Spring Heel Jack The Sweetness of the Water

[Thirsty Ear; 2004]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: free jazz, fusion, electro-acoustic improvisation
Others: Matthew Shipp, Peter Brotzmann, Miles Davis

Does everyone here remember the year 1995? Drum and bass was sweeping the electronic music scene with rolling beats and thick basslines... but a civil war was brewing. On one side, you had jungle: fierce and menacing with a sound that pummeled the listener with fast skittering breakbeats and reggae-toasting thrown on top. On the opposite end there was "intelligent" drum and bass (IDM). The kind of music that made you want to scratch your beard (even if you were 13). The kind of music that just screams "I'm a pretentious asshole." And who were the biggest artists in the "intelligent" drum and bass scene? Spring Heel Jack.

Fast-forward to 2003 with the release of Live, Spring Heel Jack's fifth release for the Thirsty Ear label's avant Blue Series. Two pieces hovering around thirty minutes each, the album was a perfect, pristine mix of free jazz, electronics, fusion, and progressive music with a backing group featuring some of the finest free jazz performers working today.

I guess reinvention does work sometimes. And with the release of The Sweetness of the Water, Spring Heel Jack's fifth studio album for Thirsty Ear, the future looks mighty bright for these two dancefloor survivors. The album continues where Live left off, with a perfect mix of free jazz horns, minimalist electronics skittering in the background, and a progressive slant that even incorporates elements of electro-acoustic improv.

Most notably significant on this release is the much-needed addition of Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet. While Evan Parker's saxophone sounds blended perfectly on Live, Smith's trumpet adds a Miles-esque cool that works well with the sound Spring Heel Jack tries to create.

Largely improvised, The Sweetness of the Water begins aptly with "Track Four," a hodgepodge of table-top guitar noise a la Keith Rowe, ramshackle percussion in the distance, and Smith's wailing trumpet blurting out beautiful note after note. Guitar textures on "Quintet" harken to J. Spaceman's work on Live that surprisingly works well. On "Track One," which is actually track five, Spring Heel Jack revert to older territory, mixing a melodic downtempo piano piece with trumpet and harmonica.

While lacking the chaotic moments as heard on Live, The Sweetness of the Water succeeds in many ways. It is an excellent continuation of experimentalism, working with new musicians for another excellent result. But most importantly, Spring Heel Jack are truly progressing several genres at once. Jazz history will hopefully look back kindly to the work of these fine musicians and recognize the significance and success of their catalogue.

1. Track Four
2. Quintet
3. Lata
4. Duo
5. Track One
6. Inlet
7. Track Two
8. Autumn

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