Sitting down to listen to an album of improvised music is like sitting down to a dinner prepared by guest chefs given artistic license. — The Squid’s Ear, USA
Very manoeuvrable and vivid interactions, built from small gestures and movements by all three players. A joy! — Vital, Netherlands
Arthur Bull and Roger Turner first played together in 2002 as part of a workshop ensemble at the Guelph Jazz Festival. After periodic concerts as a duo and in other ad hoc contexts in the intervening years, they invited Scott Thomson to join them during a Halifax residency in 2017, after which they adopted the bandname, Monicker. Spine is their first disc, recorded at David Bryant’s charming Montréal studio, The Pines, during a June 2018 tour of Eastern Canada.
- Composer(s): Scott Thomson, Arthur Bull, Roger Turner
- Performer(s): Monicker, Scott Thomson, Arthur Bull, Roger Turner
- Cover image: Arthur Bull
- Graphic design: Scott Thomson
- Canada Council for the Arts
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 246 / 2018
- UCC 771028124626
- Total duration: 45:10
- Sympathique case
- 125 mm × 125 mm × 5 mm
- 35 g
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 246_NUM / 2018
- UCC 771028124688
- Total duration: 45:10
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In the press
Sitting down to listen to an album of improvised music is like sitting down to a dinner prepared by guest chefs given artistic license. You never know exactly what you’ll get and the surprise element is a significant pleasure factor in the experience.
Putting together three musicians like guitarist Arthur Bull, trombonist Scott Thomson and drummer Roger Turner can yield unpredictable results. Bull and Turner have played together on occasion since 2002, but Thomson is a recent addition to the mix and the end product is a series of fresh and unexpected tracks of creative improvisation of the textural and conceptual kind that evolve organically into coherent and delightful compositions.
Bookshelves, which opens the set of six tunes on the Musique Actuelle Montréal label Ambiances Magnétiques, sets the tone for the experience, with its gentle progressing sound drips and bubblings, with a percussive emphasis, threaded by the cooing of Thomson’s trombone as he makes judicious use of mutes and provides some varied articulations that are as expressive as they are imaginative.
In contrast to the silk tones of the trombone, Bull’s guitar weaves some slinky lines of surprising variety, as in The Meadows where he works a nice tremolo effect, along with smooth sliding and thin pizzicato sounds from various manipulations of strings and articulations of the outside-the-box variety.
The set ends with Murray Street Skins, a piece that alludes to the Montréal Griffintown neighborhood street that was home to local legendary free jazz drummer John Heward who passed away in 2018. Standing, perhaps, as a tribute to his artistry, which is reflected here in the focus on percussive sounds, from guitar and drums, while Thomson improvises a sort of uplifting dirge with smears and gutturals with fetching lyrical elasticity.
Monicker is Arthur Bull (guitarist), Scott Thomson (trombone) and Roger Turner (drums). Veteran Bull originates from the Toronto scene. In the 70s and 80s, he was a member of the Toronto-based CCMC and worked with Michael Snow, vocalist Paul Dutton and John Oswald and many others. In 1990 he moved to a small village in Nova Scotia, and music was no longer his main activity. Although it was here that he worked with another guitarist, Daniel Heikalo, resulting in two beautiful CDs by from this sparsely documented performer: Dérapages à cordes (2000) and Concentrés et amalgames (2006). In contrast veteran UK drummer and improviser, Roger Turner is very well documented on an uncountable amount of releases documenting his many collaborations (Annette Peacock, Tim Hodgkinson, Otomo Yoshihide, etc, etc,). Like Bull, composer and trombonist Scott Thomson is from Toronto. He is a creative force behind the Montréal-Toronto Art Orchestra playing Roscoe Mitchell’s music. Both Turner and Bull play as a duo since 2002, meeting meanwhile in other ad hoc projects. They invited Thomson during the Halifax residency in 2017, and Monicker was born. As Monicker, they toured Eastern Canada and recorded this debut. Six of their improvisations made it to this release, underlining they make a very flexible and tight unit. Their improvisations pass by very fluently and intensively at a considerable speed and always very focused. Very manoeuvrable and vivid interactions, built from small gestures and movements by all three players. A joy!
Guitarist and poet, Toronto-born and Nova-Scotia resident, Arthur Bull enjoys a compound musical identity. He has been a part of the Canadian improvising community for decades, developing a personal idiom that draws in equal parts from the extended techniques of free improvisation and the slide and finger-style traditions of blues and folk idioms. These two CDs, from Spring 2018, present Bull in radically different, if equally radical settings.
The Surruralists is essentially a duo of Bull and electric bassist Éric Normand, though guests sometimes contribute to a music that’s at once timeless and timely. The two (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) merge free improvisation with folk singing, mixing French and English traditions to craft a primal music in which country tunes and proto-rhythm ‘n’ blues collide with flashes of an unearthly sound art. Bull’s raw baritone and slide guitar drive Jack o’ Diamonds and Frankie (and Johnny), while his gift for epigram emerges on the spoken Skidmarks: “I couldn’t count how many ways the woodpecker could divide the beat.” Normand adds weird electronic burbles to condition familiar themes, and he’s eloquent on the dirge La courtisane brûlée, with Bull adding plaintive harmonica and Ben Grossman a funereal vielle à roue (or hurdy gurdy).
Among Bull’s international associations is one formed in 2002 with drummer Roger Turner, a charter member of the British school of free improvisation. Turner’s sometimes machine-like approach can be traced directly to an early appreciation of the brilliant precision of Dave Tough, the drummer who propelled the rise of Chicago jazz over ninety years ago. Anyone who imagines free improvisation to be somehow vague in its contours simply hasn’t heard Roger Turner. In 2018 Bull and Turner expanded their duo with the addition of trombonist Scott Thomson for a tour (as Monicker) that stretched from Southern Ontario to Nova Scotia.
No blow by blow description could do justice to Spine: the music is mercurial, each of the CD’s six tracks a continuum of shifting, permutating relationships and voices, much of it conducted at incredible speed, from Thomson’s burbling register leaps and runs, squeezed through a metal mute, to Turner’s high-pitched clatter. Bull’s voices range from long, wandering bass glissandi to high-speed flurries of metallic scatter-shot, liable to be confused with some of Thomson and Turner’s own voicings, but the very determination with which the three proceed soon destroys any identikit game of “he said, he said” with a conclusive “When was that?” It’s a high-water mark in Canadian free improvisation.