Faradena Afifi, Steve Beresford & Paul Khimasia Morgan
Bee Reiki
Discus 173CD
(2024)
Available formats: CD/DL

Faradena Afifi – viola, violin, voice and drum set
Steve Beresford – piano, electronics and toys
Paul Khimasia Morgan – guitar body and electronics

Bee Reiki gestated within the regular lockdown zoom meetings Steve and Paul were holding in 2020 and 2021. Steve being based in London and Paul just outside Brighton, in these online meetings, like many musicians at that time, they mostly chatted and caught up with news and analysed the lack of live performance opportunities created by the pandemic.

In the odd fifteen minutes or so they weren’t doing that, they attempted to improvise together using the Zoom platform. Steve would balance his iPad inside his grand piano in his front room, while Paul – invariably using an electronic set up of some kind – would experiment with direct audio recording or sometimes hi-fi speakers pointed at his laptop. Often the Zoom platform exposed its limitations for processing audio reliably, sometimes distorting one or both person’s audio feed, adding sonic artefacts, glitches, drop-outs and so forth. Because of this unpredictable behaviour, Steve and Paul began to think of Zoom as a kind of third contributory participant to their sessions. Not exactly an unwelcome guest, but…

So when restrictions were finally lifted and we could all return to whatever “normal” had become after the pandemic, it made sense to invite a real-life third participant to join in. Faradena Afifi was their first choice; known for setting up Noisy Women. Wanting to sustain a freshness and sense of new found freedom, a studio recording day was booked quickly and without prior rehearsal, the tracks that make up Bee Reiki were recorded by Syd Kemp in his East London studio in one day.

A British Afghani community and improvising musician and vocalist and full time T’ai Chi teacher and practitioner, Faradena is influenced by any musical form that involves unusual rhythms and by all sounds she hears. Her musical influences are Nature (especially birdsong), building sites, trains, T’ai Chi Chuan, Maggie Nicols, improvised music, dance, visual art and folk music from around the world. Fara connects sound with shape, rhythm and movement. She plays strings, piano, percussion and improvised T’ai Chi and Yigong. She is the founder of The Noisy Women Present, a multi-disciplined, inclusive, creative collective.

Steve Beresford has been a central figure in the British improvising scene for over fifty years, working with the likes of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Christian Marclay and Alterations. He has an extensive discography as performer, arranger, composer and producer, and was awarded a Paul Hamlyn award for composers in 2012.

Paul Khimasia Morgan is an improvising musician, recording engineer and visual artist who as well as Faradena Afifi and Steve Beresford, has worked creatively with Blanca Regina, Richard Sanderson, Jason Kahn, Cristiàn Alvear, Ryu Hankil, Simon Whetham, Gus Garside, is a participant in TIDES (with Paul May, Peter Marsh and Daniel Spicer) and Mark Wastell’s THE SEEN. He also plays electronics with Rubber Bus and Somnambulance. “…feedback-like tones rising carefully amid a cloud of metal thorns…more physicality than most you hear, which gives the performance some nice faux visual weight…” – Byron Coley in The Wire magazine.

Reviews

The last time I saw Steve Beresford ‘live’ was many moons ago. It was at London South Bank playing with Louis Moholo-Moholo, the great South African drummer from the Blue Notes. It was nothing like this ‘bee’ improvisation. For an hour or more Moholo’s percussion articulacy crashed and battered space like a man contained in a swarm of something in exile, far more tribal than a single saved bee coming to terms with rescue. There is always a back-story. This new recording is small, precious and breaks silence gradually. I don’t know which came first, the bee Reiki narrative or the improvisation, either way one evokes the other. Faradena Afifi is the only human voice on this fifty minute plus epic, divided into eight tracks. The sounds hover out of a mix in stages, treated/untreated strings – violin/viola, Mr Beresford’s piano/electronics and Paul Khimasia Morgan’s guitar body and contact mics. There’s no purpose trying to work out who does what – this is a whole path rather than individual steps. Even when the strings strike out at pizzicato interludes they’re immersed in microtonal treatments of the Beresford/Morgan axis. Initially I played the album while reading a book. About ten minutes in, I stopped, put down the book and restarted the recording from the beginning; covered my eyes and simply sat and listened. A piece like bee Reiki deserves concentration, not because there’s anything virtuoso going on, but precisely because there isn’t. This is truly egalitarian music – the virtue is in the collective. At around twenty-five minutes Beresford introduces tangible piano, it’s short lived – only there to mark a ‘stretching out’ of the bee, an unfolding of wings… be Reiki becomes its own meditation. Concentrated improvisations are now performed regularly across the globe from a huge variety of ensembles. It’s no longer ‘breakthrough’ music. That’s not the point. There’s a detailed vocabulary of sound built on decades of global experiments. The success of this particular recording is that it wears its soundscape lightly. Musicians as far apart as David Toop, Paul Lytton, Milford Graves, Julie Tippetts, John Zorn, Maggie Nicols have all been buzzing in these hives. What they all share in common is a sense of adventure that draws the ears in. Discus 173 is both no different and quite different; it excels in turning over a new leaf already present in a vast arboretum of music. My recommendation is to stop what you’re doing, give Afifi, Beresford and Morgan an unencumbered hour of your time. It won’t be wasted. Spoiler alert: The final six minutes contains a form of resolution in song form – and doesn’t disappoint. Don’t cheat, take the whole fifty minutes first. – Steve Day, April 2024

STEVE BERESFORD is enough to make me interested in Bee Reiki (DISCUS 173), even though he has been spinning the thread of Alterations since Gestalt Et Jive and The Melody Four, as he did here with Electronics, Piano & Toys. In addition, I get to know PAUL KHIMASIA MORGAN, who runs the labels The Slightly Off Kilter and Aural Detritus in Brighton, writes reviews for The Sound Projector and improvises with amplified acoustic guitar body, with Klaus Janek or Daniel Spicer, in pairs or in Tides with Peter Marsh & ➝Paul May from Fourth Page. Here is the cooperation with Beresford, deepened in Corona times via Zoom, expanded with FARADENA AFIFI in Cambridge, the Afghan-British F-lks-ng-rin, T’ai Chi teacher and Maggie Nicols-inspired initiator of The Noisy Women. Here she can be heard with viola, violin, singsong and drums to help a knocked out bee back on its feet and wings by laying on her hands. Reiki is said to have helped many a bee to satori. Afifi plucks, fiddles, scratches, flageoletizes strings, she vocalizes and howls, Morgan booms to electronic impulses. Beresford grops with toy organs, types two-finger piano, strums erratically to the chirping of birds and rattling, quietly bubbling electronics. Afifi shows violinistic skill with a Far Eastern touch, and behind the bee fished out of the puddle and the little dream shaken down, there is probably more ulterior motive than naivety. It is obvious that euphony cannot be separated from cacophony. On ‘Waggle Dance’ and ‘Buzzing Run’ some drum and subtle cymbal beats fall into restrained piano poetry and spun or humming electro and toy noise. Until Afifi unfolds to roaring waves and small piano splinters on ‘Flksngr’ as a very touching folk singer and violinist. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Violinist / drummer Faradena Afifi and guitarist / electronicist Paul Khimasia Morgan team up with the great pianist Steve Beresford on this set of playful yet edgy improv on which voices, strings, keys and electronics combine to paint a sound picture of unexpected combinations and shifts of direction. Refreshingly unpredictable – Kevin Whitlock, JAZZWISE

The recording had its genesis in attempts by Beresford (who needs no introduction as a stalwart of the UK improv scene) and Morgan to duet over Zoom. Always doomed to problems, this process created ways in which lags and distortions could become facets of the music. This gives an idea of the ways in which the electronic effects on these pieces, often quite subtle but nevertheless an essential element, come to make the music wobble around its tonal and rhythmic centres. Calling Afifi into the mix, the newly formed trio recorded this set in a single day. As always with Afifi, there is a strong commitment to the traditions of her Afghan roots and an equally strong commitment to traditions of unsettling experimentation and dismantling of traditions. It is often difficult to put into words how she manages to sound so strongly in both traditions (and uniquely herself). This ability to be immersed in traditions while finding ways to disrupt them through collaborating with people and music from outside these might be one of the motivations behind her Noisy Women project. The mix of traditions is not only apparent in her vocal gymnastics, but also equally compelling in the violin and viola playing. Across these I could hear the playing of bowed instruments from various folk traditions as well free jazz, particularly the ways in which the blending and bending of notes become more important than their clarity or the ways in which the breaks introduced in playing echo those of players taking breaths. It is worth repeating the titles of the tunes on this set to get an idea of the story that they collectively unfold: ‘Sad, bedraggled bee lies in a puddle; Move the bee into sunlight; I wonder if Reiki might help?; The bee wiggles its white, furry bottom; Limbs stretch, wings vibrate, flying into sunshine; Waggle dance; Buzzing run’. The set closes with a piece called ‘Flksingr’, and this gives the preceding collection of tunes its modus operandi: Afifi is a folk-singer but in a collection of styles that span the globe (and space and time, given the ways in which the effects that mix her voice sound so much like science fiction). There is also a sense in which the lyrics of this closing piece bring the metaphor of the cycle of tunes between the bee struggling in a puddle and the human condition (or perhaps Afifi’s specific experiences as a busker in Cambridge). – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS https://jazzviews.net/faradena-afifi-steve-beresford-paul-khimasia-morgan-bee-reiki/

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