Viscera is the third album by saxophonist Colin Webster and drummer Mark Holub, and it is not to be taken lying down. This is energetic, gutsy free-form jazz, and has a unique quality which both musicians stamp on the music — making it their own both in style and magnitude.
Interestingly for such a well honed album, Viscera — due October 14, 2014 via New Atlantis Records — was recorded in just one day at London’s Dropout Studios, with no discussion before takes. The duo have a just-start ethos, with the only exception on this album being the final track tribute to the American composer and instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell, called “Chant.”
That this is something rather special in terms of free playing is evident from the opening “Big Paws on A Puppy.” This is an excellent demonstration of conversation between two supreme artists, which perhaps is to be expected given their kudos — but yet it is unexpected in its aggression and ability to hit straight to the heart. The drums and sax alternate with devastating effect. Colin has a Peter Brotzmann-esque timbre to his playing, and at times sounds like Evan Parker in terms of his openness.
He told me that when he recorded the session he had early Brotz and Parker on his mind. However, any comparisons stop soon enough because, whilst obviously influenced by many great free players, Colin has a style which is so much of itself and his own. He uses stunt playing like Pine, attacks riffs like Parker and yet retains a sublime sense of otherness which is all his own. Half way through the opening track, the music ascends into an incredibly animated chit-chat between the sax, reeling off riff after riff, beautifully punctuated with the drums.
Communication is evident and these are two players who can read each other well. Colin is voracious and energetic; Mark is intuitive — and his timing is damn near on perfection.
“Splinters” follows “Big Paws,” and starts as a staccato maelstrom which develops into a rapid, quick-fire piece of repartee between the musicians. The song develops a Krishna-like beat through its middle section before finally ascending into pure atonal bliss. “Oaxacao” starts off sounding Eastern, and the promise it holds is fulfilled when the echoing riff is taken, thrashed to within a musical inch of its life and the drums intercede with a quiet, carefully poised section — before the piece finishes with a flourish from both players.
“Conkan” is a playful creation, with a cheerful discussion between drums and sax until the sax is given its own vocalising section — Colin makes the sax talk like few players — and then both players join in for the ending. “Then There Was” starts out so quietly, you’d think the players have gone off on a break but then it builds and builds before ascending into rowdy interchanges between the duo, and then ends with (almost) quiet sax. “Chant” is the final track, and is the only composition not by Mark and Colin. It ends Viscera superbly, with the tune given the duo’s own take.
To say this is an enjoyable album is playing it down to the nth degree. Holub and Webster have an affinity which can only be brought about by intuitive knowledge of each other’s playing. After all, going back to 2010, the duo recorded Koi Bombs (Gaffer Records) with keyboardist Toby McLaren. In 2012, The Claw was released via Colin’s own Raw Tonk imprint. Webster and Holub have toured extensively in the UK and France, amalgamating free-form playing with avant rock, doom metal, noise and more. In November of 2013, they released Gutty Mutter on a limited-edition CD, recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club in London.
That brings us to Viscera, an album which makes you think to yourself: “This is what free playing is all about.” Aggressive, quirky and un-engineered, Viscera brilliantly veers from tuneful ditties to anarchic, spinning-top divergences. This is simply a great free-playing album by gifted and attuned players. I was asked what I made of it. Did I like it? No. Did I absolutely, definitely love it? Well, yes actually!
By the way, Holub also leads the avant-jazz quintet Led Bib, formed in 2003 and also featuring Pete Grogan and Chris Williams on alto saxes, Liran Donin on double bass and Toby Mclaren on keyboards. Led Bib have a growing following and reputation. Their discography includes Arboretum, which won the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2005 and, among others, Sensible Shoes from 2009 — which was nominated for the 2009 Mercury Prize. Mark lives in Vienna where he plays a major part in the Austrian experimental music community. Webster has collaborated with many key musicians including Archie Shepp, Steve Noble and Alex Ward among others.