first came into contact with Sheffield based Discus Music via Martin Archer's
excellent English Commonflowers cd which features his
multi-instrumental talents alongside other individuals with leanings towards
jazz, free improvisation and certain elements of the so-called Canterbury
sound of the early seventies. But there is more to it than that, of course,
and despite working with many of the same like-minded souls no two cds are
This latest completes a trilogy that began in 1995 with Ghost lily cascade and reflects
an interest in certain opposites, such as, old v new, melody v noise,
tradition v experiment. So there are tracks that draw on Archer's heritage
and then there are his Ringtone pieces, all of which mix these oppositions to
The abstractions from his musical heritage range from Duke Ellington through
the English folk tradition of Bert Jansch and Anne Briggs and on to the jazz/prog
rock of Soft Machine, naturally, and Magma. A fairly broad sweep then. His
take on Ellington's 'Come Sunday' is breathtakingly simple and returns the
melody to me, having heard so many improvisations around it. His sopranino
sax is clear and pure and could have come straight from an earlier English
music tradition rather than the spiritual one the Duke drew on.
When taking on Jansch's 'It Don't Bother Me' he again uses the sax eloquently
to unfold the melody but this time it is set against a violent electronic
clash which interrupts and, for me, doesn't add much. From the Anne Briggs
songbook he's chosen 'Wishing Well' and presents the melody in same
uncluttered manner with some acoustic guitar and a more restrained electronic
thunder which, this time, suits the mood of the piece.
His 'Angelus Vander' refers to Christian Vander, the great French drummer and
leader of Magma, its relentless forward motion and insistent percussion
sounding like an update on the band's original sound. It mixes the urgent
repetitions of piano with free improvisation, all elements that, at one time
or another were present in Magma.
In a different vein Julie Cole sings the spare but moving traditional
song 'Let No Man Steal Your Time', Archer having altered the original 'thyme'
to contrast with the song's era and the present 'age in which everyone's life
is being filled up with crap'.
The 'ringtone' pieces bring together other diverse musical aspects that
continue to occupy Archer and friends. For instance, Rhodri Jones' harp and
Simon H Fell's double bass play composed lines amid violectronic
improvisations before clarinets and bells are brought into the mix. Then on
'Ringtone 2' Tim Cole's acoustic guitar ripples melodically against the more
frayed tones of the Casio keyboard with its fuzzy electric guitar
sounds. The piece develops more
freely with the harp and bass joined by an array of percussion from Ingar
There is an unusual mingling of heritage and contemporary sound on 'Ringtone
3' where Archer and Masayo Asahara have their rendering of an Anne Briggs
song processed into an eerily distorted and disembodied duet. This segues
into 'Ringstone' a evocation of a 'bleak reservoir' on the moors near Halifax
with winds whipping across stone and black water. It works, whether you know
the territory or not.
But it isn't the sound of reservoirs or winds that close the album and gave
me the title for this review. 'That Sheffield Sound' contains the somewhat
retro noise of the Korg synthesiser whooping and somersaulting against acoustic guitar and towards the end
Archer resurrects the sound of
Karl Jenkins from around 'Soft Machine 6'. The stately theme echoes the
opening of the cd and brings the music to a satisfying finish.
This is finely balanced recording that openly pays homage to musical
influences as well as incorporating the developments that have sprung from
them. But you wont find it in the racks of your local megastore or any other
store for that matter. Discus Music is only available by mail order from PO Box
658, Sheffield, S10 3YR or check the website www.discus-music.co.uk for more
information about their releases. They're well worth seeking out.
© Paul Donnelly