The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Colin Webster
vs Amp Noel Gardner , April 22nd, 2021 07:52

Playing his sax through Fender Twin and Bassman amplifiers, Sex Swing and Dead Neanderthals collaborator Colin Webster provides a thrilling journey for Noel Gardner

The question of what the difference might be between free jazz and free improvisation – what elements, or lack of, might make one term or the other a more correct description of a recording or performance – is interesting to think about, assuming one has such interests. It’s only if you try and get definitive that you’ll play yourself: this is music unhidebound by rules or restrictions, for listeners and artists alike. Colin Webster, a saxophonist living in London with an extensive catalogue of releases, is a good example of someone perpetually on the cusp of the two notions, though.

On his own terms, he frequently seems invested in playing so as to eschew the sax’s conventional qualities, and finds likeminded collaborators to boot: from the UK’s weirder corners, Graham Dunning, Andrew Lisle and Andrew Cheetham are each regular Webster hookups, and as a member of Dead Neanderthals, Sex Swing, and Wart Biter he’s folded his skronk into extreme metal and noiserock-ish aesthetics. More incongruously, he features on about half of Idles’ recent Ultra Mono album. I don’t know to what extent, if at all, this has led that group’s fans to investigate the array of brown-sleeved releases on Webster’s own label Raw Tonk, but it’s a fair distance to the sounds found on Vs Amp whichever way you slice it.

The LP title refers to the Fender Twin and Bassman amplifiers you hear his baritone sax being played through on these ten, mostly comparatively brief, pieces. That, plus it having been recorded by Tim Cedar from infamously loud band Part Chimp, implies a rock aesthetic in play, but that doesn’t really transpire. Vs Amp is rarely smooth listening, but more often minimalist and meditative rather than gnarly and screaming. ‘In Rama’, the opening track, is a strangely groovy amble on some sort of oddly tuned plucked string instrument, maybe a kora… or so you might think. It’s all emanating from that dang sax. Likewise the more percussive ‘Bujang Senang’ and ‘Glots Of Viscera’, which approximates the deep thrum of a double bass.

That still leaves plenty of music made with the mouth, however, with ‘Lapis Lazuli’ and ‘Perranzabuloe’ hunks of droning, buzzing metalwork, and ‘Knife-Grinders Of Grimethorpe’ and LP centrepiece ‘The Flemish Weaver’ affecting doomily low registers. The application of circular breathing techniques are essential to this ritual-ready, sustain-heavy sound, it seems. Fans of an ensemble like Phurpa might get as much out of it as jazz cadets into, say, Peter Brötzmann, and if you happen to be the sort of wildcat who likes both, then Vs Amp is likely your kind of journey into sound.