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Hold Music Dustin Krcatovich , December 17th, 2021 09:14

The debut recording by this London experimental improv trio featuring Cath Roberts, Otto Wilberg and Tullis Rennie is both fun and focused, finds Dustin Krcatovich, though his mother might not agree

I’ve kept the company of many experimental improviser types over the years, and it’s generally been a delight. We don’t always see eye to eye, though, when they start to get bitter about their inevitably limited commercial prospects.

These are hardworking people who are often very good at what they do. Still, what can one fairly expect? To Joe Lunchpail, there is no difference between the average free improv date and the sound of children fucking around. It’s a big leap from Drake and 100 Gecs to AMM and Morphogenesis, and most people won’t even get near the cliff. Besides, out improv is fun as hell to make, and that’s more of a treasure than whatever limited money or attention you could ever hope to garner.

Anyhow, I do not personally know baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts, double bassist Otto Willberg, or trombonist Tullis Rennie, who collectively make up the cr-ow-tr-io. By extension, I don’t know how much they care about commercial attention. What one can suss out immediately from listening to their debut album Hold Music, though, is that their improvisation centres fun even when it’s at its most taut and focused. These bite-sized tracks, chopped down from marathon sessions, seem joyous and fully unencumbered by a lack of commercial prospects.

While the group’s main instruments feature prominently on Hold Music, what stands out immediately are the “pipes, bells, whistles, and many other objects” also promised in the liner notes. There’s a childlike chaos here, bringing to mind radio announcer and ‘Word Jazz’ artist Ken Nordine’s paean to grown-up free play, ‘Adult Kindergarten’. At times, the group devolves into growling and yawping, bouncing their voices around the room in a fashion both exploratory and pleasingly silly.

All in good fun, but Hold Music is most intriguing when the group lets slip a peek at their musicality. The bass runs on ‘Pipe and Buzz Work’ almost sound like jazz, but it also sounds like the strings were latticed with business cards or aluminium foil to winkingly undercut convention. The subtle grace lurking under the cacophony works to invite repeat listens.

Does that musicality mean that Hold Music is the sort of thing that might cross over to more conventional eardrums? Doubtful. This record is a prime example of stuff that would make my sainted mother shake her head in disbelief, and wonder what the hell is going on in mine while listening to it. For those with ear bent just so, though, it’s a fine way to pass the time.