; a vague Orientalism deepens the illusory mystique of early 20th century panglobalism. A reflective silence ensues, only to be shattered, irreparably, by a jump-cut into some uhr-swing, implied but never completed by a quasi-rhetorical pattern on ride; bassist Simon Fell doesn't exactly walk, but his rhythmic spikes belie deep listening and the half-homage of improvisational camaraderie. Simon Rose breathes Ayleresque fire through a saxophone soaked, but not drowning, in vibrato and collective musical recollection. The slow build to fury is one of the things for which Badland has been justly praised, and Part Two of the title track rumbles and rises to a brilliant frenzy. More then anything though, Society of the Spectacle exudes luminous silence, huge vistas of space through which structures appear and submerge. Reeds in the Western World, a stunning vehicle for Rose, begins with such vast plains of no-sound. Rose is panned to the right, so that even when his Coltranesque utterances begin to shrill, blat and growl, silence hovers expectantly in the wings, only to be completely dispelled when Fell and Noble kick in, jazz style, at the zenith of Rose's solo. This disc is the most satisfying Badland offering so far, both for the excellence and commitment in the playing and for the freshness with which each moment moves to the next. Sixty-six minutes flew by, and I'm eagerly awaiting more entries in this trio's brief discography." Marc Medwin DUSTED

"There are few musicians whose work spans as broad a range as Simon Fell. As composer, improviser, and accomplished bass player, Fell's restless creativity consistently shines through in a mind-boggling range of contexts. What is astonishing, though, is how he manages to pull all of his various interests together into an overarching vision, whether developing settings that synthesize composition and improvisation for both large ensembles and small units; using the studio to "recompose" densely orchestrated improvisations; pushing at the edges of acoustic "ghost notes" with the trio IST; or diving in to skirling free improvisations. Fell, alto player Simon Rose, and Mark Sanders formed the group Badland in 1994 to explore "free jazz and the reinterpretation of elements of the modern jazz repertoire". Steve Noble moved in to the drum seat in '98 and has remained ever since. This is now one of Fell's longest running groups and it's intriguing to track the trio's trajectory over their decade-long existence. Their eponymous first release took off from roots in free jazz, playing blistering muscularity against starker areas of collective freedom with originals as well as pieces by Ellington and Ornette Coleman. (Their reading of Ellington's Come Sunday is a model of sensitive abstraction.) Axis Of Cavity, their second release, still retains the molten energy of the first, but now even the most caterwauling of the collective explorations are opened up with a charged sense of group dynamics. The recent Emanem release, The Society Of The Spectacle, from April of 2003 opens things up even further. The first two pieces are studies in controlled refinement. Pinpoint percussion, looping alto lines shaded with burred overtones, and scumbled arco are pushed to a simmer; ready to boil over at any minute, yet held right at that edge. The trio toys with conventions of the sax, bass, drums format as, for instance, the patterns of Rose's circularly breathed lines propel the music along rather than drums or bass. On the two-part title piece The Society Of The Spectacle, the surging Mia, or the searing intensity of the closing Reeds in the Western World, the three drive the improvisations along with arresting sheets of energy. Noble is in his element, prodding at the flow of the pieces, whether diving in with a well placed snap or crash or thundering along with an elastic sense of momentum. Fell seems to revel in this setting where, like his trios with drummer Paul Hession, he gets to flex within the context of explosive group playing. Even here, though, his keen ear toward careful placement and balance of timbres and density comes through. Rose's playing comes off particularly well. (It's a wonder that his recorded output, as far as I can tell, is restricted to the three Badland releases.) Here is a player who has absorbed the extended reed techniques of free improvisation, and channeled those rippling waves into a focused approach to phrasing and pacing that never falls in to showcasing or bluster. The liner notes mention that the trio did their third tour of England in September of 2005. Let's hope that results in their first live recording." Michael Rosenstein SIGNAL TO NOISE

"Splendidly moody, often quite aggressive stuff from a trio that's just celebrated its tenth year of existence, which strikes me as yet another of those unwelcome where-did-the-time-go moments that mark the critic's descent into old fartitude. Fortunately, the passing of a decade seems to have had exactly the opposite effect on this particular grouping of musicians, whose work seems to have undergone several stages of fermentation to arrive at this highly concentrated and heavily fortified result. This is improvised music at its most tensile, with the emphasis being on music (rather than sonic art or degenerate sound effects) as much as on improvisation; Rose's booklet notes imply a frame of reference which incorporates both free jazz and free-but-not-jazz, and he's damn right. Quite apart from that, I'm always in favour of anyone who sticks up for the improvisational usefulness of the sniping, whinging alto sax as opposed to its nearest relatives. I also like strident, close-captured arco bass and percussion which is played rather than flailed at. All in all, then, I'm doing well here; as a free player Noble is possibly the only drummer of his generation to underpin his exploratory approach with the kind of fearsome chopsiness I associate with Tony Oxley. To be bought at once, then played loudly and very often." Roger Thomas JAZZ REVIEW

"The Society Of The Spectacle features the trio of Simon Rose, Fell and Steve Noble in excellent shape. In his fragmentary notes, Rose mentions: 'We hope our music has some of the qualities of jazz'. If he means the gutsiness, the drive, the flexibility, the excitement of witnessing someone putting his creativity in the line of fire - then he has his wish. This music is not overtly jazz. Powerful and twisted as he may be (he really knows how to bend notes out of shape), Rose can display an uncanny sensitivity, not unlike Paul Dunmall. Simon H. Fell's playing always seems to have two or three agendas; even the most instinctive bass lines hide alternate trains of thoughts that will surface later. Steve Noble's drumming is intense and multifaceted, an attention grabber from start to finish. Highlights include the short pieces Kittiwake and Elka, the raging Mia and the concluding Reeds In The Western World, featuring a gripping sax solo and a development that takes us very close to the American Free Jazz tradition." François Couture ALL-MUSIC GUIDE

"Badland's self-titled debut included some unexpected nods to jazz tradition with covers of Coleman and Ellington. The sequel was Axis of Cavity, a sonic chamber of horrors graced by some spectacularly migraine-inducing work from Rose. The Society of the Spectacle doesn't have that album's cruel surgical precision, but it's just as potent and focussed a document. The music has a take-your-time feel to it even in its orneriest passages, as if the trio were building up intensities layer-by-layer or, as Rose suggests in his liner notes, zooming in on one corner of a canvas. Fell and Noble have by now become as empathetic a rhythm section as Fell/Hession, and Noble in particular has never been in better form, infiltrating metrical eddies even in the freer passages and peppering the music with his trademark sharp, discrete cracks and clangs. Rose is a strikingly non-linear saxophonist, more concerned with juxtaposing niggling repetitions and quivering waves of sound in a manner that might suggest Evan Parker, but likely owes more to his "other" guise, as a world-music specialist. The eight improvisations cover a wide ground from the fluttering disquiet of Kittiwake and Mia to the two-part jazz-inflected blowout of the title-track, but somehow it all seems an extension of the same mood, a fragile/fierce world-gone-wrong vibe. Call it the Guy Debord Blues." Nate Dorward PARIS TRANSATLANTIC

"Voici dix années que Badland œuvre pour la musique improvisée tout en répétant à l'envi que celle-ci n'appartient à personne. Respectant un mini manifeste pourfendeur de sérieux débordant ou de complexes à avoir, le trio n'en rend pas moins une musique insoupçonnable de frivolité ou d'irrévérence crasse. Et d'abord, en approchant au maximum l'improvisation choisie du champ du jazz. Un free insatiable, par exemple, lorsque le saxophone de Simon Rose rappelle celui de David S. Ware sur le jeu de batterie éclaté de Steve Noble (The Society of the Spectacle, Part 2), tous deux partageant avec un troisième - le contrebassiste Simon H. Fell - d'épais désirs de cohérence. En somme, ménager l'inspiration non cadrée et les petites obligations là pour ne pas déplaire. User des gimmicks est un stratagème: la contrebasse et le saxophone, sur Mi ; glisser quelques interventions plus expérimentales en est un autre: grincements divers, couacs, chocs internes et parcours révélés des souffles (Reeds in the Western World, Kittiwake); prôner un minimalisme soudain apte à calmer les esprits, un dernier: jusqu'à présenter sur Nissa une galerie longue de renoncements. Mais le plus enthousiasmant se trouve encore ailleurs. Sur The Society of the Spectacle, Part 1 et Snipe, notamment, où l'énergie déployée ne lâche pas un seul instant. Le trio y porte aux nues des décisions explosives, et arrache à grands coups de serpes les restes d'intention que certains pourraient encore avoir concernant des tentatives inédites de furie en musique. Stratèges de charges répétées, inébranlables et brutes, Rose, Fell et Noble, ont remporté, avec The Society Of The Spectacle, une bataille livrée à la fois au sérieux et au médiocre. Faisant leurs et originales toutes les situations." Grisli INFRA TUNES

"Recorded in April 2003, this is the third CD by the trio. All three discs are noteworthy but this one is outstanding in its level of sustained excitement. The group combine assured musicianship and adventurous temperament, their decisive execution coupled with a wholehearted dedication to improvised music's intrinsic precariousness. An energetic kit player, Noble also sounds metallic percussion with great sensitivity. Fell is a powerful generative presence and a source of subtle enhancements. Rose wails with ferocity or teases away at convoluted lines that have an almost folky feel. Together they convey a sense of a creative process unfolding into genuinely dramatic music. A gripping release from start to finish." Julian Cowley THE WIRE

"Bogey's recorded in 1991, and The Society Of The Spectacle captured nearly 12 years later, are significant wedges of instant composition, performed by two different trios. Significant for the calibre of improvisation that exists on each disc, scrutinizing the two side by side is even more fascinating. It proves that during those dozen years Free Improvisation has changed immeasurably. Back in 1991, the HWF trio was pouring out maximal energy music conversant with the vocabulary of Free Jazz. By 2003, the catchphrase is minimalism, as the first part of the CD's program is rife with measured gestures. But, similarities exist as well. For while Society's first four tracks relate to microtonal New Music and near-silent reductionism, the final four re-introduce dynamic go-for-broke soloing - related to how bands improvised in the early 1990s. If Wilkinson is the Free Jazz Frankenstein monster constructed out of equal parts of Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann - and that's a compliment - then Rose is both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Calmer, slower-paced and with the Onkyo-like patterns seemingly produced with minimal effort, the first figure lulls the listener - and his band mates who respond with distracted accompaniment - until transformation occurs at mid-point. Coarse Mr. Hyde is in ascendancy after that. Heavily-breathed multiphonics, frantic altissimo trills and split-tone exertion demand equal brawn from the other two. This sound-and-silence predilection is showcased at the top of Spectacle. Here the warbles and tongue stops of Rose's sax, mixed with woody echoes from Fell's bass and irregular staccato pulses from Noble's kit, are as languid and unforced as HWF's timbres are intense. The key track is Nissa where all the splayed and singular individual patterns polyphonically expressed earlier on seems to fuse and harden. Having already emphasized pause and silences within extended improvisations, Rose withdraws to such an extent that he appears to be merely expelling whispered timbres underneath flanging cymbal whooshes from Noble and sul tasto sweeps from Fell. The band surprises in the first seconds of the next track, Society Of The Spectacle (Part 1), where a press roll bombardment from Noble's kit and pressured bass slices can make you jump. Suddenly altissimo, Rose is honking and snorting with vibrating metal from inside the body tube, as Noble doubles his impulses with marimba-like reflecting pulses. Reinforced and toughened vibrations characterize the remainder of the disc as Rose's timbres sway and curve with squealing multiphonics, Fell swipes and pitchslides, and Noble not only exercises the regular parts of his kit, but strikes miniature bells for additional textures. Fell fans, those who yearn for the glory days of Energy Music and those interested to see how Free Music has evolved in a decade-and-a-half will be attracted to this disc." Ken Waxman JAZZWORD

"Troisième album de Badland et le premier à être édité sur un autre label que celui de son bassiste, The Society Of The Spectacle, en plus de célébrer le dixième anniversaire du groupe et d'arborer un titre particulièrement spectaculaire (mais aucune référence ou hommage implicite n'est fait ou rendu à Guy Debord), se révèle être tout simplement le meilleur du trio à ce jour. La musique dispensée tout au long de cette "société du spectacle" effectue une synthèse particulièrement vivante et convaincante entre l'approche explosive et radicale dispensée par son prédécesseur (le décoiffant Axis Of Cavity) et les ambiances plus abstraites et sensibles expérimentées à la fin du siècle dernier par un autre trio baptisé VHF (pour Simon Vincent, Graham Halliwell et Simon H. Fell) - alors même que le second CD de ce groupe (enregistré en 2001) vient de sortir sur le label l'Innommable. Le bassiste, tenant jusque-là d'un free jazz qui relevait autant (sinon plus) de la tradition afro-américaine que de la musique improvisée européenne (et tout particulièrement anglaise), du moins en petite formation, avait étonné avec le premier album de VHF publié en 1999 par le label Ertswhile et intitulé Extracts: culture du son à la limite du minimalisme, jeu sur la texture où les instruments cherchent à se confondre plus qu'à se distinguer, le trio tentait de créer un langage différent, proche des conceptions d'un Radu Malfatti, langage qui a connu depuis, un développement considérable dans l'univers des musiques improvisées issues du jazz. Cette démarche introspective se retrouve intégralement dans les deux premiers titres de l'album, Kittiwake, Elka et dans le sombre Nissa, alors que les deux parties de The Society Of The Spectacle, l'explosif (mais contrasté) Mia et Reeds In The Western World (Simon Rose en solo pendant les trois-quart du morceau et qui conclue l'album) éclatent d'une énergie farouche qui renouent avec les pulsions vitales et la dynamique flamboyante du free et où peuvent s'exprimer " les possibilités innées de nos instruments " (dixit le saxophoniste). Reste le métissé Snipe qui tente de nouer les contraires et y réussit si parfaitement qu'il pourrait bien constituer le plus beau pied de nez adressé à tous ceux qui, aujourd'hui, affirment que ces deux approches de l'improvisation libre s'excluraient mutuellement. Si Simon H. Fell reste la pierre angulaire du groupe et un des grands bassistes en activité, les deux triomphateurs de The Society Of The Spectacle pourrait bien être Simon Rose et Steve Noble. Souffleur libertaire, qui n'a strictement rien à envier aux grands altistes américains (de Jimmy Lyons à Marco Eneidi) ou à ses prédécesseurs britanniques (tel que Trevor Watts ou Mike Osborne), le premier se révèle ici être aussi un explorateur minimaliste capable de rivaliser sur ce terrain avec des maîtres tels que John Butcher ou Michel Doneda alors que le second s'impose de plus en plus comme le grand batteur/percussionniste de sa génération. Technique: 8 (Dynamique remarquable, belle image sonore) - 10. JOKER." Philippe Elhem CRESCENDO

"Then it's Badland, churning out an absolutely blistering display of Andrew Cyrille-style, pulse-time, free-jazz drumming, so precise, authoritative and even swinging, that one can hardly believe it's taking place here, in a tiny room behind a pub in North London, rather than on The South Bank." Daniel Spicer ALL ABOUT JAZZ


return to the The Society Of The Spectacle order page

return to recordings index page

return to main Bruce's Fingers index page

 click here to join the Bruce's Fingers mailing list and be automatically informed about all new releases, forthcoming gigs and special offers