Forensic Trio
Heartless
Discus 137CD
(2022)
Available formats: CD/DL

 

“Heartless is austere but compelling free improv……and the ethos is mostly sparse, featuring smaller sounds. For much of the album Thomas plays piano inside and outside simultaneously, while Hunter taps at a reduced kit plus small handheld instruments. Archer plays saxophones without grandstanding. His sopranino has a shrill immediacy. “Improvisation In Traditional Form”, with its occasional bluesy hints, is a brief energetic interlude to the general entropy. Downbeat titles imply a dystopian release for our times.” – Andy Hamilton, THE WIRE

 

An investigation into some smaller sounds and interactions from this new trio, plus a few excursions into more expansive territory. All of the music was improvised and performed as heard, apart from the coda of the closing track Rotten Star which is a collage. Heartless, Heartless…… / Rotten State edits together, in alternation, parts of two separate longer improvisations. Pat plays grand piano interior and keyboard simultaneously for much of the album, while Johnny responds with sounds from a stripped back kit plus little handheld instruments. As well as laptop, I play the Eb family of saxophones here – sopranino, alto and baritone – which in my hands seek to avoid any element of the grandstanding or machismo sometimes, perhaps unavoidably, associated (at least to my ear) with the Bb instruments. My rather downbeat titles for these pieces were thought up before the events of 2022, and it is even sadder how more appropriate they have become in the months between recording and release. Nevertheless, please find some sounds to enjoy here. – Martin Archer.

Martin Archer – electronics, alto, sopranino & baritone saxophones
Pat Thomas – piano
Johnny Hunter – drums, percussion, glockenspiel

37CD - Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer

Reviews

A highly rewarding exploration of the ways in which short motifs can be juggled, pulled, poked, and pushed into surprising shapes. With titles such as ‘Rotten Start’, ‘Rotten Star’, ‘Heartless, heartless / Rotten State’, you get the idea of where Martin Archer and his bandmate’s political sympathies were at the time of the recording. But this is less an agitprop recording than a complex and highly rewarding exploration of the ways in which short motifs can be juggled, pulled, poked, and pushed into surprising shapes. It is, for the most part, improvisation in its rawest and most exciting form. I say ‘in the most part’ only because two of the pieces involve the mixing and editing of longer improvisations into the pieces recorded here. That, in itself, provokes an interesting question on the nature of recording improvised music. As Derek Bailey has argued, If improvisation is always a matter of responding to the fleeting moment, then recording this becomes a contradiction in terms, a paradox in which the ‘moment’ ceases to be fleeting and is forever preserved in the amber of the recording. A problem, for Bailey, is that the recording could be mistaken for the real-time, live, negotiation of musical interactions. My reference to Bailey is not simply academic but provides a link to the long career of Pat Thomas. As a lynchpin of much of the UK improv scene, Thomas has been playing with a wide range of musicians in recent years, inspiring and encouraging a new generation. And, of course, you can hear Thomas’ playing in the large-scale Discus project the Anthropology Band. As is often his wont, Thomas, works inside the piano and with the keyboard, often simultaneously (in ways that, if you have the chance to enjoy his live performances are often as entertaining as the music itself). On this set, Hunter gamely follows the rhythmic suggestions thrown out by Thomas who, in turn, aids and abets Archer’s broad range of noises and motifs produced from a family of Eb saxophones (sopranino, alto, baritone) played straight or through a melange of electronic effects. To return to the recording improvisation, the question is muddied further by Archer’s remixing some of the material. Through such mixing, Archer is further pulling at this particular thread of argument – but adding a further twist (particularly with the use of electronics during the recording process) in that the combining of sounds produced during the improvisatory sessions becomes another mode of musical creation. Albeit a mode in which a single author rather than a collective voice is the arbiter of the recording. – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS

Heartless is austere but compelling free improv……and the ethos is mostly sparse, featuring smaller sounds. For much of the album Thomas plays piano inside and outside simultaneously, while Hunter taps at a reduced kit plus small handheld instruments. Archer plays saxophones without grandstanding. His sopranino has a shrill immediacy. “Improvisation In Traditional Form”, with its occasional bluesy hints, is a brief energetic interlude to the general entropy. Downbeat titles imply a dystopian release for our times. – Andy Hamilton, THE WIRE

Martin Archer’s new trio, alongside pianist Pat Thomas and percussionist Johnny Hunter, conducts something of an improvisational autopsy on this minimalist scree of ever-tightening tones and buzzing bones. The cover design does a pitch-perfect homage to the Naxos classical label, and makes for a regal display, but the sounds percolating in, out, and through this recording (and your speakers), though circumspect in their abject ‘dryness’, are nothing if not impressionistic in the broadest sense. Archer concentrates on exhuming all the spit and spasticity he can from his sopranino, alto, and baritone saxes, undergirding his fulminating outbursts with just the right touch of glistening digitalia, as heard so piquantly on the opening ten minutes of “Rotten Start”, a title steeped not so much in irony but in the trio’s then performative mood. The album’s lengthy, 25-minute+ highlight, “Heartless, Heartless / Rotten State”, calls back some of the earlier ’themes’ (née passages) of the album’s previous pieces, featuring odd pregnant pauses that magnify what arises thereafter and the forward motions of the trio. Herein, Archer’s electronic fibrillations court decidedly alien-sounding gestures, fuzzy bits of bleep and noise-whip that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Ilhan Mimaroglu or Tod Dockstader record, while Thomas’s strident piano crunk dances precipitously around Hunter’s fat snare strikes and crafty cymbal brushes. The cadences blossoming across the soundstage are at once awry, off-putting, and arresting; they seek to mirror the chaotic states overtaking our lives and psyches, and in this realm, the trio seem to possess a near-telepathic means to make flesh the rifts and tensions of our crazy spinning place, be it in the abstract or from out of the narrow confines of the studio. And storm it they do. Great stuff, for which your patience is duly rewarded. – Darren Bergstein, Downtown Music Gallery, NYC

This new trio, formed by Discus head Martin Archer along with pianist Pat Thomas and percussionist Johnny Hunter, seems to be as much about the spaces in between the notes as about the sounds and textures themselves. Spread over four pieces that hover in the hinterland between dreams and waking, the sounds in opener “Rotten Start” eke out of the speakers, hints of horn more breath than note, faint touches of percussion that shiver in the half light, as much hand-held as kit, the piano acting more as a percussive counterpoint, stern notes resounding and drifting into silence. The sax is like watching butterflies in a field, that inexplicable movement flitting between light and shade; but what sets these pieces apart is the consideration given towards each sound and perhaps even more so, the silence in between. The sweetness of the sax tone can descend into a purring groan as the atmosphere becomes more shadowy, a touch of mystery drifting as the piano checks the trickier sax while percussion appears like a phantom, changing shape and tone at every chance. The progress is subtle but the build is inexorable and the piano is suddenly on the run, a half -remembered honkytonk image breaks free with the percussion in hot pursuit until everybody is involved, the artists shining, reflected in the studio’s glow. Martin’s use of electronics in some pieces lends them a whole other angle, edging into sci-fi territory with an atmosphere of creeping dread somehow evoked with the sparest of details. Dark piano notes with cavernous echo can’t shed light into distant corners and just dissolve into silence, so we just have to wait and see what unfolds. Cymbal touches heighten the anticipation and as it is impossible to second guess the direction, and we are rapt as the tension builds around the scattered sounds. The calling of some fantastic birds roosting on unseen rafters causes a flurry of drama until the tension reforms. It is pretty breathless stuff and is as much about the spaces; silence very much being the friend of this particular trio, with the use of electronic propelling things into very different places. The pensiveness of the sax towards the end hints at jazz; but really this is an experiment in atmosphere, the sense of early morning calm drifting around the piano and the scene setting percussion. This album moves through a lot of different scenes and atmospheres, but is always describing a fresh scenario that the listener isn’t expecting. It is an exciting and tense listen that draws fresh sounds from the three players. As a one-off experiment, it is a fascinating and essential listen. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ https://freq.org.uk/reviews/forensic-trio-heartless/

Forensic Trio is a unit of Martin Archer (electronics, alto, sopranino & baritone saxophones), Pat Thomas (piano) and Johnny Hunter (drums, percussion, glockenspiel) presenting their first statement. Thomas is a classically trained pianist from London and has been a significant force in the jazz and improv scene in the UK for many years. Johnny Hunter is a drummer and composer with a background in avant-garde music and mainstream jazz. Both experimented with electronics and electroacoustics, which also counts for Martin Archer. Surprisingly, this new project is about a meeting of electronics and acoustic instruments. The album opens with ‘Rotten Start’, a piece built from subdued but explorative improvisations. ‘Improvisation in a traditional style is a great dynamic improvisation, very playful with great piano playing by Thomas and indeed close to the jazz idiom. This is totally absent in the key improvisation of this album, the lengthy ‘Heartless, Heartless/Rotten State’. This one leads into more abstract territories, with special spatial electronics in a main role in the opening phase. Thomas is playing the interior of his piano. In the middle section, the improvisation turns into a spirited and dynamic exchange between the three before focusing on creating an extended sound space. Everything is played as heard on this album, except for this improvisation, where parts of two different improvisations are edited into one whole. In all, I find this release an interesting exercise in combining dynamic outbursts of Archer and very involved interplay contrasted with abstract electronic soundscapes where the players seem to disappear as it were and play in a very serving manner in the function of the abstract sound improvisation. – Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly http://www.vitalweekly.net/1348.html

With the Forensic Trio, Martin Archer and his Discus Music label venture even further “out” and turn in an extremely experimental record, formed by a combination of free improvisation, “interactions” of sound, electronic music, and a little tape editing and collage technique. The trio are Pat Thomas, who manages to play both inside piano and the keyboard at the same time (a grand piano, at that), percussionist Johnny Hunter, and Archer himself on electronics and saxophones – he deliberately chose instruments from the E-flat family, since to him the B-flat saxophones lead to “grandstanding and machismo”, perhaps a dig at certain free jazz skronkers whose penchant for self-expression can lead to wild and untamed blurts. If anything can be said to characterise the strange music on Heartless (DISCUS 137CD), none of the above adjectives really apply, and the general aim of the trio has been to think small – small sounds, short phrases (even when we end up with 23-minute excursions). Even the drummer is working on a stripped-back kit, hopefully just one snare and a hi-hat, along with some tiny hand-held instruments. Pat Thomas recently turned in a good Anthony Braxton record for this label (leading a group called The Locals), which I mention as I sense a faintly cerebral dimension to parts of today’s record, although I very much doubt if that’s the trio’s intention. The opening piece ‘Rotten Start’ is severe enough to cause instant buyer’s remorse for many listeners, with its frankly disjointed syntax presenting quite a tough barrier to musical enjoyment. The second cut is much warmer and more engaging and liable to strike a chord with fans of recordings where Jimmy Lyons puffed with Cecil “Mr Quicksilver” Taylor, but somehow it’s tad off-putting to find it titled ‘Improvisation In Traditional Form’, as though it were an abstract painting catalogued in an art museum. However, I’m slowly being won over by the centre-piece here, some 25 minutes of ‘Heartless, Heartless…/ Rotten State’ – and if it isn’t a long enough duration for you, consider that this was edited down from two much longer pieces, which have been spliced together in an alternating pattern structure. Arguably this stark and barren workout is every bit as stilted as ‘Rotten Start’, but for some reason I’m drawn into the diabolical mesmerising whirlpools of it by the alien and alienating electronic music of Archer here, plus of course the doom-laden and muffled thunks emerging from the enervated piano of Thomas. I feel we haven’t heard enough from the electronics wing of the Martin Archer operation, so it’s good to know their funding hasn’t been completely withdrawn. Hunter gets into the spirit of this one – a chilling, frost-encrusted spirit with a heart made of razor blades – with short stabby percussive attacks that are like the blows from a small surgical hammer, shattering various bones in the human anatomy one by one, and his work adds a very haunted dimension to what is already a rather distressing artistic statement. I kind of want to compare ‘Heartless’ to modernist compositions by Berio or Stockhausen, but fundamentally the three players are still coming to their task from a jazz-improvisation direction, and these shocking intervallic leaps, dynamic nightmares, strange sounds and uncertain atmospheres are being created by intuition and creative interaction, not by a pen on the music stave. We’ve got to judge this one piece a mighty success, and the ingenious editing between the two unconnected pieces really brings it to life (a horrifying, mutated form of life, that is, like an unholy cross between two mythological monsters), and it might be worth the price of admission alone. Although ‘Rotten Star’ is also a dark snake-charmer on its own terms, perhaps the closest incarnation of the sort of avant chamber-jazz they might have been shooting for in the first place. The three players seem to be inhabiting three different places, both intellectually and physically, and like a star about to explode, the piece almost tears itself into pieces. At this point I could mention the “sad” and “downbeat” titles devised by Archer for these pieces, an index perhaps of his generally pessimistic outlook on modern society, though he says he wrote them down “before the events of 2022”, a slightly obscure reference to current affairs – does he mean the invasion of the Ukraine? The worsening of global warming? The high cost of living? The general ever-worsening crisis in UK politics and society? Or all of the above? – https://www.thesoundprojector.com/2023/10/27/rotten-heart-disease/

Now that he’s reached senior citizen status, among Sheffield-based saxophonist Martin Archer’s multiple ensembles are some which reflect his beginning as an acoustic improviser. The Forensic Trio may be one of the most relevant because, besides augmenting the Free Music with electronics that has been another of his preoccupations over the years, his associates are just as adaptable. Pat Thomas, who works with the likes of Opry Robinson is also involved in electro-acoustics, but spends Heartless drawing novel tone from the keys and innards of the piano. Johnny Hunter who plays with Cath Roberts among many others, divides his expressions among drums, percussion and glockenspiel. With these dualities or trialities of timbres available trio members can be as abrasive, jolting and uncompromising as they wish in their interactions, but maintain a layer of dynamic counterpoint so that development keeps pace with discovery. That means that percussive reverb is as likely to come from twanging inner piano strings as from the drummer ruffs or smacks. It means that a reed interlude may involve stacked multiple doits or cries from two or more saxophones at once or bitten off or clarion tones reacting singly to dynamic piano glissandi, drum rolls and cymbal pops. Uniquely Hunter’s accents come in the form of glockenspiel raps or subtle patterning in pace of backbeats. Archer’s voltage oscillations add stop/start crackles for additional noise textures that surround intense note examination by any one of the three. Plus no matter how often Thomas pivots to piano string sawing or strumming, especially during “Improvisations In Traditional Form” and “Heartless, Heartless…./ Rotten State” irrepressible rhythms are never neglected, Story telling in the midst of dynamic exploration, his piano emphasis is as much about projecting honky-tonk-like melodies as it is about projecting tough expositions from forearm crashes across the keyboard. Heartless is garnished with enough tingling hisses and echoing oscillation to confirm electronic integration into the narratives. Besides this though combining multi reed expression, multi percussion accents and multi piano elaboration adds up to a sympathetic process that can be appreciated simply. –Ken Waxman https://www.jazzword.com/reviews/forensic-trio/

Im FORENSIC TRIO finden wird dann wieder Martin Archer an Eb-Reeds & Laptop neben, wie auch bei Engine Room Favourites und Caines / Archer Axis, Johnny Hunter (von Sloth Racket) an Drums, Percussion & Glockenspiel und dazu dem zuletzt mit اسم = ism Moers-erprobten Keyswizard Pat Thomas. Heartless (DISCUS 137CD) ist ein Witz, denn natürlich spielen sie alles by heart, von ‘Rotten Start’ über ‘Rotten State’ bis ‘Rotten Star’. Wobei das Forensic Trio in der Homo-ludens-Linie, anders als JakTar, die längst virtuos mit dem Feuer spielen, in einem paläolithischen Davor rummurxen, in dem Feuer noch ein Wunder­werk war. Jedenfalls ist der bruitistische Faktor besonders ausgeprägt, auch dadurch, dass Thomas mehr im Innenklavier plonkt und lärmt als, Potz erectus!, klimperforsch auf die Tasten zu hauen. Ausgerechnet mit Electronics evoziert Archer ein urzeitliches Am­biente, Sand, Wind, Knochenflötentöne, um zum Entenquak des Sopraninos, zu Stein und Bein und Hunters klopfenden Bemühungen metallische Sonic Fiction zu fabulieren, die Donnerschlägen und der Furcht vor Raubtierpfoten trotzt. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Martin Archer est au cœur de divers projets qui impliquent des musiciens de jazz (ou pas) actifs du côté de Sheffield, dans le nord de l’Angleterre. Au sein du FORENSIC TRIO il joue du sax (sopranino, alto et bariton) et aussi des bidouillages électroniques. La rythmique est assurée par Pat Thomas (piano) et Johnny Hunter (batterie et percussions). Leur « Heartless » est un bien étrange album, à classer dans la rubrique free-jazz ou expérimental, pas facile à aborder. Mais on est aussi là pour ouvrir nos oreilles et écouter des choses qui sortent vraiment de l’ordinaire. – Guy Stuckens, RADIO AIR LIBRE

Multi-instrumentalist Martin Archer (who celebrates his 66th birthday this month) may be best known for the saxophone quartet Hornweb and his association with vocalist Julie Tippetts, but he pursues such a panoramic range of interests that it’s hard to know what to expect. Will it be free jazz, avant-pop, progrock, noise, electronica or something else? In pursuit of his muse Archer ignores boundaries between genres, generating his own forms, following his own logic, though these two fine outings hew closest to free jazz in that list. To complete the adventurous Forensic Trio, Archer enlisted pianist Pat Thomas and drummer Johnny Hunter in a markedly empathetic unit, as borne out by the selfless exchanges that make up the four spontaneous cuts on Heartless. Archer toggles between electronics and saxophone, utilizing both in the spacious interaction of “Rotten Start”, created from the well-judged juxtaposition of metallic taps, Thomas’ rubbed and plucked piano innards, circuit board shimmers and twisted reed blurts. A terminal exclamatory squawk leads without pause into the short “Improvisation in Traditional Form”, which is exactly what the name implies, making clear that Archer’s tradition also encompasses the fire music vernacular, as his squalling saxophone switchbacks mesh with Hunter’s lurching rattle and Thomas’ unfettered blues infusions. While on the surface “Heartless, Heartless…./Rotten State” suggests a return to the moody ambience of the opener, it’s more complicated than that. Invoking the example of Miles Davis and Teo Macero’s diced studio jams, Archer edits together alternating parts of two separate longer improvisations, but it’s done so sensitively that the effect is never jarring and the subtle contrasts afforded by passages of bleating sopranino, tappy percussion and staccato piano enhance the overall outcome. A further intervention, capping the halting swing of the final “Rotten Star” with an overdubbed saxophone shout, neatly rounds off an intriguing and enjoyable album. – John Sharpe, NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

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