Thursday, February 18, 2016

BLOOD: Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

A title as above will either send you screaming for the hills or you will know of it already. Of course, I maybe underestimate the number of actively fundamentalist Christians possibly reading, none of whom I would wish to offend. Be that as it may, if intrigued by such a heading, and I dare say it is true, within these largely secular scribblings, please read on.

Gavin Bryars is an English composer, best known for his pieces within the oxymoron of contemporary classical music. Always a champion of the accident of creative expression, he was a founder member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an extraordinary ensemble whose membership demanded little or no pre-existing competence in the playing of any instrument. Whilst some, like Bryars, had skills and experience, many did not, resulting in sometimes the triumph of enthusiasm over accuracy. And sometimes not. Another member was erstwhile Roxy Musicman, latterday U2 (and others) producer and composer, Brian Eno, under whose patronage Bryars later developed a more orthodox career, albeit one that owed a fair bit to John Cage and his uneasy compositional style. Prior to that he had been a jazz bassist alongside another free spirit, Derek Bailey, so you could argue his chosen oeuvre became the meeting of improvised free jazz with orchestrated found sound.

The piece celebrated here has a glorious evolution, almost apocryphal, and is best described in Bryar's own words here. I remember hearing this for the first time and being astonished, as the repetition and ritualistic build of tension worked a spell I would encourage you to become entranced by. Don't rush. Leave yourself plenty of time. Turn off outside distractions.

This was the original recording, from 1971, with a later revised version appearing 20 years later, with the added delight, if he is your bag, of vagrant faux Tom Waits joining in toward the end. (An unnecessary addition in my ear, but I am not a fan. And apologies to those who, on sight of the picture at the top were expecting something overall Jethro Tullier, but the image seemed apt.)

Buy the original here. (The lesser Waits "enhanced" version is also available, at considerably less a price, but, hey, that's commercialism for you!?)

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