Brackenbury Bianco
Wayward Mystic
Discus 140CD
Available formats: 2xCD/DL


“It is a brave and ultimately successful exploration that manages to straddle almost a thousand years and shrink that gap to the blink of an eye. Time travel never felt so rewarding.” – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

“The interaction between the two musicians bespeaks a real and fertile empathy, constantly productive of fresh perspectives and, after all, may not be so far from Hildegard’s ecstatic visions.” – Barry Witherden, JAZZ JOURNAL

“Bianco softly patters the toms with a tabla-like delicacy while Brackenbury employs overdubs to layer plangent vocals, swelling drones and heart-bursting lyrical lines.” – Daniel Spicer, THE WIRE

Faith Brackenbury – violin, viola, vocals, effects pedals.
Tony Bianco- drums, percussion, keyboards.

About a year ago I handed Tony a CD of Saint Hildegard von Bingen’s spiritual songs to listen to, and the next thing I know he has played an entire hour long drum track alongside the recording, in one sitting- and that it was so right. The sounds of his rolling-thunder-in-the-distance drumming and the ethereal monophonic vocal lines perfectly complimented, and my inspiration to try singing some, then add violin/viola layers with pedals and improvise, was ignited. In learning some of these beautiful Latin songs I have found a crossover with Coltrane, and the modal music that he was exploring, and which gives great scope for improvising. I also continue to learn more about this remarkable 12th century abbess, who was the first German mystic, a prophet, herbalist, political moralist, poet, artist, author and composer. I find her life and works very inspiring. – Faith Brackenbury

40CD - Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere


UK based American drummer Tony Bianco is probably best known for playing extensively with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, but his incredibly detailed and expressive roll and tumble remains undersung. In these duets with violin/viola player Faith Brackenbury, there’s still plenty of free jazz fire, with rattling snare and cymbals sparring with strings like Rashied Ali and Didier Lockwood going head to head. But the album mainly focuses on gorgeous improvised devotions inspired by the music of 12th century German Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen. These adopt a more meditative tone, as Bianco softly patters the toms with a tabla-like delicacy while Brackenbury employs overdubs to layer plangent vocals, swelling drones and heart-bursting lyrical lines. – Daniel Spicer, THE WIRE

Featuring Faith Brackenbury on violin, viola, vocals & effects pedals and Tony Bianco on drums, percussion and keyboards. Recorded in the Room of Doom at the Stables in December of 2021. Tony Bianco is an American-born drummer who moved to the UK, where he works with Paul Dunmall, Evan Parker and Dave Liebman. More recently Mr. Bianco has been branching out to play with Machine Mass Trio, Decision Dream & Doubt). I don’t know much about British violin & violist Faith Brackenbury, although she does have a rare duo CD out with Martin Speake from Itchy Fingers (UK sax quartet). The music here was inspired by mystic composer Hildegard von Bingen who lived in the 1,100’s. Ms. von Bingen’s music was rediscovered in the 20th century and has been an inspiration to many diverse composers like Sol Invictus, Current 93, Noël Akchoté, John Zorn and most recently Chet Doxas. The Discogs website lists more than 100 releases of her music so she does a long shadow on the recent and past landscapes. Hildagard von Bingen’s music was alleged to have “mirrored the ineffable sounds of heavenly spheres and angel choirs”. The instrumentation here is: Faith Brackenbury on violin, viola, vocals & effects pedals and Tony Bianco on drums, percussion and keyboards. There is something magical, haunting, precious, uplifting, resonant, heavenly sounding… going on here. We first hear a calm, drifting soft drone from the violin with Mr. Bianco on subdued yet superb, free-flowing mallet-work. This piece is called, “Hymn of Hildegard” and it is indeed like a sublime hymn. There is a strong focused duo dialogue going on, the violin replacing and enhancing a chorus of angel’s voices. Faith uses her voice together with her violin for “O Frondens Virga”, the balance of the soft voice, accordion squoze violin sound and tabla-like drumming is most hypnotic. Eventually Ms. Brackenbury starts to slowly bend the notes a bit keeping us off-guard while Mr. Bianco switches to the rest of drumset and cymbals. Later on “O Quam Mirabilis”, Faith adds subtle eerie effects to her violin while she sings in Latin (?), like a long lost ghost, there are a few layers all resonating together in a most mesmerizing way. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG NYC

Bianco is an American drummer who moved to Europe in the nineties and played with musicians like Elton Dean, Evan Parker, Alex von Schlippenbach and above all Paul Dunmall. Brackenbury is a British classically trained violinist, who played in contexts of jazz, rock and folk. She debuted in 2019 with ‘KnifeAngel’ with compositions that combine different styles performed by a six-piece ensemble. Combining various styles is very much the case for their new collaboration, the follow-up to ‘Rising up’ released last year by Discus Music. I don’t know many – if any – projects of improvised music taking inspiration from medieval religious music. But here is one. Their improvisations are inspired by music by Hildegard von Bingen, a German abbess, mystic, theologian, composer and healer from the 12th century. How did this unusual project start? Brackenbury: “About a year ago, I handed Tony a CD of Saint Hildegard von Bingen’s spiritual songs to listen to, and the next thing I know, he has played an entire hour-long drum track alongside the recording, in one sitting- and that it was so right.” We hear Faith Brackenbury on violin, viola, vocals and effects pedals, and Tony Bianco plays drums, percussion and keyboards. Some of the improvisations carry Latin names, like ‘O Frondens Virga’, referring to the von Bingen-composition of the same name. In this one, Brackenbury sings the melody line from the original. The original composition is much shorter than the improvisation by the duo. And this also counts for the other ones. ‘O Cruor Sanguins’ opens and closes with vocals by Brackenbury. Brackenbury weaves captivating, spun-out and sometimes echoing melodic lines in between, with a repeated motive in the background and rolling percussion by Bianco. Whereas the melodic lines of von Bingen are of a calming mood, the accompanying rolling drums by Bianco’s work make a contrast that you have to like. Besides, they recorded improvisations that were not directly inspired by a composition by von Bingen. For example, ‘Placement and Resolve’, a 20-minute multitracked improvisation of drums, piano and violin. The mix is not totally satisfying as the piano is a bit too much in the background. Nevertheless, it is these improvisations that I like most from this release. Great playing by Brackenbury, and they built an improvisation with many intense moments. Also, ‘Cherubim’s Sword’ is a jazzy-inspired multitracked improvisation where the playing by Brackenbury impresses. – Dolf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY

Faith Brackenbury‘s violin playing is an absolute force of nature; at times like a dervish that seems to sweep straight from her heart and out in to the universe, unencumbered by structure or regime, just a natural flow like a river that heads onward. Her chance meeting with the jazz-inflected basslines and murmuring, rumbling drumming of drummer and bassist Tony Bianco has enabled a union that highlights the strengths that each one brings to this ever-unfolding partnership. Their initial run of ideas was released last year as Rising Up and it was one of the most joyful and positive releases that I had heard. Clearly this serendipitous encounter between them was too enjoyable to be a one-off ,so for something to really sink her teeth into, Faith chose to re-imagine some of Hildegard von Bingen‘s twelfth-century compositions in the duo context, this time with Tony adding drums and percussion along with some piano, while Faith brings violin, viola and effects. Again it is one of those releases in which the listener becomes lost, because the eight pieces presented on Wayward Mystic stretch across two full discs, but never at any point do you feel that it overstays its welcome. On the first disc, the feeling generated by Tony is akin to that of a tabla player with no cymbals and no wild uproar, just a constant rush like animals rustling in hedgerows or thunder off in the distance heard through a crisp autumnal sunset, while Faith’s violin once again wanders but like the antithesis of the lost soul. This is a soul who is open to everything, constantly engaging. Through the ups and downs there is always a destination in mind, but that destination is in the heart; so the journey itself becomes the important thing. The percussion and strings are perfect complements, even when things turn keening and with an element of sadness, the percussion is able to move things on. Faith’s voice when she tackles “O Frondens Virga” is a pure, unhurried thing and sets itself against a string drone that is aided by touches of cymbal that unexpectedly lift and soothe the extraordinary constant motion of the drumming. It becomes inexorable, like the landscape moving outside a train window and never grows old. The voice appears here and there over these four pieces and has a sweetness that slows the action down, drawing the focus, becoming restful and contemplative. Where there are no drums, the strings take flight, becoming restless, searching and clucking, a little freer and because of that just a little disorientating. When the drums reappear, they are sharper, more obtrusive, hounding the violin, exploring all the intricacies held within the instrument. The second disc is different, the strings more melancholy, the drums more structured. There is the snap of snare and the wash of cymbal that changes the mood, as if trying to overwhelm the violin or at least not give it so much space. The violin feels more uncertain while keyboards feel predatory. There are hints of Eastern folk in “Cherubim’s Sword”, which starts with just drums and then flies into a dervish like whirl, while the final piece here has the violin fed through what sounds like a wah-wah. It comes across like the tidal wash of a cosmic sea, ominous and cavernous with the rolling drums constant yet careful, setting us down gently yet unsettled, dizzy from the years passing before us. It is a brave and ultimately successful exploration that manages to straddle almost a thousand years and shrink that gap to the blink of an eye. Time travel never felt so rewarding. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

Für Wayward Mystic (DISCUS 140CD, 2xCD) verantwortlich zeichnen BRACKENBURY BIANCO, was aufzulösen ist in Faith Brackenbury & Tony Bianco, die auch schon „Rising Up“ (Discus, 2021) gemeinsam gefiedelt und getrommelt haben. Bianco mit all seinem rollenden und tockelnden Knowhow von Elton Dean und Paul Dunmall her und mit Doubt und Machine Mass auf Moonjune. Und mit spontaner Begeisterung für Hildegard von Bingens Musik, die Brackenbury unpuristisch und freisinnig erweitert geigt und dazu die lateinischen Mystizismen der ihr bis dahin unbekannt gewesenen Äbtissin anstimmt. Das dabei Reizende und Inspirierende ‘wayward’ zu nennen, verrät, wie sehr sie sich in ihrer persönlichen Eigenwilligkeit angesprochen fühlt und aufgefordert, ihr Bestes zu geben. Aber eben auch mit dem Spleen, Musik des 12. Jhdts. mit moholo-moholoeskem ‘rolling-thunder-in-the-distance’ als modales Mantra zeitvergessen auszuformen und ihr dabei noch etwas neumodisch Kapriziöses und Exzentrisches zu geben, an dem sich stumpf­schädlige Brexiteers ebenso stoßen können wie Gralshüter des Antiquierten. [BA 116 rbd] – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Hildegard Von Bingen, or better known as Saint Hildegard of Bingen, takes us back to the distant Middle Ages. Her figure was an authentic breath of fresh air in those dark years: she invested the habit of the Benedictine nun, devoted to a faith that never wavered, but with a different eye from her contemporaries, more inclined to the word of the new. Curious about the surrounding world, sciences, and all the arts, she was a refined mystic, a prophetess, but also a cosmologist, healer, linguist, naturalist, philosopher and embodied the role of the first woman composer and musician that Christian history remembers. Her notes were similar to the modus operandi of the Gregorian chants, but she already revealed a peculiarity of her, characterized by a pathos for irregular rhythms, full of “an unconventional emphasis, combining text and music to impressive results .” It is therefore no wonder that the world of radical improvisation has decided to commemorate her with an album which, although bathed in moments of monotony, makes itself heard with a certain curiosity. The Brackenbury / Bianco duo is no stranger to collaborations, and “ Rising Up” always released for Discus in ’21 testifies to it; the former is a violinist and singer who, if necessary, also embraces the viola and pedal effects, while the latter, American by birth but English by adoption, is a veteran drummer of the freeform scene in Albion who has so far collected several more or less flirtatious less brilliant (Paul Dunmall, Dave Liebman, Loz Speyer…), who at this juncture will also play with a set of percussion, touching the keyboard here and there too. The departure is a little static: Hymn Of Hildegardmoves on tempos that are too long, basing his raison d’être on traditional harmonic canvases of the English-speaking style and on which Bianco performs a constant freeform drumming on the sly but which, in the long run, turns out to be a little monotonous, also lacking in the recording, nebulous and unclear. O Frondems Virga opens its soul through the Celtic vocality of Brackenbury, but it is only an initial flash that after a while fades into harmonic contexts similar to those of the previous piece. It will be the more minimal dress of O Quam Mirabilis that will be appreciated more, resting on a cathartic game of melodic reiteration where both the voice and the free drumming find a more original location and where the meditative impulses are admired more.Placement and Resolve stands out for a close dialogue between an electrified viola and a disengaged and jazzy rhythm, making piano sounds grow more and more evident in the distance. Not bad. In Cherubim’s Swordit seems to hear a glowing Max Roach paving the way for an increasingly tinged scenography of jazz improvisation. A melodic script that going forward in the second part of the work will be increasingly evident. We therefore have a disc divided into two parts, a first linked more to traditional colors, a second more inclined to show off the pleasant irregular side of the improvised. The final part clearly wins, while an unfavorable side of the whole work is the almost always too dilated tempos of all the pieces. I am convinced that quicker, synthetic solutions would have led to a more satisfactory result. But, apart from that, it remains a good opportunity to get to know this mystical figure so remote that it only confirms the creative flair and greatness in every era flaunted by the fairer sex. – KATHODIK

Violin and drum duos are something of a rarity in the jazz and improvised music arena. Swift Are The Winds Of Life (Survival, 1976) by Leroy Jenkins and Rashied Ali, and Bangception (Hat Musics, 1983) by Billy Bang and Denis Charles come to mind, but few others. However, violinist Faith Heleene Brackenbury and drummer Tony Bianco make a convincing case for the format on Wayward Mystic. In fact it is their second outing following Rising Up (Discus Music, 2019), but this time out their unfettered interplay draws inspiration from an unlikely source, the music of 14th century abbess and visionary Hildegard von Bingen. On a double album of eight expansive cuts totaling 139 minutes, the results go beyond genre into an emotive netherworld both meditative and ecstatic. Brackenbury invokes a wide range of influences, touching on the liturgical tradition and the Irish fiddle canon, as well as the questing investigations of John Coltrane. Consequently her violin soars in melodic variations, interrogates insistent motifs, and skitters and scrapes. Bianco’s fluttering accompaniment abstains from directness. He uses his drum kit to create a hypnotic drone from continual rolls and intermittent cymbal and snare punctuation, like the rumble of the distant ocean. He has furnished a similar approach with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, on Spirits Past And Future (Duns, 2008), accentuating a timeless searching quality. At best, the divine tunes and free-floating uplift engender a beautiful and enduring experience in which the length of the tracks encourages the development of a trance-like state for player and listener alike. In particular, Brackenbury’s ceaseless stream of lyric extemporizations and Bianco’s gently pulsing wall of sound on “Hymn Of Hildegard” are sublime. On three of the four numbers titled after von Bingen’s works, Brackenbury sings the composer’s ethereal melodies to launch the ensuing duet. She also supplements the natural tone of her instrument with effects pedals, looping and echoing on “O Quam Mirabilis” where the organ-like swells are reminiscent of the folk song “As She Moved Through The Fair.” While on the final “O Cruor Sanguinis” she conjures a near metal riff and her wah-wahed violin lends a distinctly rocky air. Bianco provides further variety through overdubbing piano on “Placement And Resolve” and a fast walking bass line, perhaps keyboard derived, on “Cherubim’s Sword.” ….. Certainly the best of the joint improvs is the more abstract and conversational “Grace,” the longest piece at 26-minutes. Here, Brackenbury at times recalls Billy Bang’s irrepressible bounce until she moves into thorny, less consonant bowing and percussive plucking, while Bianco sets his initial bursts amid silence, before laying down a characteristic chattering snare commentary. Often transcendental, Brackenbury and Bianco forthrightly stake their claim to a place in a select gathering. – John Sharpe, ALL ABOUT JAZZ

Brackenbury and Bianco got together in the wake of the Covid lockdown when gigs were still hard to come by, and in spring 2021, as Bianco Brackenbury, they recorded the intense Rising Up (Discus 112CD), reviewed by Nic Jones. It was an impressive debut, with a surprisingly rich and inviting sound given the rather stark instrumentation. For this follow-up, subtitled “Improvisations Inspired by the Music of Hildegard von Bingen”, they have turned to an unexpected source for inspiration. Hildegard (1098 – 1179) was a remarkable figure, for my 10 bob one of the most fascinating in the history of Western culture. Extrememly daringly, given that she was a nun, she pioneered something approaching empirical scientific research, and was also, amongst other things, a painter, a poet, and an influential theologian and diplomat who once, perhaps not entirely diplomatically, berated Frederick Barbarossa for tardiness, In 1984 Gothic Voices issued an album of her compositions and this triggered something of a Hildegard vogue, but to the best of my knowledge there have been no jazz or improv recordings of her compositions. Of course, the performances here are “inspired by” rather than being “versions of” the Hildegard works. The project had its gensis in 2021 when Brackenbury gave Bianco a CD of Saint Hildegard’s music, which stirred him to play an hour-long drum track alongside the recording. She felt that his “rolling-thunder-in-the-distance drumming and the ethereal monophonic vocal lines perfectly complimented [sic], and my inspiration to try singing some, then add violin/viola layers with pedals and improvise, was ignited. In learning some of these beautiful Latin songs I have found a crossover with Coltrane, and the modal music that he was exploring.” My own initial responses to Hildegard’s work were very far from the moods of these improvisations but, judging this music on its own terms, it is impressive, exciting and ceaselessly evolving, riveting the interest. The interaction between the two musicians bespeaks a real and fertile empathy, constantly productive of fresh perspectives and, after all, may not be so far from Hildegard’s ecstatic visions. The sound (recorded and mixed by Bianco) is excellent, doing full justice to the instrumental textures and the swirling complexity of the music. – Barry Witherden, JAZZ JOURNAL

On their Wayward Mystic (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 140CD) record, the duo of Brackenbury Bianco have found or invented some musical crossroads where English folk tunes and American free jazz meet up and pay their respects to the music of Hildegard of Bingen, the famous 12th century abbess. I’ve no doubt that violinist Faith Brackenbury has been deeply moved by the music of Hildegard, and she’s probably not the first to find inspiration in the life and work of this exceptional woman. Very extended violin and vocal improvisations based on the original plainchant and hymns of Hildegard are what we hear, propelled endlessly by the tireless drumming of Tony Bianco. Not bad actually. I’ve been listening to Hildegard since 1982 and probably tend to get a bit protective of her beautiful music, but she has been discovered by every new generation, including some who reinvent the sounds as “meditational” or New Age healing music, others who claim the strong-minded abbess as an early exponent of feminism, and even David Tibet – well, heaven knows what goes on in his unique mind. Two CDs of long tracks – feels like the first set adheres more closely to the original forms of monophony and continuum, while the second set heads down a much more free jazz avenue; the duo’s take on ‘Cherubim’s Sword’ is like Leroy Jenkins reborn as an early Catholic priest. Last heard this UK-US duo on their 2021 album Rising Up, which I recall leant more towards high-energy jazz sprints. – Ed Pinsent, SOUND PROJECTOR

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