Digital Seed (Primpy Records)
Review by John Shand
What to do? You’re across all the literature of jazz, fusion and electronics. You’ve studied composition, and are familiar with the labyrinth of rhythmic options thrown up across diverse styles of music in the last century. But none of that inherently bequeaths answers to the big questions of how to escape the thrall of the genius of others, and how to make music that eschews artifice; music that is honest and heartfelt. And that’s before you confront the issue of doing something that is your own, and perhaps opening up new possibilities for others. Sometimes it’s all too confronting, and it is easier to retreat into playing a flawless solo on ‘All Blues’ for the hundredth time.
Or you can be a little daring. You could start, for instance, by not accepting that the last word in fusion has been spoken. Start writing tunes that have rhythmic knots built into them, and program all the parts into a MIDI sequencer, which will later be copied by live musicians. Imagine textures in which the melodies and solos dance around full-frontal drumming, while electronics whisper at the fringes like the voice in your head.
To say that Mike Rivett‘s Digital Seed sounds like no other album would already be a compliment. That it is also stunningly good is a bigger one. Rivett has broken cover not with yet another musical artefact from a schooled and accomplished improvising musician, but with a true work of the imagination. His tenor saxophone is not a featured instrument so much as one of many colours he swirls together to bring his edgy compositions to life. He has dared to record the bass (Alex Boneham) and drums (Ben Vanderwal) separately to the other instruments, which, although common enough with rock albums, is generally perceived to reduce the dialogue in jazzier music. I suspect that Rivett has done this not just for sonic or pragmatic reasons, but so that the rhythm section steams through the tunes on parallel rather than routinely interactive courses, and only converging according to the dictates of a composition, rather than the whims of the improvisers.
So the pieces have a not-to-denied bullishness to them, even when the rhythms are tying those knots around the striking melodies, aided by the fact that Boneham and Vanderwal play their parts like demons.
The other musicians, too, seem singularly attuned to serving Rivett’s conception. James Muller is present for two tracks, his guitar adding little pointillistic improvisations in primary colours. Fellow guitarist Carl Morgan doubles melodies and plays his own flurrying solos, and André Houghton thickens up the electronics. Others, including Evan Atwell-Harris (flutes), Matilda Abraham (vocals), Steve Barry (Fender Rhodes) and Desmond White (bass) just look in for a track or two.
The compositions include ‘Cape Tribulation and ‘Monsoon’ with their edgy insistent ‘A’ Sections and deft releases. ‘Sinister Nostalgia’ is especially interesting with is changes of mood and texture, and an enchanting melody (primarily carried by Rivett’s clarinet) that partly reminds me of early Frank Zappa. A pool of breathy vocals and bowed bass in the middle is the precursor to a more belligerent finale that arrives as unexpectedly as a helicopter landing on your roof. Rivett’s keen instinct for how long a given section of a song should be to maintain impact is there again on the chattering rock of ‘Teriyaki Bowling’, and ‘Digital Speed’, as the title suggests, is partially like the soundtrack to a computer game with its blend of repetitions and stream of sonic surprises. The closing ‘Staring Into The Sun’ is a reverie cleverly combining programming and woodwinds, so that the end result is like chilled-out techno more than any jazz.
It may not always be music to engage the heart, but for delighting the listener with a brave new world of sounds and textures it’s a must.
Mike Rivett: saxophone, clarinet, flute, synth, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, programming
Ben Vanderwal: drums
Alex Boneham: bass
Desmond White: bass
André Houghton: synth, programming
James Muller: guitar
Carl Morgan: guitar
Evan Atwell-Harris: flutes
Matilda Abraham: vocals
Steve Barry: Rhodes