Mike Caratti, Rachel Musson + Steve Beresford – Hesitantly Pleasant (2017)

Hesitantly Pleasant is an album of freely improvised music by drummer Mike Caratti, Rachel Musson and Steve Beresford. Mike Caratti has played with several improvising combos (Original Past Life, Low My Guy), and notably with dMu whose Synaptic Self was described by Selwyn Harris in Jazzwise as “a determined, furiously dark, animalistic blast of metal-jazz improv.”

Rachel Musson has collaborated and recorded with many of the great improvisers, including percussionist Mark Sanders, bass player John Edwards and violinist Hannah Marshall. She is part of the London Improvisers Orchestra, and also plays with Alex Ward in his quintet and sextet. She has played at the Vortex and E’klektic Art Lab, among other venues, and made albums with other improvisers including Liam Noble and Mark Sanders (Tatterdemalion, Babel label) and one featuring her ensemble (Skein, Flight Line, F-ire Recorded Music). She is part of the European improving scene and played with Han Bennink, Gail Brand, Olie Brice, John Russell and many others.

Steve Beresford is one of the best known improvisers of today and has played with Derek Bailey and with Alterations, the group including Terry Day, David Toop and Peter Cusack. He has also played with Brian Eno, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill and John Zorn, and is part of the London Improvisers Orchestra. He has played at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and worked with the inimitable Ted Milton, groups such as the Slits, the Flying Lizards and so much more. He continues to inspire improvisers in the U.K., and further afield.

So, bring these three improvisers with their different sounds and voices together and what is the result? The answer is Hesitantly Pleasant, a ridiculously endearing album which takes the listener on a corkscrew journey through different mindsets, concepts and ideologies. There is a link though, and that becomes clear as you listen.

Hesitantly Pleasant opens with nine or so minutes worth of tempting sounds, squeaks, horns, rattles and dabbles which link together, because although the voices are very different, they are talking, exchanging little rivulets, ideas, playing for a while, then passing back, taking up and maybe abandoning, suggesting a fresh take, something new and always effervescent with a fizz and pop. The changes in tempo are as they should be, tried, tested by maybe one, then two until the change is complete, then it might go back again, from almost silent to busy, busy, or change again. It depends. A happy, enjoyable and well-worked track.

“Complex Footwork and Violent Movement” is almost described by its title. Lots of frenzy, short, tight little quips, with Steve Beresford’s piano driving along under it all. For three musicians, they make a lot of very engaging noise here. “A Unique Haircut” is quieter, atmospheric and delicately underpinned by piano that provides a platform for Rachel Musson to develop more than one theme across the top – and Mike Caratti adds several suggestions of sound behind. The percussion at times is over busy whilst the sax is playing, but Musson takes revenge by forcing the pace and creating a wonderful maelstrom of roars and growls. Meantime, Steve Beresford quips and intercepts before the quieting of the end. Lovely.

“Geel” is set over a tick-tock rhythm initially, which is annoying yet necessary at the same time, but Rachel Musson and Steve Beresford veer away in conversation and the percussion eventually reverts to something much more spontaneous and interesting. Soaring sax, deep throbbing percussion and Beresford’s crazily fast piano deliver the listener to the end of the track almost before they started, feeling something happened but what exactly is unclear. Hesitantly Pleasant continues with the intricate “Psychic Fair,” with squealing, screeching, gorgeous sax over fast, furious percussion and piano and includes one of those wonderful sweet spots when everyone is in complete and total tune with each other – for about 12 bars. Then, off they go, divergent and convergent in turns until just before the end, when an electronic whistle brings the listener back to earth.

“Still Horrible” allows the sax to really speak, as Rachel Musson takes the listener on a journey up, down, round and away and back to the central thematic discussion provided by Steve Beresford’s piano improvising around a few, maybe 5 or 6, chords and Mike Caratti providing back-up. A track with a lot of texture and rhythms which veers from almost bossa to virtually tech-tronica. There is a section around the 5 minute mark which is completely lovely, with a to and fro of percussion and sax in clear conversation, each making their own different points before Beresford finishes with the decisive chord. “Nunc Pro Tunc” is eerily spacey to begin with, electronic gadgetry forming a bond with high squeaky reed tones from Rachel Musson’s sax. Not a pleasant experience, if I am honest, but it gets better on the ears as the track builds (well into the fourth minute) but only a little. The spacey, ethereal tones continue until the end – by which time I was praying for it to stop. For me, Hesitantly Pleasant could do without this track in all its glory, but I know many will disagree. And this is what is good about this music.

What you discover, because there is so much delivered, is that every listener will find something unique for themselves on Hesitantly Pleasant – something they hear, a thing they pick up on which the musician was trying to get across, but perhaps not everyone gets it. This is spontaneous composition, and the fact that not every track delights every listener is more true to how music and society work than a lot of other prescribed and transcribed sounds with their limitations in-built.

And the link I mentioned earlier? There is, throughout Hesitantly Pleasant, a sense of communication. Right the way through, there is a listening, sensing, feeling and engagement of the musicians with each other and this is what reaches out and holds the listener. Some improvised music is music for musicians and displays something of an intimate, in-joke world where the listener is excluded. Other improvised music reaches out, includes the listener, tells them things, in a different way each time and opens their ears and minds. Hesitantly Pleasant contains music which for the much larger part, is of the latter kind.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein