Proceedings VHF Extracts

[full press reviews]


A Wire CD of the year (Jazz & Improvised) 1999

"A trio the likes of which really hasn't been seen before. Extracts moves with almost geological slowness, pushing at some almost-immovable object in its path. The musicians concentrate on constructing compelling textures, and there are periods in each piece where only one or two of them are playing; the emphasis seems to be on musical narrative, if one may call it that, as opposed to melodic or even timbral elaboration. Fell and Halliwell play something quite different from anything we have heard from either of them before, while Vincent favours cymbals (often rubbed or coaxed gently with soft beaters) and his electronics subtly join an ensemble sound which is already very close to electroacoustics. This is a sphynx-like piece of work which is quite unlike anything else around: seven slowly-unfolding stories without characters or settings, without descriptions or dialogue, which will have you glued to your speakers although you may not quite be able to explain why. Part of the reason is that all three are capable of fine musicianship, when it comes down to it. Very often, however, it's not the monologue of one musician and his instrument which holds the attention but the way the group moves together, by virtue of some hidden, alien logic, from one lapidary idea to another." Richard Cochrane MUSINGS

"VHF are a drums, sax and bass trio (respectively, Simon Vincent, Graham Halliwell, and Simon H. Fell) who in seven 'extracts' (with an average of seven minutes per extract) redefine this stock trio lineup once and for all. Those expecting the post-Br÷tzmann roar of the remarkable Hession/Wilkinson/Fell will be quite surprised by what Derek Bailey once referred to as the sound of 'overgrown undergrowth', a sound that is swampy and dense yet ringing and bright. Extracts is immaculate. If you buy one improvised music CD this year, make it this one." Chris Atton THE SOUND PROJECTOR

"The first word that came to mind on playing Extracts was understatement, with an almost oriental minimalism and profundity on display. At times I was forced to check whether sounds were coming from the speakers or from outside. However, this is a far cry form the Radu Malfatti school of implied music since it is very much about close group interplay. Simon H. Fell's sonorous bass is of particular note, underpinning, colouring and giving the proceedings a kind of still, stately authority. Likewise the alto sax of Graham Halliwell and percussion of Simon Vincent display a high level of craft, inventiveness and sensitivity over a wide band of low volume musical challenges. It is extremely difficult at this level to hold the listener's interest before s/he concludes there's nothing happening. These three not only overcome this but also produce some hauntingly beautiful music." Alan Wilkinson RESONANCE

"VHF utilise the classic line up of the power free jazz trio, but use their resources to achieve very different ends ? producing a quiet introspective music which nevertheless crackles with circumvented energy. This trio are actively expounding a new vocabulary for these instruments ? an intense, involving experience." Richard Sanderson WESTERN CIVILISATION

"The music ran the dynamic gamut, from the realms of the barely audible to great explosions of sound that could be triggered by any one of the trio. Simon Fell's bass vocabulary should, by now, be known to anyone who listens to improvised music; he is one of the most resourceful musicians anywhere. His instrumental and imaginative ranges preclude any predictions of future projects. Ignore him at your own expense! I could use the usual frames of reference to describe Graham Halliwell's alto playing pops, clicks, squeaks and squeals. But that would be doing him a profound disservice. His dynamic control is assured and his awareness of the group's needs is beyond reproach. Though it may be a clichÚ, he and his co-conspirators really were listening throughout their completely improvised set. Simon Vincent didn't play drums all night, despite sitting behind the kit. He scraped, he rubbed, he tapped, he ripped pieces of adhesive tape from the skins and he played a nice solo on the emergency door handle. The whole set was pretty percussive as the trio searched for and, on many occasions, found new ways of communication with each other and with the listener. This was music of great invention and originality. It deserves your support." Keith G. Thompson AVANT

"There's something to be said for taking the less travelled road; in improvised music, that means the path of small scale, modest dynamics, careful plotting, design over demonstration. As their abbreviated name suggests, the trio of Graham Halliwell (alto sax), Simon H. Fell (acoustic bass) and Simon Vincent (drums) manoeuvre among the extremes of high and low frequencies, tactfully devising the shape of their explorations as they go. Loud flashy gestures are kept to a minimum. Graceful interaction of details - colour, texture, timbre and group empathy allow the music to coalesce. If Fell's bass stands out in the mix, it's a combination of his forceful (though not overwhelming) ideas and the willingness of the others to blend rather than bluster. On Xe his buzzing bass (reminiscent of an African mbira) prompts them to seek overtones and ghost notes via drones and furtive activity within a near static environment. Similar attitudes thrive throughout - the grain in the groan of Fell's arco is palpable as it flows into the waves of Vincent's tone generator on Ra, and the three bustle about percussively on the level of mouse clatter in Tr. For Halliwell melody is primarily a sequence of murmurs and groans, often amid bass harmonics and random drum mumbling. Vincent's work is fine tuned, frisky and earcatchingly irregular. Together, their concern is to develop the sounds from the inside out." Art Lange THE WIRE

"Among the many tenets of wisdom attributed to the late Morton Feldman, there is one of which I am particularly fond. He once said "art is a life of small moves". The author and his words would both appear to be relevant to the music created by VHF on this CD. The former in terms of overall dynamic levels; the latter when considering the degree of musical incident. The combination of these two elements creates an atmosphere of, at times, almost unbearable tension where paradoxically, the silences become more, rather than less, significant. It is as though the three are pushing the boundaries of audible tolerance, truly assimilating every sound for its own sake and independence as well as its interdependence on those that precede, succeed and surround it. Lets not kid ourselves, Extracts is not an easy listen. It is as though the trio are challenging our existing notions of what listening is and how it affects us. Sounds that can initially appear lacking in emotional content can provoke the most extreme emotional responses. The degree of interactive listening and concentration is such that it seems there is almost a reluctance to break the aural spell, a stretching of the communicative wire until it becomes so taut that one of the three is either unable or unwilling to continue and so signals a change of direction that may be understated yet significant in its impact. And this is surely where the strength of this music lies; in its subtlety of movement and its questioning stance - i.e. how do we define music at the end of the twentieth century whilst carrying the accumulated cultural baggage of the preceding years? The previously mentioned Morton Feldman, John Cage and the early efforts of the AACM [especially Anthony Braxton] all inform Extracts. The music on this disc has a very definite European identity and I do not think that it could have been created at any time other than the present. It is music that ebbs and flows in its refusal to be pinned down by any context other than its own. The minutiae of sounds accumulate into small whirlpools that dissipate into fragments, shards, bits of sonic information which it is the listener's task to re-assemble, thus becoming a fourth party. It is as though the trio are saying "look, you too can hear these things but like us you have to really listen". There seems very little point in singling out individual tracks for analysis.; in a sense they are seven episodes in one long piece of improvised composition [I know for certain that all of the music is improvised yet there is an exactitude of placement both of sound and silence that makes it composed]. If there is little or no point in discussing individual tracks there is even less point in considering individual contributions. VHF have produced music of rare democratic brilliance, a music that eschews virtuosity in favour of a group aesthetic. Listen carefully. Be generous with your time." Keith G. Thompson AVANT

"It is often difficult to tell from whence emanates the soft, hissy drones or other noises. Was that hum synthesized via Vincent's tone generator or is he bowing a cymbal? Is someone now crumpling up wax paper or splitting a seam on his pants? These questions alone provide part of the mystery that flows from this often quiet and sometimes disturbing album. In fact, these sounds would more likely be heard by someone first opening his or her bedroom window on a spring morning, so long, that is, as this listener's house is located inside a giant's nose. In spite of the irreverence of my expression, I don't intend the above observation as a criticism. Surely life and breath and all they involve are almost as important as jazz traditions. Fell and his colleagues have successfully pushed the envelope of musical expression for years. Extracts has both an aura of solemnity and a skill in execution that are affecting. And it's not all hisses and drones, either. Xt is full of fluttering wings and ping-pong balls. On the latter half of Ct, Halliwell skitters in Parkersque fashion along with Fell's chirping harmonics while Vincent tickles his cymbals and toms so as to make them sound like a distant, touch-typing class (involving very old equipment). By the time Fell switches to a clickety col legno it's as if we'd experienced the first bubblings up of individual consciousnesses out of what had been a shimmering, pre-cognitive ether." Walter Horn SIGNAL TO NOISE

"Compiled from a series of impeccably recorded 1998 performances, and combining aspects of traditional, improvisational, free jazz, and electroacoustic ensemble interaction, Extracts radiates a subtly thrilling inner intensity. At times, the music teeters on the brink of silence, obliging you to tune your ears to VHF's quiet frequency and peer in for a closer look. This is where the extraordinary clarity of the mastering becomes most apparent. Fell's playing is a model of temperance throughout, his signature groans and bends grippingly resonant. Halliwell favors a cordial, brassy purr or a sinuous sibilance, but his occasional flights and fancies are expressive - and particularly playful on the standout Xt, Tr, and Ct. Vincent rides cymbal crescendos and pensive pattering to equally tingling ends, his restrained electronic gurgles providing ambiguous accents. Extracts' informal and unpretentious comport also welcomes such sporting devices as the ping pong ball clattering down the slopes of Ra and the miscellany of percussive crackling, winding, and sloshing noises that enliven Xt. The players' exploratory signatures are often rich with familiar inflections but rarely writ large. A wonderful album." Gil Gershman MOTION

"The trio explore the tense, textural contrasts that are all the rage in post-electroacoustic Ambient and Improv. There's a dramatic quality to the proceedings as a slow, sonorous bass line invites out-of-time shimmers and squarks to hang in the air. Recording and mastering is exemplary; a striking, teeth-gritted determination. Improv without chaos or scrabble, jazz without swing: VHF's novel concept makes for a unique listen. A:1" Ben Watson HIFI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW

"The language used here, akin to late-1990s Austrian experimentations (Werner Dafeldecker, Christof Kurzmann and the likes), focuses on texture over showmanship. Simon H. Fell's bass is prominent, although he doesn't sound like he imposes himself -- the others simply agree to follow him. Not to say Vincent and Halliwell aren't contributing: when Vincent plays a wash of cymbals 6:35 into Xe, something magical happens as the piece shifts its polarity -- a beautiful moment of total musical communication. Another strong passage is the beginning of Ra, where Fell's long and grainy bowed notes are backed by low electronic drones, the two sounds interfering with each other. Also worth mentioning is the almost free jazz inspiration found on Ac, with Fell and Halliwell setting a slow pace as they duet with long notes, later joined by Vincent playing on his drums with mallets. Extracts should be listened to with headphones loud in order to hear every detail of these textures." Franšois Couture ALL MUSIC GUIDE

"Uncompromisingly abstract - small percussive scrapes, curls of reed sound, discreet bass patternings emerging from great pools of silence; will be appreciated by admirers of other Bruce's Fingers productions." Chris Parker JAZZ REVIEW

"Time-stretchingly stubborn elongated slow-motion acoustic improv crawl. Closest reference point would probably be AMM, but this group's naturally ebbing drone-flow is achieved with more thought, hard graft, and detectable physicality. They plough a narrow furrow, gradually coming to grips with their self-imposed limitations, and steadily grinding out the musical potential lurking within their intentionally restricted instrumental palette." NickCain OPPROBRIUM

"In the spacious and occasionally haunting work of VHF, the process-oriented, "laminal" approach of AMM is a fairly good touchstone. Rather than concentrating on "events" or "expressions", the trio instead focus on particular musical resources (such as attack or dynamics) or specific instrumental properties as bases for their collective creations. For example, Fell is able to wring the most liquid of drones from his contrabass (he gets an impossibly low rumble on Ra), and Halliwell the grainiest multiphonics from his saxophone, spreading them slowly across the tone-field like ink on paper. Cymbals swell, creating tension and release while single notes are held. The quiet bustle of the drum kit creates an aural environment on Tr, Ct and Ac, all of which hum with quiet vitality, shaped by the subtle gestures of breath through reed or stroke of strings. The dynamics are intense, and the music on Extracts is very advanced." Jason Bivins ONE FINAL NOTE

"The seven pieces are indeed extracts and sound highly acoustical. The trio uses most of the time 'short' sounds, sitting next to acoustic drone sounds. Each extract holds the attention well and is played with skill." Frans de Waard VITAL WEEKLY


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