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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ovary Lodge on Ogun

Zen and the art of free playing.

This album could have been subtitled: "Caution: Zen Poets at work"; Side two, track one, is definitely my favourite track title of the year: "A Man Carrying A Drop of Water On A Leaf Through A Thunderstorm."
Even Basho would have been proud of the vivid brilliance of that haiku-esque line. And, even more amazingly, the music actually paints the appropriate scene, in swirling Japanese water colours.
Ovary Lodge, the band co-founded between Keith Tippett and Frank Perry, is a wonderful, mysterious unit, with a vocabulary and identity all of its own, stylistically whole continents removed from what has become the mainstrem of British free improvisation.
Much of its uniqueness comes from Frank Perry, a deeply religious man whose drumming, so far as I can discern, owes precious little to either jazz as such or the 'classical' European avant garde.
When Perry plays his kit (which could win prizes as a sculptural exhibit, incidentally) the sounds that he draws often seem to have more in common with the meditational bells of Tibet, or the ethereal, time-suspending qualities of the Balinese gamelan.
With this kind of Eastern activity happening behind them, Tippett and Miller - resolutely creative just about all the time - are able to open up whole new vistas of inspiration that would simply be unthinkable in any more conventional jazz context.
And when Julie adds her highly unorthodox vocal improvisations, the net result sounds like some unnamed but very pure kind of liturgical music.
One could draw some slightly forced parallels. The opening of "Gentle One," with its male and female vocal glissandos over knocking and prodding percussion, could be said to reveal a certain relationship with the music of Penderercki or LIgeti, but the implications of what Ovary Lodge are attempting are broader than that.
Although Keith, in his sleeve notes, asks that we "(try) hearing it as an orchestra", that is, without attaching particular credit to individuals, or worrying about precisely who is playing what, I find it very difficult not to single out Harry Miller, whose bass playing imbues all of these far-reaching pieces with a sense of structure.
Only once do the musicians appear (and then but fleetingly) to lose control of their group direction, in the more violent closing section of "Fragment No.6", the most aggressive work-out on the record, and even here the randomness of the scattered sound is not unattractive.
But, for me, the fourteen-minute "Gentle One" and the whole of the second side comprise some of the most inspiring and naturalistically lovely free music I've heard in ages, and I only wish that Ovary Lodge played a whole lot more gigs.
Ogun Records are obtainable from your friendly neighbourhood jazz specialist, but in case of difficulty, contact Ogun Recording Ltd, 28 Richardson Court, London SW4 6RZ (remember this review is from 1975!).
And an ethnomusicalogical footnote: a hsiao is a Chinese bamboo flute, a sheng is a Chinese mouth-organ, and an er-hu is a two-string Chinese violin. Now have fun trying tospot them on the record - Steve Lake (Melody Maker, August 28, 1976).

Improvising at its best and one of my most beloved Ogun's discs.

Thanks to Steve Lake and Melody Maker and - most of all - to Frank Perry and his great site.

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