As a fan of psychedelic, sludge and garage rock, I’m not one to usually listen to lyrics. That changed when I first played ‘Soldiering On’ by The Dissolute Society, captivated by the sadness of verse. London born trombonist, improviser, composer, and educator Raph Clarkson’s new ensemble has created a debut album sure to absorb even the hardier of people.
A graduate of York and Oxford Universities, Clarkson is probably best known as member of award-winning jazz-punk ensemble WorldService Project. He’s been involved in a huge array of projects, a true restless creative, and embarks on this album with no sign of lacking energy.
The fifteen track ‘Soldiering On’ is a deeply personal display of a talent in love with his craft. There is no shortage of brilliance from the album’s contributing artists. Clarkson’s father, Gustav, plays delightful viola, and there are compositions by the late John Taylor, who sadly died in 2015.
Singer Fini Bearman guest stars as the vocalist, and is supported masterfully by the other musicians. She sings sweetly on opening track ‘Opening (A Journey)’ in a performance which could be straight out of a West End show.
A change overcomes her on ‘Grandma’, lilting with a cut-up poetism like a broken train of thought. The song is inspired by Clarkson’s German-Jewish grandmother, who lived in Palestine for many years. But, if you were unaware of this, one might see it as a representation of a mind overrun with dementia. Few songs have captured the trials old-age so accurately.
Later on, on ‘Soldiering On/On,’ she bites with Bjork like brilliance whilst Huw Warren breaks through a scintillating piano score. Suddenly, on ‘I’m Sorry’ Norwegian singer Mia Marlen Berg transforms into a sort of female 80’s post-punk vocal, before unleashing a full-blown operatic staccato.
This is not an easy listening record. Far from it. There’s a deep sadness to much of what goes on which I’d recommend listening to in the right mind-set. Although ‘Find The Way Through’ is a really good, groove laden antidote featuring a rap from Joshua Idehen. But, you’ve got to wait until track 14 to reach respite if listening as a continuous stream.
The only criticism I have is that I often find poetry quite self-indulgent, but so is writing reviews, I guess. Contrary to that, the musicianship on display is all exceptional, exuberant sadness.
Soldiering On is out on the 11th May on the Babel label.